Recently Harald Wagner wondered on Google+ “Is anyone but me writing short vignettes (three to five paragraphs) of background stories for important locations / items in their games even though they’re never meant for publication and most probably no one will ever be able to figure out all the details in game?”
In the old days, I used to write longer notes to myself:
These days, if there is any background at all, I try to make it part of the adventure. I find that whenever there are written things to be found, my players want to read what they say. Often modules will have nice hand-outs for plot-relevant stuff, but no list of titles and short blurbs for libraries, correspondence, stone tablets, and so on. I always have to improvise. Whenever I forget to prepare such a list of things to read, I feel a facepalm coming up as we reach that point during the session. The players ask: “What do the books say?”
In this case, I did not forget to prepare ahead of time. There were stone tablets to find and information about the dungeon, the setting and its history to be found.
Here are the beginning of my Caverns of Slime. Some coherent notes to help me get an overview of what the adventure is all about.
Again, a dwarven stronghold, with a few coherent sentences. “The dwarves are a suspicious, isolationist lot. […]”
I wrote more about this particular example back in 2010. When I rewrote this for inclusion in Fight On! #8 I also cleaned up the notes a bit. You can better see what I’m aiming for, but since it’s “cleaned up” it doesn’t reflect actual notes from my gaming table.
I think these examples also illustrate that I want my notes on my maps!