Memory Games

Getting players to remember the names of key NPCs has always been a hurdle. The most success I’ve had was when running an Adventure Path by Paizo which included face cards, giving every major NPC a portrait, allowing me to hand those out and let the players write notes on the card. Often times they’ll just hear the name, nod, and then when they meet again they’d ask me to remind them, arguing “my character would remember them.” This got especially frustrating when they forgot a name after five minutes during which several days passed in-game, so they’d heard the name significantly more recently then the PCs.

This really came to mind when rewatching Critical Role. Since Campaign 2 ended, I started a new viewing of the back half of the second campaign, starting when it switched to pre-recorded. People often talk about how great Matthew Mercer, the DM of that game, is or how great the players are at roleplaying or speaking in character. But one thing that doesn’t get nearly enough attention is the note taking. Which was driven home when Marisha Ray pulled out her notes and did this long rant guessing at some secret master plot and connections between several NPCs that stretched back across the entire campaign, which largely ended up completely right. And there are a dozen other examples in both campaigns when players pulled out notebooks and recalled key NPCs or locations they had been.

Everyone talks about the cast of Critical Role being great, unmatchable players because they’re trained in improvisation and professional voice actors. But a key part of what makes them great is their engagement in the story and willingness to take notes, which anyone could do.