The Bullet Journal Method, Adapted for Tabletop RPGs Like Dungeons & Dragons
As Designed by u/AdmirabLEper
By this point, I'm sure that we've all encountered the Bullet Journal method (BuJo) at some point. I've been pretty fascinated with the system ever since I heard of it - the concept of using different bullet points to represent different kinds of notes is both simple and elegant. I never really applied the planning portion of it, but still use it for sorting my meeting notes.
I'm a pretty terrible notetaker during D&D sessions. I try to take copious notes that I can refer to in later sessions, but oftentimes can't decipher my notes, or simply misplace the piece of scrap paper I recorded the notes on.
I realized that one way to mitigate this would be to adapt BuJo to better support D&D notetaking (and, by extension, notetaking for all tabletop RPGs). What follows is a rough draft of a methodology for such notetaking. Whether you're a DM or a player, you can likely benefit from at least glancing at what follows.
Side note: To call this a module for BuJo would be imprecise. Really, it's more like a bastardization of the method, utilizing similar building blocks. Obviously, much like BuJo, this is a highly customizable system, and what follows are just the standards that I use. Also, BuJo doubles as a planner, which is a function that I don't think is particularly applicable to tabletop RPGs, so I have omitted that function from this system.
This has barely been playtested, and is subject to change.
Header & Subheader
First things first, you're going to need a header for every section in your journal (or whatever piece of scrap paper you have on hand). At a bare minimum, I recommend putting the session number at the top of the page. I also like to put the earth date in the header.
Then, once I've got that out of the way, I get the in-game information in a sub-header. Whatever location the party (or at least my character) begins at, as well as the in-game date (if any). In the sample document, I have put a bracket in front of my subheader, just to separate it from the rest of the notes on that page.
Obviously, you can put this information in any format that you like, but you can see my personal format in the attached example document (yes, I write dates as yyyy.mm.dd). While I do add quite a bit of information to these sections, I'd argue that the only piece that's really necessary is the session number, or the IRL date, if you prefer dates to session numbers.
These don't really need much in the way of introduction:
NPCs or other in-game entities are represented by an asterisk, or five-point star. It helps to think of each point as an abstraction of the major extremities (head, arms, and legs). Not all NPCs will be composed of these extremities (perhaps you encounter a sentient tree, or a disembodied head), but the majority of them likely will be, so I think that's a pretty functional mnemonic.
Locations are represented by a small square, an abstract representation of a building.
Objects are represented by a circle, as in the letter O. If it tickles your fancy, you may choose to utilize an upside down "T" to represent weapons or other equipment (think of it as a sword).
Tasks are represented, as they were in BuJo, by a simple bullet. When completed, X out the bullet, and, if you so desire, strike through the entry.
Other Notes are represented by a dash, the same as in BuJo. I also really like sub-notes (outline style notetaking), which I represent with angled brackets.
The Bullet Journal method had a few signifiers, which I've essentially discarded entirely. While I feel that they are entirely worthwhile if you're recording daily life, there are really only two signifiers that I think are applicable to tabletop RPGs:
Question Mark, to represent inquiry.
Exclamation Mark, to represent priority or importance.
The application of these is simple: when further research is required, question mark; when something is important, exclamation mark.
One of the difficulties I encountered while trying to come up with this system was how to deal with NPCs alluding to another NPC, or a location or object. I decided that the best way to handle it is to underline any piece of a note that alludes to another note. This also factored into how I decided to write my notes. Most of them are in an Object:Description format, which you can see in the example document.
In the example document, you'll see some bullets being used in combination with each other to represent something more specific. For instance, a square with a dot in it is a location I've been to. If that square is X'd out, it's a dungeon that's been cleared. Similarly, an object that needs to be fetched will have a dot in it, and when X'd out, has been found.