“Have you ever been on a farm?” …The Lieutenant smirked, “Well, stick with me long enough and I’ll show you what you haven’t been missing all these years”
- Lieutenant Kros (R.I.P)
One of my favorite things about Fantasy Grounds is the ability to go over each session with a fine tooth comb. For me, this highlights the real difference between playing online vs. a real table. The fact that I can be a scatterbrained DM means that small conversations like the one above can get lost at a real table, especially if I’m taking bad notes. This particular snippet came from a conversation between a PC and an NPC love interest, but once he uttered those words it became clear– Lt. Kros had to die, whether it was cliche or not. As a GM you should take advantage of all the tools made available to you. The fact that virtual tabletops can record everything that happens in your session is a great asset to both you and your players.
My favorite use of chat logs is finding unused story arcs and adding them into the game. If you’re planning a campaign out for a long time, sometimes its easy to miss smaller arcs that occur naturally through role-playing. The character who fell in love with Lieutenant Kros was heartbroken when he jumped onto a grenade to save her life, but the fact that he died before he fulfilled his promise of bringing her home to the farm made it hit that much harder. Take a look at your chat logs and see if you can’t find something you might have overlooked. It could be a promise someone made, a quirk you gave an NPC that ended up becoming a saving grace, or anything really. It’s good when your major story arc connects, but its really exciting to see all the smaller puzzle pieces fit into place.
If you’ve ever had to corroborate a story from eye witness testimonies then you know ten people can see the same exact thing yet still manage to have ten different stories about how it happened. Events that occur in your campaign are not immune to this rule and it’s really easy for players to mix up events that occur during a game. Imagine a Star Wars game where the smuggler character (We’ll call him “Don Bolo”) is meeting a contact in a cantina. It might become important later to know if Don Bolo fired the first shot against his contact. The player might have felt threatened by the contact and believe he was provoked, but the chat logs would reveal exactly how the event occurred and whether or not he fired the first shot. Solving problems like this through the chat logs can help prevent “He said, she said” arguments at the table and it keeps everyone honest.
Where did it all go wrong?
Chat logs are also a great way to see where things went wrong in your game. For players, the chat logs can be used to improve strategies during combat and find better ways to work together. If the party was knocking on deaths door it might be useful to figure out if it was due to a set of unlucky rolls or if there was a fault in the battle plan. Chat logs will reveal if players are making the same mistakes over and over or if they’re trying new strategies each time. Is a player unsure of how her character ended up in its current predicament? She can look in the chat logs and find the seemingly innocuous action or choice that led her character to its sorry fate.
GM’s can use the logs to determine how certain plot holes might have cropped up, or to figure out why his charming NPC’s couldn’t charm any of the player characters to go along with his plans. It’s a great learning experience and even the OOC portion of the log can come in handy. If players had to frequently ask a lot of OOC questions, is it possible you weren’t describing things well enough? Were the players more interested in the OOC conversation or the game itself?
Getting it Right
GMs and players can also look back in the chat logs for the things that they liked about their games. GMs can look at the OOC chat to find instances where they surprised the players. They can see when the players are most engaged and include more of those themes or situations in future games. Players can look back at successful plans and figure out why they worked. They can relive their moments of epic triumph or find the exact wording of their favorite one liner.
There are tons of ways to use chat logs to make your game better. It just takes some time and patience to skim through them because they can get big really fast. If you happen to be using Fantasy Grounds, you can take a look at Joshua’s Chat Scrubber which will allow you to filter out parts of the chat logs you’re not interested in, such as whispers, attacks or dice rolls.
If you know of any other ways to use your chat logs or if you know of any other chat log scrubbers, please feel free to share!