Critical Party Roles, Part 3: The Party Chronicler
In the last two posts, we've discussed the Party Leader and the Party Quartermaster as critical members of the party. In this post, we continue our discussion by noting the importance of the Party Chronicler as a member of your ideal adventuring group.
As a quick reminder (in case you're new to the series), we're discussing critical roles that should be filled in the party, not by the characters, but by the players. The Party Chronicler is one of those roles that, I'd wager, is present in some groups purely as an act of love (or personal assistance: some people know they won't remember a name from months ago but want to, so they write down everything), and is, in my opinion, the most underappreciated role in the party.
I. The Party Chronicler
The Chronicler keeps notes on the important elements of the adventure: where did we go, what did we do, and who did we meet. But it's more than that: it's also what day did it happen on, how many days do we have left (if the campaign has a timer), and what agreements did we make along the way that got us where we are. So if the game master gives out mission prompts, or if there are specifics about the deals we make that we may need to reference in the future, the Chronicler captures this.
The Chronicler is of use to both the players (by reminding them of critical details) as well as the game master: if you don't remember all the details of what happened in a past session, you can lean on the Party Chronicler for a prompt. Now some game masters will hesitate from doing this: we want to look like we remember everything, we know all things, and we make no mistakes. But this is not true, and I think we do a disservice to ourselves and our players if we pretend like it is.
I don't have time to go over extensive notes of past missions before every session. And sometimes I see a point of connection to a past session that I want to use, but don't remember all the details. And if I want to pretend like I know everything, my players can probably tell that I don't recall all the details perfectly. So all I'm doing is pretending to be a know-it-all.
But if I turn to the Party Chronicler and say, "Do you remember the hooded man that you met in the tavern a few weeks ago?" Suddenly three things happen: 1) we get accurate information, 2) we get accurate information quickly, and 3) we get a "skill check" for the player. They have a challenge: "Can I find the name of the person the GM has in mind?" And suddenly the player feels like they are doing something valuable.
And do you know what's funny about this? They might not even stop to think that you forgot the name of the NPC you created on the fly to give a valuable piece of information. It's not that you're saying that you remember: you are asking if they remember. And suddenly they blurt out the name, and you're pretty sure it's the right person, so you say, "YES! GOOD WORK!" And they feel good for passing the test, and you feel good for not showing that you forgot the name of the NPC. All because of the Party Chronicler.
II. Party Chroniclers: Ori, Luke, and Pippin
Similar to Party Quartermasters we don't get too many examples of Party Chroniclers across the ages (as the Chronicler typically gets paid to talk about other people rather than themselves). But while we don't see a meticulous note-taker in the Fellowship of the Ring we are aware that there was such a note-taker in Thorin's Company, and if you follow the Appendices long enough, Tolkien gives us an indication that the Fellowship did have a Chronicler in it - more on that later. First, I want to discuss the Chronicler for Thorin's Company and another Chronicler from Earth's history.
Ori of Erebor
Ori is perhaps most well known for his holding of the Book of Mazarbul in Balin's Tomb when the Fellowship travels through Moria. While he is a member of Thorin's Company, we don't know for certain that he was the dedicated "Chronicler" of the Company, though Gimli notes in The Fellowship of the Ring that he could read and write well. So it was at least known among the dwarves that he was a skilled scribe.
These traits, naturally, aren't important for your roleplay group. What is important for your group is what Ori writes down in the Book of Mazarbul. He know from The Fellowship of the Ring that Ori notes tactics, sounds, sights, and feelings tied to critical moments in the battles against the goblins. This is key: it's all things that a game master or player may want to reference.
If you are fighting against a goblin clan, and the game master asks, "Hey: what did you guys hear last time you guys were fighting in one of the goblin caverns?" The Party Chronicler looks it up and says, "We heard them chant in a low voice, 'Blog' over and over again" (which is "Blood" in Tolkien's black speech, not an encouragement for me to blog more). This reminds the GM what sounds to make, and it tips the party off to the nature of what's coming.
St. Luke does something different. He wrote two books in the New Testament: the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. In these two books we find an immense store of critical details: names, dates, locations, a rough timeline in various places - you can literally track the progression of the story on a map due to his account. If a player or the GM needs to look up exactly what happened on a given day, Luke has the rundown for you.
So if a game master wants the party to recall the name of a local lord, a past contact, how long we've been in a tunnel - the "Lukes" of the Chronicler community are the best people to meet those needs. This doesn't mean you should have your head down the entire time: note the salient details of your adventures: who, what, when, where, why, and so what.
This also becomes helpful down the line when it comes to fact checking: if you include details that will place the event in history, it helps to lend credence to the timing and historicity of the account. Did St. Luke need to include the details of a census happening during the time when Quirinius was Governor of Syria? Probably not, but it does help to give a sense of timing.
Peregrin Took, Thain of the Shire
Which brings us to Pippin. Little known fact about Peregrin (Pippin) Took, the youngest member of the Fellowship of the Ring: after the Shire was freed from Sharkey and his men, Pippin would go on to become the Thain of the Shire, and took the Red Book of Westmarch (the history of The Lord of the Rings) and added to it. He then presented this book, called The Thain's Book, to King Elessar before his death, as a recording of the events of the Fellowship of the Ring and the newer developments in the Shire.
Pippin becomes a Chronicler! And it's not surprising, really, considering his affinity for telling stories to the ents and others during their journeys. Pippin underlines perhaps one of the most helpful and refreshing notes about the Party Chronicler - you don't have to start the campaign as Party Chronicler. It's a good idea to start sooner rather than later to make sure you don't miss things, but there's nothing wrong with starting late. Jump in to fill the need when you are ready, if that is your calling as part of the group.
Chroniclers are perhaps the most important of the critical roles in his series. All of them are necessary, but I tend to find that the role of the Party Chronicler tends to come up the most. Whereas the Quartermaster should be meticulous, the Chronicler is discerning, noting what is important and recording that in a way that makes it easy to find in the future.
And if you're open to spending a small amount of money on this role, get yourself a moleskin journal for your notes. There is nothing quite as satisfying as opening up your "travel book" to record notes for your journey, and it looks so beautiful on the shelf between sessions. Personally I'm more of a Google Docs person (as I can share it with the group), but if you're more aesthetically minded than I am, I highly recommend these.
Our next critical role is one that virtually all parties already have, I'd wager. More on that, though, next week.
Until next time,