Blue-booking refers to passing notes between DM and players for individual in-character actions during downtime. The name, apparently, comes from the color of the college exam booklets commonly used for this purpose during the early days of this practice.
With the sheer variety of communications technologies available nowadays, though, there are dozens of other ways to engage in a bit of between-session development. If your gaming group is looking for that little bit of extra character development opportunity, there are some important considerations to keep in mind to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
- Ensure that everyone will have time to commit to participating. As a player, you may feel left out if your schedule does not permit enough time to provide the DM with your “turn” but the rest of the group is getting their individual focus. As a DM you will be expected to respond promptly to each of your players.
- Set deadlines for turns. This helps to ensure that everyone is able to participate fully. As a DM you will need to have time to read and respond to each of the players’ turns, so ensure your deadlines account for that. As a player, try to submit your turn on time so that the DM is not held up waiting for you—your response may otherwise be rushed or missing.
- Establish a limit on turns per week. While the DM may initially feel confident in his or her ability to respond promptly whatever may come, a particularly busy week or a particularly prolific player taking five times more turns than anyone else may quickly put a damper on things. Better to set a hard limit up front before it becomes an issue, to avoid possible incidents.
- Focus on the individual character. One of the great strengths of blue-booking is that it permits each character a bit of solo time without the other players sitting idly by waiting their chance. Play to the character’s strengths. Spend time on backstory elements or engaging in activities suited to the particular strengths of the character.
- Focus on roleplaying. Getting bogged down in lots of rolling is not the ideal way to go. Try to resolve conflict exclusively through roleplaying, wherever possible, and establish ahead of time a mechanism for adjudicating any rolling necessary, one that everyone can agree is fair.
- Be consistent. If you reward experience or treasures to one player during a blue-booking session, ensure that the other players are receiving a similar reward. If you establish a precedent that blue-booking is worth 100 experience per entry, make sure you stick to it, or explain to your players clearly any reasoning you have for changing that.
- Write a novel. Your DM needs to read through and respond to turns from every player. Try to keep your turn within reasonable limits. As a DM, if your response is too long you should consider whether the player is getting enough input in the proceedings—don’t trivialize the PCs.
- Write a one-word turn. Give the other person something to work with. If your turns are minimal the DM won’t have enough to work with to give you something interesting back; if your responses are minimal as a DM your players will lose interest in putting forth the effort.
- Run combat. Combat requires lots of dice rolling and can bog things down tremendously in this format. If you absolutely can’t avoid it for whatever reason, either use an abstract or narrative resolution rather than playing it out turn by turn, or arrange to meet the player in person to resolve it before proceeding.
- Show favoritism. Try and keep your responses about even length for each player, whenever possible—while the idea is that blue-booking is private, there’s no way to guarantee nobody will notice or discuss it if you regularly give half a page to one PC and ten pages to another. Some amount of variance or the occasional longer or shorter entry for a given player is expected, but don’t make a habit of shortchanging a particular player if you can avoid it.
- Skip a deadline without notifying the DM/players. Everyone has off-weeks, or emergencies that come up. If you can’t find time to write your turn, or respond to your players, don’t sweat it—but don’t just leave it without saying anything. Offering an explanation shows that you respect them enough to let them know. Be sure to do it before the fact—wait too long and your explanation becomes an excuse.
- Trivialize the character. As with any roleplaying game experience you are creating a shared story, with the PCs as the main character. In blue-booking especially you should never make the PC feel as though they occupy a secondary role in the story. If they wanted to read a story about someone else, there’s plenty of fiction they could be reading instead.
Blue-booking can be a lot of work, but it gives opportunities to explore individual character actions not typically provided by more traditional forms of play. If you and your players are up for it, it can broaden the horizons of your gaming experience.
I’m a big fan of bluebooking, both as a player and as a GM. Some of my players bluebook frequently, some hardly at all. As a GM I find it useful to generate side plots and to flesh out the world. Players like it when a location or NPC they invented in their bluebook actually appears in a game session.
One useful thing is to avoid hard time references. If the dates are left fuzzy then the events of the bluebook can “occur” whenever the flow of events in the “live” campaign allow.
This is good information. I’ve never utilized bluebooking as a GM or a player, but I think I would enjoy working it into a game in the future. Thanks for the info.
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