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Bullet Journalling and Traveller

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue.

Bullet journalling is an interesting take on diary-keeping that seems to have developed a life of it’s own amongst journallers, creative types, craft lovers and more. The basics can be learned in just a few minutes, but it can revolutionize your diary keeping, note taking, and it’s not too bold a claim to suggest it can transform how you work, play and live.  

Ryder Carroll came up with the idea and presents it at http://bulletjournal.com/ in just four minutes. He calls it an analog system for a digital age. Those who’ve perhaps dreamed of getting rid of paper and going entirely electronic may baulk at the idea, but others are finding that the physicality of certain routines can help with mindfulness, habit, and joy in the journey.  

Carroll describes it this way: “The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.”

Personally, I’ve found it harks back to a method of journalling I used in the 80s and really loved. Getting away completely from the idea of trying to be a latter-day Samuel Pepys or Anne Frank. Attempting to keep up the rigour of carefully crafted entries, well-chosen words and descriptive text just wasn’t going to be a starter for me, whereas simply making brief notes and tracking what actually happened in a few minutes each day as a reflection on the comings and goings, was much more my cup of tea. In addition, putting everything in one place—rather than a to do list in this app, a note in that bit of software, a diary there, and a reflection over thataway—means that I have one go to place to organize and review my days.

Of course, like every bullet journaller, I immediately made my own adaptations, particularly to the symbols used. A landscape rectangle with a vertical line in the middle to represent reading, one with thicker ‘ends’ to represent TV and film watching and triangles as prayer and praise items. The image to the right shows the range of symbols I use (empty shapes meaning ‘yet to come’, filled shapes meaning ‘done’, an arrow through a shape meaning carried forwards, an X meaning ‘didn’t happen’. Those with more artistic temperaments might be able to reproduce more specialised bullets such as the bottom two, a book and a clapperboard, to replace my rather basic versions.

I’m very text based and a minimalist in terms of ‘art’ and what I call faffing—spending a lot of time on the design of pages rather than just doing the things! A quick search on Instagram reveals that there’s virtually an entire cottage industry for the more visually creative amongst us to decorate pages and layouts. For illustrative purposes and to give pages visual interest, I limit myself to a train ticket stuck in here, a picture from an inflight magazine there, or maybe a still from a TV listing guide cut and pasted in ‘just so’. Searches will also reveal that for every bullet journaller there are a dozen ways of laying out a page or ‘spread’ that go far beyond anything the original creator thought of.  

But even with a minimal approach, it’s possible to create an attractive journal that by the time you’ve filled six months or a year’s worth becomes a treasured possession. My two journals from the late 80s are in the ‘grab if the house is burning down’ category (After the kids, of course!). Brief though the entries are, the memories of the days, the reflections on them and the devotional time I spent in scripture are irreplaceable.


So what’s this got to do with Traveller?

One of the advantages of bullet journalling over just using a regular diary is the way it can expand and contract depending on circumstances. Just like role playing in-game time frames. This very neatly means that both players and referees can track ongoing adventures at just the scale needed to cover events. A normal diary is set to a day, a week,or a month to a view, and lacks flexibility. There won’t be enough room when life is busy or there will be empty, wasted pages when time has been elided over. A “bujo” can cover events in detail when fine granularity is required and then ‘shrink’ to cover weeks—perhaps particularly weeks in Jump when little happens—or months.

Players tracking their characters’ lives or referees tracking adventures and campaigns can thus use them, jointly or separately, to create logs that don’t waste space but can contain detail when desired.

Of course, this can be done electronically. If you do want to stick to digital, check out Johnn Four’s Campaign Logger https://campaign-logger.com. However, the same reasons for bothering with the physical apply to the analogue after action report as much as the analogue journal. Some dislike having devices at the gaming table coming between the players and referee; others find the physical act of writing and doodling and creating a real world book makes actions and events of the imagination come alive in ways that quickly typing on a screen doesn’t match; and others find that bringing everything into one location means more efficient time management and organization and less risk of losing ideas, tasks, and notes. Both for characters and players!

If you’re interested in trying this, I’m sure you’ll immediately have your own ideas on how you might adapt it, but here are some thoughts you might like to get you started.

A weekly spread (or rather two of them) nicely covers the time spent in Jump and the time in port between Jumps. The one shown above represents a start on bullet journalling the first week of the year 1105 for characters experiencing The Traveller Adventure. There are boxes for each day with examples of the standard events, tasks and notes marked and a small section at the bottom of each day which could be used in Jump to note ship maintenance tasks perhaps, or for explorers on a planet to note weather conditions, traders could note broker meetings or cargo deals. Perhaps this bujo is being kept by the ship’s Steward as there’s a space for meals, though he doesn’t seem to be bothering about lunches and the diet looks fairly monotonous! There’s room for a quick overview of the weeks before and after the current one and a box for the ubiquitous bullet journal ‘trackers’ to either help develop a habit or to kick one or to simply record ongoing and regular events systematically.

The advantage of a personalized spread such as this, is that it can be tailored to include exactly what’s required by the journaller (player or referee) and can be more visually interesting than a more text based approach—particularly if colour is used as in this case. Disadvantages include the ‘fixed’ space as if it were a regular diary and the time taken to lay out the spread. (Though the latter can perhaps be used as part of a weekend mindfulness ritual.)

The second example (above) shows a more fluid approach with the left hand side taking just as much space as is required by the events or tasks of each day. These can expand or contract depending on the amount of activity and of course whole days can be skipped if nothing much is happening. Typically bullet journallers will find they fall into a rhythm, however, and entries may be relatively predictable in length. Travellers may have similar rhythms—especially those following the standard week in Jump, week in port pattern. Space on the right hand side allows to do lists and the like to be used across the week. Skills usage can be particular useful to those offering development routes and ‘levelling up’. Trackers are often already used by travellers for ammo but can be extended to cover all sorts of things. One example might be the exercise players often claim their characters are doing to keep themselves fit but don’t actually schedule time for in their busy days. Another example might be to track hours of sleep (or lack of it) to inflict endurance penalties on those abusing their bodies. Note that standard Imperial calendars can be used (or re-created) in the bullet journal to track across a year and are quite effective at showing the patterns of Jump and planet sojourns that happen in a year.

Collections are a major part of bullet journalling as soon as you’re recording something that it’s more efficient to keep together with similar entries rather than in the chronological sequence. Collections in a Traveller bullet journal might list NPCs encountered or equipment purchases or cargo dealings. Don’t forget that a contents page (not an ‘index’, Mr Carroll. An index is a very different thing!) helps you to locate any particular items—notes, collections, weekly spreads, etc., very easily.

I’ve not attempted to show other staples of bullet journals, but looking at real world examples will show how they can be applied to traveller life.

As a means of players having a better sense of where their characters are in time and what they’ve been doing and plan to do, and a means of referees being able to keep track of what’s going on in a longer adventure, bullet journals have a lot to offer. After 130+ (game) days of The Traveller Adventure played over 18 months, my players are expressing a lot of interest in an overview of what they’ve done when. Until now we’ve largely taken each segment as it came but I think there’s a growing appreciation that this isn’t (quite) a random series of events, that there is actually some overarching plot! It would be possible to keep separate player and referee journals, but the whole point of bullet journalling is to just take a few minutes rather than be demanding; whether it's at the end of the day or at the end of a gaming session. So it might be more appropriate to keep one shared one, perhaps with Referee Only pages in it!