I am running my first 5e campaign as DM, so I am simply running Lost Mine of Phandelver. I have experience playing the game, and a little bit of experience DMing homebrew systems. One player I have played with before but still wet behind the ears, while the other two are brand new to the TTRPG scene.

We have been having tons of fun, but we're getting to the point where they don't know what to do next. (Today's session they will be finishing up the Redbrand Hideout). We unfortunately only get to play ~2-3 hours a week, so there's a lot of time for information to be forgotten.

So far they have already learned the fate of Bowgentle's spellbook from Agatha for Graele and investigated Old Owl Well. However, they seem to have forgotten why they were doing it. They haven't returned to Graele or Daran for their rewards. And they seem to have forgotten that their next mission should be to find the location of Cragmaw Castle and Wave Echo Cave.

How can I help them keep track of what they should be doing? I should note that it's not even necessarily what I want them to be doing - I'm willing to improvise whatever they want to do. But I don't want it to get to the point where they are twiddling their thumbs, either. One player has been keeping small notes, for which I am greatful. But she can't even decipher her own notes (things like "Bowgentle Book 100 Years", she has no idea what that was for).

Some options I've thought of:

  • Nudge the players with 'random' encounters. For example, have them overhear someone talk about how a druid in Thundertree knows the location of Cragmaw Castle. This is my personal choice right now, but I don't want them to feel railroaded.
  • Write notes for them to remind them of previous sessions. Basically a "Last Time on Phandelver Z" kinda situation from me, the narrator. The problem with that is I already do a lot to prepare for the sessions, it would be nice if they could do it too.
  • Have them roll History (Int) checks to recall information about what they should be doing when play slows down. The problem then is there's a chance for failure and we're right back to where we were.
  • Talk to them about it outside of the game. Ask them to keep somewhat detailed notes and remember things for themselves. I'm a little bit concerned that this will take away from their fun a little bit - the two brand new players are full casters, which I quote "feels like [they're] doing homework" at times, and I don't want to add even more "homework".

What methods has anyone used that successfully kept a game on track with what the PCs know / want to do?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, my specific case is for 5e, but this could be a case for [system-agnostic]. Let me know if that should be changed. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 11, 2022 at 16:07

6 Answers 6


Have someone recap previous session at the beginning of the current one.

This is something that I picked up from a DM that I played with and now use it in my games too. At the start of the session, before you do anything in-game, you ask one of the players to remind everyone about the events that led PCs to where they are now, if your players are shy about this, you can start with doing it yourself for a session or two but it's better if the players do it. This not only reminds everyone what they're doing and why but also gives you in insight into what things are memorable to your players, what they enjoyed enough to memorise and whether their interpretation of the events is consistent with yours. Also having the events of one week summarised by someone the week after improves long-term information retention as well. Offer some incentive for players to want to do this, in my case I use tokens of sort that they can exchange for a magic item once they have a few, you can also give out inspiration or some other bonus. Incidentally this might also lead to improved quality of note making during the game as if they want to earn the bonus they need to remember at least some things from the previous game. This technique is kind of a variation of your second bullet point except that no one needs to do any extra work between sessions.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the idea of providing incentive through rewards. Although, they don't really seem to be reward-motivated since they forgot to collect their quest rewards. Certainly worth trying though. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 11, 2022 at 16:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Our group has always done a recap at the beginning. The DM usually asks something like "Who remembers what happened last time?" and we all chime in with events that we remember happening and the DM just clarifies wrong information or reminds us of details we may have missed. It's helpful for the DM to see what players have found memorable or the takeaways that they have and it's helpful for the players to collaborate like that. The pressure is off the DM to do a full recap and the players get a refresher on their goals. \$\endgroup\$
    – goat_fab
    Nov 11, 2022 at 16:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Coincidentally, this helps the GM remember (or infer, or just be told) what the players are trying to accomplish, too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Nov 11, 2022 at 22:55
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @goat_fab yeah, you can have the whole group do the recap together too as different people are going to remember different details, also when you have somewhat shy players having everyone do it together is better than singling someone out, in the current game i’m running player take turns to do them but when they’re done everyone else can add things that they missed, if you can get them to cooperate on that then that’s even better \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 12, 2022 at 0:34

Let the players know what their characters know

I've used this method not mentioned in the other, very good answers

  • Let the players ask you. They as players may have forgotten because they have real lives taking most of their attention and a week has passed, but the player characters should not have forgotten. So, the players can ask you, "What was the purpose of going to Old Owl Well again?" or "Do we have any unfinished business?", and if it is reasonable their characters still know when in game it was just a couple of days, you can just tell them. This may sound super simplistic, because it is, but there is no reason all of you sit around twiddling thumbs if you can get them moving so easily and naturally again.

  • Keep a campaign journal. This is in addition to more technical scratch notes I put on a sheet of paper with pencil during play, like combat rounds, time tracking and hit points of monsters in fights, and is done after the session. We at best play once a week, sometimes only once every few weeks (due to busy jobs, business travel, kids, significant others etc). I found that writing such a short journal record helps me as the DM to remember what happend last time -- or half a year ago--, so I can actually tell them if they ask. (You write that you do want to avoid extra work, and if you play weekly, this may be less of an issue and need for you.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh for sure, if they ask me to explain something to them again or give them information they already know/knew, I have no problem with that. I might start to keep a journal of some sort when things get a little more complex. Right now, exactly one thing has happened that wasn't in the module, so there hasn't been much need yet. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 11, 2022 at 18:10
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I would add in this specific case that one of the NPCs that should be on friendly terms with the players - Sildar Hallwinter - should be based at the village of Phandalin and has a keen interest in dealing with the aftermath of the Redbrand hideout including discovering the castle and cave. It is reasonable for this NPC (and other NPCs that the team work for) to seek out the PCs and remind them. Especially after the Redbrand episode, they will be local heroes \$\endgroup\$ Nov 12, 2022 at 11:03
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I don’t much like this solution, training the players that they can always ask you about anything that they’ve forgotten completely removes any incentive for them to try and remember things themselves, whereas writing a journal in a form that’s both readable for other people and enjoyable for them to read is a lot of work for the DM \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 12, 2022 at 16:29
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG I agree that it is much preferable to have deeply engaged players. Maybe this is a question of level of commitment — when we were students, we had plenty of time to burn on gaming. With families and demanding jobs, not everyone has the freedom to commit that level of engagement. You then have to make a call about excluding those that cannot, or make allowance for it. We've been friends for over 30 years now, so we prefer to make allowance. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 12, 2022 at 17:57
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the campaign journal. I keep mine on a wiki, which makes collaboration and references easy. It doesn't need to be very elaborate to be an amazing resource (example: wiki.fectin.com/doku.php/city:main ) \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Nov 13, 2022 at 19:02

There are a couple options my group has used in the past to help keep everyone on track for what we're doing and why.

I do encourage the players to keep notecards to track their quest logs, but since one of my players tends to play secretary, they usually know what's going on as long at that player is present.

In the current campaign I'm in, the DM does precisely the "Last Time on Phandelver Z" thing -- in fact, we specifically call it that (or well, "Last Time On Spelljammer Z Kai!"). She writes the recap ahead of time and does the voice and everything.

When I'm DMing, I like to ask the players themselves to quickly recap what happened last time, which lets the players with better recordkeeping remind the players who have forgotten about things, but has the added benefit that it lets me gauge what elements of the game are interesting and engaging to the group so I can lean into that in the future, and lets me identify what important details they might have missed.

If I feel like there's an important point being missed or skipped, I'll usually ask questions to prompt them -- "Do you remember why you were going to investigate the old well?", "What was the significance of the old book?", "Was there a clue you found that pointed to where the bandits were hiding out?", etc. It's a bit of the Socratic Dialogue method; I'm asking questions I already know the answers to because it's more effective for the players to come up with those answers themselves.

If necessary I can give those answers directly. I prefer not to, but if I feel like they've forgotten to turn in a quest, asking "Who was promising to pay you for retrieving the golden skull?" will either remind them that they need to go turn that in, or they'll all look blank and go "Oh, crap, who was that for?" and I can say, "Remember the old man in the mill that talked laike this, laddie? He said his name was Gwarion?"

I don't particularly mind giving the players reminders, but I'd prefer that they ask rather than me just blurt out the information, which can feel a like I'm putting exclamation points on their minimap.

That said, a little hand-holding isn't a bad thing for newbie players, so it might be a good idea to go ahead and do that with your group, at least for a while.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like I'm sorta on the right track, I just need to figure out what works best with my group. Seems like different methods will work for different groups from what you've said. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 11, 2022 at 16:54

In the past, sometimes I've maintained an active quest log (in a discord channel, or a Google Doc, or occasionally with notecards). Whenever someone offers the group a quest, I go add an entry to the log. When they finish a quest, I cross it off.

Sometimes I attach xp values to the quests.

This works well when I do it.


If the player forgets, that doesn't mean the character does.

Players can't see the world directly, or hear it, or live in it continuously. The characters can. As the DM, it is your job to iterate that. If the player says 'I walk forward' and that would have the character step directly into a visible pit trap, you say 'the pit trap is ahead of you' and the player then knows to say 'oh I don't walk into it then' or perhaps they have some plan so they say 'no, I walk forward into the pit trap' or something.

Players forgetting something is very common. The world of the game is not their world the way it is for the character. It's unlikely a character would forget things players forget all the time. Unless they are explicitly doing it in character (in which case, they will say the character has forgotten xyz but the player saying that clearly has not), it is the DM's job (who has made up all this stuff, and thus will remember it better, and has all the notes they wrote about it) to remind them.

The most basic way to solve this problem is remind your players if they forget stuff their character would remember.

This is exactly the same as a DM telling a player things their character would know but the player doesn't, like the meaning of arcane runes, or the structure of the local noble classes, or exactly where the oak tree is from their current camp site.


2 Things I do are

  1. We have a group chat (we use whatsapp), or group text. We use this to organize playtimes and all game related business. I also just take the time to do occasional session recaps. These aren't really notes, but more like a newsfeed of the amazing accomplishments the players have made. I really enjoy doing this and it helps me remember what they have and haven't done as well.
  2. Similar to your History (Int) checks, I use Int saves to remember things like "oh yeah, we never got our quest reward" or "Oh yeah, we promised the mayor we were going to investigate the magical disappearing castle. Were we lying, or are we still doing that". Your point about failing such a check or save is valid, but, as a group of adventurer's, remembering that they haven't been paid is going to be a pretty low DC check or save, and if you let everyone roll for it instead of just one character, even if no one has an intelligence modifier, it is very unlikely that 5 players will all fail a DC 5 Int save. Also Int saves are pretty rare, only a very few spells and attacks even use this at all, so it is a nice way to reward a player who has a good saving throw that they probably wouldn't be able to use otherwise.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .