Emerald Specter 44: BuJoRPG, Bullet Journal RPG

The title will be a little misleading, I’m not releasing the BuJoRPG here… but I’m here to talk about the point of the bullet journaling roleplaying system here and what to expect when the release finally happens.

Welcome back to the writing… as this will be one hell of a long column.

For anyone who has been under a rock, or hasn’t ever read a column here on the EmeraldSpecter.com website, bullet journaling is a way of journaling to improve your organization in life that was created by Ryder Carroll and has been sweeping the Internet for a couple of years now. I took up bullet journaling late last year and came up with the wonderful idea of gamifying the idea of a bullet journal, specifically building up personal improvement within the structure.

I came up with the BuJoRPG, which is what I’ve been working on since March and am almost ready to release the 1.0 version. As I write this, I am utilizing version 0.7 and building the forms and instructions for general release is basically what I’m going to be doing to release this version (at which it will become version 1.0). This will be the culmination of almost four months of testing and refining in order to have something workable to release to the general public for use. Once this “base” is out there, then the layers of the onion will be added, which was the plan from the beginning.

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s talk about what the hell we will be releasing in the very near future.

The basic idea was focused on self improvement, has always been about self improvement, and how to make that self improvement tangible… something to see measurable results in. A roleplaying trope is to have levels, milestones, quests, and the like… so I added that into the mix as well. This is an RPG where you actually have to do things in order to advance. Who wouldn’t like that, right?

I’ve broken down the improvement things into a few categories: daily things, necessities, and wants are the basics. Once I figured out what belonged where, I developed the ideas behind these to make them into a routing of what should be done daily, and fairly often.

Let’s start with the necessities.

A necessity is something that needs to be done daily, done by you, and should not be rewarded when done but rather punished when not done. These would include basic household chores that have no business not getting done. Doing or folding laundry, washing the dishes, picking up around the house, locking the door at night, keeping the yard clear of debris, making sure the car stays clean, and keeping your room clean. You really have no reason, any good reason, why these things shouldn’t be getting done on a regular basis. These will be the items that you are either already doing semi-regularly and want to increase to daily, or you’re doing them infrequently and they really need to be done daily. These things will cause a loss of hit points, which can only be refreshed in one of two ways… that I’ll wait to reveal for the release of the BuJoRPG.

Hey, parents… did you notice that “keep your room clean” note? I’m thinking that if you have a child that is having a hard time focusing, isn’t doing their chores, or basically accomplishing basic living skills that the BuJoRPG is the source for correcting that! You might then be wondering about how to get the child to actually do the journaling to get better at these things, and that is what I’ll address next.

Next I’m talking about the daily items.

A daily item is something you want to encourage into a habit by rewarding that habit with experience points. Experience points are the only means of advancing in level and thus this is how you establish positive daily habits. In the last full paragraph, I suggested you want to encourage the child to journal to be doing the necessities, so what you do is make “bullet journal” one of the dailies. See how easy that is? All of these things will be items that you want to build habits of, so if you want to journal on a daily basis, add that here. If you want to write so many words per day to build that into a habit, add that here. If you want get better at chess by playing often, add your “play some chess” option here. Completing each item in the daily list will come with some (albeit minor) experience points, but completing the full list will provide a bonus amount, which will encourage completing the daily list daily.

Now let’s go on to the wants, which I’ll explain why that is different than the daily.

A daily is something you want to reward for accomplishing on a daily basis, because that is something you can do on a daily basis. The want, however, is like a daily but will have milestones rather than a daily completion list because completing that daily would be unrealistic or impossible. An example I have been working on using is learning a language. If you want to learn a language, you might be tempted to add this into the daily list in order to learn something daily. Having tried to learn a language myself, I can tell you that perfecting the little bits you actually do learn is more important than just memorizing phrases, because building a syntax of the language can’t be done with pure memorization. A want will have milestones to complete, and in the case of the language, here are the examples I’d use: (1) learn a simple phrase (like good morning) for 100 XP, (2) learn 5 new phrases (on top of the one you’ve already learned) for 500 XP, (3) learn 10 new phrases (again, on top of what you already know, bringing your knowledge of phrases up to 16 at this point) for 1000 XP, and so on.

The wants list is different than the daily… because you can only accomplish the milestone once. Ever. You learn that one phrase, you can’t just learn another simple phrase for another 100 XP because that isn’t what you’re trying to build. The wants are getting you to learn something to improve yourself that will take more work than a daily schedule. I used the example of a language, but this can include a martial art, coding in a particular computer programming language, or any sort of art project (drawing, sculpting, photography, etc). These milestones are there to get you moving in the right direction, not be a source of easy experience points for your advancement.

After all, if you’re going to cheat your way to the end, did you really improve at all?

When I release this to the world, I’ll be hammering home something important in the whole process: be honest with yourself. Did you forget to add your journal notes in for Monday? Be honest and note that on Tuesday, but do not fill out Monday as if you’d added it when you were supposed to because then you aren’t improving, you’re just gaming the system. Do you want to improve yourself or just get by?

This is one of the reasons that I suggest adding “journal” into the daily list, because if you already have a “gimme” item on the list, the fact that you’ve done the journaling and updating gives you some automatic experience points. This then leads one to be positive about embarking on the BuJoRPG because as long as you’re doing JUST the journaling of the one thing, you’re earning at least a tiny piece of experience each day.

Along with everything above, I’ve got something I’ve been calling “achievements,” which are more for tracking on an individual basis and still working towards goals to earn experience at certain milestones. Don’t confuse the milestones of the achievements with the milestones of the wants. Maybe instead of “milestone” I should say benchmark? Every achievement is something you track to reach a benchmark. Let’s say you are tracking your steps (one thing that I am currently tracking in my own achievements for the play testing), and you want to accumulate a full track of each step. This is an achievement.

Using my own steps for the example, it is important to note that I am a city letter carrier and my route is roughly 13 to 15 miles for a single delivery day. This equates to anywhere between 26,000 to 31,000 steps per working day, meaning my totals will probably be much higher than what you’ll want to use if you’re not regularly making this high of a daily step total.

Starting at the beginning of my play testing period, I started tracking my own steps every day (except for the two days I missed, which do not count because they weren’t logged when they should have been). Every 100,000 steps, I earn 100 XP. When I reach 1,000,000 steps, the benchmark will be triggered and I’ll get my XP multiplied by two. That means once I get past the million step mark, every 100,000 steps will be 200 XP. Every 1,000,000 steps I gain a new benchmark and get a new multiplier. So, when you see how high the experience requirements for level 50 are, you’ll understand why you need the multiplier for achievements.

That leads me to now discuss the roleplaying aspect of this, what I have at the moment, and where I want to take this thing in the future.

I chose the roleplaying genre because that is the genre of game that I am most interested in. If you follow my podcast, you’ll know that I have skinned my own personal BuJoRPG as a martial arts style skin, but for the release I’m stripping out all my “skin” elements to give you the bare bones of the system. Once I release the basic system, I’ll release my own personal skin I’ve been using (and maybe one more), at which point you should be able to skin your own system based on your personal preferences… and I’ll start working on the next version of BuJoRPG.

In a roleplaying game, or RPG as I will hereafter refer to it as, you gain levels based on advancing your character’s skills, items gathered, and experience in/around the world you are exploring. I felt that this concept was the best fit for the BuJoRPG because you’re going through a process of self improvement and that is kind of like exploring a game world and improving “your character.” You, after all, are the character in this scenario.

I initially had some big plans for the initial release of the BuJoRPG. There were elements that I was tracking that were eventually going to feed into a system that I ended up removing because I couldn’t get the other items developed due to my attention being spread too thin. The focus really needed to be on the “core” of the system, then I can start adding in the layers of the “onion” that I was mentioning earlier in the column. What you’ll be seeing in the next month or so is that core system, the “basic” level of everything I’ll be building upon.

There isn’t anything more than a tracking system in this core system. You’re tracking progress, making sure you’re doing the things that you need to be doing, and there are RPG elements in that core system to keep you moving forward through your “levels.” That means there is a lot of journaling that needs to be done, but there are things I’ll be releasing in the future that will make all of this easier.

With the core of the system out there, I can start working on the next plan and that is turning the “wants” system into something far more interesting to interact with. I’ll be frank with you here (hello, Frank), the wants in my system are known as Quests. The reason benchmarks are in there are to give your multiplier some fun interaction and to develop this system into something way cooler than the initial offering I’ll have in version 1.0. I don’t want to get too detailed here because I may add a little bit more before the release.

In fact, I am working on ways to make the whole process more interactive (and interesting). The basic operation of the BuJoRPG system will be as basic as anyone wants, but will be as intricate as I’d like to have it end up being. Eventually, I’d love to have a BuJoRPG app for cell phones, but let’s start with the analogue system working before I go tackling the most complicated part of the process right away.

Currently, I am creating each of my tracking pages by hand… individually, daily tracking info by hand. I am drawing all the squares, making all the art, and formatting all the pages one at a time. For the release of the BuJoRPG, I want to have printable templates for everyone to use if you would rather just print out the sheets to either attach individually to the pages, or basically print out an entire bullet journal formatted as you need. The templates will be basic at first, but I’ll develop those, too, as time goes on.

The task which I have undertaken is a large one. Developing a game, essentially what I have undergone, is a process. First, you create the core (or the foundation), upon which everything else will be built. If the core system doesn’t work, all the pretty graphics and neat artwork you add after that will do nothing but draw attention to the things that don’t work. Second, you build on that core system with some other items that really need to be developed as their own “core” items, so you can add the next layer to that onion.

My idea for building this will be to add onto the framework I’ve created by developing one piece of that framework at a time. The core will be out, then I’ll work on the Quests to be a little more interactive/interesting. When that is out, I’ll go ahead and develop the daily list (which is simply known as Dailies) into a process (because this is a habit building devise, after a certain period of time with this you should gain habits without needing 365 days worth of reminders to do these things, helping you improve in the long run). After that, maybe I develop out augmentations to the base “RPG character” to make earning XP different and more fun. Hell, there may even be a combat or exploratory element added to this before I start working on alternate versions of this type of system.


Yeah, initially the idea was to develop something akin to Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes, where you collect characters (or toons, as the slang goes) to complete different things to advance and grow your toons into a formidable fighting force for special events and other things. That changed slightly into what the BuJoRPG has become, but I’d still like to develop things that would be different to interact with.

So, like I mentioned, maybe a SWGoH version of the game… or perhaps a Final Fantasy element (where you’re accomplishing things on a “rail,” which means you’re completing things and then moving on to complete the next stage of the thing as if you were following a map). How about something like a development resembling a chess game? I’ve got all kinds of ideas, but the important part is to keep the self improvement at the core of everything that is going on.

The important part of this whole process is making sure that once I create what works for me, I really would like to know what works for all of you. I would love some feedback about what you see when I release the core system, or ideas you would like integrated into the BuJoRPG before the release (or in future releases), or tell me what variation you’d like to see incorporated.

Along with all of the podcasting I’ve been doing with the Specter Show and the Greatest Show, would you also like to see something like a page through of the bullet journal I’m using? Would you like to see the set up of a bullet journal from the BuJoRPG perspective? Would you like to see bullet journal hacks? Would you like me to go all the way back to the beginning and have a video about what the hell a bullet journal is and what you would want to use such a thing for?

As someone who is trying to develop this website (and a YouTube channel, Instagram account, Facebook page, Twitter account, and other social media) into something with more interactive elements, I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

Now I’m probably running a little long in the tooth on this column, but since it’s been such a long time and I’ve worked on the BuJoRPG so much, that I figured long would be better at this point.

Think on it.

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