Sunday, September 21, 2008

Notes & Nostalgia

I ran my first campaign almost entirely off of handwritten notes on graph paper. I carried them around in a couple of folders, and worked on them during classes. I occasionally e-mailed things to my players, and kept a few long term notes on my computer, but I printed out almost everything important I wrote on the computer and stuffed it into the folder.

I didn't write up as many notes for the next couple of campaigns after that (I'd started doing work in my classes) but they were still mostly handwritten. Even if I wrote them on the computer, I kept all my need-to-play session notes in folders and binders and notebooks. One somewhat less successful campaign even revolved around a box of 3x5 cards.

Then I got a laptop. The one real campaign I've run since then was almost entirely based on computer notes; basically just the maps, and a couple of player generated notes in a binder. Which was great, especially for in-game notetaking. (And, most especially, handling initiative. "Sort alphabetical" was my best friend in the whole world.) I could have gotten more use out of it if I'd organized my notes a little better, or kept them in a format I could search through better, but my notes have always been a mess, no matter what their format.

I love the convenience of keeping track of my campaigns on the computer. I like being able to take advantage of my typing speed, and I'd like to try using a wiki, or some other fancy new Web 2.0 organizational scheme.

But I miss scrawling out NPC organization charts, monsters, the random ideas I have for next session. I miss sitting down with paper, pencil, and a couple of books. I like having a big stack of paper, or a binder to flip through. And I especially like being able to work without any of the distractions that come along with the computer.

I do wonder, though, if that feeling is mostly nostalgia. There are a lot of technical advatages to working partly or entirely on the computer, but it's not how I did my notes when I was 14, and caught up in my love for this crazy new game that I had discovered. Before I knew what I was doing. Before I worried how to do my notes.

Edited 9/22/08, for the grammar.


  1. I think it might something to do with the way you self-trained yourself for the creative process. I, for example, am one of the most "plugged-in" people I now of. I'm a verifiable internet junky - but, becuase of the way I 'trained' myself as a DM over a period of 25 years - I still keep all my campaign notes on paper. I few years ago, I bought a moleskin - and this has proved to be a simply awesome way to walk around with all my D&D notes on hand; ready for catching ideas as they strike me. I use Google Documents via a laptop at the game table only AFTER i've organized my thoughts for a game session. All the drafts, and all the wild-campaign story arcs and random plot hooks are still scattered through out my moleskin in red, blue and black ink.

  2. I'm with ya -- I'm one of the lone holdouts in my laptop-powered gaming group

  3. Yeah, I still use binders and moleskins primarily as well. Although I also have folders dedicated to campaigns present and future on my computer, so it's a sort of hybrid process.

    I read an old Dragon magazine article back when I was starting out as GM that was a HUGE influence on how I prepare my campaigns. It was called "Organization is Everything!" and it very explicitly laid out how to put together a campaign binder. A good read, if you can track it down.

  4. @jonathan Yeah, notebook for prep work and computer for at-the-table notes would probably be my ideal configuration. Especially since it's a lot easier to get away with working in a notebook during classes.

    @patrickwr Pretty impressive game shelf. The laptops thing reminds me--sometime I'd like to get a group together where everyone has a laptop, and run a stealth/politics/intrigue game with all kinds of secret note passing.

    @sirlarkins This is probably illegal, but--Behold! Good stuff, except the bits about plot. Even as an outline, I can only manage to do event-type planning on a session to session basis.