The tool you use depends alot on the game you are running.
I've experimented alot.
These are true for me, but your milage may vary.
Keep it all in your head
Not as bad as you might think.
I've run a few campaigns this way.
It is particularly good for sandbox-y games.
The Human mind is a great thing, and what is the point keeping notes if you never refer to them as the players go do something else.
If your story/setting is good enough to stick in your head, then the campaign is going great. and it it is not then maybe its not so great.
But this doesn't work so great once you have alot of named NPCs.
Or other very key, specific facts you need.
Nonaweful, but it is not indexable,
and you need to leave space to make additions later.
If you were neat enough then you could have a beautiful one with page numbers and cross referenced.
That would be nice but I am nowhere near that neat.
I found it good for me to use when i was writing extended fiction of NPC back stories, base description etc to get a good feel for the setting i was creating. That was far more work however than I should have put into preparing for the campaign. Fun though.
I suggest this is the fastest way to get started, with jotting down campaign ideas, but not so great long term.
Tip: if you fill it only from the front then you can fill it from the back with scratch notes. Eg monster health, initiative orders during combat. Quick sketchs/maps. This is handy, saves having loose sheets of scrap paper floating round the table and is one less thing to bring to a session.
Word Processor File
When I first started out, I used a word processor file, which went though my dungion room by room, sating out monsters (using screen-caps from PDFs).
This was great for linear (or near) linear things like dungeons.
Much more recently I have also used a word processor file to just dump huge piles of notes into, in prep for a Demon the Decent short campaign. Under headings. It was fine since it was a 3 session mini-campaign all run in one (very long) day. but it wouldn't have been good for a on going campaign.
In both cases I printed most out so as not to need a computer in the session.
For me, Notes in a word processor file are dead, like the paper they are printed on.
The are created, used expended. Not updated.
because this kinda structure is not very flexible.
and finding things in a word processor is clunky.
Good though for formatting things out, having a plan.
I used a database to track NPCs in a game where the PCs were faction leaders.
Something boardly similar but less well polished than this one i made for a friend.
There would have been around 40 reoccurring NPCs. Each one important, and notable to the players.
The database was amazing, since i could generate reports for them showing who had who in there faction and what there factions capabilities were.
I then tried it in another game where NPCs were not the focus.
There was only a few reoccurring NPCs.
Maintaining the information in it, was not worth the time,
or the need to have a computer at the table.
Not bad. I use the largest ones I can get.
has the advantage of being handwritten, so fast and on the fly.
Like a notebook, but you can sort them.
Both putting them in order and putting them in a box with labelled dividers.
You can archive them into another section of the box when they are not relevant any more.
You can have different colours for different things, eg pink for places,
green for NPCs. White for other notes, whatever you like
I also found them useful when I wanted to run a quick oneshot,
I could grab the cards for the setting elements i needed (eg some monsters) and repurpose them into a new game.
OneNote is like digital index cards.
Some advantages that they can be nextested 4 layers deep, which is deeper than is reasonable to do with boxes and index card dividers. But that just doesn't feel deep enough. Once you start nesting you want to keep going.
Also crossreferencing, can be done with hyperlinks, but it feels like a card should be be able to be in two bins.
It also feels like you should be be to make template cards, eg this is the base NPC card, it has name fields etc. and you can, to an extent, but it feels clunky.
on the other and the ability to insert pictures and PDFs is handy as.
Inshort it has many advantages over normal index cards, but those advantages feel clunky and highlight the lacks where it could be just a little better.
The advantages you get from the quickness of pen and paper, and not having to mouse navigate, are often underestimated.
I also have tried Evernote, and found it to but just slightly worse in all ways than Onenote. But it is free.
Stack Exchange Chat: "Spoil-lair"
There are a few "Spoil-lair" chat rooms on RPG.SE.
BESW has one that he has been using for ages.
Idea is you enter your notes into chat.
kind of like you were explaining them.
Someone else may or may not enter the room.
and may or may not comment or provide suggestions.
I think it is a good technique, like talking to a soft toy,
but with records of your words. I think Chatting uses a different part of your brain to writing notes, so things flow different.
I tried it out. Found it quiet good.
I would recommend it for brainstorming your first few ideas.
I've now done this twice, on my two most recent campaigns.
I am now using Mindjets. It is the commercial product Freemind/Freeplane is imitating. It is alot smoother, but probably isn't worth the price difference.
Its good, you get all the nesting you want.
When there is too much information on the map it can get hard,
but shrinking the lists help.
I am using 3 maps, one main map for all the factions, NPCs, Places etc.
One for a special system Demon has called the cipher where each player has a list of abilities they can unlock in sequence that the GM (me) creates for them at the start of the game, and one for the Deep overarching plot idea that is at the heart of the game.
Useful features include:
I tried it for about 4 hours before i decided it was too much work.
it is just a wiki, unless you pay for it to be more, and it doesn't look like it gets to be much more.
It doesn't feel custom designed for purpose enough.
I would say it might be better than your average wiki, but i don't think a wiki is a great too for it in the first place.
The constant waving of the paywall in your face gets annoying.
For it to be great you need player buy in. My players aren't going to start checking another website, just for my one game. I suspect you can link it to make it send people emails but facebook is better than emails (see below).
It would be cool if it was integrated with facebook, link a group and have an app crosspoiting information.
Facebook fills a different niche, it is less information management (that it is that), and more player managment.
But some campaign notes go on it.
Ones you want to distribute to all the players.
- player can discuss plans
- You can have a doc for XP, and one for houserules/clarifications
- Events can remind people when it will be on
- people can tell you they will be late
- all the information
- it is also timestamped
- is permanent (no more losing emailsted),
- it is all together
- it naturally sorts more recently updated things to the top
- most people check facebook more often than they do email
I have a facebook group for every campaign i run these days.
and normally an event or at least a group chat for oneshots
Biggest downside is some people don't do it. and if 1 person doesn't do it, it is barely worth doing at all. Since now you have to communicate everything twice.