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There are plenty of tools available to organize campaign notes. I've tried 4x6 cards, files on my computer, notebooks, and more. I have thought of trying mind mapping software such as FreeMind, note taking applications like Evernote, or even setting up a wiki somewhere.

What tools (electronic or not) have you used that let you keep track of what has already happened in your campaign, including settings, events, NPCs, and PCs, as well as what you are planning for future sessions?

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I tried out a couple of mind-mapping tools, but I found that they were more of a hurdle than a help. They seem to be hierarchical in nature, in a way that's too rigid for my taste, and it isn't really a convenient format for keeping any kind of detailed notes beyond simple, connected phrases. Google Wave was fantastic for my Shadowrun game, but it's being taken down (www.savegooglewave.com). I primarily use pencil and paper for lack of a satisfactory computer-based tool. –  RMorrisey Aug 21 '10 at 4:18
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@RMorrisey: Apache now owns Google Wave and have a version out that you can run on an Apache Web Server. Also, SuSE's parent company (I forget their name, but they were a big networking company out of Utah back in the 90's) has a version but it costs money last time I checked. –  NeoFax Oct 2 '12 at 20:23

44 Answers 44

I started with lots of notebooks like the ones I used in school.

I graduated to using file cards in a box with pretty specific formatting -- consider it to be like a hand-maintained relational database. (Yes, it was as horrific as it sounds.)

I then hacked together a database on Access along with a whole bunch of forms and queries.

I switched over to a personal wiki running on my notebook computer.

Now I use mind mappers like Freeplane. This is likely to be how I continue to do things for the foreseeable future.

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I use an online mindmapper called MindMeister, especially when I am brainstorming. I've always liked mindmappers, and this one is:

  1. Free
  2. Online

So, I can get to it from wherever I am thinking about it. For free you get a limited number of maps.

I also use the XMind mind mapper, which runs on your local PC and is much more featureful than MindMeister, and is also free. The big disadvantage is that it's not available online.

My players keep in-character game blogs for most campaigns, which frees me from having to keep detailed records of what happened, allowing me to concentrate on what's going on.

EDIT: As my game has grown, it has shown me the limits of Mindmeister. I will be using XMind and Scrivener until something better comes along. Because I can't export other mindmapper formats from MM without a paid membership, I won't be starting other projects in it.

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Corkboard.me is a freeform virtual corkboard that you can put sticky notes on. It has the advantage of being able to place information organized in a visual way. We used a corkboard to keep campaign information for our Alternity game. It was especially useful in that we had a remote player Skyping in and we could all enter info on the board and view it in realtime, making it both a play aid and a note keeper.

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I built my own online character sheets (never forget your character at home is the talking point). You don't have to go that far, there's a lot of existing ones out there, and PDFs work great as well. I like D&D Character Folio. Auto-fill, and even auto-rollers, plus massive databases of existing spells make these resources great for players and DMs.

Hosting your own stuff has it's benefits, but it can be overwhelming at first. You'd be surprised how cheaply you can find webhosting even preconfigured sites with Wordpress or PHPBB

Because I host my own site, my GMs are provided with sections of the forums where only they can post to give lots more details about the world. Face it, not all players are going to want to know everything about your world, but some players enjoy that part of the game. They like to base backstories on major events in your world and hold close to the existing story. These resources make everyone's life a little easier.

If you're the only DM, and you just want to post about your world, you can get a free site from Google.

The biggest pitfall to always watch out for: Be careful with online resources. Security is always going to be an issue.

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On a Mac, I've found Growly Notes to be incredibly useful. It's apparently somewhat equivalent to Microsoft's OneNote, though I've never used the latter.

It lets you organize notes in groups of tabs. Each tab can have several free floating text boxes, and you can also drag/paste images and html snippets into the tab. All super useful for keeping track of campaign stuff.

It's freeware, though not open source. The UI isn't the prettiest, and it's not cross platform, but definitely the best utility of its ilk I've found on the Mac.

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This is a Mac and iPad-only approach.

I keep the entire campaign in a single OmniOutliner Pro document. I really enjoy OOP because I can lay out all of the notes for an upcoming game session, then as the play occurs in that session I can quickly add notes about what actually occurred. I can open and close the outline with as little or as much granularity as I like, and it's got lighting fast search, so if I'm trying to remember something that occurred a few sessions back, I can easily grab it.

One thing I really like about OOP is the fact that I can create headings for things like random NPCs, found items, and even towns and villages. Later when the players run across one or more of those things, I can drag and drop them into the appropriate spot in the session notes. This eliminates redundancy and makes it really easy to keep my narrative together.

OOP also allows for attaching of images, sound clips, and URLs. It can also export to a variety of formats including HTML.

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I use Google Notebook, which I really shouldn't do, since it's no longer supported. I should transfer everything over to Google Docs or Evernote, but Notebook's format is really nice.

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Ok, I am late and I am cheating. I am literally copying and pasting from a similar question. Hate my laziness if you wish.

It's another wiki answer, but it includes the importance of not just linking (as any wiki does), but making it searchable, because after a while, this gets big enough to make it harder to find stuff. Like, over a thousand pages, and you don't remember where things were written when... OK, pasting away...


I'm playing the "Very Late Answer" game again. But I run a very, very detailed old game. So this issue is one I am familiar with. And I am a believer in trying to create as immersed a game as possible, and this means having players be able to think 'in-character'...which they CANNOT do without having some level of in-game knowledge. A lot of these are good answers. I also give out of roleplay experience, and tailor it around using 'in-game, immersed' knowledge. It is a good reinforcer. But one of the most useful things I did is create a searchable wiki for the game and for pertinent data. It also includes the rules and such we use. And this is pretty easy these days. All my players have tablets or laptops, and this way, when a player or the Gm mentions the Dockside Area of Igbar or Chorm, the other players can look it up online quickly. Wiki's also accumulate nicely over time, so if a GM puts in a little bit at a time, before you know it, you start to get a nice database for the players to use. Wiki's can also be set up so that players can elaborate or make their own pages, which means they spend even more time on the game wiki. Here is one from an online group I run.
Finally, Wikis are not just searchable, but linkable. So players can keep handy links of their spells or skills or important maps, etc. I often set up player-specific links based on skills or requests of better players so that the more inqisitive players actually have more knowledge.

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Before sessions I write down my ideas on Evernote.

Between sessions I use Trello to keep notes on what has happened.

During the sessions I also employ a little home-grown tool I am developing, D&D on Rails. Right now the installation process is not easy if you are not on Linux/OSX and/or a developer but if anyone wants to give it a try I would be happy to help setting up an instance.

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If you play 4E I would go with Masterplan as another suggested. EpicWords.com and soon the makers of HeroLab will have a program similar to MasterPlan that will be system agnostic.

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I have been using Wikidpad to keep various kinds of notes, including ones related to roleplaying.

It's a local wiki, most likely similar to Zim mentioned by another answer (haven't tried Zim yet), which allows you to create multiple pages/articles and link them together easily. It provides various search features and ways to "tag" pages to group them in the sidebar tree or make them first in the list. In a sense, it's the equivalent of having a bunch of notepad text files, except the program gives you the tools to keep them organized and find the one you need very quickly.
I am currently using it to keep a log of the sessions but you could have a page per NPC, town, plot point, etc...

Todolist (see the Executable and all plugins link) is initially meant for task lists but its greatest feature is complete freedom in how you regroup the various "nodes" (there's no depth limit).

For example I'll have a "NPCs" node with a node for each character and further sub-nodes for things like backgrounds, relationships and other "bits" I need to remember. All nodes can be collapsed to keep only what's relevant visible, assigned priorities, categories for filtering, etc... And inherently being "tasks", you can mark them completed, which I'm using for the "plot" nodes, ticking them off whenever a fact has been learned by the PCs or they have accomplished an important step of the adventure. It is also entirely searchable. In a sense it works like a vertically-displayed Freemind, which I find works better for me.

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I have tried a number of systems over the years, including:

  • Paper Notes in folders
  • Text Files
  • Evernote
  • Personal Mediawiki
  • Microsoft OneNote
  • Obsidian Portal

All of them had one or more things wrong with them (for what I wanted). I have just recently gotten onto using ConnectedText.

So far this is the best solution I have found. Easy to use, cross-linking between notes is easy, powerful search options.

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I've used blogs and googledocs to keep track of game history/world building more, but Roll20 has some great map support if geography plays a big role in your campaigns.

The privacy settings for notes, etc let the GM leave some events and characters public, while notes on future events stay private until needed.

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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.

Note book:

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.

NPC Database

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.

Index Cards

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.

MS-OneNote

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.

Computer Mindmaps

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:

  • forever nesting,

    • factions
      • members
        • key stats
        • and goals
        • and secrets
      • and bases
        • with rooms
  • full text notes linked to the nodes -- very good for writing out how the abilities I mentioned earlier work.

  • Hyperlinks, which can be used to link to wikipedia pages on say the real world place
  • Cross referencing

Obsidian portal

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 Groups:

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.

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protected by Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jun 19 '13 at 10:17

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