I'm currently designing a campaign that has a monumental amount of in-game variables to keep track of, which I'll need to check every time a certain kind of event happens. Reducing the number of these isn't an option (they're all necessary for the setting) but I also don't want to take five or ten minutes to check every rule anytime one of these events happens during a session, since it bogs down play. What are effective methods of keeping track of these rules without bogging down play?

The campaign I'm planning is a "closed circle" sort of deal, with every area prepared beforehand. All of the variables I'm keeping track of are specific changes that happen in certain areas on the map. The entire basis of the campaign is figuring out the secrets it functions on, so to do that, I need to keep it consistent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting question, but it is hard to answer as it is; a spreadsheet sounds like what you're going for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Robobot
    Dec 15, 2012 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ When I say "variables", I mean keeping track of certain in game events, sort of like a timeline, except certain events only trigger for specific causes. A spreadsheet may be a good idea. \$\endgroup\$
    – user5834
    Dec 15, 2012 at 21:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you could edit the question to include the background of this question it might (paradoxically) help focus the answers. Trying to ask an abstracted question means having to explain the abstractions you're using, while just telling us about your game/campaign avoids needing translation. Tell us about the actual campaign. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 15, 2012 at 22:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ So something along the lines of "When PCs enter room 17, room 32 is filled with water. When PCs defeat Hydra in room 7, gobs in room 4 transform into dragons" ? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 15, 2012 at 22:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I wouldn't bother to even try answering this without more problem definition. "I want to track... Things!" \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Dec 16, 2012 at 4:01

5 Answers 5


I'd like to point out that with some good keying, it's a lot easier to keep track of everything. Make a note for each room or item what it can trigger, and then make a checklist for each room for everything that can be changed. Then when, for example, a lever is pulled you could read the key, go to say room 46, and tick a box.

This might take a while at first if your map is very large and the number of variables per room is very big, but you should get used to it fairly quickly.


Generally speaking, if it is too much for a spreadsheet, chances are it's too much for human adjudication in the first place. In other words, if you can't keep track of it with a generalized computer tool like a spreadsheet, then it's a good sign that your campaign needs a redesign. An alternative might be a custom computer application, but if you're designing this yourself, then you'd have to be a programmer for that to be an option.

Chances are, though, that you really can cut the complexity and get "good enough" for your players. The beauty of running with a GM is that a human can compensate for the insane complexity that every game has simply by nature of involving other humans and choice. As long as everybody buys into the story being told, that's generally good enough. Go for that buy-in rather than trying to track every last variable that may go mechanically into your game. A GM has to learn to fudge realistically on the fly and most players will cut you some slack as you do so. Bottom line is that if the story is interesting to your players, you're where you need to be regardless of whatever mechanics go into it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Fortunately for me, I am a programmer, so that's an option. I tend to favor more improv-heavy games, but due to the nature of this particular setting, it just wouldn't be consistent flavor-wise. The variables I'm tracking are very specific things scattered on a map, the reason this didn't come up is that it's actually a divided up version of my original question. \$\endgroup\$
    – user5834
    Dec 15, 2012 at 22:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah. I'd still try a spreadsheet first. You can get quite a way with some well-placed formulas and references. A custom app may be the only way for it, though. The problem is the functionality you need is likely specific enough that there's no real tool you can use. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 16, 2012 at 0:34

While I appreciate what you're going for, I think you're also forgetting the most important factor when you set up a sort of Rube Goldberg effect: Human Entropy. As stated above, if there is that much set up to happen then it may just simply be too much to worry about. Players will likely not trip every single one of your conditions and that will put a lot of painstaking work to waste. I fully endorse the level of attention you want to put into this setting but keep in mind that you may not only have to chuck conditions you've made, but add more because the players will do the unexpected.

If these things are fairly logical consequences, and you have sketched out the maps in some detailed fashion, I would go with Dakeyras' suggestion. Make a note in that room if the room changes in any way.


With a 99 cent spiral notebook. No, I'm serious.

Any campaign that's goign to take up more space than a spiral notebook is going to be too complicated for you to keep track of in the first place, and with a physical spiral notebook with campaign notes in-hand, you can refer to any campaign-based rule by reference with ease. Just as long as you keep the notebook spearated by sections.

This will require a lot of pre-planning, but with any sort of major set of campaign-specific rules, that's a given anyway.

A few computer-based alternatives would be a simple Word Doc, a folder with notepad notes specifically tailored to different info, or Google Docs if you want that information to be public.

Bottom line: You need something to write things down in, and you need it to be available to you wherever you're doing your campaign. If it's real-life, a simple spiral notebook is invaluable. If it's online, one of the digital alternatives I suggested is more viable. From there, it's all a matter of preparing that information.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted for the upper limit on complexity; that's always a good thing to point out. \$\endgroup\$
    – user5834
    Oct 27, 2014 at 20:09

Not sure if you have looked at http://roll20.net but they have some great tools on that site.


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