Friday, May 2, 2014

My GM "Binder"

Since I've moved over completely to using Roll20 for running my planned weekly game, I've likewise started to use a completely digital solution for tracking and planning my games. In the past, I had the literal GM Binder, typically a three ring binder with colored tabs something like these:


I'd fiddled around previously with a few ideas, and since starting my search had a few options fall by the wayside:
  • Google Docs. Sure, I can have everything from spreadsheets to documents, but navigating all of it is a bitch. I still lean quite heavily on Google Docs (and Drive) for quite a few things, but campaign organization isn't one of them.
  • Google Keep. Nice for shopping lists, but doesn't have most of the functionality I would really want for a "binder" feel.
  • Evernote. Honestly this came the closets for my needs, but it does lack a few features that I really was looking for - particularly separating out various sections within the same notebook (I realize it does it, I'm just not as fond of how).
  • YWriter. This is a free program similar to Scrivener. The biggest issue I have with it is that is purely a desktop application, and would require hacked together syncing using Google Drive or similar. 
Then Microsoft released One Note as free, stand-alone application. I'd seen it lurking around MS Office at work - but I never played with it since I don't use Office at home. I saw the video below about configuring One Note to work as a campaign organizer and, after looking into it, I was hooked.

Also, my issue with a lot of custom-made campaign management software is flexibility. They tend to either be targeted toward a particular audience (usually d20, Pathfinder, etc.) - which is great, because those games probably benefit a lot from having tools like those - or are just shy of being configurable enough without a lot of futzing around. In the future, I may take up an offer to take RealmWorks for a test drive - when I do, I'll likely be comparing it to OneNote.





Throwing together a morass of text, images, links, and who-knows-what-else pretty much matches my GM organizational style. I can have sections that are complete and total chaos, which slowly get winnowed down and organized into something more polished and useful. One Note has proven to be perfect for this.

My final layout of the sections and section groups went through several major overhauls until I came to something that I was comfortable with and presented the information I needed. It's a bit different than what you might see for, say, a D&D game. I don't really need tabs for magic items or monsters, but I did want tabs for the campaign milestones, aspect lists, etc. Of course, there's no reason why I can't add them in if I happen to need them. I also made use of section groups, mainly to conserve real estate and make things a bit easier for me to find quickly.

Click to embiggen

OneNote is filled with a few features ranging from useful to just cool. I'm still exploring the tagging functionality - basically, you can tag various notes and even create custom tags. This is useful because you can use a "Find By Tag" search. Unfortunately there's no way to customize the icons, but there are about 50 or so that can be selected when creating a custom tag.



On the "just cool" side, you can add lines or a grid to your pages, as well as make use of some rudimentary drawing tools.



Combine this with the ability to bring pretty much any kind of content into the notebook - links, images, PDFs, you can even record audio or video - as well as a handy feature called Linked Notes (that I still haven't quite figure out how to get to work as advertised). There are also ways to send pages and clippings to OneNote directly  from the browser (IE includes this natively, but there is a plug-in for Chrome, not sure how to make it work with Firefox or other browsers), and I know that Feedly has a button for it as well.

All in all, OneNote has single-handedly helped me organize my campaign. It just goes to show that when Microsoft hits a home run on an application, they hit it out of the park.

I'm also interested in hearing about other people's solutions for campaign organization - different layouts, templates, formats, etc.