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Sidetrek #2

I have been an active adventure hobby gamer for a long time. Starting with solo playing using the classic red D&D Basic box set with the cool Larry Elmore cover art and going up to today’s activity with many people and multiple rule systems, it has been an activity that I enjoy and truly love. It exercises my creativity and spurs my personal studies in a number of topics. And, of course, the cooperative and social nature of gaming has a winning appeal as well.

The creative aspect is a major component of the hobby for me and I find that it is a self-perpetuating thing. Ideas for a character lead to thinking about his or her background which triggers consideration of how all of it could fit into various settings. Finding existing campaign settings that are interesting inevitably is followed by mixing random component elements of them into new collective designs. Recently I have found myself converting existing characters and story ideas from one campaign setting and genre to a different fictional universe in a totally different milieu. As soon as I took my first step into RPGs, this steady roll of thoughts started and as the years (and years) have ticked by that rolling of ideas only has gotten faster.

If I had to rely on my memory to keep all of this straight, it would be very easy to get lost in the massive spray of content thoughts. Note keeping has been lifeline throughout my gaming career and as my personal library of campaigns and characters has grown it has become only more important. Over time, the particular style of notebook has changed but the essential task of sorting my seemingly-unending ramblings into some kind of usable reference document remains essential.

In my early days, my notes were fairly limited and lived comfortably on loose leaf paper in a single pocket folder. These included rudimentary maps, handwritten sheets for new characters, notes on treasure hordes and my first attempt at bashing together a new character class. It all was pretty clumsy, as nearly all of our early gaming work is, but it served to foster that initial creative spark and to set the approach that would be used for years to come.

Today, the notebook is a two-format vehicle. I still use paper and color pencils for my map making but most of my content now resides in computer files. There are digital folders for each campaign I have with sub-folders within them for adventures, characters, setting backgrounds and various saved images that are used at the table. I also keep a couple of folders of general notes for ideas looking for a gaming home and cool pictures that I (eventually) will turn into characters. Having all of this material in an easily accessible spot is great for immediate and in-progress work but it also serves as an excellent memory aid and resource pool for developing new ideas.

A gaming notebook is a very simple tool and most GMs have one. Optimizing the use of it, however, is a valuable skill that will make one’s work both at and away from the game table much easier. Having a readily available selection of NPCs or setting notes during a game session reduces, if not eliminates, downtime in the session when the players move away from the confines of the plot. Those same notes can help in writing the next session or sketching out a larger storyline.

If you have one already, keep using it and refine your filing system to gain more functionality from it. But if you don’t have a dedicated gaming notebook system, start developing one and you will see an increase in your creativity, organizational skills and storytelling chops.

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