When I DM, I have a small notepad to take notes, scribble and for all my output.
For my input (my prep), I have my laptop in front of me. I use a software called Notion. I already use it for work, and it's great at organizing notes in databases and formatted pages. It really complements my type of worldbuilding where I prepare a ton of stuff ahead, and then just refine it ahead of a session. When I think of something in the shower, or in the transit, I just add it to the relevant page. When I know it's likely that my player might explore that area, I go through the notes and refine them.
As for Notion, if people are curious, I can go in more details later or if there's requests. But here's a summary. The examples are from my Starfinder campaign.
I have a small dashboard in which there's multiple pages. In the following picture you can see: a list of databases under world building
, pages with a copy of my player's characters background and personal notes under Players characters
, a section for quick tracking in between sessions (not tracking anything in my Starfinder campaign, but I track stuff like the date in Forbidden Lands of the days of rations left in my D&D campaigns), and some system appropriate (Starfinder in this case) summaries for lore and rules under Lore
. I also have pre-generated passwords for computers and other stuff.
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If we dive in one of the databases (NPCs in this case), you'll see a literal database of NPCs. I have some quick informations to sort and navigate through them. Interestingly, you can see the second column (Location
) that actually links towards the Locations database. So this is not just manually inputted data, it's a dynamic link to objects from that database. So I can navigate pretty quickly between databases.
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If you click on one of these database entries, you can open up its page (every entry is a page). Here's a random entry. This is a pretty unimportant NPC. So I only have a few notes about their appearance, or important things to remember. This is all done with a template; each database has a template I've created. So if I create a new NPC in the NPC database and I open it, it'll already have these headers and some empty space to fill.
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Now, I'm sure some will think this is over preparation. Some may also think this might be tedious to navigate and use during play.
So what I do is prepare a summary
page of what I'll need before a session. So, in that first image there's a page at the top left that says Sessions
, in there, there's a list of one page per session. Generally you'll find one for the upcoming session too.
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Now, if we dive in one of these, you'll see the notes I actually use for my session. It's basically some freeform notes and a ton of links towards pages scattered through the databases. I can simply open them, close them and I'm always in this session page. So, the first thing in my session page is some links.
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And further in the page, you'll find some sections with headers for different locations or possible events. Here's an example. I have a quick note as to what music I wanted to put on in Spotify (hierarchy of playlists). I have some notes (in french) that describe the environment, this is my description blurb. And then some raw notes about the characters.
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The formatting changes a lot from page to page. This is all for quick access.
So, in the background, there's a ton of prep, databases, notes, etc. I simply refine it when it's pertinent and I organize it in a session
page ahead of the next session.
And sometimes life hits and this happens... (from a different campaign)
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