True confessions time: I have a reputation around the office for being . . . um . . . well-organized. (That's "anal-retentive," please, two words, with a hyphen.) On the way to lunch one day, I reorganized the CDs in Rob Heinsoo's car -- or at least, that's how he tells the story. And that story got me put in charge of the chaotic jumble that is the Wizards of the Coast RPG Games Library, so I might never forgive him for telling it.
Anyway, while I was writing last month's Dungeoncraft installment, I realized that I had created enough information that keeping track of it all was becoming an issue. So this time around, the topic at hand is how to keep that information organized -- both for yourself and for your players. In essence, we're talking about two important concepts mentioned in the Dungeon Master's Guide: the DM's Notebook (see page 145) and the campaign handout (page 142). But I'm particularly interested in exploring other metaphors and media for organizing this information, especially those involving the Internet. That turns out to be a big enough topic to fill two Dungeoncraft episodes. So Part 1 covers how to present your campaign information to your players. Part 2 focuses on managing that information for yourself -- and collaborating with your players.
The Campaign Handout
Your campaign handout is your players' introduction to your new campaign. Its primary purpose is to start them off in the game by helping them make their characters and understand the characters' place in the world. Its secondary purpose is, essentially, marketing. You want to create excitement about the upcoming game. It should have just enough hints about what's to come to whet their appetite for the first adventure. It should evoke a sense of wonder at the world and a sense of the danger that faces this world you've created. In short, it should make your players eager to start playing D&D.
What sort of information belongs in a campaign handout? Well, for my Greenbrier campaign, most of what I need to put in the handout is in the first installment of this series, from back in October. That's where I outlined the place of each race in the region around Greenbrier, and sketched my own map of the village and its surroundings. Fleshed out with details I've developed since then, and with the plans for future adventures stripped out, it makes a pretty good campaign introduction. Take a look!
I find it interesting that in putting that handout together, I had to add a few details that I had overlooked: the name of the Burning Forest (still don't know what it was called before), the Frosthorn Mountains, the Ravenwash River, and the eladrin city of Cendriane (which I lifted from the Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters preview book). The hardest part was the first column, the campaign background, which I had previously sketched out without much sense of a timeline or details.
I noted the most prominent NPCs I outlined last month -- Eldest Birel, Kharavas and the other priests, and the two merchants -- as well as the two characters I want to encourage my players to forge some ties to (Jander and the vanished knight of the Topaz Order). I didn't name the other NPCs, for two reasons. First, I don't want to tip my players off that some NPCs might become important in the campaign (Marti and Derek Veran, for example). Just as important, I don't want their heads to explode. The Dungeon Master's Guide suggests an upper limit of two pages for a campaign handout like this, and I think that's a good rule of thumb. (A third page with just a map on it would be fine.) Don't make your players read a novel before you let them start playing in your campaign, and don't expect them to keep an encyclopedia of made-up facts in their minds. Just like read aloud text at the start of an encounter, simpler is better.
It would be pretty easy to set up a few web pages with exactly the same content to serve as a repository on the Internet for your basic campaign information. I even had visions of doing that first column introduction as a little Flash movie, with ominous music and scrolling text, Star Wars style. If you're playing an online game (play-by-post or using a virtual gaming table), that's a great idea -- put the information in a format that helps your players access it. For a conventional tabletop game, though, don't neglect the value of an actual, physical handout. Players can keep it with their character sheets, put it in the front of their notebooks, or fold it into the pages of their Player's Handbooks. Most important, they can refer to it during play. If your players routinely have computers in front of them at the gaming table, an online version is fine. Otherwise, use paper -- perhaps also an electronic version, but paper at minimum.
The Player Notebook
Here's a tip from editor Greg Bilsland: It's a great idea to keep a player notebook as well as the DM notebook we'll talk about next time. Make sure you have a copy of the campaign handout in there, and also put in maps, other handouts, a record of the group's treasure, the group's adventure log, and anything else the players might need to refer to during the game. It's great if one player has primary responsibility for maintaining and updating these notes, but you should hang onto it for those times when your note-keeping player can't make the game. You can still give the players individual copies of important handouts, but having one in a place where you and the players know where to find it can help keep your game running smoothly.
All the things we discuss next time about making the DM Notebook electronic also apply to this player notebook, as long as it's accessible at the table.
So that's it for Part 1. Next time, I'll report on my exploration of various web resources that might help me keep track of all this information.