View Full Version : DMs, GMs, ZMs, RMs, what form do your notes take?

2009-11-16, 06:49 AM
Basically, how detailed and extensive are your notes for the adventures you're running and what sort of format/medium(media?) are they in?

I've been trying to approach the concept as basically like writing out a adventure module-style setup for the combat/exploration component with either little notes included within it about any sort of encounters and then references to where I've put up a more detailed write-up/speech for more social/important thingies.

2009-11-16, 06:51 AM
My notes tend to take the form of maps, for measurement.
Detailed information for the most important NPCs.
And then, from there, I keep almost everything in my head, and only note down what information I give to the players so I can cross reference it to reduce contradicting myself.

2009-11-16, 06:59 AM
I print out the stats of things I expect my players to fight.

If I'm bored I may physically type up backstory notes on areas the players havn't been to yet. I don't use the typed notes for anything though, just typing them engraves them in my memory enough for my satisfaction.

And, uh, yeah, that's about it.

2009-11-16, 07:02 AM
For casters? I stat out the BBEG's and lieutenants.

I generally set a wizard's top 4 levels of spells. Below that, I leave open, and go on the fly from their spellbook. I find this doesn't let them go willy nilly schroedinger, but it adds enough flexibility to allow for the fights to be interesting.

I try to keep my campaign notes limited to a flowchart. The enemy has a general goal. He takes steps to complete it, and, if interrupted, will adapt on the fly.

His shipment of stolen goods is discovered by the PC's? Why, he'll attempt to hire the PC's to recover "stolen" merchandise from a fort of his mercenaries... Namely, the pay he gave them.

Meanwhile, he makes it easy for the PC's by hiring a sizeable amount of the mercs to recover the original stolen goods. He gets more wealth, mercs are practically destroyed by the maneuver (for their failure), and the party now has a working relationship with him, through an intermediary. After all, they're not incompetent. They get the job done.

Things like that, on the fly. Keeping things loose allows for more party freedom, though you need to create villains that people want to hate... or save.

2009-11-16, 07:28 AM
I type out A4 pages of notes, paragraphed that I adapt on the fly for the NPC's. This is my first dnd campaign though so maby I'm just masochistic. I also use hero forge to creat humonoid npc's and encounters. I also use a grid map to plan battles.

2009-11-16, 07:28 AM
Depends on the type of adventure I run

If it is a detective story I tend to have very detailed information about places, npcs (with motivations and relations) and a timeline. This can be about 10 pages sometimes. ( I think 11 (computer written) pages was my maximum)

If itīs a simple dungeon run with perhaps a riddle and some minor story elements a few notes and a map will suffice for me.

So it really depends on the adventure as few as possible as much as necessary :smallbiggrin:.
I have two notebooks (not pc real books) one is for npcs places they visit
the other is for stuff they want to do (my current pcs are the lords of a small town and all their discissions I put in there (like trade, sending spies etcetc)

My prepared notes are also on my notebook(pc)

2009-11-16, 07:42 AM
I usually keep detailed notes on the main protagonists, including motivations and available resources. Combat stats are rather made "on the fly". I also keep a crude storyline at hand. I generally don't bother detailing it too much, because my players usually are experts at doing a sithload of stuff I haven't accounted for.

I write my notes in my native language, which nobody else at my table understands, meaning I can leave the table for a while safely and leave my notes lying around without bothering.

2009-11-16, 07:44 AM
I use maps, typed adventure outlines, NPC character sheets, 3x5 encounter cards, and hand written 3x5 player note cards. (These are handed out to players if they learn a piece of information that other characters didn't. Then it's up to them to tell the other players, or not.)

2009-11-16, 07:44 AM

i has them not

Kurald Galain
2009-11-16, 07:54 AM
Some notes scribbled on a notepad, plus a lot of improvisation.

What's a ZM? :smalltongue:

2009-11-16, 08:01 AM
The enemy has a general goal. He takes steps to complete it, and, if interrupted, will adapt on the fly.

His shipment of stolen goods is discovered by the PC's? Why, he'll attempt to hire the PC's to recover "stolen" merchandise from a fort of his mercenaries... Namely, the pay he gave them.

Meanwhile, he makes it easy for the PC's by hiring a sizeable amount of the mercs to recover the original stolen goods. He gets more wealth, mercs are practically destroyed by the maneuver (for their failure), and the party now has a working relationship with him, through an intermediary. After all, they're not incompetent. They get the job done.

Things like that, on the fly. Keeping things loose allows for more party freedom, though you need to create villains that people want to hate... or save.

Just wanted to say how much I loved reading that. And how I'm going to steal it for my campaign as soon as I'm done typing this reply out. Kudos! :smallbiggrin:

2009-11-16, 08:01 AM
Page on background of main characters, page on goals of BBEG, 5-8 pages of overarching storyline if the BBEG has everything his way, all broken up into session-length chunks. The week or so before a game, I'll stat up the encounters and familiarise myself with the plot for that session. All RP encounters are totally improv, and anything that the PCs do that could change the future course of events gets noted down. When I get home, I then modify the overarching plot according to the PCs actions.

Edit: I also note down subplots that the PCs' instigate. For example, they save a goblin that I expected to die? It becomes a very important goblin, perhaps with special knowledge or power, something to make the PCs think "Wow, we're awesome"

2009-11-16, 08:23 AM
Improvisation, and notes for difficult monsters and NPC (dragons, generally, the others can be managed).

2009-11-16, 08:40 AM
Some notes scribbled on a notepad, plus a lot of improvisation.

What's a ZM? :smalltongue:

Zombie Master, from All Flesh Must Be Eaten.

2009-11-16, 08:42 AM
General outlines of main plot points and sidequests, brief notes on NPCs (getting increasingly more detailed as my players love to talk to EVERYONE and want names and descriptions and family histories...). Stats for most enemies-- I'm pretty bad at coming up with characters on the fly. Oddly enough, the one thing I usually just make up as I go along are maps.

I also take notes on recurring characters, usually enemies who escape the whirlwind of death that is the PCs. They've got an angry black dragon and an angry succubus gunning for them. Of course, they've also befriended a half-fiend bard, so it's not all bad guys.

Mushroom Ninja
2009-11-16, 08:43 AM
In my SWSE game, I used to make really extensive notes, but given the off-the-wall approach my PCs tend to take to overcoming problems, I've drifted more and more towards improvisation. Nowadays, I tend to write up a couple NPCs, sketch a couple of rough maps, and improv from there.

2009-11-16, 09:10 AM
I don't gm DnD, but yeah, not masses of notes. I have stored in my head an exact idea of whats going to happen over the entire campaign, and then write down details that I need-npcs, locations, occasionally statting people when needed.

Temet Nosce
2009-11-16, 09:25 AM
Generally nothing at all. I have on occasion written up bits about the setting, but for the most part I improvise. I only really need a concept of the world, and solid motivations for the major NPCs.

2009-11-16, 09:32 AM
The first thing I do, is get a general outline of what I expect to happen with the adventure. Depending on the adventure in question, this can vary from several pages of notes to simple "In this room they meet these monsters, and kill them".
Now, the important thing to remember at this stage is that, in any situation more complex than "You are locked in a room with a mindless monster that wants to kill you", you cannot assume for sure that the PC's are going to do anything. You have to know your group however. Some groupsYrun around and go everywhere BESIDES the lake. Other groups need clear directions for what to do.

Either way, it's good to have a Plan, but you should be ready to improvise. Generally your notes should lean towards "This is the way things are at the start of the adventure" rather than "This is the way things are going to go". It's good to have a plan as to what you want to happen, it's not good to consider that a plan of what is Going to happen.

Once you've figured out your basic plot, I start statting out everything that needs stating. Enemies, allies, ect.

Also, remember that things become "Canon" when you tell them to the Players, not when you write it in your notes. Once gameplay has begun, you can change things around however you want.

2009-11-16, 10:22 AM
Although I'm running RHOD from the book, I have my notes (since I made heavy modifications to monsters and some events) in MS OneNote on my laptop. I used to rely exclusively on my computer but since it's become unreliable, I print out the statblocks for monsters by encounter.

2009-11-16, 10:42 AM
I'm very serious about my note taking. My last game had more plot than I could keep in my head at one time, so it all had to spill out on paper.

I take notes in a single subject notebook because I need to have one hobby that keeps me away from the computer. On the front inside cover I write a summary of each day that happens in the game. Usually these are one line long. It'll be something like "Day 2 - PCs found NPC_FRIEND dead. Investigated harbor, taverns."

The first few actual pages of the notebook include rules that I expect to use but can't always keep in my memory. UMD or grapple often ends up here if I'm running 3.5. For 4th ed I'll probably need a dozen pages until I get the system down.

Beyond that I start writing sessions. I make sure to number them and I try to come up with a title too. Game sessions are usually a list of who the PCs will run into and their talking points. I don't write out dialogue, but I'll write descriptions of things because otherwise I forget to tell the players what stuff looks like. There's some order to the events I list, but it's rarely followed. I'm not really trying to script the game as I'm trying to be ready for what I expect the PCs to do. Most of the time I'm right, but I'm happy to go off course if I'm not. If I'm feeling super organized I'll note which player gets the spotlight in each of the scenes, if they have personal plot. I try to make sure that there's a balance of individual face time. And if someone is looking bored I'll try to feed them their own personal plot. Sessions are written on one side of each page. I like to have the back of the previous page so I can note what happened in each section. I don't do a lot of random encounters or dungeons. When I do I usually right out a list of enemies. If they're in the MM I'll include page numbers. If not, I'll list relevant stats. Dungeons rarely have maps associated with them. I find that when I come up with the map, I improvise it and don't put much thought into the overall layout. Then I meticulously copy it for the PCs. Why not just improvise it at game time? I do make a list of challenges though and deploy those as needed.

In the back of the book I write plots. I'm a plotty, story based GM and I run plots in parallel. To keep track of this I give each plot a page in the back of the book. Each session that the plot advances (and they usually advance when the players aren't looking) I write the session number and what happened with the plot. This is different than what I do at the front of the book because it's what's actually happening in the world as opposed to what the players witnessed.

NPCs are kept on index cards in a little box. Stats are on the back of their card. I'm trying to learn to write more flavor on the front. My ability to act out NPCs is poor, so I'm making sure to write their traits and mannerisms on the cards. NPCs are color coded, depending on what sorts of groups they belong to (ie, thieves guild and church of Pelor are kept separate).

Next is where I go overboard with organization. I've only had to do this once, for my Game of Thrones campaign. I bought a bunch of those little colored dot stickers (the ones they use to price items at yard sales). Each plot that was set in motion got a dot. Each NPC that was involved in that plot got a dot of the same color. When the players wanted to work on a specific plot, this let me very quickly and easily pull up all my NPCs in a plot. If the players talked to someone unexpectedly, I could look at his colors and see everything that the NPC was involved with. It also let me avoid having a single questgiver who was responsible for everything.

2009-11-16, 11:10 AM
I might have a relationship map. Or a few notes on some locations and what might be in them.

I haven't done heavy prep since my AD&D2e years, over 15 years ago. I don't try to pre-empt the players at all, unless it's a one-shot.

2009-11-16, 11:14 AM
Generally nothing at all. I have on occasion written up bits about the setting, but for the most part I improvise. I only really need a concept of the world, and solid motivations for the major NPCs.

This sums it up pretty well for me.

I do try to write a short summary after each session for my often forgetful players to refer back to, but the only time I typically prepare something before a session is when I'm beginning an entirely new campaign.

2009-11-16, 11:17 AM
My PCs murder everyone and everything they come across, quite unfortunately, so everything has stats, and everyone has a primary and secondary motivation. My skill at improv is medium to good, so that works well enough for me. Villains have motivation that drives them to evil, heroes to good, and I let life play out from there. As of now, the PCs have assassinated 3 rulers and started 2 international wars, one of which is intercontinental.

PairO'Dice Lost
2009-11-16, 11:28 AM
I stat out tons of characters and monsters in my spare time, so I always have a stable of NPCs to pull from if Bad Guy #47 needs stats. Otherwise, if I'm running a plot-based game, I improvise everything (as in, sit down and think for 5 minutes "Where should they be by the end of this session?" and that's it). Setting-based games like a megadungeon crawl I usually write out tons of maps and plenty of minor details, but that's more to help me get in the right frame of mind for the setting rather than to write down anything the PCs are going to need or find out about.

2009-11-16, 11:55 AM
If a baddie is special enough to be different from some random goon out of the Monster Manuals, and it seems likely that the PCs will face it, I generally keep the statblock ready somewhere.

I also use Notepad for all sorts of niggling little notes, so campaign-related stuff typically shows up there.

I also PM some of the people here in the Playground with an overview of the sessions; talking to others about things has a tendency to give me new ideas.

Oh, and I've also got a crudely-drawn map of the campaign setting.

Pretty much everything else is improvised.

2009-11-16, 12:04 PM
Depends. If I'm bored and it's a dungeon I have the rooms all written out, with their dimensions, on MS Word and rarely do I draw out a map (after doing ones with 4 dimensional geometry I stopped trying). I have all the monster stats on the word document and some minor notes for spellcaster strategies.
If it's not a dungeon, and thus more free form, I usually have some notes as to general actions but mostly do it on the wing and rather ignore my notes (which can be disastrous when I forget when the bad guy's lieutenant comes in).
Since college has started my notes, and adventures, got simpler and crazier with more ad hoc stuff.

Edit: Oh yeah I had a rude map of 1 campaign setting... which eventually became 6 maps, because the world was three overlapping worlds and I only covered a 4th of the continent for one world with each map.

2009-11-16, 04:56 PM
Before each session I stat out significant NPC's with online character sheets and I have a few stock rogues and fighters for mooks and try to figure out what they'd do this session independent of the PC's. I draw up rough sketches of the places most likely to involve combat.

I'm very bad at remembering and making up names on the fly so I have file on every character and location that requires a name and a list of pre-made appropriate NPC's names for random people that might be asked their name. I'm also in the process of writing the back story so I can drop various fun names, incidents and tidbits on the setting.

I've already figured out the character concepts for the most significant NPC's that the PC have never even heard about but nothing is written down. I've also yet to stat them out, that's best kept for later. I draw maps of cities with the most important locations and the structure of government but most the details are in my head. The back story and flowcharts of government institutions aren't really necessary but I just really like building societies. I also used Google sketch to draw 3D models of a few impressive buildings and castles, also strictly for my pleasure.

2009-11-16, 10:55 PM
Does anybody have ideas for helpful pages I could add to the DM's section of my character sheet set (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=126909)? Reading this thread has inspired me to add a couple of attempts at a timeline, and some isometric map grids.

2009-11-16, 11:01 PM
It really depends on the campaign. The Endless Dungeon, for example, is fairly throughly laid out, but thats a bit of a special case.

For in person games, I literally don't write down a thing any more. I used to do a quick sketch of the basic plot, but now I just rely on memory/improv, in conjunction with a sandbox style. Casters require a bit of thought in advance, but standard melee builds and such can be done on the fly.

2009-11-17, 02:11 AM
I have a folder where I keep files for my ideas. Each "thread" is a file. The threads are a chain of events that are triggered by the preceding event. I then "weave" different threads for a session. After the session I think about the repercussions of the players action and either create new threads or modify a thread. Luckily I know my players very well and can predict with a very high degree of success.

The files usually include "abbreviated" stats for NPC's.

2009-11-17, 02:19 AM
I have the NPCs and/or monsters I expect the PCs to encounter in that particular session either statted out or indexed. Castle and dungeon plans I have usually drawn out ahead of time.

I have lists of NPC names.

Campaign notes, plothook notes, personalities... well, just about anything that isn't a map layout or a statblock, I keep that in my head.

2009-11-17, 03:29 AM
I tend to keep very little notes, since I hate book keeping. when I do, they're generally just names of people, places and function scrawled onto the sheet just for a shorthand note.

now, for major villains and such, I'll go into more detail but usually I'll put in only enough to get things rolling. Any more than that I generally wing it.

For combat stuff, I might pre-write some stock creatures I intend to use for the game, and just pull them out for references when they come up. (though, in a lot of cases, the monster block in the MM will suffice)

basically, I keep notes to keep the game running smoothly and reduce book searching time. But in most cases, I have a pretty good handle on things that I don't need to reference stuff on the fly.

On the other hand, I do keep notes on where the party is at, and where they've been as well as notable info. But this is all just loose notes at best.

the only time I ever actually do detailed notes is when I'm putting together an encounter that has the potential to roll over the party. (i.e. if I'm going to stat up an ubercharger for an encounter.) this way, if my party asks me how I did it or it can possibly be legal, I can show them afterward the fact.

2009-11-17, 03:59 AM
I do a big write up of my campaign before we start so I know where the whole thing is going, I don't stick to it all the time but at least the notes give me an indication where the players will end up.

The major NPCs I do character sheets for, this includes antagononists. Mooks are usually screengrabs from a pdf that I paste into my notes, and if there's a random encounter table I have a lot on the one page.

The notes themselves, it depends on the situation. More than often I just have a few dotpoints of what is supposed to happen, but if the scene requires the giving of information and/or a lot of NPCs I might script their lines so the information is given accross well and the NPCs are distinctive.

There are also little notes for myself, such as when the players have choices and when they have time to go shopping.

The Rose Dragon
2009-11-17, 04:14 AM
Notes? What are these notes you keep talking about? Are they edible?

2009-11-17, 04:26 AM
(4th edition DM here)

I have a folder for each campaign I run containing the monsters that the party is likely to run up against, nicely reproduced on some custom-made monster sheets. Once a monster is no longer likely to come up, it goes into another folder organized by level, and if a monster that they faced earlier (or that I made for another campaign) comes up again, I pull it back out.

I also have a notebook in the same color as the folder for the corresponding campaign, in which I write down plot elements: different scenes, what the players can do in each scene (the stuff I can predict, anyways) and how, which scenes lead where, and mechanical details about different actions. Once I write that for a given story arc, I spend the next few pages writing up the fights that might come up, with descriptions of the area (maps if it's complicated) and lists of monsters. Oh, and once the players go through a scene, I note down generally what happened so that I can refer to it later; stuff like what treasure was handed out, who, if anyone, died, significant people that they defeated or rescued, places that they can't go anymore, etc.

2009-11-17, 04:30 AM
I also have several pages of item lists when the players want to go shopping, armour, weapons, ship parts and general equipment which I have photocopied from several books.

2009-11-17, 04:49 AM
I'm very new to the whole GMing gig but I thought I'd throw my 2cp in here anyway.
Players seem to have a knack for going the exact opposite way you think they will. If your notes are too detailed and you're not prepared to improvise, you're not going to be happy when they go exactly where you thought they never would. This can lead to railroading, and the players will really not have any fun with it. Remember that YOU are supplying THEIR fun. If you railroad and just tell your story without any player interaction, you may as well just pull out the rug and tell everyone to sit on the floor, because its storytime at the library.
Let the PCs go where they want, unless theres a REALLY good reason they can't.
Nothing happens, storyline wise, until the players get there. Keep whatever challenges they face, whether it be RP, fighting a monster, or a skill check at the right CR for the party- if you have 2 zones with a big level difference and the party deigns to go for the HARDER one first, bring the difficulty down a little. Don't kill them for a choice they had no idea they did wrong.

For this reason, all I do is have a list of names I can use for NPCs, a notepad for stuff like initiative, relevant PC stats like listen/search/spot values, names I've used, places they cant go; and a couple sheets with predetermined stats for random NPCs on them so if they DO get into combat, I'm prepared.

Other than that, no notes. I have a general idea of where the story goes, features of the environments and NPCs, but thats it. Not much is written down.
My players have told me my descriptions are pretty bland when I think stuff up on the fly, but otherwise they have fun, because I give them just enough to RP their characters the way they want, and to sometimes feel like the badasses they're made out to be in the canon lore, but if theres no challenge no one is having fun, so it has to be rough.
I just gotta work on the descriptions.

Pretty long and I'm sorry for the essay. I can't make any assumptions based on the OP but this topic was a question I had when I first started to write my campaign out. TLDR; KISS. Keep it simple stupid.