I recently started my new All For One campaign, and while I was preparing for its launch, I set up what is now becoming my standard collection of tools for my campaign group. These tools are a collection of various applications that I use to organize my campaign and to keep it running. In today’s article I thought I would dump the toolbox out and show you each tool and how I use it in my campaign.
An Evolving List
As technology has advanced in both hardware (tower, laptop, iPad) and software (word processing, wikis, online office apps), the ability to manage a campaign electronically has become easier and easier. Over the years I have tried all sorts of electronic tools for managing my campaign. Some have been successful and others were just flops. The good tools transition from one campaign to the next. As new tools come to market, I eye them down looking for that next cool program that will make managing my campaign easier.
The most important thing is that the tools you use have to be a good fit. They need to be easy (for you) to use, and most importantly fun (for you) to use. If you do not like the application you are using for managing your campaign, it will make the process a chore. Bottom line: do not be beholden to any product, always be looking for that next great thing.
Sometime in the future, this list will look amazingly dated, but for right now, this is the current line up of electronic tools that I am using for managing my All For One game. I will talk a bit about the tool, and then how I am using it.
Email: Email List
Among my generation (we aging Gen X’ers), email is still king. IM and Text are used, but email is the main communication line within my gaming group. To facilitate email communication within our gaming group, every campaign gets its own email list; a single address that distributes to the group. The email list is then the main communication channel to discuss anything game related from the time of the next session to a rules question. All of my friends have multiple ways to get email (at work, at home, on their phones, etc), making it ubiquitous with my players.
I create email lists from my personal domain (dnaphil.com), but one could use something like Google or Yahoo Groups. I always name the lists after the name of the group or the game itself. Everyone playing the group is on the list. In my GMail account, I create a label for the group, and a rule to apply the label on any incoming messages so that I can keep track of them.
Document Management: Google Docs
As online office suites go, I like the big G. There are others that do many of the same things, but most of my eggs are already in the Google basket. I use Google Docs for posting documents that are going to be referenced or shared by my group. Google Docs makes document creation and conversion easy, and with its granular permissions you can select who has access to which documents, and who can edit them.
In all the games I run, I start a Google Document for House Rules and Rulings. This living document keeps track of any rulings that I make or any house rules that we come up with during the campaign. I then share the doc, with read only privileges to the group, so that it is available to anyone.
Campaign Portal: Google Sites
Another free Google product, Google Sites lets you build your own websites. The software has a wiki-like feel to it, making creating and editing pretty simple. The templates are not bad, but any serious web designer will chafe against them. Like Google Docs, Sites also has granular permissions, so you can lock down who can access your site, which is typically only my gaming group.
For all my games I create a Google Site that acts as a portal for the players. There is a feature to embed Google Documents into the site, allowing me to post the House Rules and Ruling doc, so its easy to find. I also have the players post their characters to the site, so that I can look up their characters when I am doing prep, and they are there in case someone forgets their sheet.
Video Chat: Google Hangout
Hangout is part of the G+ service, and I really like this feature. It allows you to have a video conference. I have two uses for this service. The first is that Hangout has replaced Skype for our one remote player to join us online. Using Hangout allows us to have multiple cameras at the table so we can have a camera facing the players and one facing the GM, and the player in the Hangout can go back and forth between them. For a tactical game, we are considering mounting a camera above the map and keeping one on the GM, so that the remote player can see the action and the GM at the same time.
The second use is that I have started a post-game wrap-up Hangout. A week after the game, I hold a Hangout and we have a chance to talk about the game. It’s a nice way to get some feedback about the game and to have a chance to talk to the players face to face.
Digital Notebook: OneNote
I could write a whole article expounding on my love for this often forgotten step-child of the Office suite. When it comes to note taking and organizing information, this is my favorite application. It has the ability to create pages, tabs, and notebooks. It allows for the creation of text in any arrangement through its use of text boxes. The only weakness of this program is that Microsoft wont make a Mac version of it.
For every campaign I run, I start a new OneNote notebook. I have a set of tabs for organizing various parts of the campaign: NPCs, plots, characters, etc. I then create a sub-notebook that houses all the sessions. Each of the Sessions gets its own tab. I take full advantage of the flexible layout, to arrange my notes in the most efficient manner.
In some ways there is some overlap between Evernote and OneNote. Both are note taking software, but Evernote lacks the formatting flexibility and layout ability of OneNote. For what it lacks in formatting, it makes up for in its near ubiquity when it comes to the number of platforms (PC, Mac, iOS, Android, etc) it can be used on. I use Evernote for jotting notes about my game because it is great for capturing an idea wherever I am. I can jot a note on my smartphone while out shopping, or on my iPad while between meetings.
File Syncing: Dropbox
Another workhorse application that I could not live without is Dropbox. Like Evernote, Dropbox runs everywhere. I have it running on all my computers and mobile devices. For my games I have two uses for this application. The first is that I keep my OneNote notebook in Dropbox, so that I can work on it no matter what computer I am working from. The second use is to keep my PDF rule books in a folder so that I can get them on any device, wherever I am.
Whats In Your Toolbox?
This collection is a far cry from the Trapper Keeper organization system that I used for my first campaign. It sounds pretty complicated when written down, but truthfully I find this collection of tools to be a very useful suite. With this collection of applications I am able to organize my campaign, record new ideas, access my materials anywhere I go, and provide information to my players.
What do you use to organize your campaigns? Is it paper & pen, is it digital? Is it one application, or a collection of applications? Are they free, or did you have to pay for them?