1340442_notepad_and_post-itsAs a GM, you’ll often have extra ideas that you have no current use for or ideas for some future game. Stealing an idea  from writers, you can write a few sentences about each one (so that you don’t end up stumbling across a note like “junkyard angel and transceiver of the gods” and wonder what the hell you were thinking) on a post-it note and stick the notes on an idea board.  If you like, you can certainly color code them, putting all characters on pink post-its and all locations on blue, or maybe sci-fi on yellow and fantasy on green for example.  Whatever works.

Using an idea board helps organize ideas for easy access and makes sure they don’t get forgotten. You can sort ideas into types and have a section of your board for characters, one for locations, etc…, organize them into categories or groups such as genre, or  assemble them into “plots” (Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with the candlestick).

Keeping notes in this way ensure that when you’re in need of an idea you can simply peruse your idea board for what you need instead of coming up with a new one or digging through old notebooks or the like. but it also serves as an inspirational tool. When you’re stuck without a starting place, try playing “idea board roulette” just randomly grabbing and pairing up post-its until something comes to you, gels, or looks awesome.

If your idea board is dry-erase, a marker and your notes can easily create a tree, diagram or outline, organizing ideas into all sorts of forms as necessary. The same goes for corkboard and string.  You can use this to help your “roulette” brainstorming, creating the form first then filling in randomly.

Don’t hesitate to cull ideas for your board from the leftovers from your games (the left path in the dungeon they never went down), from games and books you like, both RPG and otherwise, and from all those games in your backburner list that you’re never going to get to.

A wiki is a good electronic substitution for the idea board. It’s an improvement in terms of organization, since you give multiple tags to each item and then call up lists easily, as well as having far more options for portability, but it’s not as easy to make as a basic board setup or to randomly mix up ideas and see what you get.  If anyone knows a better electronic substitution, please let me know in the comments.

What about you? How to you keep track and organize your unused ideas? How do you utilize them and how do you draw inspiration from them?

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.

12 Responses to Organize Your Ideas with an Idea Board

  1. Evernote is my choice of idea storage. Very similar to a wiki, with tags and stuff. Also has the advantage of allowing me to use it at work, since I store my notes for work on there as well.

    But I like the colour-coding idea, might need to see if I can get that in Evernote as well.

  2. I have used Evernote, then I just kind of stopped using it for some reason.

    My preferred method is to have a big cork board and litter the bugger with ideas. Since I currently don’t have a cork board in my apartment where players won’t see (no good space to set it up), I have taken to using my GM notebooks for more and more things. I would love to get a really nice one, but being a poor college student- I get 10 little steno pads from Staples or Office Max and carry one in my back pocket.

    Organization is less than I would like, but I have numbered pages and made reference when I get an idea that tacks onto an old idea that took a whole page or more.

  3. @randomclass – If you have a smart phone, the sync capability in Evernote is awesome.

  4. I use Evernote all the time, but find that it’s not quite as tactile for little ideas or connections. I prefer mind map software, or if I’m feeling the need for corkboard, I use
    The fact that it is easily to share is nice for brainstorming sessions!
    Good article, thank you.

  5. At times I can be something of a Luddite, but I do tend to keep an “idea” file in my laptop for half-formed ideas.

    Whenever I develop a project I also keep a clippings file for pieces that didn’t make the cut, just in case I want to revisit them. Similarly, I keep old drafts for the same reason.

  6. Scrivener. Great because I can put together disparate ideas as documents, work up interesting NPCs, artifacts, scene ideas and so forth, then knit them together (or not). The summary screen (aka the Corkboard) is a great way to keep track of everything when it gets “Delta Green” complex.

    It ain’t a wiki, though, and increasingly I’m finding that its way of assuming that you will be working on one tract all the time and therefore offering no generic “open without a parent document” (or at least, a way I can find) to be a minor irritation.

    Also, there’s no graphically-represented context linking summaries in a theme (well, there is but it’s a bit clunky, involving coolored labels). The corkboard would be oodles better if you could draw Visio-like lines between the cards and thereby link the underlying documents in a context chain (this could tie in with the existing “collection” view mechanism for a quicker implementation).

    Still worth every penny though, and at about $40 it is an absolute snip.

  7. I’ve certainly used post-it notes for formulating large scale ideas and connections before, but that was usually much further into the process, not storing or looking for connections out of random ideas I had collected.

    For storing my ideas for later use, I keep a word doc on Google Docs which I keep lists of notes, reference sources if I have them, links to something that might have inspired me, etc. For items that I have an especially large amount of detail for, I’ll occasionally break it off into a new document where I’ll include all of that information and links until I have time to revisit, organize and make it into something useful.

  8. On my iPad (which I use far more than I ever thought I would) I run a great wiki app called Trunk Notes. Definitely check it out if you want this particular solution.

    I also use it a lot for taking notes while learning a new system, which is invaluable for developing a set of core rules you can refer to, like a GM screen.

    It allows sync of all articles to plain text files via Dropbox (and maybe other solutions?)

  9. Nice. I tend to write my titles as draft on my blog and them work them in my notepad.

  10. I adore using Milenix MyInfo; It’s been my favorite GM tool for years. I have a file in it called “Notebook” which contains all of my random game ideas and gaming related stuff. It’s like an electronic version of those fat multi-subject notebooks, but with essentially an infinite number of pages that can be easily rearranged.

    I also love bubbl.us for connecting random small ideas and for mapping out potential story paths.

  11. While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that MyInfo has, I’ve used WikidPad to great success in planning out my campaigns. It’s just what it sounds like: a wikified notepad. And the best part about it is that it’s 100% free. :)

  12. OneNote is what I use now. It comes w/ MS Office (Windows only, unfortunately) and is my favorite depository for ideas and notes.

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