Dungeon Master Notebook: A Step-by-Step Guide
Dungeon Master Notebook is a notebook that can help you keep track of what’s happening in your game. This is especially useful if you’re running a year-long campaign or longer. You can easily keep track of who’s doing what, and when.
Introduction: What is a Dungeon Master Notebook?
If you’re like most dungeon masters, you’re constantly taking notes during your sessions. Whether it’s a quick jotted-down diagram of the layout of the room you just fought in or a detailed account of your party’s progress, a good dungeon master notebook is key to keeping track of everything that happens during your games. But what kind of notebook should you use?
There are a lot of options out there, but the best notebooks for dungeon masters fall into three categories: index cards, journals / 3-ring binders, and online.
- Introduction: What is a Dungeon Master Notebook?
- Contents: What should be included in a Dungeon Master’s Notebook?
- Use: How can a Dungeon Master use their notebook?
- Tips: Tips for creating and using a Dungeon Master’s Notebook.
- Check Out Our DM Journal
- Free World Creation Infographic
- RPG Campaign Planner
Index cards are a great way to jot down key information you may need that you can then organize as needed. These are great ways to store information on key events you need to cover in your campaign, names, and basic motives of important NPCs (heroes and villains). The major drawback to index cards is storing them and finding the information you need easily unless you are ultra-organized.
Journal / 3 Ring Notebook
Journals or 3-ring binders are my normal go-to for dungeon master notebooks. They give you the flexibility of being able to plan out the larger campaign and still make notes after individual game sessions. For planning, I personally like to plot out my main ideas in a journal and then have the other things I need in a 3-ring binder for ease of use for things like maps / NPC Stats and such. I like the journal because then I can make sure I am not missing anything.
Check Out Our DM Journal
The Dungeon Master Design Kit is for Dungeon Masters that like to create their own RPG campaigns from scratch, but have trouble keeping all of their notes in one place.
This book contains 5 pages of questions for you to quickly plot out the overview of your RPG campaign.
From there we split into three sub sections (or sub plots or acts) and ask drill down deeper into the story line so that you can tell a cohesive story in your RPG even if it lasts for 45+ weeks.
I have used several different online options in the past and have personally found I would rather have paper copies of many of them. However, here is a list of several that I saw that could work for you, even if they don’t work for me.
One I saw that I really enjoyed is using Notion as your dungeon master notebook. Notion is an online-only app that can be put on your computer and phone for ease of use if you have internet access. It allows you to create a section and subsections that can easily be created to store your campaign ideas, story arcs, and any info you need for individual game sessions. It can also store your maps, NPC info, and PDFs for your use and can easily be sorted for ease of use. Here is a specific article on ideas on how to set up a Notion dungeon master notebook.
Scrivener / One Note Templates
If you love index cards maybe you have heard about Scrivener. I used Scrivener to write our RPG Adventure Ideas book as it is a great way to organize electronic index cards. Also if you have One Note and love to organize your brain in that system then there is a template for you to use as well. Here is the link to find those templates for free.
Contents: What should be included in a Dungeon Master’s Notebook?
Global Story Ideas
- Your overall campaign ideas including the main story arc that you are wanting to tell
- I recommend using a three (or more) part story arc that will give your campaign a feeling of cohesion while still giving the players free will and agency
List of important NPCs to the overall world with their backstory, motivations, and goals. Also Race, Gender, Class, Level as appropriate.
List any plot twists or big reveals you want to cover and ideas on how to foreshadow those and by when in your three+ part story arc.
A general list of names of NPCs and places if asked for one that you haven’t specifically created
Free World Creation Infographic
Get a step by step graphic to explain how to create a custom world in your tabletop role playing game. These steps work for Dungeons and Dragons / Pathfinder and any RPG.
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Individual Game Sessions
- Hook – The way to get the players to start the adventure / game session (i.e. what will get them out of the tavern and on the road)
- Story – The small story arc this game session will tell
- NPC’s – Names / roles / stats (if needed) for major NPCs in this game session
- Traps / Puzzles – Any traps or puzzles you want to include
- Monsters – Any monsters you want to introduce and their role in the game session
- Maps – Maps of any place they will explore
Use: How can a Dungeon Master use their notebook?
A dungeon master’s notebook is a vital tool for running and managing a roleplaying game. It can be used to track player characters, NPCs, plot points, and world information. The following are some tips on how to make the most of your DM notebook.
Once it is all assembled (or at least enough to run your next gaming session with some broad strokes for the overall story you would like to tell with your players) it is time to use it.
There are three times you will use the dungeon master notebook.
Before the game session
The first is before the game to plan out what possible options your players have. Avoid only creating a linear path for your players to follow. If using a dungeon the dungeon maze acts as different choices your players can take. Do they go left or right at the next fork? Ideally, you have the entire floor planned out so you won’t be worried about either choice they make.
If you are doing more of an open-air story give your players three choices of mini-adventures that can all provide needed information for the larger campaign. This gives your players the sense of choice but allows you (the dungeon master) the ability to have a plan no matter what choices they make. Make no mistake your players will do things that you cannot plan for, but by having an idea you can move things around or quickly pivot to provide them something to do when they decide to choose an option you didn’t plan for.
During the game session
This is probably the most you will use the notebook. You will refer to it for maps, NPCs, Monsters, Traps, etc. It will be your guide during the session to know how to guide and react to the player’s choices. If they decide to explore the old mines instead of the haunted town then you turn to your plan for the old mines and run them through that. It is also a good idea to have extra one-off encounters or ideas for encounters in your notebook if you have trouble with improvised encounters.
As your players make choices and talk to NPC you will want to write down notes about what they did that may (or will) impact your greater storyline. The idea in D&D (and other tabletop RPGs) is not to force your players to read a book you are creating but rather for all of you to tell a story together with the chaos of good and bad dice rolls influencing the outcomes of the story. To me, this is the biggest reason to play any tabletop RPG as either a dungeon master or a player: the ability to craft a one-of-a-kind story that can never be played exactly the same way again.
RPG Campaign Planner
Hello Dungeon Masters,
Do you want an easy-to-use guide to create your next campaign?
Check out our campaign planner for any TTRPG game. We will walk you through all the elements of good campaign planning. It covers the plan from the highest levels all the way down to the individual game sessions so that you can tell a cohesive story. Works for D&D / Pathfinder / Fantasy RPG.
After the game session
I recommend that after the game session, you jot down any important notes and create a one to two-paragraph synopsis of anything important that happened. Doing this as soon as you can after the game session is important so you don’t forget anything. Then I read this synopsis at the beginning of the next game session as it helps everyone remember what happened last time.
Tips: Tips for creating and using a Dungeon Master’s Notebook.
Don’t make this too complicated. I know that was a lot of information and you may be thinking “Do I really need to have my full story outlined and all of that information?” It depends. If you are a dungeon master that can improvise on your feet then a one to two paragraph general idea of the broad story you want to tell is sufficient.
I would recommend having a list of major heroes and villains with their motivations (especially for the villains). I would also recommend knowing where you can obtain maps for use (hint Google and Donjon if you are not going to sell your adventure publicly). Then I would have a list of names for NPCs just in case you need them and you will need them.
Otherwise, add as much or as little as you think you need. It could be a map with numbers on it. Then on a different sheet have the numbers with the book name abbreviation (i.e. Monster Manual – MM) and the page number. 8) 4 Goblins and 1 Goblin boss (MM 166) with Pit Trap (DMG 122). It doesn’t need to be overly complex but it can be as complex as you would like it to be.
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In conclusion, the Dungeon Master Notebook can be extremely helpful in keeping track of your game. It’s especially useful for campaigns that last a year or longer. So if you’re looking for a way to stay organized, the Dungeon Master Notebook is a great option.
If you need more help on how to create a Dungeons and Dragons Adventure check out my article on it here.
About the Author:
Dwight Scull has been playing tabletop role playing games (starting with Dungeons and Dragons 3.5) back in 2001. He started being a dungeon master around 2005.
He loves to play many different types of TTRPG’s, including Pathfinder, GURPS, Shadowrun, Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Ascension (and other White Wolf Games), Nights Black Agents, and others.
Fan of mysteries, light horror, co-op board games, true crime, sci-fi and fantasy.
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