I tend to be a bit of a technophile, and if presented with a way to accomplish a task via some sort of spinny, flashy automated, electronically-mediated interface, I will usually latch on immediately.
Managing my game notes is no exception. As I mentioned last month, I have been through a myriad of computerized game-management systems, flitting from one to the next like some sort of horrifying digital bee in search of sustenance. Well, I have found that, contrary to the logic of my highly advanced late-20th Century brain, when it comes to table-top gaming, low-tech solutions often work much better than the shinier hi-tech options.
About a month ago, I decided to switch my game management methods out of the digital realm. I picked up a quad-ruled notebook and have been running my games out of it since. Here are some of my impressions from my first month of running my game from a notebook.
- My players have mentioned that I feel more present at the game table without a laptop acting as a barrier between us.
- Hand-writing my notes provides a kinesthetic experience, which has always helped me to better commit things to memory... ergo, I am less reliant on actually looking at my notebook during the game.
- Because it takes longer to hand-write notes, I am encouraged to stick to the necessities, bullet-pointing lists vs. written out descriptions.
- During the game, it is actually quicker to jot down bad guys' hitpoints and other game related notes without having to worry about being in the correct OneNote or Excel window.
- In order to keep my notebook organized, I often find myself conducting my early planning in a digital medium anyway before transcribing it to my notebook. If I tried to work through every bout of writer's block in the notebook itself, I would likely burn through a book a month. As a result, I sometimes feel like I am doing twice the work.
- Complex characters like ongoing NPCs (Non-player characters) or BBEGs (Big Bad End Guys) are still quicker to create digitally. Now, I just print their stat sheets out instead of keeping them on my computer.
- Loot lists and XP are likewise better tracked in Excel. Because of this, and to facilitate music at the table, I still keep my laptop within arms' reach... but not directly in front of me.
In addition to the NPC and loot workarounds mentioned above, I have also developed a sort of low-tech method for dealing with mass combat that works really well.
Back when I used my laptop at the table, I utilized Wizards of the Coast's online dice roller to resolve NPC rolls. Because my group consists of seven players, I often find myself forced to throw large numbers of baddies against them in order to give them an actual challenge. The dice roller helped me to resolve those rolls more quickly.
When I went low-tech, I implemented a workaround that has worked brilliantly. When planning my first low-tech session, I opened up the dice roller and rolled 1000d20. I then took the results of each of the thousand dice rolls, which were listed in the results window, and copied them into a Word doc. I then printed the document giving me a sheet with 1000 randomly generated results of a 20-sided die roll. Now when I begin a mass combat encounter, I roll a single d20, count that many spaces into my list, and use that as the starting point for any corresponding "rolls" crossing them off as the session progresses. I find this system works faster than rolling on the dice roller, or even rolling just a few actual d20s.
Okay, now that I have touted the glories of low-tech gaming, my next post will focus on the high-tech bit of gaming narcissism that is "O" for Obsidian Portal!