Sunday, September 15, 2013

For the Organized DM: Highlighers Are Your Friends.

     As I mentioned in my last post, one of my favorite past-times is playing tabletop RPGs -  particularly Dungeons & Dragons. I'm a 3rd/3.5 girl at heart, but I've also given 2nd and 4th eds. a try.

Just recently bought these shiny new 3.5 core rulebooks. <3

     I've DM'ed before, with my own campaign that I created, but it's very time-consuming to come up with all the adventures myself. I'm the kind of DM who wants to flesh out every NPC, have every detail nailed down, and be prepared for anything. Which of course is impossible, because the party will always do something unexpected. That's like the number one rule of DMing.

     So anyway, I finally realized it's actually much easier for me to simply run premade adventure modules. If I had all the time I wanted I might try creating my own again, but for now the modules are working really well for me. There's still a lot of room for creativity, playing with the unspecified details, and thinking on your feet. The only problem is that most experienced gamers have either played, read, or heard about a lot of the modules published for 3.5. Luckily for me, my current gaming group had never played 3.5 before we started this campaign. ^_^

The youngest player in our group... Just kidding. ^_~
But he does seem to want to play. Always stealing his mom's dice and dice tower.

     Right now, the party is working their way through the Sunless Citadel. I figured out early on that one of the problems that modules presented for me was the difficulty of finding specific information I'm looking for when it's given in such a compressed format. There are large blocks of text which contain information on everything from the layout of the room to the tactics of the monsters to the types of treasures to be found there. I realized I had to have some way of making it easier to home in on the exact information I need each time.

      Enter the highlighters.

      The color-coding system is fairly simple:

  • Orange = Headings (helpful for separating each area)
  • Blue = Descriptions (stuff I need to read out loud or paraphrase to the players)
  • Green = Monsters' stats and tactics
  • Pink = Treasure
  • Yellow = Skill checks I need to ask the players to roll

     Since I can't bring myself to deface a book (even a module), I made copies, hole-punched them, and stuck them in my D&D binder.

     Of course I read through the entire adventure at least once before I even began highlighting it. Then I went through a second time with the highlighters. At first I didn't use the orange, but then with all the other colors jumping out at me, I felt that the entries for different areas needed something to separate them more definitely.

     It might take a session or two to get used to, but once you remember which color is which, you'll know just what to look for. Actually, I got used to it quickly while I was doing the initial highlighting.

     All of the information in the module might be useful at some point, but I only highlight what I'm sure I'll need - the basics. Stuff that I'm going to need to find quickly in order to keep the game flowing smoothly. I hate it when we're in the middle of combat and I have to stop and look something up. This system allows me to cut out as much of that as possible.

     As you can see from the pictures, I also like to make a few side notes, like which characters have certain skills or can speak a certain language, so I don't have to ask when they encounter it. It's much more suspenseful to say, "You can't read the letter. But you can," than to say "Who can speak Goblin?" and wait for everyone to shuffle their character sheets and check. It just flows better and makes the game more realistic and more enjoyable, in my opinion.

     I also try to check off each enemy as it is defeated, and each treasure as it is gathered, so we don't have repeats. No good giving the characters deja vu. ^_~

     That's all for today! Check back another time to see how I use index cards to organize both combat and information for the characters. In the meantime, chime in yourselves through the comment box! What's your favorite DMing organization tip?


  1. I'm a new DM and this has been so useful to me! Thank you so much!!

  2. It's been a while since you posted this, but it's all over pinterest. I'd like to say thank you for the organizational tips. I don't run 3.5, but your method works just as well for any published product. Thanks Kristy.


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