The DM binder, folder, or notebook

Posted on July 10, 2009 by

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In the world of scripted television, writers have what’s called a show bible.  The bible serves as a reference for better understanding the characters, settings, and plot situations of that particular showe  It also serves to teach new writers how the “universe” of that show works.

Great, Mr. TV.  What does that have to do with being a newbie dm and playing D&D?

Glad you asked.  Plenty.

One of the most important tools a newbie DM can have in his gaming arsenal is a good binder.  This binder should serve as your bible for your campaign.  It can include NPC’s, maps and other stuff to help you have a complete view of your game. I use a thick, hardback 3 ring folder for my binder, but there are plenty of other options.

Your DM'ing binder should be part of your core rulebooks.

Your DM'ing binder should be part of your core rulebooks.

So what kind of stuff should you have in there?  Well, I suggest the following:

A campaign calendar.  This is always a good idea.  If a player asks you what time of the year it is, it’s better to say something like:  “Oh, it’s Festival of the Sun Week.  Priests of Pelor, remember its your duty to offer free healing in towns this week to the people. Pelor is watching.” than saying, “Eh.. um, it’s summer.  No wait, it snowed last time we played, it’s a well, it’s like almost spring…”  A campaign calendar is easy to create.  Stick to our earthly calendar and change some names. Add a monthless floating week here or there for some religious purpose and voila!  Download a calendar and stick it in your notebook.  It can also help you track players’ use of daily powers if you’d like.

Town names.  Keep a list of generic town names, so if your players stumble unto a town, you are ready for it, and aren’t fumbling around for a name. “You’re in Springwell” sounds better than “Hmmm, Yeah, you enter town X.”  Here is a fantasy town name generator I found.

NPC’s and Quests.  I’m a firm believer in having a bunch of generic npc’s ready for action, and for these npc’s to have minor quests ready to go, just in case.  Here is a great collection of 4th Ed. NPC’s, ready for action. They just need names.   I once got asked by one of my players if he could find any odd jobs in the megalopolis I had them in.  For me to say no was in all honesty, ridiculous.  In a city that big, something had to have been available.  But I had nothing ready.  The dungeon delve book can serve as inspiration for these “off-campaign” assignments for money.   Newbie mistake that a good DM notebook can help with.

Reference Sheets. I keep copies of the XP encounter builder table, references for random things like menu items from taverns, coin conversions, stuff like that.

Maps.  Search the net for maps.  The old Wizard’s Map-A-Week archive is great for this.  The PC’s enter a town, give them a map.  Just photoshop out the names to fit your own, and there, done.  Your town is mapped.  So you didn’t create the map yourself, big deal.  Players love maps.  Have maps ready in your binder, maps of taverns, sewers, streets, or anything else you can get your hands on.

Your player’s character sheets and backgrounds.  These are always necessary to reference potential story limelight elements for your pc’s.

Random encounters.  Have a couple of things ready to roll out a moments call.  A bar brawl, an alleyway fight, a sewer encounter.  These things are easy to create in 4th edition and you can keep using them again and again discreetly.  Just “re-skin” them.  Your guys like to fight at bars?  have a couple of standby encounters created.

Locations. By this I mean locations you use in your games. For example, a huge portion of my game takes place in the City of Rahesh, from Dragon Magazine Issue 372. I printed out the whole article and it’s part of my binder, for easy reference.

Keep everything that needs to be referenced in your binder.

Keep everything that needs to be referenced in your binder.

Now comes the meat-n-potatoes of my binder. My encounters and the way I run them. I’m not saying this is the best way to do things, just my way. I keep all my encounters in my binder, along with the level progression of the party.  I keep the level progression referenced on a sheet that looks like this:
DSC04917

I write my encounter, along with flavor text, treasure parcel, xp value, etc., like this:
DSC04916

Then finally, I use the DDI compendium, along with my monster manual scans to create the monster sheets with stat blocks. I try to fit them in 2 pages if possible, and punch holes so they face each other on the binder to avoid page flipping. I use the MM for typing out the knowledge checks DC info. This shot uses monster manual stat blocks:
DSC04915

I also have sheets for skill challenges in there as well. As you can see, for me my binder is a necessary utility in my DM’ing.  Yours should be on your bookshelf along with your books. Now, as an aside, I’m really glad to be back from vacation. I missed my blog and helping out fellow newbie dm’s, and I hope you enjoyed this article.

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Posted in: Advice/Tools, Gaming