RPT#69 - Putting Together The Ultimate DM Binder - Roleplaying Tips

RPT#69 – Putting Together The Ultimate DM Binder

  1. First Figure Out The Purpose For Your Binder
  2. Determine The Best Binder Style For Your Use
  3. Choose Your Type Of Binder
  4. Content Ideas For An Adventure-Style Binder
  5. Content Ideas For A Reference-Style Binder
  6. Content Ideas For A Reference-Style Binder
  7. Organizing Binders
  8. Name Lists
  9. Sources For Binder Materials

Readers’ Tips Summarized

  1. Use Index Cards To Create Random Spell Books
  2. Neat Index Card Holder Idea
  3. Run Your Whole Campaign With Index Cards
  4. How To Twist Plots

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A Brief Word From Johnn

Easter Break: Issue #70 Will Be April 17th

Due to the upcoming Easter holiday, I’ll be sending off Issue #70 the Tuesday night after the long weekend.

Character Questionnaire Ready

The Character Questionnaire supplemental is now ready. It contains 384 questions for you to build or modify your own questionnaire with. Thank you again for all the great submissions that made this GM tool possible!

The Mother Of All Character Questionnaires


Warm regards,

Johnn Four [email protected]

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Putting Together The Ultimate DM Binder

This article has GM Binder Tips for the Organized Gamemaster.

Tips Request For Issue #71: “Making Travel Interesting”

Issue #70 is about dealing with absentee players. What do you do when a player doesn’t show up? Go ahead with the session? Kidnap his PC, or rename him “pit finder”? Feedback and tips on this important issue are still welcome.

Issue #71 is all about making travel interesting, whether it’s a band of adventurers heading to and fro, or a spaceship crew killing time between star systems. What tricks and techniques do you have to make this time in the game interesting?

Send your tips and advice to: [email protected]


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Readers’ Tips Of The Week:

Use Index Cards To Create Random Spell Books

From: Travis W.

An interesting thing to do is place common spells and monster stats on cards (like 3×5 cards) and keep them in a box. This is extremely helpful as you don’t have to keep writing them on your adventure notes or keep looking in the monster manual as long as you have the card.

Also you can organize them by color, and use them for random encounters. You just have to pick from the same level as your PCs are. For example, orcs could be in the blue pile, ogres in the red and a blue dragon in the white. When you need an encounter for the lower levels pick from the blue pile.

Spells are great too. Place them in color coded piles and create a completely random spell book.

Neat Index Card Holder Idea

From: Garry S.

One thing I find of great value is something I made years back and carefully preserve. The reusable character list. I built this multi-pocket thing from cardboard 5.25 inch disk protectors. Within are 3 x 5 card for each character with the top half inch exposed. This has name, race, gender, class, level, AC, HP. The rest of the card is a mini character sheet, hidden by the pocket, but easily accessible. I change out the cards as the characters or game changes (cards stored in the pocket of the binder). I have a quick reference of each character at hand.

Run Your Whole Campaign With Index Cards

From: Jon F.

I’ve been enjoying the Tips for a while now, and I finally have something to contribute! As for GM Binders, I really don’t use a “binder”. Instead, I run my entire game from 4″x6″ index cards. I have a couple of plastic cardholder boxes and organizer tabs.

We’re playing AD&D 2nd Ed, and my players use the Core Rules software to store their characters. It’s become very easy to print out all of the relevant stats and information for each character on a card and put it in the box. This way I never have to ask the thief, “What’s your detect noise, again?”

Now that TSR/WoTC has been re-releasing many of their classic titles in electronic format, it has become extremely easy for me to print out adventure information to be used in the course of the game on these cards. Most of the time, though, we’re not playing through modules, so I’ll transfer all of my notes to cards: encounters, important place descriptions, treasure (more on this below), NPC interactions (more on this below), and combat results (more on this below, too).

I have a divider for every town or region the party visits for any length of time. Every NPC that could possibly have an impact or appearance in the future gets his/her own card in the file, and it includes his/her name, physical traits, what information the NPC gave to the party and what the party gave to him/her.

I record what PCs were nice or rude to merchants, beggars, and other folks, for example, so next time the group comes to the store, walks down the street, or tries to buy a horse from a ranch, the person will remember exactly how the PCs treated him/her. It really makes quite a difference to the effect of role-playing when the group returns to some dusty little farm town and all of the NPCs remember how the characters impacted their lives.

I also have a section for the current adventure. In this section, I have cards for the monster/encounter statistics, including hit points or hit dice for each creature. For creatures that aren’t run-of-the-mill I’ll print out a color copy of the creature and show it to the players as they encounter it.

I also keep a master list of the treasure that the group keeps. I don’t keep this on cards because it’s too big with all of the notes for each of their items. But whenever the group finds something of note, I’ll either have it written or printed on a note card and I give it to the players. That way, once it’s been claimed or used or sold, the card gets traded or returned to me.

The players can write all of their findings about an item on the card itself. All of the item cards are numbered according to my master list, so when a brave character finally decides to put on this ring they found in the dungeon, they say, “I’m putting on Ring number 62.” And I give an evil grin and say, “Really? I’ve been waiting for someone to put on number 62,” and I have a record as to what it does and who put it on first.

I also keep track of combat on cards. Usually, combat doesn’t last more than 10 rounds in my games. On the combat card, I have a line for each character and some extra lines I use for enemies. I record initiative, a word or two for each character’s action, and a target number and effect of each action.

At the end of each session, I give the players their character experience point rewards on note cards and I record them on a tally card. Each experience card is broken down into awards by category: Role playing, combat, ingenuity, rules knowledge bonus, survival bonus, meeting the primary objective, meeting the secondary objective (if any) and other adjustments. I got this idea from structured, non-combat tournament adventures and I’ve adapted it for campaign play.

It sounds like a lot of work, and I guess it is. We game one night a week, and I usually spend 5 or 6 hours throughout the rest of the week preparing for the next game, which is more than enough to come up with some of these. It’s especially easy because I wing it, and it’s easy to come up with a quick list of items for them to find, regardless of what the group actually does.

The players are really impressed because they feel like I’m always prepared for whatever they do, so they really start second-guessing themselves. I have a card of fantasy names written up (I got 20 names from a box of Crayola crayons, just taking words off the box and spelling them backwards) so I’m never at a lack for a quick name.

Best of all, though, they’re really easy to store and carry, and they’re cheap. Walmart has packs of 100 index cards for under $1 (so you CAN get something other than a 20-minute long distance call for under $1).

How To Twist Plots

From: Max B.

Hello Johnn,

I have some “tricks of the trade”, and I want to share these.

My style of GMing isn’t creating plots/stories from scratch, but taking existing ones and twisting and turning them ad nauseum.

There are (in my experience) six methods of plot tweaking. Let’s take a simple adventure outline (“evil wizard kidnaps a princess”) and see what the application of those methods will give us.

  1. “As is”
    It’s just a basic plot with cosmetic changes (e.g. names of the wizard and princess, method of kidnapping, place where the captive is held). Okay, it isn’t a tweaking per se, but creative changing of details can make interesting adventures. Must be done with caution though — it can become boring after several repetitions.
  2. “Upside down”
    One of the major plot elements is changed to its direct opposite. Maybe the evil princess somehow locked the wizard in his tower (and must be in the same tower to keep him locked); maybe the wizard didn’t kidnap the princess, but instead rescued her from a terrible death, and so on.
  3. “HOW MANY of them are here, you said?”
    Too many, actually. For example, ten or so evil wizards compete with each other in an attempt to capture one princess; the evil wizard captured not one, but many princesses; last month there were multiple captures of princesses by evil wizards, but only one is Really Significant ™.
  4. “Bait & switch”
    Imagine the wonder of the PCs when they discover that something is absent in the story: the wizard didn’t kidnap the princess, he’s just deluded that he did. Or the kidnapped girl isn’t a princess, but her female bodyguard is (16th level fighter capable to escape on her own, by the way, and very bored and angry because she has orders not to); or (for a really complicated twist) both wizard and princess are impostors –she is a cleaning maid and he’s a wizard’s would-be pupil (and where on earth are REAL princess and wizard?).
  5. “Amateurs, damn amateurs!”
    Something’s gone terribly wrong. The wizard’s servants were so lame that they lost the princess soon after kidnapping. Now she’s somewhere in the wilderness/city slums/Astral Plane, and nobody knows that!
  6. “For King, Country and sheer fun of it”
    Humourous story twists are good, if done properly. Probably this tweaking method isn’t so great when used alone, but it is when used in conjunction with other ways… For example: what if the wizard kidnapped many girls and ancient custom dictates that the savior must marry one of those he saved, and only one PC is noble enough to be considered eligible for royal marriage?