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DNAphil’s Digital Campaign Toolbox

I recently started my new All For One [1] campaign, and while I was preparing for its launch, I set up what is now becoming my standard collection of tools for my campaign group. These tools are a collection of various applications that I use to organize my campaign and to keep it running. In today’s article I thought I would dump the toolbox out and show you each tool and how I use it in my campaign.

An Evolving List

As technology has advanced in both hardware (tower, laptop, iPad) and software (word processing, wikis, online office apps), the ability to manage a campaign electronically has become easier and easier. Over the years I have tried all sorts of electronic tools for managing my campaign. Some have been successful and others were just flops. The good tools transition from one campaign to the next. As new tools come to market, I eye them down looking for that next cool program that will make managing my campaign easier.

The most important thing is that the tools you use have to be a good fit. They need to be easy (for you) to use, and most importantly fun (for you) to use. If you do not like the application you are using for managing your campaign, it will make the process a chore. Bottom line: do not be beholden to any product, always be looking for that next great thing.

The Toolbox

Sometime in the future, this list will look amazingly dated, but for right now, this is the current line up of electronic tools that I am using for managing my All For One game. I will talk a bit about the tool, and then how I am using it.

Email: Email List

Among my generation (we aging Gen X’ers), email is still king. IM and Text are used, but email is the main communication line within my gaming group. To facilitate email communication within our gaming group, every campaign gets its own email list; a single address that distributes to the group. The email list is then the main communication channel to discuss anything game related from the time of the next session to a rules question. All of my friends have multiple ways to get email (at work, at home, on their phones, etc), making it ubiquitous with my players.

I create email lists from my personal domain (dnaphil.com), but one could use something like Google [2] or Yahoo Groups [3]. I always name the lists after the name of the group or the game itself. Everyone playing the group is on the list. In my GMail account, I create a label for the group, and a rule to apply the label on any incoming messages so that I can keep track of them.

Document Management: Google Docs

docs.google.com [4]
As online office suites go, I like the big G. There are others that do many of the same things, but most of my eggs are already in the Google basket. I use Google Docs for posting documents that are going to be referenced or shared by my group. Google Docs makes document creation and conversion easy, and with its granular permissions you can select who has access to which documents, and who can edit them.

In all the games I run, I start a Google Document for House Rules and Rulings. This living document keeps track of any rulings that I make or any house rules that we come up with during the campaign. I then share the doc, with read only privileges to the group, so that it is available to anyone.

Campaign Portal: Google Sites

sites.google.com [5]
Another free Google product, Google Sites lets you build your own websites. The software has a wiki-like feel to it, making creating and editing pretty simple. The templates are not bad, but any serious web designer will chafe against them. Like Google Docs, Sites also has granular permissions, so you can lock down who can access your site, which is typically only my gaming group.

For all my games I create a Google Site that acts as a portal for the players. There is a feature to embed Google Documents into the site, allowing me to post the House Rules and Ruling doc, so its easy to find. I also have the players post their characters to the site, so that I can look up their characters when I am doing prep, and they are there in case someone forgets their sheet.

Video Chat: Google Hangout

plus.google.com [6]
Hangout is part of the G+ service, and I really like this feature. It allows you to have a video conference. I have two uses for this service. The first is that Hangout has replaced Skype for our one remote player to join us online. Using Hangout allows us to have multiple cameras at the table so we can have a camera facing the players and one facing the GM, and the player in the Hangout can go back and forth between them. For a tactical game, we are considering mounting a camera above the map and keeping one on the GM, so that the remote player can see the action and the GM at the same time.

The second use is that I have started a post-game wrap-up Hangout. A week after the game, I hold a Hangout and we have a chance to talk about the game. It’s a nice way to get some feedback about the game and to have a chance to talk to the players face to face.

Digital Notebook: OneNote

office.microsoft.com [7]
I could write a whole article expounding on my love for this often forgotten step-child of the Office suite. When it comes to note taking and organizing information, this is my favorite application. It has the ability to create pages, tabs, and notebooks. It allows for the creation of text in any arrangement through its use of text boxes. The only weakness of this program is that Microsoft wont make a Mac version of it.

For every campaign I run, I start a new OneNote notebook. I have a set of tabs for organizing various parts of the campaign: NPCs, plots, characters, etc. I then create a sub-notebook that houses all the sessions. Each of the Sessions gets its own tab. I take full advantage of the flexible layout, to arrange my notes in the most efficient manner.

Brainstorming: Evernote

evernote.com [8]
In some ways there is some overlap between Evernote and OneNote. Both are note taking software, but Evernote lacks the formatting flexibility and layout ability of OneNote. For what it lacks in formatting, it makes up for in its near ubiquity when it comes to the number of platforms (PC, Mac, iOS, Android, etc) it can be used on. I use Evernote for jotting notes about my game because it is great for capturing an idea wherever I am. I can jot a note on my smartphone while out shopping, or on my iPad while between meetings.

File Syncing: Dropbox

dropbox.com [9]
Another workhorse application that I could not live without is Dropbox. Like Evernote, Dropbox runs everywhere. I have it running on all my computers and mobile devices. For my games I have two uses for this application. The first is that I keep my OneNote notebook in Dropbox, so that I can work on it no matter what computer I am working from. The second use is to keep my PDF rule books in a folder so that I can get them on any device, wherever I am.

Whats In Your Toolbox?

This collection is a far cry from the Trapper Keeper organization system that I used for my first campaign. It sounds pretty complicated when written down, but truthfully I find this collection of tools to be a very useful suite. With this collection of applications I am able to organize my campaign, record new ideas, access my materials anywhere I go, and provide information to my players.

What do you use to organize your campaigns? Is it paper & pen, is it digital? Is it one application, or a collection of applications? Are they free, or did you have to pay for them?

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "DNAphil’s Digital Campaign Toolbox"

#1 Comment By SchildConstruct On November 4, 2011 @ 6:10 am

Dropbox has another useful feature: Shared folders.

This makes distributing digital handouts a breeze, and if you set up a folder for each player, too, you can pass around ‘private’ stuff, as well.

#2 Comment By granger44 On November 4, 2011 @ 6:28 am

I’d add an initiative tracking tool. InitTool is my favorite, though several others are very promising.

I’d also add a dice rolle. Asmor’s DiceChucker is my favorite; it’s not as streaky as DiceTool which I’ve also used a lot.

#3 Comment By Tinimir On November 4, 2011 @ 7:03 am

Our group uses Microsoft Sharepoint in our campaign. This is a information sharing program that runs through a web browser. On our Sharepoint site, we have pdfs of the books we use so everyone can access the book on their computer, a couple message boards, one for in character discussion and one for OOC discussions. A wiki page which I use to post the history of what happened in the campaign. Individual folders for each of the character sheets and notes.

It is difficult to setup and probably expensive to purchase but it has been an invaluable tool for my campaign.

#4 Comment By artowar On November 4, 2011 @ 8:17 am

My group uses a Synology NAS(the DS210+). We store all our PDF’s and other gaming goodness plus host our website. It’s a great tool for backups and shared access over the web as well as on your local LAN. It’s accessible from any PC in the world plus any mobile device. It is, by far, the coolest gadget I’ve ever purchased and is invaluable as a gaming and computing tool. We group world build and communicate upcoming games over Google+.

#5 Comment By Razjah On November 4, 2011 @ 8:21 am

Have you looked at Obsidian Portal? It can do a lot of the things you have different programs and applications for.

#6 Comment By drow On November 4, 2011 @ 9:29 am

i just keep all my notes in text files, which keeps them lightweight, portable, and future-proof. they’re in a dropbox folder, to stay sync’d between my laptop and desktop machine at home.

my home machine also hosts my campaign website, with the campaign bible, encyclopaedia, and recap archive; and the donjon website, with random name, npc, town, dungeon, etc. generators.

#7 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On November 4, 2011 @ 9:42 am

I am using many of the tools Phil is: Google Docs, Google Sites, and Evernote. I went with Sites over Obsidian Portal simply because I suck at inline formatting, and prefer the highlight-ctrl-b for bold face. It’s a personal preference, and I would strongly suggest looking at both.

Another element I like about Sites is that you can use a Google Group to manage the player accounts, and it’s treated as a single user in terms of permissions. You can even embed the Google Group conversations in a Sites page, and reply directly (like a forum), or by email, and both are updated automatically. (To clarify: Reply to a conversation as if it’s a forum page, and everyone is emailed your reply; email a reply to the group, and it shows up in the discussion like a forum post.)

#8 Comment By EpicWords On November 4, 2011 @ 11:31 am

I feel I have to step in and pimp my own site: Epic Words ( [10]). Like OP, we support many of these same tools all in one site and is worth checking out.

#9 Comment By Vance On November 4, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

I used to use Obsidian Portal for both my planning notes and the campaign wiki, but our group got bored with it, so I’ve switched to OneNote. Love it!

For initiative tracking, I use a program called “DnD4e Combat Manager”. It’s fantastic, just let Google find it for you.

Dropbox for holding all the images, PDF’s (especially papercraft PDF’s), and other misc. files.

Now that I’m using an iPad at the table (as a player), I use a Compendium search app (can’t remember the name), and a PDF reader app that allows me to take notes on the PDF. I keep track of everything related to my character there.

Still using Skype for video chat.

I only use free apps, though the PDF reader app (I think it’s called PDF-Notes?) does display little ads at the bottom unless you pay for it.

#10 Comment By recursive.faults On November 4, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

I know a lot of people have played with a lot of the various virtual tabletop applications, but I’ve been a pretty big fan of MapTools for a while now.

It shows it’s stuff when you run an online game, but is still very functional connected to a projector. The reality is, for me anyway, it automates a lot of the administrative GM tasks. I also hate drawing maps, I truly do. So with MapTools I can paint one with actual textures that looks a million times better, is faster to make, and the players enjoy more.

To give an example, the first real litmus test was when I started running PF Adventure Paths using MapTools. At first, it was a little tiresome to duplicate the maps and set up vision blocking and new monster and whatnot. After doing it the hard way I thought more about what I could do with the tool and came up with some improvements.

After that first adventure, I was able to prep all of the maps, monsters, and encounters for an entire adventure book in around 2 hours. What it meant was I didn’t have to back-reference pages to find trap details or monster stat blocks or even understand how certain NPCs were going to react. I had it all there, ready and organized.

#11 Comment By Anaphyis On November 4, 2011 @ 9:14 pm

Evernote for brainstorming, notes, planning, documents and so on. Epic Words for campaign bookkeeping and forum. Fantasygrounds for all the game crunch.

#12 Comment By Anaphyis On November 4, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

Oh, almost forgot Masterplan.

#13 Comment By Reed2k1 On November 4, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

Great article and good list of ideas on tools for electronic gaming.


I found that using [10] (my campaign listed here; [12]) works EXTREMELY well for pretty much all of what you listed above;

Messaging – function to contact your members/players.

Wiki – setup to create and maintain an ever evolving and changing game.

File sharing and uploading – so that all members can upload and share files all in one location.

Loot – managing is so easy and keeps track for all to see.

Merchants – coming soon.

Note taking being the whole idea behind Epicwords… who doesn’t want to promote how awesome their character is in their own words? Also works as a great way to several things all in one;

1. Note taking on what happened last session
2. A way for players how “missed” to find out what happened.
3. A way to create your story in an episodic fashion while adding in pictures to add to its appeal.

Finally, the admin(s) play an integral part in the site and CONSTANTLY talk to the members about updates/upgrades/suggestions etc. That’s always a plus.

Lastly; its free. But you have the option of donating and getting some perks out of it as well. If you haven’t been to the site I’d give it a shot. Heck you can check out my page and look it over, you can see what I’m talking about.


DnD4eCM (Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Combat Manager)


This thing is a godsend, while it currently only works with the “older” version of the monster builder the guy(s) is/are working on an update to import the new .monster files into the system so that is a major plus.

In any event it currently accepts CB files and the program keeps track of your initiative, conditions, powers, items, hp, saves, where you left your car keys, delayed actions, traps, hazards, what the winning lottery numbers are, and all the same stuff for the party as well.

It has additional features where you can login to wizards.com compendium and look-up rules/powers etc without breaking stride from the game, allows you to use a web-server to display an initiative order on a secondary screen so you can show your players who’s next up in the order and so on.

Of course it only works for dnd4e (let the trolling begin) but its still an invaluable program that I don’t know what I would do without in my current game anymore.



Yes…background music HELPS A TON.


Campaign Cartographer


Its a mapping utility that also makes Julian fries and will give you the current weather forecast…in Spanish if you want.

…not really, but I’m saying it does alot of stuff and is worth looking at if you hand draw alot of your maps, or if you run allot of homebrew worlds.


Those are some of the things I use, and this post is getting long so. Cheers.

#14 Comment By Sektor On November 4, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

In addition to some of the tools mentioned already, we also use Google Calendar for collectively scheduling our next session.

Simply pick a few possible dates, create an event for each, and invite your group (using a google contact group, so you don’t have to fill out each individual email address). All participants will then receive a mail, in which they can take action: reply or check their own google calendars first.

Then, as the replies start rolling in (“yes”, “no”, “maybe”) for the suggestes dates, I delete all events where at least 3 of my group of 6 won’t be able to make it. This narrows down the possibilities, from which I then pick the one with the most positive replies. From that event, send a mail to all attendees to cobfirm the date, and presto: session planned.

As an added bonus, the event is also auto-magically added to everyone’s Google Calendar, so they won’t have to do it themselves and they can’t double book anymore.

#15 Comment By Iloft101 On November 5, 2011 @ 9:29 am

I love Google Docs! I basically stopped keeping a physical GM Notebook, though i still keep a little notebook to jot down stuff that i can later add to my Google Docs GM Notebook.

#16 Comment By graylion On November 6, 2011 @ 10:58 am

Wow, what a great list and it is true our game has evolved and there is a landslide of great tools for us now.

I consider my note book and iPad very high on the list.
Evernote (many platforms) and Notecards (iPad App) amazing.

I used Masterplan up to the point that Wizards broke it :-(. THe online character builder has finally come a ways, still has some issues but getting better.

Herolab by Lonewolf is great, kind of pricy and directed at specific game that they find better traction with. So it works for some of my needs but falls short for some.

Saving the BEST for last as my most important tool is [15]. This is the heart and backbone of my campaigns and my characters in other campaigns. We use it for campaign management, character manaement, user to user interaction, and as a repository for RPG ideas. I can not say enough about this site and its focus to gamers by gamers. They are constantly evolving and updating based on the feedback of the user. Just today they added an nice +1 Epic feature to the forums which is great. Epicwords covers Blogs, Journals, Characters, Forums, Dice, Wikis, Files, Calendars and much more!

I highly recommend that you check it out.

Our group of friends, players and gamemasters has a local motto…

…We Are Gamers! Now think of the words to the sound of the Farmers Insurance jingle!

Game on


#17 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 7, 2011 @ 8:17 am

[16] – We have checked it out. 🙂


#18 Comment By Scot Newbury On November 8, 2011 @ 10:26 pm

Thanks for sharing your toolbox Phil – really appreciate it and find that I use many of the same tools.

For me though, when it comes to brainstorming I like to mind map and frequently turn to Freemind ( [18]) for that task. You can take and save the mind map as is, PDF it, or output it as a list into Open Office format (which you can then upload to Google Docs – aren’t open standards great).

I will have to check out Epic Worlds though – or maybe revisit it, so many sites, so many accounts . . . .

#19 Comment By smichael68 On July 5, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

Feel free to write that article you mention on using Onenote! Now that there is a really good iPad app that synchs with Onenote (Outline+, it wasn’t free, but I needed it for work anyway so GM benefits are a nice bonus), I have been exploring the wonders of Onenote but am a bit over my head and welcome any ideas!

#20 Comment By Phil Vecchione On July 9, 2013 @ 6:40 am

I will put it on my list of article ideas. I am pretty proficient with OneNote and I also have Outline+ which really makes OneNote attractive.

My best advice to start is to work with blocks of text. I like to put individual scenes into their own text boxes so that I can move them around or resize them. I use about 66% of the page for text and leave the right most 33% for sidebar text. My sidebar text is often rules cut and pasted from the rule book, or some additional note to myself.

I use a single notebook for a campaign. I use a single Tab for each session, and then I use a page for my session notes, a page for NPC’s, and individual pages for maps or other graphics.

Good luck with OneNote.