Some GMs would never tolerate a computer at their game table; if a notepad worked for E. Gary, it’ll work for them. Some would be lost without a browser opened up to thirteen tabs, and multiple Excel sheets for calculating THAC0. And some, perhaps living out some brash fantasy as a librarian, swear by the lowly index card.

So what’s the best way to run a game – Paper, Silicon, or Cardstock?

That coffee cup is way too full for a real GM.

Like many gaming topics, this is a trick question; there is no right answer. It depends entirely on personal preference, background, game system, and campaign style.

I’ve used all three approaches; each has benefits and drawbacks. This is all my opinion, nothing more…

  • Laptops work best with information-heavy systems and styles (such as D&D 3.5 or a political game with many different factions). Nothing puts tons of information at the GM’s fingertips like a laptop. On the other hand, laptops can distract the GM or insulate him from the players. They can also crash at just the wrong damned time.
  • Paper (whether in binders or printouts) works best for organized GMs, or for adventures such as dungeon crawls where player options are limited. They’re also used by GMs who’ve been developing their game world since before geeks had computers. At a certain point on the complexity curve, however, it’s surprisingly easy to lose that critical bit of information in a pile of papers.
  • Index cards work best for experienced GMs, improvisationalists, and simple gaming systems. Index cards make encounter prep a breeze: grab a location card, a few critter cards, and maybe some information or treasure cards. Like paper, index cards are progress-proof; they will never be outdated. However, index cards do not work well with stat-heavy systems, nor do they necessarily provide a framework for the adventure. Like paper, enough index cards can easily hide information from you, and there’s no ‘search’ function for either.

It’s possible to combine these, especially in preparation, but when you run the game, which medium will be carrying your notes — Paper, Silicon, or Cardstock?

Got an opinon, or another option? Sound off in the comments and let us know!