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Simple Pleasure of a GMing Binder

I started running a Mage chronicle this past weekend, and one of the things I did to keep organized was create a GMing binder.

It’s not revolutionary. It’s not as sexy as using a GMing wiki [1] (PDF). It’s not a new idea in any way.

But you know what? It’s fun. I’d forgotten how nice it was to have a one-stop, hardcopy campaign reference, and to watch it grow as new material is added. (Maybe I’m just getting old.)

If, like me, you haven’t used a GMing binder in a long time — or if you’ve never used one before — I recommend giving it a whirl. It’s a simple pleasure, but a good one.

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#1 Comment By Frank Filz On October 22, 2007 @ 9:23 am

Even though I don’t maintain much of a campaign log or other similar notes (as discussed in Saturday’s topic), I do usually wind up with a GM binder of sorts. If I am running a published game world, it will often have stuff printed from the web. The binder may have house rules documents. Rules erratta are also good to put in the binder.

Whatever it is you need to keep track of as a GM, having it kept in a single binder is a useful organizational technique.


#2 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On October 22, 2007 @ 10:09 am

The one thing that makes a DM binder a PITA is that it’s not easily editable.

I’d suggest transcribing important notes/sections etc… into an electronic document so that you can note changes/additions during a session then update your master file and print affected pages/sections. You’ll be especially glad you did when someone spills a soda all over your binder…. NOOOOOOOOOO!

Do make sure that you make liberal use of page breaks so that you don’t make a minor change and wrapping causes you to re-print your entire binder.

#3 Comment By John Arcadian On October 22, 2007 @ 10:44 am

I tend to use an excel spreadsheet and my laptop for most stuff, especially in the zombie game I ran last Saturday and had to keep track of initiatives and HP for huge numbers of enemies. The excel spreadsheet is great, and there are a lot of ways you can manipulate it. Like making auto sort buttons to sort initiatives, keeping track of all the enemy and hero data. Taking notes on NPCs you make up on the fly, etc.

Still I use the GM binder a fair bit too. I’ve got a self made cheat sheet of information for whatever system I’m running, a group of printed off NPCs, lists of whatever weapons,special items, etc. The binder keeps it all organized, keeps all the papers off the table, and it doesn’t need plugged in.

#4 Comment By brcarl On October 22, 2007 @ 1:06 pm

Though my TiddlyWiki is the core of everything I use for my campaign, I have plenty of things printed off: extra PC sheets for when a player is missing (see prior blog post), maps and other hand-outs for the players, etc.

I agree with prior comments that though a printed binder has a warm, fuzzy, retro feel, lack of edit-ability and backups make it something I’d avoid.

#5 Comment By Clayton On October 22, 2007 @ 3:20 pm

I have not kept one in physical form, but I do have a folder on my PC for my game stuff.

Hidden of course…JUST IN CASE

#6 Comment By Wik On October 22, 2007 @ 8:06 pm

A few months ago, I was unpacking some boxes that hadn’t been touched since we moved here. One of the things I found was my old Dark Sun GM’s binder.

This thing dated back about seven years ago, right when 3.0 came out and I made a quick conversion of DS. IN our “rules” section we had a bunch of stuff I had pulled off the net, as well as some rules I had written up myself. In my monsters section were a bunch of monsters I had pulled off EN World.

But the great part was my adventure logs, written in great detail. I didn’t remember a lot of them, but the binder prompted a lot of fond memories that I had completely forgotten.

The fact of it is, I hadn’t thought of that game for maybe five years. But the second I had my GM’s binder in my hands, a whole flood of memories came back. That’s pretty cool.

Yeah, they keep you organized, and all that. Always a plus. But, really, I think the big appeal to me is the fact that they’re your very own nerd photo album.

#7 Comment By ScottM On October 22, 2007 @ 8:30 pm

I’ll have to look back at the virtues. It is tempting to move everything online, but I run off paper at the table. It’s interesting how there’s always a little something more to add; an NPC name list, a local street map, a print out of a bar…

#8 Comment By Bento On October 23, 2007 @ 7:19 am

I’m keeping a binder and as soon as we’re finished with the latest adventure I’m taking it all down to Staples to have it bound. Printed out modules, photocopied pages, my notes & the player’s journals, everything between two covers.

That’s so I can start over again!

#9 Comment By Johnn On October 23, 2007 @ 7:32 am

I use GM binders as well, even though I GM with a laptop at the table, use a wiki, and use Excel and MyInfo. I keep a pre-punched paper RPG notebook for ideas, that fills up rapidly. I tear the sheets out and put them in my binder for future reference. I also enjoy doodling maps and diagrams. I print out player handouts as well, and stick them in my binder for safekeeping between sessions – players are prone to lose handouts or miss sessions. And, some days, I want a computer break and kick it old school with ink and dead trees.

#10 Comment By Martin On October 25, 2007 @ 8:03 am

(Bento) I’m keeping a binder and as soon as we’re finished with the latest adventure I’m taking it all down to Staples to have it bound. Printed out modules, photocopied pages, my notes & the player’s journals, everything between two covers.

That’s an awesome idea, Bento. I’m a packrat about my gaming stuff, but once a game ends I usually just put all my support material in a box and call it good. This sounds sexier all around.

#11 Comment By Darth Krzysztof On October 28, 2007 @ 12:05 pm

My new game is on Obsidian Portal, but I was thinking I should have a binder anyway.

Today the site seems to be down, which bears out that hypothesis…