I’m fairly surprised that Phil isn’t writing this article. He’s my go-to person for organizational and project management tools to use for gaming, since he does it in his day job and project manages many gaming books and projects that I’ve been involved with. He knows his stuff, so I’m kind of proud that I’m scooping him on this.*
(*I’m using Scoop in a very broad way, since I’m sure he’s done this in some form, but it doesn’t look like he’s written an article about it yet.)
So, onto the story. I’m running a campaign that I started at a meetup to broaden my current gaming group and built through the first parts of buying a house, transitioning to a new job, and packing everything and moving. I haven’t been the most organized in keeping my game notes about sessions and planning forward. I’ve got a hundred scraps of notes about things I’ve done in the game, I’ve got 3 bullet point lists of the plot ideas for the next sessions  and I’ve got NPCs names and plans written down, but sometimes when I’ve introduced an element on the fly, I forget to add it all in.
Trello To The Rescue
So, I’ve been running the game, 6 or 7 sessions, trying to remember the names of the NPCs or exactly where on the map I put that organization’s base, all while looking through my half-unpacked gaming stuff to see where I threw those notes on that one list, and I finally realize how I should have been doing this all along – Trello. I use it for work, I use it for writing and art direction projects, I use it to organize my daily life, so why the heck am I not using it to keep track of my gaming stuff? I started up a Trello board for my campaign and this is what it looks like:
After a few weeks of use, there are many benefits to using Trello to organize a campaign.
- A List for every Category – I can make a list for each category of things. I can make one for locations, one for people, one for organizations, one for loot, etc. Whatever is useful to my game structure, I can make one list for that and plan it out.
- A Card For Every Element – Every element I create can be a card, and can contain useful information about that element (more on this later). In Trello’s framework, the cards I create can be moved between lists, which makes it incredibly versatile for planning and for note keeping. I can create a macguffin card that has all the information I need to know about the element, and I can move it from list to list as it becomes useful to that area. Perhaps the macguffin is going to be part of the next session, so I can move it to the Current Session list and visually connect it to other elements that I have moved there.
- Trello Cards Contain Multitudes – A card in Trello can have many elements. It can have attachments (like images for reference), it can have a description and a title (the base concept of the element), it can have links (such as to a music file that serves as the element’s theme music), and it can have multiple checklists. I find the checklists useful, since I can make ones for properties, ones for GM specific elements, ones for plans that the NPC I’ve attached it to has, etc.
- Non-linear Visualization – One of my favorite gaming theories is adventure and campaign design through Island Design Theory (I wrote about it on GS and for Unframed), and using a Trello board is a great way to organize based on this. I can set up the elements, add to them as the game goes along, and move them between containers, all without visualizing in my mind what is going to happen, but what all elements are in play and how easily they could change.
- Session Logging – Trello can also serve well as a session logger. While I keep the bulk of the information for an element attached to the card for the element, I can make a card at the wrap up of each session and type into a checklist there all the things of note that happened. This serves as a great bullet point list to reference later. I can then open up other cards and add to them as needed, but I have one single log of the session. I can keep all the previous sessions on a list for previous sessions and I can copy and paste those session logs for the players to have a running, broad log.
Trello’s Utility As A Cross Platform Device And Archive For Old Games
I can keep Trello’s app up on my tablet and enter notes or reference things that I set up on my computer previously. I can add a note or reference the image attached to a card and wave my tablet at the players so they can see the image without revealing other elements about the element. I can always enter notes as needed on the cards, then move back to the computer since it is all hosted on Trello’s servers.
One of the beautiful things about the Trello board is that it can be exported or saved on the server so that you can reference it at some later point in time. I have folders and binders and notebooks full of old campaign information, mostly for nostalgia’s sake. I also have a half unpacked gaming space and constant questions about why I’m keeping certain things around in physical file formats. Trello, alongside its export feature, means I can store my campaigns digitally and save them to archival quality CDs if I am concerned about the long-term storage of my campaigns, at a fraction of the physical space. While I have no idea how future-proofed Trello as a service is, the export format is JSON, which is a very popular format that will likely be readable in some format when we’re all heads in jars at the head museum.
I’ve become a big fan of tools that let me organize my campaigns digitally. I’m familiar with Trello due to other ways it intersects with my life, but I’ve used programs like Basecamp, Google Drive, and Slack for campaigns as well. Trello is made to organize projects, and that dovetails nicely with the utility needed for organizing a campaign. The fact that it is free is, of course, a major selling point to being able to test it out and try it. If I want to share it with other people for feedback, adding team members or making the board public is an option. Trello hits a lot of sweet spots for me to keep campaigns organized, but it’s certainly not the only way.
Everyone has a different method of campaign organization, and having the right tool to keep some structure to your plans can help you feel more confident in your improvisation. What is your preferred method of campaign and game organization? Have you used Trello or an alternative? What worked and what didn’t?