Thursday, June 24, 2010

The DM's Notebook. A Lost Tradition?

One thing I've noticed a lot less of in this age cheap ubiquitous computing is the venerable DM's notebook.

For those gamers not familiar with the concept, it was a notebook (or two) usually spiral bound that contained notes on rulings, house rules, home creations,occasional doodles, stuff that was allowed into the game and sometimes (depending on the DM) world building notes and other such stuff.

In many ways, this notebook was the heart and soul of a a DM's style, it made the game his (or hers) as versus just another game of D&D.

As you can guess, players didn't get access to this though some of the sections might be written up or photocopied or later printed as a house rules document.

As a personal aside always felt that being shown the notebook, as one DM to another was a great honor.

Hghly efficient desktop publishing software ended the notebook tradition.

However, and this is a big deal, those same technological forces have created something more awesome in the form of the OSR. So much free and legal content, so much wonderful creativity, so much cool stuff to buy all ripe for the taking.

In many ways we have much more stuff coming out then we did at the height of the hobby, Seven magazines (Fight On!, Encounter, Oubliette, Oddities, Land of Nod, Knockspell, and Dragonsfoot) coming out often enough that we are near to getting as much content as any monthly, modules at a good clip, tons of game systems to choose from. And a lot of it is even in print form if you are allergic to PDF's

As long as you can find a great group, this is a terrific time to be an old school gamer. Myabe better than ever.

And so yeah, I might miss the notebook tradition a little, but only a little as I am too busy enjoying the abundance of riches the OSR has to offer.


  1. Hell no it isn't dead! I use a new spiral notebook for each and every campaign I start. I actually find it very difficult to work on DM stuff at a computer... I usually have to take my notebook and set up shop elsewhere in the house. (Or at the library, or a restaurant, etc.)

  2. Restless, you can't thumb through a file either. For me the tactile sensation wins out over the handiness of grep.

    And Ryan, nice to hear that!

  3. True, but for content I make (like a DM notebook) I am unlikely to browse it anyway. Also, more than a couple months after I handwrite something I can't read it anymore. ;-)

    Even back in '81 I was doing my game prep on a computer, so I guess that's natural to me. There's something wonderful about a pile of notes in DokuWiki.

  4. Oh understood we had a computer file of gaming stuff back in 1981 too, a TI-99-4A that could just barely hold character sheets. Nothing wrong with that at all.

    I a just prefer an actual paper notebook. Plus during the time I did most of my gaming laptops were just not portable. So while

    In fact I've seen Trapper Keepers or the like with printouts , often dot matrix as a style of DM's notebook. I just came to prefer a pencil and paper one.

    Also like Ryan, computers distract me, especially ones with Internet access on them.;)

  5. Since I don't have a laptop and my computer is upstairs from where I game with my son, I have a huge pile of scrap paper on which numerous notes are made in my virtually unintelligible scribble. Yes, it's more spontaneous but absolute hell to find anything again afterwards. Sometimes I'll lay out some encounter tables on MS Word and print them off but that's about as far as use of the computer for gaming goes.

    "As long as you can find a great group, this is a terrific time to be an old school gamer."

    Yeah, well that's the real problem around here.

  6. It can be a problem everywhere D.G.

    I am lucky in that my group grew up on 2e (which is transitional rather than Old School IMO) and if we can find the time will have no real trouble with a roll back.

    I've run 2e for them and they loved those games, my 3e not so much.

    However I don't know if you've asked this way but you might want to reframe it as "cool new rules lite" version of D&D rather than Old School.

    For some people Old School brings up visions of immature gaming "Pass the Cheetos, Can I have a Mountain Dew, are there are any girls here I want to Do Her..." Beavis and Butthead do D&D basically.

    A reframe as a more sophisticated rules lite game (which is 100% true) might get more interest in the less build happy players.

    Also if the players are not quite ready for "you can try anything" style ala White Box or D&D 0e -- having a crude "background skills" system might help.

    I'll have something up on that soon that folks can use but there are tons of systems out there that can easily be adapted.