Digital. Electronic. The Cloud. Interwebs. There is a staggering variety of tools available to DMs. We have a wealth of resources at our fingertips. One quick Google search and you’ve got more maps than you know what to do with. Services like Spotify grant access to mood music for any scene. PDF sourcebooks, supplements, modules – I could go on. I’ve recently switched to primarily using a laptop (hence “glass” because, well, the screen… ok, it was more clever in my head) instead of the trusted paper and pencil when running a session. I’m using the fairly well-known Realm Works software to design, catalog, and manage my game.
Now, I’m the kind of guy that’s drawn to technology in general. However, I admit I’ve looked at, and dismissed, Realm Works more than once in the past. It doesn’t exactly look flashy when seen on the floor at a convention. It can be hard to envision how it will fit into a DM’s style. Recently, when starting to plan and worldbuild for a new homebrew campaign, I decided I would take the plunge.
I’m not going to say it has a steep learning curve – in respect to using the software itself. That’s pretty simple, really. The learning curve comes in figuring out how to use it; best practices, if you will. The ability to link to other content within your “realm” (essentially a database with all the info for your world) is incredibly powerful, if used intelligently. I love that I can be writing an entry about the lord of the local castle, suddenly have an inspiration about dealings he had with a dragon in the past, and instantly create and link to a page about that dragon. I can fill in the details later, but that springboard is there. It’s organized and forever linked (unless I remove it) to the lord.
The point is the flexibility. Unlike the work I’ve done in the past – in both paper binders and a series of Word docs – Realm Works offers me a method of creative freedom that allows me to quickly jot down ideas as they come to me and – this is the important part – easily refer back to them at any time, from anywhere else in the system.
The downside of flexibility is when it becomes too flexible. You may be tempted to link and create topics for every little thing you can think of, as I did when I first started. We’re DMs; we love the details. However, that’s dangerous water, friend. Before you know it, you’ll be swimming in a sea of blue hyperlinks. It reduces readability while increasing feelings of being overwhelmed – that’s a lot of content to write.
I still feel like I haven’t totally worked out the “best” way to use it – at least for me – but I’m getting there. I’ve started to develop a method for organizing the various characters, locations, plots, and secrets of my world. I’ve already had the situation pop up in game where I was able to very quickly pull up an obscure note I wrote down and give the info to the players. I was keenly aware of the fact that the past alternative would have been sifting through my notebook because, “I know I wrote that down somewhere.”
In the end, I think the jump to using a laptop instead of my trusty notebook was the smart move – for me. It might not be for everyone, and that’s fine. I’d encourage every DM to give it a try. When you find your “groove” it’s an amazingly fun way to work.