D&D Notes—How do you write them? How much detail should they contain? How long should they be?
These are all questions that many D&D players and Dungeon Masters (DMs) ask themselves.
Here’s how to write D&D notes:
The best way to write D&D notes is to sketch notes during a campaign, write a brief summary after a campaign, organize notes in a D&D notes folder or app, and review the notes before the next session. This process works for both Dungeon Masters (DMs) and players.
In this blog post, I’ll share my best tips and templates for writing D&D notes. I’ll also go over my favorite tools for writing and organizing my notes.
How To Write D&D Notes (10 Best Tips)
Let’s dive into my top ten tips for writing D&D notes.
These tips have served me and my friends well for years, so I hope you’ll find them just as helpful.
1) Sketch Visual Notes
My process is to start with visual notes, summarize them in brief narrative form, and keep a running log for each campaign.
It all starts with sketches.
I find simple drawings an easy and visual way to keep track of what happens in-game. I also use it for planning my D&D campaigns (read How To Write a D&D Campaign).
My sketches typically include:
- Character names
- Major actions
- Major NPCs
Here’s an example of visual notes from Bob World Builder on YouTube:
2) Don’t Track Too Many Details
Don’t put too much detail in your notes. Remember, you’re going to be using these notes during the game, while many other things are happening.
You should try to write down only bare necessities—anything else is usually a waste of ink (and probably time).
Write down the important information—major characters, major actions, major locations, and major consequences. You’ll get better at writing quick, concise notes with practice.
If you track too many details, you’ll slow down the game. Nobody wants to play a session that drags.
3) Take It Easy with Numbers and Bullet Points
Another method many DMs and players use is to write numbered lists or bullet points.
There’s nothing wrong with this more narrative approach. It works for many people and you may want to give it a try. I use this method sometimes myself.
My word of caution here is to not go overboard.
Too many bullet points and long, unwieldy lists of numbered items can quickly become overwhelming and confusing.
Aim to keep your notes short, categorized, and practically useful.
4) Keep a Chronological Order
When writing D&D Notes, it’s important to keep them in “top-down” or chronological order so that they’re easy for everyone to follow.
How can this be done?
There are different ways, but one way is to sketch your visual notes from the top of the paper (or screen) to the bottom of the screen. You can also start in the center (usually, the characters or the inciting action that started the D&D session or oneshot) and work your way out to the edges.
If you use bulleted or numbered lists, write your lists in chronological order.
You might also want to add a date to your notes and summaries. This can help you track your notes across multiple sessions or campaigns.
5) Categorize Your Notes
Organize your notes into different sections depending on their type (adventure log/map/key encounters, etc).
Here are a few examples of what my friends and I do:
Adventure Log Entries
The first part of the adventure log entry is where I write the player character’s name and a quick description of what happened.
This brief history is good for reviewing and planning the next adventure.
You can say whatever you want, just be clear and concise about what happened in the session.
You can associate specific parts of the map with NPCs, areas of interest, or two-way travel routes. It’s probably a good idea to number your locations as well as give them unique names.
This way you can refer to items and NPCs by their number or unique name instead of saying “the first tree that looks like this” or something similarly vague.
The key encounters section is where I keep track of any important NPCs, creatures, items, or events that occur during the game.
This section is used to reference previous encounters during future sessions. You can also use this section to plan out future encounters.
What are some other categories you might include?
- Items unique to the campaign
- Tasks/goals unique to the campaign
- PC backstories
- Stakes (What you can use from character backstories to raise the campaign stakes)
- Important dialogue (such as when specific spells are needed, or clues when solving mysteries)
It’s also helpful to come up with symbols or other shorthand “codes” that you understand. I can’t tell you how much time this saves in the long run.
For example, I sketch a simple picture of a key to stand for important clues.
6) Watch The Length
Generally, the shorter your notes, the better. How long should D&D Notes be exactly?
That’s really subjective—it will depend on how detailed you like them and also what type of campaign or adventure you’re playing.
Map notes might only need a short sketch, clues might only need a word or two, while key encounters could require several sentences or paragraphs, depending on their complexity.
As you develop your customized system for note-taking, you’ll figure out ways to shrink your sketches and shorten your summaries. If you use templates like a free D&D Campaign Template and Character Backstory Template, you can save even more time and effort.
7) Make Your D&D Notes Accessible
D&D Notes should be stored in one single place that is easily accessible between and during sessions.
I recommend using a digital notebook or OneNote because it allows you to create your notes as individual pages that can be accessed quickly.
Each page can have its own set of sub-categories, giving you the ability to organize your campaign in a way that is logical to you.
For notes characters need to reference during a campaign, you can use a laptop computer, tablet, or go off the grid with a tried-and-true whiteboard.
Between sessions, you might want to email or text a quick summary of the adventure to all players.
This keeps everyone in the loop and well-prepared for the next session.
8) Sketch Maps
I like to sketch basic maps so that I can visualize them in my head during and between adventures. The diagrams include titles so that players can locate important people, places, and items related to the campaign.
If you are already sketching your notes, then you can use a portion of your paper or screen to make a small map.
If the map is larger, simply use a separate paper or screen (see my free sketch template later in this article).
You can also find images online (like on Canva) that you can use as the foundation of your maps:
9) Track Timelines
Tracking the timelines of your campaign can really help your players feel a sense of reality and deadlines.
Here are a few ideas for timelines to track:
- The season of the campaign
- How much time your players have left to complete a task
- What enemies and NPCs do while the players engage in other parts of the adventure
- How long since characters have returned to a specific location
- How long between encounters, meals, or sleep
You can use timelines in D&D oneshots, homebrew campaigns, and sandbox adventures.
How do you track timelines?
Like all other notes, you can use bulleted or numbered lists, sketches, or narrative summaries.
10) Create Note-Taking Moments
Since note-taking takes time away from gameplay, build in space for you to sketch or jot down key information.
I call these “note-taking moments.” They can be a real campaign lifesaver.
Here are a few tips for creating these moments:
- Give your characters a puzzle to solve among themselves.
- Play a short video you’ve created to showcase a location or scene (You can create these on Canva and most other photo/video platforms).
- Show the players a map to study.
- Ask your players, “How do you feel about what just happened?”
Of course, you can also take quick notes during restroom breaks, intermissions, or when the food delivery arrives.
Check out this video that shares these tips with visual and audio enhancements:
How Do I Organize My Session Notes as a DM?
There are many ways to organize your session notes as a DM. You can use visual notes like sketches, take audio notes, draw maps, and use glossaries.
Liam Blackley, of Dungeon Mastering, says:
I constantly update a quick-reference glossary. Anything named that I improvise during a session (NPC, tavern, faction, etc.) gets its own short entry in my glossary so I can refer back to it later. Most of my other notes are jotted down during conversations between PCs, when they flesh out their backstory or mention a magic item they might like. It helps give me material to build off of when planning a session.
Here are some other helpful tips:
- Keep a notebook (physical binder, computer folder, or hybrid).
- Reserve a section of your notes for NPC’s for quick reference (I call these NPC notes). This way you can bring in pivotal NPCs throughout a campaign or even across different campaigns.
- Keep all skills, spells, feats, items, etc. updated with level and pertinent information such as damage and cooldowns, so that you can plan appropriately during encounters.
You may also want to prepare a log sheet, post-it notes, index cards, or apps to keep track of the time and the status of missions, player characters, NPCs, rounds, turns in battles, and other important gameplay information.
D&D Player Notes Template
I’m a sucker for a helpful template, so I wanted to share one with you. Feel free to copy, save, download, and use it for your use playing Dungeons and Dragons.
NPC Notes for D&D
You may also want to consider keeping NPC notes.
This is a list of notes for a particular NPC or group of NPCs. Your notes can include:
- Name of the NPCs
- Their role in the campaign and D&D world
- What they know about the characters or campaign tasks
- Important interactions with the player
- Where they are located
- What they do when not with the players (lives still go on outside of adventures)
- How they might show up later in the campaign
You never know when these might come in handy or prove useful during gameplay.
Here is an example of NPC notes for D&D:
Queen of the Hill Giants
Role: Giant ruler on the northern mountains that are part of her kingdom.
Tasks: May have the group kidnapped and made into slaves within her mountain fortress. She may need captives for some reason.
Knows: Can communicate with druids via telepathy. Knows where the group is heading.
Location: Within her mountain fortress, somewhere in the northern mountains.
What they do when not with the players: Giant rulers come together to discuss matters of their kingdom or other kingdoms. Does not know that the player group destroyed her brethren. Parties also come to the mountains seeking adventure and treasure, so she may deal with those as well.
How they might show up later: The Queen may hunt and kidnap the players. She may also seek revenge for their loss against the player group.
D&D Note Tools
After a while, you start experimenting with different tools for writing D&D notes.
Here are some tools that I’ve personally found useful:
- D&D Notes App: I’ve used Onenote, Evernote, and Google Drive. All have worked pretty well for me for different reasons, so your best best is to try them all and see which one you prefer.
- D&D Notebook: You can use a regular D&D notebook, but if you want to save money longterm, try the Rocket Reusable Smart Notebook.
- D&D Book: Check out Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master.
- D&D Notes Speech to Text: Dragon Naturally Speaking software.
You probably already have these, but just in case, you really can’t go wrong with the Dungeons & Dragons Core Rulebooks Gift Set or The Game Master’s Book of Random Encounters (500+ customizable maps, tables, and story hooks).
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