Staying Organized

Welcome to the third installment of Everyman Gaming’s GM’s Guide articles. In this GM’s Guide, we’ll be talking about staying organized.

I love it when I have an easy topic prepared (easy for me at least). Most of you know that my background is in education. I went to college at one of the top education schools in my state, which is one of the top education states in the United States for education. While I was there, organization was bored into my brain. Literally. Organization was even a grade that I needed to score well on to earn my diploma. So you have to understand my background when I say that it baffles me how unorganized some GMs are.

Today, I’m going to offer some of my tips for staying organized. These tips come not only from experience, but are also psychologically-tested mnemonic devices that I learned in college and teach to my SAT Prep students in order to prepare for the SAT standardized test. These tips could not only improve your Pathfinder organization skills, but also your organization skills throughout your life. What ho! Here we go!

A Place to Call Home

It is imperative that you have a “home” for all of your things. Specifically, a place where you put all of your GM supplies regularly. For example, on my desk I have a specific shelf for all of my campaign notes and campaign supplies. That way when I’m looking for something specific, I know exactly where to go and can pluck that specific document out almost instantly. Not only does save me time, but it also gives me a mental checklist that I can use to make sure I have everything that I need? Did I grab my miniatures at the food of my bed? Did I grab my backpack from within the closet? Did I pick up my notes from the campaign shelf? In this way, I train myself to follow a routine, which makes grabbing whatever I need fast and efficient. Plus I almost never forget anything that I need.

Along this line, you want to keep your GMing supplies stored in close proximity to one another. You don’t want to be running across the house looking for something because the chances are higher than you’ll miss something important. A good rule of thumb, if its possible, is to keep all of your GM supplies within two steps of one another; if you have to move more than two steps from one object to another, chances are higher that you’ll forget something important.

Color-Coded For Your Convenience

Keeping your game stuff color coded is an awesome strategy to use to keep organized, especially if you are playing or GMing multiple campaigns simultaneously or need to store multiple sets of notes or characters. For example, everything involving my Mongrella campaign is stored in a bright red binder while everything involing Justin’s Jungle campaign is stored in a stark white binder. Those binders are labeled, of course, but I can often tell which binder I need my color alone. Since those binders also sit on my campaign shelf, pulling the binder that I need for a given job is quick and easy.

Even if you aren’t running multiple campaigns, color-coding can work wonders for you. For example, you could correlate colored bookmarks for your Bestiaries with specific rooms on your encounter maps. In this way, you know that you’ll need all of the red bookmarks to go along with the red room. Whether you need to thumb through your Core Rulebook for a specific spell, quickly flip through your Adventure Path volume to get to the stat block of a unique creature, or page through your printouts you will do it faster and more confidently if you use a color-coding system.

Tools of the Trades

I practically live at Staples. Below are some of my favorite tools for staying organized.

  • Staples 1-Inch Better View Binders with D-Rings: D Rings just describe the shape of the ring, so this ring is flat on one side (the side that is attached to the spine). I like the Better View series binders because Staples has a HUGE array of colors of them, going back to my strategy of color-coding. They’re a little more expensive then other brands ($10 for a binder) but I’ve had my set of three for years with no damages: I even used one of them all throughout college too!
  • 10-Sheet Adjustable 3-Ring Hole Punch: Gotta get those papers into my binder somehow! You don’t really need something stronger than 10 sheets (I seldom do more than one at a time as it is), but man will this save you some time and frustration!
  • Clear Reinforcement Labels (Box of 200): This box is basically a spool of little cicular stickers that you are supposed to stick around a punched hole on both sides of the paper. The sticker is more durable than paper, so it makes it less likely than an old piece of paper is going to rip on you. Takes some time to place just right, but worth the time investment.
  • “Sign Here” Flags: Post-It makes these awesome little notes that look like arrows. They’re color-coded and semi-transluscent. They work awesome if there’s something in your notes that you REALLY can’t afford to forget (like something important that you’re supposed to say during an AP) and best of all, they can be taken off and discarded as easily as a post-it note. If you don’t want arrow-shaped ones, they have rectular ones too.
  • Post-It Durable Tabs: These are plastic tabs that are designed to stick (and stay stuck) to pieces of paper) Personally, I usually stick a tab to the first page of a character sheet to label it, transforming a random collection of villains into a neat-and-tidy index. You can also use this strategy to make flipping through a Kingdom Building sheet MUCH easier.
  • Fine-Point Permanent Marker (Sharpie): This is one of those uber-thin line markers. When I’m map-making, I make my maps in pencil and then trace over them with marker. Nothing too special.
  • A Common Pencil Box: … what? I needed something to protect my pencils. They always break inside of my backpack.

For now, that’s all I have to say about organization. What do you think? What tips and strategies do you use to stay organized for your games? What sort of materials or tools do you use to make organization easier? Leave your answers, questions, and comments below and I’ll be back with more GM advice next week!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune Staples Fiend, and he spontaneously bursts out into “Part of Your World” whenever he walks into Staples.


One thought on “Staying Organized

  1. I use a computer to store all of my files on and just bring it to every game. I have folders for each campaign and within each campaign, I have them broken up into sections. In my Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign that I’m running, each module has it’s own folder, for specific NPCs or villains I’ve made and I have the NPCs sorted into a ‘recurring’ folder if the same enemy appears a lot (like Generic Guard number 5). Each NPC also comes with a little bit of notes or details I need to remember about them and I regularly read over all of my NPCs so I don’t need to check them as much.

    I’ve done much the same on the Homebrew campaign I’ve been working on for a few years. But that one is broken down more into encounters as well. I then back all this up on a portable hard drive and onto the Cloud networks like Google and Microsoft One Drive.

    Book wise I use a PDF and make liberal use of the Cntrl+f function to find stuff if I need it.

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