[RPG] How to manage the campaign digitally, without using a screen at the table


For big campaigns I keep my campaign information — maps, keys, session notes, reference tables, etc. — in binders and duotangs which I can reference and annotate at the table. Their content only changes a little from session to session, but there’s a lot of it.

I prefer to use digital planning tools when designing my campaigns, but I want to retain my physical binder/folder system (or something like it) when running them — I want to need no electronics at the table. However, all the software I’ve tried thus far either has one of two major flaws: RPG-dedicated software assumes I will use it at the table, while general note-taking software lets me print stuff out but forces me to invent my own campaign-management system within it.

I want to do campaign prep and session prep away from the table, ideally wholly digital so I can get some of that sweet workflow-improvement stuff they all talk about in their ads, but I don't want to have a screen at the table.

So: I’m wondering if any of the dedicated campaign-management software out there can accommodate outputting its content to a physical binder/folder system on a semi-regular basis, and updating it from hardcopy session notes after every game, all painlessly enough that I won't just stop using it.

For what I want, an analogy with character sheets might help: there is lots of software aimed at players for maintaining a digital character sheet that can be printed for use at the table then taken back to the software to bring the digital copy up to date after the session. That's the kind of workflow that I would like to have, but for a whole campaign's worth of notes, maps, character relationships, session logs, etc.

Requirements and constraints follow:

  • Easy to print its content out into a form that fits in binders/folders.
  • A linked interface for any maps would be ideal: "What is at this location on this map? Oh, I can just click on it!" kind of things. ("Map support" that only amounts to generic image storage doesn't improve much on just keeping maps in a folder on my computer.)
  • Designed specifically for RPG campaign support (or close enough as makes no difference). I don’t want to have to make my own organisational system in an undifferentiated tool.
  • System-agnostic. Most system-specific tools are concerned with relieving some of the burden of complex NPC- and encounter-creation crunch, and I don't need those kinds of software features. I don't run systems (anymore) with the kind of crunch-preparation overhead that, say, D&D 3.x is famous for.
  • OS/platform doesn’t matter (except no Android).
  • Cloud and local storage are both acceptable.

Notes on things I’ve tried:

  • Wikis and Google Wave have worked for developing settings and organising campaign info in general. However, they aren't usually designed specifically with RPG management in mind and I have to make up the management structure myself. They also offer no especial advantages for my desired digital-to-hardcopy-and-back workflow (or worse, make it hard to create printouts), and so work best with a laptop/tablet at the table. Since I’m trying to eliminate electronics from my table, these aren't ideal. They also have a certain amount of setup overhead that I could otherwise use for actual prep (especially Wave, being mostly dead).
  • I've tried to use Scrivener for campaign management, but like wikis it doesn't have any of the organisational synergies that a real campaign manager is supposed to bring. It works great for its intended use — streamlining general writing workflow — but doesn't offer any RPG-prep workflow advantages beyond the base improvement of a structured writing environment. The note about "map support" above is a good example: Scrivener can import images and PDFs, but doesn't let you do anything interesting with them apart from bundling them together in one file with your text.

Things I've looked at but don't seem to suit:

  • Roll20 and Obsidian Portal look very nice as tools, but don't appear to make it easy to get the data out and onto my table.
  • Realm Works looks like my ideal on the campaign-creation and -management front, but similarly doesn't seem to have any features (at least, advertised ones) that would let me make a faithful hardcopy of my work.

I can't really be sold on using electronics at the table instead of using paper notes. I’ve tried, and it’s just not compatible with my workflow as GM during play.

In sum, I want to use paper and pencil during the game, but also get the advantages of RPG-specific digital campaign tools between sessions and during campaign development, all in a way that's easy enough that I will keep using the overall method.

The worst case (which is not terrible) is that I keep on with my current workflow — I use a mix of digital tools and paper to prepare a campaign, then stop using the digital ones once the game starts — so that's the baseline that solutions are competing with.

Best Answer

I have a similar problem, if not for similar reasons. The software that I utilize to solve it is The Keep, by NBOS.

It's a bit pricey, which made me take while to get it, and it does have a certain idea in mind of how it wants you to keep track of information- but if you can adapt, it works well.

First, from their blurb:

Key Features:

  • Organize your campaign information into intuitive folders
  • Track notes, maps, images, character sheets, handouts, and PDFs
  • Easy to use, tabbed based interface
  • Integrated word processor with spell checker
  • Fractal Mapper integration
  • Built-in Dice Roller
  • Inspiration Pad Pro integration for random names and encounters
  • Revision Tracking and Automatic Backups
  • Print a single document from your notes, maps, images, and character sheets
  • Create eBooks from your database
  • Game-system independent
  • Expandable using HTML based plugins
  • Can be run from Dropbox and Google Drive folders, or from USB Flash drives and other removable drives

For my review of it- I'll start with the pros:

  • System Agnostic- I use it for a few campaigns for different systems, and it works the same no matter what.
  • Fractal Mapper integration- I actually like Campaign Cartographer more, but the integration is just great for getting maps into the system, so much that I've begun using FM more.
  • Tab based, tree based paradigm- very easy to get accustomed to.
  • You can use it locally, or store it on Dropbox for use in the cloud.
  • It has a fully integrated word processor with a customizable spell checker.
  • It has integrated PDF viewing
  • You can make handouts for exporting and giving to players.
  • It integrates with their character sheet designer/viewer
  • It includes revision tracking
  • It can export the information in a variety of formats, and (at least so far) isn't so unwieldy that I can't do it as needed.
  • You don't have to export everything when exporting.
  • Very good developer and community support.


  • The interface is a bit... archaic. Personal choice as an interface designer...
  • It has a word processor with its own format. I prefer plain text with Markdown, so it was hard getting used to using a word processor again.
  • If you already have a lot of data, there's no easy way to import it other than copy and paste separately.

I think it comes close enough to your needs that you're likely to find it useful- and it's definitely built from an RPG perspective.

One last note - you don't have to buy it from NBOS.. you can get it from Drive-Thru RPG, and sometimes they have it on sale. There's currently a bundle with it and Fractal Mapper that's less than the two separately.

UPDATE: After posting this, I was corrected- the Keep does allow you to do hyperlinking. I'm not sure when this was added, or if I've just always overlooked it.

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