This is My DM Binder
My players are way smarter than I am. “Oh, but Elle, you’re so smart,” you say. I can hear it all the way over here. Don’t worry. I know I’m not as brain-addled as I seem. But as bright as I am, I seem to have found myself surrounded by people who are leaps and bounds beyond me in all sorts of directions. And when they all band together as a party, I get steamrolled. Or at least, I used to. I’ve since learned and evolved as a GM, but one of the first things I did to help me keep my notes all together was set up a ‘DM Binder.’ I was running Savage World’s Rippers at the time, and so the thing is chock-full of notes, references, articles, and a lot of other stuff.
Here, let me show you. Yes, I know it looks a mess.
Those half-sheets of paper are quick reference sheets for SW characters – I’ve got them set up for any major NPCs and Villains the party encountered. Anyone who earned a wild die through their interactions with the PCs got an entry. It’s the first thing in there because, well, if I put them further back I’d forget. Ignore the left-hand pocket just there. It’s all notes that aren’t particularly relevant at the moment.
The binder was organized, at one point, but this sorting system went out the window as time went by. The sections are still somewhat relevant, though they likely only make sense to me. But having the initial idea of a table of contents was actually helpful, in that it allowed me to sort my ideas by type, and kept it faster if I needed something while the game was actually going on.
Oh look! It’s the villain section. This is my favourite part. While I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I statted out every antagonist honestly and completely by the numbers, most of them were entirely reasonable – underpowered, even. This one was not. Just so you don’t think I’m some terribly maniacal GM (you likely think that anyway), I’ll let you know this particular enemy was built by a player for me to run againt them. Did I mention it was the character’s wife, who’d gone mad? Anyway, I organized this section chronologically. It made it easier to sort through sheets in this part, since the party kept killing off their villains.
The next three are from SharkBytes, the article and information-full zine that Pinnacle used to put out. I ate this stuff up – I also had a rather impressive printing budget at the university I went to, so I’ve got nearly every single issue in this binder, somewhere. I, personally, love the ‘X number of Y type events!’ lists, because they’re my go-to when I get stuck. Players have me confused? #15 – ‘A great shadow of some object or creature falls across the ground, although there is no evidence of its source.’ It’ll keep them occupied figuring things out while I have a moment to re-organize my thoughts, and it helps remind me of the tone of the game – Horror.
I’ve got THE BIG LIST of RPG PLOTS in there because it’s a fantastic resource. Since I’m not my players, and I don’t have their brains, when I present a scenario to them, I’m often left gaping in shock at the actions they take. A simple fetch-type quest turns into something gory and bloody after the hot-tempered rifleman starts letting bullets fly in a crowded bar – what to do now? Flip a few pages over, and figure out which plot bunny works well with the mess they’ve just gotten themselves into, and rev my engines, because they’re in for quite a ride.
Yes, I’m a huge nerd for having The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations in there as well. What can I say? I’m a nerd, and I was studying theatre at the time. I ended up not using this one as often as the RPG plot list, but it was quite useful when it came to exploring my PC’s backstories. Referencing this to see what sort of story archetype their goals and humble beginnings fit into was a great resource to help me figure out what sorts of resolutions worked best.
I like maps. I tend to need to sketch things out so I’m familiar with how they actually fit onto a grid-map when I have to draw them out for a fight sequence. And I found that having the space the characters called ‘home’ plotted out tied them more fully into the setting. I could pull this out every time they returned to their base for a drink or for reconvening after a mission to remind them where they were, and I found that it tended to center the RP.
Villains and Heroes! When your players can chew through extras, it’s great to have something to glance at for immediate stat sets. An easy way to see which monster hits the hardest, and how much longer that constable can hold the line against the Hyde that’s attempting to turn him into a fine red paste on the cobblestones.
The next two are also from Sharkbytes, and I love supplements like this. Eventually, the players know the rules and the setting as well as I do – even when they’re trying their best to not metagame, they recognize Mad Science and Miracles easily, and finding things like this to sprinkle in always made them sit up and take notice. It was also a really nice way to amp up a bossfight by adding in powers or abilities that the players (and their characters) weren’t familiar with, allowing me to (sometimes) gain the upper hand against them for a moment or two.
Pictures! I’ve got a few of these in there – not many, mind you, but enough. This one is from Pelgrane Press‘ ‘Book of Unremitting Horror,’ which is an awesome book all on its own. Since description can only go so far, no matter how well I think I’m explaining how things look and where they are, I have a bad habit of skipping over vital information. With a few horrible images in my GM arsenal, I can pull something out to show my players just what kind of trouble they’re in, if I need to.
I refer to this as the ‘instant NPC’ section – it’s more of a character graveyard. I’ve kept every player’s sheet who’s not wanted to keep their own, and I still have every single one. From one-shots to campaigns, they’re all in there, tucked into the back. Since they’re built anywhere from Novice to Legendary rank, I can always pull something that’s entirely appropriate to the party and the immediate need. And they’re already named, saving me the trouble of stammering for a few moments, before spitting out something like “Duncan McCloud?”
And to keep myself from doing just that, I’ve got a list of period-accurate names in there, too. Nowadays, I just use the name app on my phone, but it’s a rather impressive list, isn’t it?
Hey, you don’t belong in this binder, get out of here.
These are exactly what they look like – paper minis, bought ages ago from PegInc’s site, and I’m actually not certain if they still exist. My search turned up empty-handed. But these were fantastic – just a quick snip and tape and I had the monster they were fighting (or close enough) right on the mat. My poor players.
Did I mention that I love maps?
The entirety of the Savage Worlds quickstart guide is in the back, as well – the combat actions page is the most well-loved, having been passed around to players on many occasions. It frees tablespace from the books, and since they list all actions, all penalties, it saved me from having to remind my more forgetful players about their options during fights, slowing the game down. It’s got a list of edges and hindrances, vehicular combat, and a few other super helpful reference pages. Not having to dig through the book for a particular page really helped me keep the quick pace of combat.
Having such a varied and easily referenced selection of resources made it much easier for me to run sessions that were true to the setting and still hilariously fun for my players without turning me into a gibbering pushover, as was my wont. With everything right at hand, I could stop worrying about having to remember every statistic, every name, and every single plotline, and focus instead on running a game that would leave my players cowering. And it worked, for me – I’ve never been so proud as I was the moment I had a player call me and tell me they couldn’t sleep.