Since releasing my OneNote Campaign Notebook on the DMs guild, I’ve been using it to run my own 5th Edition game and experience has shown me quite a few places it could be improved. I found myself turning to websites in order to reference spell descriptions, for example, as the details of casting time, components, and wording tend to be important and flipping through the Player’s Handbook slows down play.
To that end, I started by creating a new section in the notebook for spells. The section has an entry for each spell with the spell’s description, arranged by spell level. What this means is that any time I need to check some detail of a spell, I can use OneNote’s search function to quickly bring it up no matter where I am in the notebook, and then switch back to the previous section and return to what I was doing.
As you can see, I also decided to annotate each spell with the class spell lists it is found on, mostly because I want to know how I can get an interesting spell as a character when I read the description. I use it as a DM too, of course, as my players mostly fight my custom-built NPCs rather than monsters. I do have access to all spells with this in my personal notebook, but when I release the update on the DMs Guild I’m only going to include the SRD spells just to play it safe. Anyone that downloads the notebook could easily add those spells themselves, of course.
Now, originally I wanted to use OneNote’s tags system to add metadata to the spell library, allowing one to do a tag search and analyze spells in a complex way. Unfortunately, when I started doing this I found that although you can definitely create a complex tagging system in OneNote, its tag search function isn’t as developed. It isn’t possible to parse tag search results in a useful way, at least for this purpose, so I had to abandon that idea.
Instead I’ve had to spend a great deal of time curating spells myself. I’ve arranged them in a series of lists as you can see below, just based on what I thought would be useful.
The above is one of my favorites. There’s always that moment where you have a character concentrating on a spell and you’re looking for something that won’t break their concentration and will be just a little more durable than an instantaneous blast or the like. I also find these lists very useful for developing new classes or subclasses – I can analyze spell use in a way that was very difficult before creating this tool, helping me make decisions on how to assign spells.
The curated lists aren’t currently hyperlinked, but I plan for them to be by the time I release this update. One of the advantages of using OneNote 2016/2013 is OneTastic, an add-on for OneNote that allows you to download macros that expand the program’s functionality. One of the macros I use lets me search for a phrase in my notebook and hyperlink all instances of that phrase, so I’ll be able to get that part done pretty quickly. When it’s done, you’ll be able to look at any of these curated lists, click on a spell’s name, and immediately bring up its description. Not quite as powerful as true searchable metadata would have been, but not bad.
I also found myself wishing for a place to keep my player character’s sheets. It took a little nagging to get everyone to actually send me their sheets so I could convert them into OneNote stat blocks, but since I did I’ve been able to refresh myself on their stats very easily. It also lets me do a quick check in-session to make sure they’re using their abilities correctly – which they often aren’t, sometimes to their own detriment. That has definitely come in handy a few times.
After initially creating stat blocks for my PCs, I decided it was too tedious to click between pages in order to check stats I needed to know on all PCs at once, like passive Perception scores. I created a reference page to head the PC section.
I also want to create a table to track the party’s holdings on this page, but I haven’t quite finished that yet.
Maps and More
In version 1.0, the Maps tab was pretty bare bones: just a template page with one of the DMs Guild creators resource maps released by WoTC. Since then, though, my group has changed the way we play and are looking at using a digital display for battle maps. I know there are plenty of tools that fill this niche, and I have no real interest in competing with any of them (nor any illusions that I could given the limited amount of time and resources I have to devote to the project). But one of the main perks of running sessions with OneNote for me is in having everything I need in one program – my laptop is pretty wimpy, and trying to run more than one or two apps slows everything to a crawl.
To that end, I want to develop the Maps tab into a more battle-ready tool. I haven’t started working on this quite yet – it’s my next project – but I’m planning to create a “token sheet” in that section with art from the WoTC creators resource processed into standardized tokens. My idea is that DMs can import their own maps as a background, copy and paste tokens onto it for their players and monsters, and run a battle directly from there. I’m going to try to create tokens for walls, furniture, flora, and other terrain elements as well, so that DMs running an unexpected battle can quickly assemble a scene from stock elements. How well this will actually run in practice is yet to be seen, of course – no doubt I’ll have to tweak it quite a bit, but I’m hoping that it will be a useful resource.
Other notes – OneNote Online Fix
That’s all for updates on my work so far, I think. In other news, I think I’ve figured out how to fix the issue some people have been having with the notebook being incompatible with the most current release of OneNote. I’ve gotten a few reviews mentioning that now, I so I’ve looked into it and it seems as though the notebook itself isn’t actually incompatible – it’s just been exported in a format that the new OneNote can’t import. All I actually need to do to fix that is to open the notebook in OneNote online and export it from there instead. The next version will have an export from OneNote 2016/2013, the version I use, and one from the current version. Hopefully that clears things up!
Until next time!