Last time we talked about the importance of templates in your Notion D&D organization system. In this post, we will walk through creating a template step by step. Our case study will focus on creating a template for our NPC database.
In this case, we will be using a framework championed by Justin Alexander over at the Alexandrian. He structures his notes around something he calls the Universal NPC Template. I like the structure of the Universal NPC Template and I have adopted a version of it into my own NPC database.
The Alexandrian calls out the following sections for notes on your NPC:
- Key Information
This is a great list, and it gives us plenty of information to roleplay off of. You can keep these sections short for minor NPCs and expand it out for important NPCs. The beauty of the template is that it will set up these sections. But, you will decide the robustness of each page based on how you fill it out.
Creating the Notion Database Template
First, you need to have an NPC database. At this point, you can include whatever columns you’d like. For me, I’m going to have the following columns:
- Disposition Tag
- Personality Traits
Using our example in past articles, my NPC database looks like this:
Click on the blue dropdown arrow next to the New in the upper right hand corner of your database. You should see a “+ New template” option at the bottom of that menu.
Step 0: Name our Notion Template
Give your template a name. Since I’m modeling this after the Universal NPC Template, that is what I am going to call mine.
For this template, I am going to leave all table properties blank. Each NPC will have their own unique characteristics, so it does not save me any time to set defaults. I think its unnecessary to have a “Human Template”, and an “Elf Template” and so on.
Step 1: Create our Sections.
Using the list above, I am going to create header blocks for each section. Below each header block, I am going to insert divider blocks as well. I like the delineation look and think it looks clean. But if you prefer headers only, do that.
For my headers, I am using the H3 block. I prefer that sized font, but feel free to use whatever looks good to you.
Step 2: Appearance Content
For the appearance section. I am going to use a callout block. That puts a nice border around my text. This will be a brief description of the NPC. I can either read it aloud, or review it and paraphrase at the table. I also change the icon in the callout box to a person silhouette. You can use whatever graphical reminder that helps remind you of appearance.
Note that you can change the box color if you want a different background. Click on the six dots that appear to the left of the block, go to Color and then select your new Background Color. For me, I like the light grey. I like a subtle distinction, but don’t want to overwhelm myself with too many colors.
Step 3: Roleplaying Content
I am going to keep the Roleplaying section short and simple. We want to highlight a few aspects of the character in this section. Bullet points will do perfect for that. So I am going to create a bulleted list block and leave it blank. That way, when I create a new NPC it is ready to fill out.
Step 4: Key Information Content
Key information is going to be more game master dependent. What I consider key information might be an after thought to another DM. So give your own section some thought on what you want to include. In my case, I am going to have three subsections here:
- Goals and Desires
Each of these sections might be lengthy. So a toggled list block is perfect to create these sections.
Secrets and Clues:
Inspired by Mike Shea over at Sly Flourish, I like including secrets and clues in my game. Mike talks about keeping his secrets agnostic from a source. And I think that is generally a good idea. But sometimes you will want NPCs to hold a specific secret. Or, during the course of play you assign one of the agnostic secrets to an NPC. Write those here. For me, a simple bulleted list block nested inside the toggle is perfect.
Goals and Desires:
A lot of great DM blogs will talk about giving your NPCs goals and desires of their own. This makes them feel alive in the world, and have their own motives when dealing with the players (or other NPCs). For this section, I took inspiration from Jacob Hurst and his book The Dark of Hot Springs Island. I went with the following subsections:
- What DO they want?
- What do they NOT want?
- What else?
Because these are lists, I am starting with toggled list blocks for these subsections. Then, I use simple bulleted list blocks inside.
Resources are anything the NPC has at their disposable to achieve their goals. The king has an army, tax revenue and a host of other assets to use. A street urchin may have stealth, contacts and a touch of shadow magic. I recommend keeping your list brief. Focus on resources that will come into direct play at the table. You don’t need to list out the 20 baronies that have sworn fealty to the king. I use a bulleted list block here.
I have decided to create a separate subsection for “Items”. Most NPCs won’t have any items of note on them and that’s okay. But if the NPC does have magic items at their disposal, I want to link them here. It lets me see what they have access to without flipping between databases.
I start by creating a toggled list block and name it “Items”. Then inside I use a Create linked database block. I select the items database as the connection. My items database has several columns in it. But I want a customized view that lets me glance at their inventory. I create a new view. I labeled mine “Character View”.
We need to set a filter on the linked table to avoid all items in our item table from appearing here. To do that, go to the top right of the table and select the three dots “…” choose filter from the drop down menu. Select add filter and use the following: Where NPC contains Universal NPC Template. This filter will automatically update when you apply it to a new page. And if you already have items assigned to to the NPC they will populate the table. Otherwise, you can add new items directly in this table and they will appear in your notion database. Easy and seamless editing!
Then, click the three dots in the top right corner and select properties. Here I hide the columns I don’t want to see. Then I rearrange them in an order that makes sense for quick viewing of the NPC’s inventory. To rearrange them, you can drag the properties right on that page, or drag the columns in the table itself.
After all that is complete, my Key Information section likes like this:
Step 5: Background Content
Your NPC’s background will contain information that makes them who they are. After giving it some thought, I have come up with three sections for my background content:
- Background Information
This is where you can write your NPC’s backstory. This usually takes the form of paragraphs. So all I’m doing here is creating a toggled list block and leaving the inside blank. I can start writing text straight away.
In 5e D&D the developers introduced the traits, bonds, ideals and flaws system for players to help roleplay their character. The Dungeon Master’s Guide extended that system to NPCs. While I don’t use this for every NPC (I like the Roleplaying section better), I do think it is helpful for major NPCs.
I decide to make this in a clean table format. Since I don’t need to link these NPC’s traits anywhere else, I am opting for an Inline – Table notion block. I name table “Themes” and create a two column five rowed table. The first column is the theme (trait, bond, ideal, flaw) and the second column is Text. When complete, my table looks like this:
Where possible, I like to associate artwork with an NPC. It helps me visual and roleplay the character better. There is lots of great fantasy artwork on the internet. Find a piece that fits your vision for the character and use that. Be sure to credit the artist and only use it for your personal use.
Here I create an image block and leave it blank so I can upload an image at a later date (when applying the template to a page). Below it, I have a text block that reads “artist:”. Give your credit here. When all done, your background section will look like this:
Applying the Notion Template
My final template looks like this:
Once I’m done editing my template, I click on the ” <- Back” button in the top left. I can always come back and edit my template later. Use the same directions as before. But instead of selecting “+ New Template” click on the dots to the right of your existing template and select “Edit”.
To use the template, I open up a page in my database. At the bottom I see pick a template and below is my Universal NPC Template. I click on that and my Notion page auto-populates with the template. From there, I fill in the details for my NPC. Hopefully by now, you can see why I think Notion is such a powerful tool. It organizes our content seamlessly. We can develop templates that format data consistently and improve creative efficiency. Happy creating!
Further Reading on Notion:
Table Basics for Dungeon Masters
The Power of Related Databases
Art Credit: Ede László
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