There is a lot to discuss when it comes to Notion. So, I’m going to do an article series about Notion for dungeons and dragons. This first article provides an introduction and share some general knowledge about the tool. I know tools can be contentious. If you have a system that works well for you, keep using that system. But, if you are in the market for a new organizational tool, hopefully these articles can help you out!
I first learned about Notion from Mike Shea at Sly Flourish. He does a great job outlining and Notion for D&D use. He even offers a free Lazy DM campaign template to get you started in Notion for free! But, as I dug deeper into Notion, I learned how powerful it is. It can be much more useful as a game master than Mike first presents. So my goal in the following articles to take you beyond the basics.
Notion: What is It?
Notion is a notebook application (LINK). It is somewhat similar to programs like Evernote or OneNote. The main difference is how Notion leverages the power of databases. Notion’s database features are its biggest strength. And its the reason why I use Notion for planning my D&D campaigns.
Notion is free to use. Paid options give the user more storage space and other features. But to be honest, I have used the free version to great effect with my own personal D&D campaigns. At the time of writing this I am still a free user.
Limitations of Notion
As much as I like Notion, it is not perfect. There are a few limitations to the tool. Some of them may be deal breakers for you, so I wanted to get them out in the front before you read any further.
- No Offline Mode. Notion requires internet to function. Both for editing and viewing your workspaces, you will need an internet connection. You can export your data into a few different formats (CSV, HTML). But the main benefit of using Notion is how you can navigate from one section to another. HTML won’t offer that. Additionally, If you play your D&D games in locations with spotty internet, then this might not be for you.
- Data is stored on Notion Servers. Related to limitation #1, Notion stores your workspace data on their own servers. For some people with data privacy concerns, that is a big non-starter. For me, my D&D campaign information is not highly classified. So I am okay with storing it on Notion’s servers.
- No End-To-End Encryption (E2EE). You can research this more on your own, but this is another security measure. Notion uses encryption at rest and in transit but not end-to-end. According to Notion, using E2EE would make text searching impossible. You can read more about it here.
- Search can be slow. I haven’t had issues with this. But reading about others experiences, if you have a lot of data and pages within your workspaces the search features can start to bog down. So, storing a whole world encyclopedia on Notion might slow things down. But if you create separate spaces for each campaign, you’ll be okay.
- Need a PC at the Gaming Table. Some people don’t want laptops or computers at the table when they are playing tabletop RPGs. If you are one of them, then Notion is a nonstarter. If you play on a virtual tabletop platform, you aren’t going to mind.
Why is Notion Useful to a DM?
I think there are several features of notion that make it great for organizing your D&D campaigns. We’ll be talking about all these in future articles of the Notion series. But here is a summary:
Notion’s real power lies within its databases. They are a great way to collect and organize your campaign data. You can easily see the highlights of each entry to give you a quick operating view. And you can click on each entry in the database to open its “page”. For example, my NPCs database contains all the important NPCs within my campaign. If I select an NPC, it will open up with its own page, where I can write up all the important details about that NPC.
Linking and Referencing
You can reference your databases or pages on other pages as you write. If you want to link an important NPC in your adventure notes? No problem. That is a quick and easy thing to do.
You can also create referential columns within your databases. This lets you refer to other databases. This means you can link your NPC to the important locations he/she frequents. So if I’m looking at an NPC and I want to navigate to the lady’s castle? Fast and easy. You start to see how your characters, locations, items, and everything else are interconnected when you start linking them all together.
Filtering and Views
Databases can be see in several different formats. Tables will be the most common and practical. But other options include Kanban Boards, Galleries, Calendar, List or Timeline.
The filtering is powerful and flexible but very simple. With your linked references you can create different views of your main tables. Your specialized views give you a focused picture of the table. For example, I can create a copy of my NPCs table in my Castle Blackskull page. And filter that table to only show me NPCs associated with Castle Blackskull. No need to copy or paste, or worry about forgetting to update all versions of your tables. Once you make a change, all versions of that table are automatically updated!
You can create and save templates for entries into your databases. This means, you can select the template and get off and running in no time. Templates are efficient and powerful. And they are quick to set up in Notion. I used OneNote before Notion and my biggest gripe about it was the lack of templates. I would have to manually save my template pages and copy/paste them as I needed them. It was clunky and slow. Notion does this much better.
Notion: One Stop Shop
With all the benefits above and a bunch others not listed I have found that I can store a lot of my campaign in notion. I can store my NPCs, locations, adventure notes, world information, and more in a single spot. Its easy to access and its all interconnected to make my life as a DM easy. The only thing I don’t store in Notion is my battle maps that I load into a virtual tabletop.
If you are in the market for a new D&D campaign planning and organizational tool, I suggest giving it a try! The rest of the series will walkthrough how to use Notion’s features. I will show you how to get the most out of your Notion game master command center.
Feature Art Credit: Ede László