We’ve talked about how to set up your databases in Notion. Now its time to talk about database templates. Templates are a major key to being an organized Dungeon Master. They let us replicate work with minimal effort. We create our template once, and then use it ad nauseum. You can tweak it as your preparation style evolves over time.
Good templates will:
- Save us time (from recreating every time its needed)
- Remind us of the key components of the data entry
- Provide logical format and structure to our notes
- Improve the accessibility of our information
What are Notion Database Templates?
Database templates are what we use to format each data entry in our Notion database. So, when you click on King Henry’s page within the database you will see an option to apply a template assuming:
- You have created a template(s) for the database.
- King Henry is a “new” entry that you have not already written in.
If you do not have a template created, you will see Notion ask if you’d like to create a template.
If you do have one or more templates already created, you will see an option to apply it to your newly created page. But, before we can get to applying a template, you need to know how to make one.
Creating a Notion Database Template
There are two ways to create a new template. First, you can 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.
The second way to create a new template is to select the prompt when you open a new page within your database. This will take you to the same place as the first option.
Editing your Template
Once you click on the new template button, Notion brings you to a new pop up. One that indicates at the top that you are editing a template in “Database Name Here”.
First, give your template a name. This will help you clarify what you use the template for. In the case of our NPC’s example, we might want a template for the Royal Court and a different one for the Black Hand Assassins. But I encourage you to think carefully if that is actually necessary or not. You might be able to get by with a Universal NPC Template that you can apply generally to all your NPCs.
My rule of thumb is to focus on the structure of the template. I ask: do I need structurally different templates for one group of entries than I do for another? If so, then I need to create multiple templates. A good example of a table that could have multiple tables is your Locations table. You might want templates for:
- Wilderness Areas
What if all I’m doing is using the templates to adjust the table properties at the top? Then, I’d avoid creating a new template. I use the table properties to categorize my entries and relate them to other databases. Most of the time, you’ll want to make those connections individually for the page.
Think in Segments
When it comes to creating a good template, think about the following items:
- How do my notes naturally break out for this topic?
- What pieces of information do I include in my notes for 80% of X? (X being a location, NPC, item, and so on)
- Do I already have a common pattern in how I have presented this topic in past notes?
- Are there common/best practices used by other Dungeon Masters that I’ve learned about?
- Is there anything in my notes that I don’t need? Can I omit that from my template?
Using the 80% rule keeps us focused on the majority. As I mentioned above, we do not want to create templates for all special cases. Don’t spend more time fixing problems that don’t exist. Our goal is to organize and work smarter, not cover every special case.
The beauty of Notion templates is that they are a starting point. Once we apply a template to our page, we can edit and change it to our hearts content. Without altering the template. This is where you add in the extra notes for your special cases. Or ask yourself if you need a special case at all in the first place.
High Use Notion Blocks in your Templates
When creating your templates, you want to make them look good. Make sure they organize and structure your information. It’s crucial that you can find your key information on your Notion page while you are running the game. That is the whole point of the template. You do the work up front so you can be lazy on formatting in the future.
There are several Notion “blocks” that we can make great use out of in creating our templates:
- Headings. Give your note sections headers. The headers let you quickly scan the page to find the section that is relevant to you in the moment.
- Dividers. Similar value to headings. They create a delineated break between one section and the next. Not as useful as headings. But I like to combine the two to give my pages a clean look.
- Bulleted Lists. You should try to make your notes as bite size as possible. Bulleted lists quickly parse out key ideas within your notes. The bullets help you delineate one idea from the next.
- Numbered Lists. The same basic ideas and values of a bulleted list apply to a numbered list. Use numbered lists when you have sequential ideas, or ideas connected together.
- Toggle Lists. Notion has toggle lists that let you expand or hide the information within. I love toggle lists because they reduce the visual clutter on notes pages. NPC has a background story? I put it in a toggle list. That way I hide the paragraphs of text unless I actively want to see it. Remember, you can nest other Notion blocks within. Bulleted lists, other toggles, and even tables can all go within your toggle lists.
- Callout Boxes. Callout boxes highlight some key text within your document and associate an icon with it. Notion limits the callout boxes to text only. This makes their value lower than it would otherwise could be. At the time of writing this, you can’t nest bullets or other blocks within them. You can use call out boxes for NPC appearances, or the much maligned “Boxed Text”.
- Create a linked database. We’ve already discussed the value of creating linked databases (LINK). This is where you go wild with showing other tables inside your notes. Their value is limited only by your imagination and structuring of your campaign organization system.
- Table – Inline. Different than a linked database, an inline table is a brand new table within your page. You can reference the table on other pages, but is a bad idea to do so for tables that you are adding to a template. If you create 30 NPCs, you will have 30 versions of that table floating around making it hard to find the one you want. Inline tables are good for information that you want structured as a table, but you won’t reference outside the page. For my NPC templates, I have an inline table that has 5e’s traits, bonds, ideals and flaws on it.
- Image. Notion lets you put in a placeholder for embedded images. You click on that block and select the file you want in that placeholder. This is great for NPC templates (portraits) or dungeon templates (maps) among others.
Up Next: Creating a Template
Now that we’ve talked about the components that make up a good Notion database template, it is time to make one. Next time, I’ll show you how to make a template by walking through a case study. We are going to use The Alexandrian’s Universal NPC Template as an inspiration for our new template.
Table Basics for Dungeon Masters
The Power of Related Databases
Art Credit: Ede László
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