October 29, 2015

Five Reasons to Prep in the Cloud

Hello readers.  Yes, the posting frequency is still down because of the new baby.  But let's jump into today's post!

Five Reasons to Prep in the Cloud, or Being a Cloud Giant

I'm hardly a bleeding edge "early adopter," but I have to say, there are wonderful software and cloud apps for preparing RPG materials for DMs.  I use cloud apps coupled with Word.  Maybe you can chime in on Twitter or Facebook and tell me about other cool options.  I find these to be the easiest and most intuitive methods, and here's why.

Reason #5:  Print, Crib, Recycle

When I finish my prep notes, I print them out.  That lets me crib and take notes right on the prep document.  After I'm done, I save the pages that have important notes for future sessions and recycle the rest.  Usually the rules and combat stats get recycled, and the story notes and details get saved, because I write a lot of future-relevant notes on those pages.  That leaves me a few pieces of paper with penciled-in notes in my campaign folder.

Taking notes directly on the page of prep material relevant to the note means I've preserved the context, which is very helpful.  Then eventually I reference those paper notes for inspiration for future session prep, or to remember details I invented on the fly.

Compare:  If I handled everything in paper notebooks, like I used to long ago, I'd have pages and pages of crib sheets and irrelevant notes with stats and spell lists and so forth to sift through to find the important story-related notes.

Reason #4:  Drop in Source Material

As I'm going, if I want to reference a rule, I can copy and paste it directly into my prep notes.  Apps like OneNote and Evernote make this extremely easy, but it's still almost trivial in word processing apps like Word and Google Docs.

I can paste monster stats out of a PDF, rules text from the Pathfinder SRD, or NPC descriptions from a setting PDF like Double Tap for Night's Black Agents or the Grand History of the Realms for D&D.

More and more, I'm running directly out of the cloud document, on an iPad.  With Pathfinder, this means I just hyperlink to monster stats, items, traps, skill descriptions, and relevant rules in d20pfsrd.

Logo used without permission, sorry. But it's a great resource!

Compare:  I remember third edition D&D, with my Monster Manual open, my Monster Manual 2 open, my Player's Handbook open squished under them, and my Dungeon Master's Guide propped against the leg of the table.  I'll never go back to those days.  I remember my Shadowrun 2nd edition book falling apart from flipping between pages, and the softcover supplements losing pages from being kept open to monster stats, maps, and setting notes.  There are still bookmarks in my Vampire books.  Today, I leave my hardcopy books on the table for the players to reference.  I flip through for inspiration and I read them to learn the system, but once the session starts, they're just dead trees.

Reason #3:  Organize Images and Handouts

I like to use images and handouts, like most DMs.  I search for and save some pictures for my own inspiration.  I get others for my players' inspiration, and display them on my screen or with convenient cloud drive sharing features.  

Taking screenshots of google maps and google earth is really useful for modern day games.  You can even use a google earth image as a cool way to track where player characters are in a modern espionage game.  It almost feels like you're tracking their positions using satellite telemetry.

I put some images and handouts into my prep document, so that they get printed for handing around the table.  The players keep a physical folder for themselves if they want to hang on to any of these.  If the players lose a handout, I have a copy of it in my cloud drive for them.

Compare:  Before I could collect these things in the cloud, there was just no convenient way to keep a folder of inspirational images, handouts, and maps.  I suppose scrapbooks and accordion files could have done the trick?  My old 2nd edition D&D stuff is full of handouts that came with boxed sets, worn and shoved back into crumbling boxes.  Hardly a convenient way to organize and store those items.

Reason #2:  Access Anywhere

Say our usual game is cancelled, and I have to run a one-shot.  If I have my phone or iPad, I have all my prep.  My weekday groups alternate campaigns -- so one week, I'll be GMing my game, and the next, another GM will run his.  If we switch weeks, I don't have to drive home to get my GM notes.  I just have to pull them up on my cloud drive.

You can also access your campaign notes for years after finishing a campaign.  Just zip the folder to compress it so it takes less space, or move it to your less-often-used cloud drive.  And then you can go back if you ever want to run a sequel campaign, pull images or maps, or just get inspiration from your past work.

Compare:  Without a cloud drive, I don't have the rule books, my prep notes, the player handouts, or any of this stuff.  

Side Note - Being a Cloud Player:  As a player, I keep my characters in the cloud.  All I need is a few bars of 4G and I can pull up my stats, notes, spells, treasure list -- everything I need.  As a player, I store images, stories, and plot notes in there, just like I do as a GM.  And I share most of these with my GMs, so that they have access to my stats and character history for their cloud prep.

Reason #1:  Prep Anywhere

The number one, far-and-away top reason to prep in the cloud is that you can prep anywhere.  You can prep at lunch at work.  You can prep on the subway.  You can prep in the back yard.  You can prep in bed when an idea strikes you.  You can prep in line at the DMV.  You can prep at a Starbucks on a rainy day or at the playground with your preschooler on a sunny day.

You can access your rules PDFs, your previous game prep notes, your inspirational images and maps, your handouts, and your PCs' character sheets.

Compare:  In high school, I carried a composition book with all my Shadowrun campaign inside it.  I carried it everywhere.  It was my "cloud drive" in the 90s.  But I didn't have access to the books, modules, maps, stats, etc.  I had to make stuff up or memorize things.  More, I couldn't really prep anywhere.  I didn't literally bring that book everywhere.  It didn't come with me to my job or my internship.  It didn't come with me to wait in line to get into a Soundgarden show.  It didn't come with me to the beach with the family.  It didn't come with me to school plays.  But my phone does.

And then one time, I lost my composition book...  Now, you can lose access to a cloud drive, but it's a lot harder to do.  Losing that marble composition book for a few weeks was tragic.