Prep Basics: Laying the Foundation through OneNote

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

A little while back, we covered why the organization of the world is a major point of being the DM. Keeping notes organized allows for speeding up prep and has many additional benefits. If you have not looked at that post, I recommend going back and reading it. In fact, I'll make it easy: Prep Basics: Benefits of Getting Organized.

Today, we look at how to start organizing by working with the foundation.

A quick note, this is a large topic so it's likely going to span a few posts. I'll continue to update and link as those additional posts are created.

We'll start with my #1 go-to: OneNote

The below is not an affiliate link - but I am going to link directly to the product page: .

(At the time of this article, it is OneNote's App Version 16001.12130.20090.0)

The reason I suggest/recommend OneNote is the multi-platform functionality and storage. Not only does it have the ability to organize within one system, but you can take it virtually anywhere with you in our hyper-connected world.

I can have the exact same notebook and work on it on my desktop, my tablet, my phone, or even my laptop. As long as I have one of these devices, I am able to work on my D&D game.

For instance, you receive a question out of the game from a player and you have your cell phone next to you, but not the computer. Boom, you can pull it up on the phone app and fire off the answer quickly without making them wait. You also look like a walking encyclopedia if they don't know this is how you constructed your world.

Are you out and about when an idea strikes you while reading a book on your tablet? Switch over to OneNote and jot it down for later so you don't forget. Later on, you can revisit it on your computer to expand on the note.

You get the gist - hyper-connectivity via online cloud services allows you to get access without missing a beat.

In addition to this, you can also save and organize your digital notes, search through the notebooks, and include media.

LET US BEGIN THE LESSON (the Kalos-approved organized method!):

From this point onward you will get to see "behind the curtain" and follow along with me as we walk through laying the foundation. I will be using images, methods, and samples from my personal notes and recommend this organization format, but the names, people, places, etc. will be your own when you take this back to your own desk.

In the image below, you can see how I have my world, notes, and session laid out as "Notebooks."

At this point, you may be wondering what each of these notebooks contains, but that is a deep, dark, terrible secret... Just kidding, but let me take a moment to define each of these in relation to the world I created.

Session Notes: contains all of the session details, administrative details, main story, world maps, and notes that I take during a session.

Quick Ref: (Reference) contains all the information a DM could need or use at a moment's notice: rules, a quick list of names by race, roll tables, etc.

Regions: The Elven Conclave (current region of my group's Player Characters (PC's)), The Union of Free Cities, The Jarls of Elder Deep, Illarion, and the Kingdom of Dirthiod are regions. These are on the main map of the world where the players reside.

I do not group regions under the header regions due to the size and data that goes in.

For those who are visual, the map below shows the regions for those notebooks.

This map was made with a commercial subscription to "Inkarnate"

Looking at The Elven Conclave, colored light green above, you can see multiple cities, rivers, forests, and mountains. Each of these features are sub-areas of The Elven Conclave.

Home Brew: The final section may seem very self-explanatory to some, but not everyone knows what "Home Brew" is.

"Home Brew" is any item, rule, or place that does not exist in the official Wizards of the Coast Dungeons and Dragons. These are the creations that have been made for the table, and that world alone, to help build the narrative. It can be akin to House Rules.

For example, a legendary weapon that does not fit into the canonical lore of D&D, such as a Club of Sprinkles.

Club of Sprinkles: Every critical strike causes sprinkles to rain from the sky for 6 seconds in a 15ft cube. Those hit by the sugar sprinkles will feel an uncontrollable urge to seek a frozen delicacy.

Hopefully, it is obvious that I just made that item up, and it doesn't exist in the normal published materials. Thus, this would be deemed a Home Brew item. Also, probably should have a DC to save against sprinkles.... clearly not play-tested.

NOTE: I don't recommend including created locations/regions in your "Home Brew" notebook, and suggest exclusively tracking unique rules and items because a large volume of data goes into each region which will cause issues for you down the road (when you no longer have enough subsections to drill down to the necessary data). Home Brew locations are more practically organized in stand-alone folders so that their dependent details stick with the region itself (i.e. you are more likely to look for a specific inn your table patronized under the region than to remember you placed the inn under the "Home Brew" section).

Closing Thoughts

Having the foundation built properly will allow you to take the mindmap of your world and transfer it much easier into your OneNote. If you have not read the article on mind-mapping you can find it here: Prep Basics: Getting Your Mastermind Idea Mapped

We (for you are now of the same hive-mind!) keep our Session notes, Reference notes, and Home Brew notes separate from the world notes to allow for the maximum amount of levels to drill down on areas and information in the world for the regions.

This allows us to build the spine which holds everything together. We will later cover linking the data between notebooks in order to hop back and forth effectively.

Next week, we will not be covering organization, because my wife/editor (she's tough) will disown me and has requested a varied theme. Therefore, stay tuned for next week's new topic!

Until then... Keep Creating, keep thinking, keep wandering.

Thus Endeth the Lesson.

P.S. I do want to bring up one additional software for your review.

Evernote is another platform you may consider using for similar features and functionality.

Both programs are extremely strong, but in the end, I chose OneNote as it syncs with OneDrive where a lot of my data lives and the cost was better for me. I've included some quick notes so you can decide what works best for you.


  • Evernote freemium accounts can have a maximum of 100,000 notes with a file-size restriction of 25MB per note.

  • Premium subscribers can upload or capture notes up to 100MB in size.

  • Evernote limits users to a maximum of 250 notebooks synced across a user’s account.

  • Evernote restricts users to a maximum of 10,000 tags.

  • Evernote allows users to save up to 100 searches.

  • Evernote freemium accounts are limited to just 60MB of uploaded data per month, premium users to 10GB, and business users to 20GB.

  • Pricing: Basic (Free), Premium ($7.99 a month), Business ($14.99 per user a month)


  • OneNote’s storage limits are connected directly to a user’s Microsoft OneDrive account; there are no restrictions on how many individual notes a OneNote user can save.

  • OneNote Basic accounts offer individual uploaded file size restrictions of 25MB. Both Premium and Business subscribers are limited to uploads of up to 200MB per file––twice the size of Evernote’s maximum file size.

  • OneNote’s free mobile version restricts users to 500 synced notes before prompting users to upgrade.

  • Although the maximum file size you can upload to OneDrive is 15GB, the maximum file size you can upload to OneNote is 2GB.

  • Pricing: Microsoft’s basic plan (50GB of OneDrive storage) costs just $1.99 per month or $23.88 annually. For $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year, you get 1,000GB of storage and access to Office 365 Personal edition.

See you all in the next one!

124 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All