D&D: Testing Bibisco for D&D and Tabletop RPG Planning


I have spent a long time trying to find the right tool and system for campaign planning for D&D. I posted about my struggles and my approach back in 2019, and I have to say that since that time I never found a perfect setup.  I like to keep my session notes to paper as much as possible, and the Tül notebook has severed me really well, but with the past year going fully online for all of our D&D play, that has shifted my approach and perspective a bit. The notebook works great for my individual session planning, but has proven to be a bit harder to manage long term planning and tracking of multiple narrative arcs. 

I have tried a whole ton of different apps for the past couple of years, ranging from Evernote, to Apple Notes, to Onenote and more. I even tried online systems like World Anvil, Kanka and Obsidian Portal. All of them have left me "wanting" in different ways. 

OneNote was a strong contender for a while and there is an excellent template setup online. Unfortunately my work uses Office 365 and at least when I last checked this out in the spring, there wasn't a way to login to multiple accounts for OneNote on a single device, so writing and development became a bit hard. The OneNote template also looked gorgeous, but I found myself often times fiddling a bit too much with formatting and not actually "writing" the campaign out. 

I also looked quite a bit at the various online systems, such as World Anvil, etc. While I did like them, at the end of the day I just can't pay for another online service. They also never felt "quick enough" for me. I couldn't login and get to the page I wanted to fast enough to just "idea dump" when something came to my mind. 

What I have discovered over the past few weeks though is an application called Bibisco. I have found that it has a really nice breakdown of writing sections that works really well for campaign planning, breaking narrative elements into Scenes. This has worked out really nicely for how my brain approaches my D&D planning. There is too much to breakdown into a single blog post, so I have instead put together a video overview of how I have been using Bibisco over the past month or so. The software isn't perfect, and I try to identify some of its shortcomings, but it has been one of the better fits that I have found to date for D&D planning. 

If the developers take a few notes to improve some areas, it could really become an ideal world building application. 

D&D: Storm King's Thunder - Silence at the Table

A couple of weeks ago we had our regular Friday night D&D session with a new player coming to the table. Our group is still playing through Storm King's Thunder (nearly 3 years now), running around the countryside in chapter 3. They are in a home-brew session at this point, on assignment from the Harpers. 

Our party was working their way up to Termalaine looking for four other Harper agents. When they arrived in the city they found it to be eerily quiet, with the gates swung wide open. Our monk shadow stepped his way into the city to investigate and found a city that was in ruins from a recent attack by a war party. 

The usual D&D banter and roleplaying ensued from there with several of the NPC's. What happened next though caught everyone at the table by surprise, including myself. 

Trying to Organize my D&D Notes

I have been DM'ing for almost three years now, playing the same campaign in Storm King's Thunder with my Friday night group. Through all of that period I have gone back and forth on trying to keep myself organized as the DM. I have admittedly struggled to keep a good track of my notes through the campaign and in general. 

I have wanted to approach D&D in as analog a way as possible. I spend so much time online and on the computer as it is, bringing that to the gaming table seems counter productive. That being said, there is an endless amount of functionality that a laptop or note taking software brings to the table, that it would be foolish to try to manage all of it in paper alone. I have finally over the past year or so begun to develop a system that works for me on keeping track of my notes, etc. 


Tracking the Game

Tūl Notebook

My first stop here is the use of a Tūl paper notebook. As I noted above I want to be as independent from the computer as possible at the gaming table and my quick reference notes during a gaming session are all being placed right into this paper notebook. I fund this Tūl system to be fascinating because of the ring bound sheets which allow you to remove pages and re-arrange them in any order. I have used spiral bound notebooks in the past and they have worked fine, but I have run into two primary limitations with them. 1) What to do when you have narrative or note changes that required you to re-arrange pages and 2) what do you do with the notebook if it is only partially filled and you are done with what you need with it? 

The Tūl notebook solved both of those problems for me and I picked up the smaller format size which works well for sitting at my side on the gaming table. The page size is exactly one half of a standard 11x8.5" page, so creating a few templates in Apple Pages is pretty easy and straight forward. 

Right now I have it divided into three basic sections. Story Summary, Current Adventure Notes, NPC's

I think I want to add some supplementary reference material to it as well, including some quick random tables along with a master index sheet for referencing back to the various books. 


Apple Notes

Apple Notes, and Evernote before that, are the cornerstone of where I keep track of all of my documents. In Notes, I have sub folders where I keep the text I write out along with .PDFs, images, and ideas for the campaign I am running. Up until recently, I was keeping a running campaign summary and NPC list in Notes, having that pinned to the top of my notes list. This worked well, but wasn't the best for quick reference during the middle of an active gaming session. 

I have moved more to a method of using Notes to capture my pre-session planning and ideas. What I have begun to do now is create a new note for each location or story plot and incorporate the relevant NPC's, and information needed for that section into that session.

 I am also using Apple notes to capture various D100 tables that I find online for adventure planning. 


Homebrew Planning

Over the next couple of months I hope to begin development on some home-brew adventure planning. I feel my Ebenere Nanowrimo story for a few years ago would make for an excellent setting to place a campaign in. 

Mind Maple

Mind mapping is one of those things that I can recognize the utility, but I haven't really taken full advantage of. I experimented with it a little bit for my current campaign, but I think it hasn't been successful because I didn't start using it from the beginning. The result is I haven't had a good amount of connecting ideas to develop with the narrative. You can see my poor mapping laid out below when I tried to pickup with our party in Gauntlgrym. 

When I begin a new home-brew campaign, I anticipate this will become critical for mapping out the overall story arc though

OmniOutliner

Omnioutliner is a great outlining and note taking app. I anticipate this will also become a core component for my future home-brew campaign as I chart out future NPCs, characters, etc. You can see below my failed attempt at trying to keep track of items in it for the SKT campaign. 




 

Moving on from Evernote......

Why is it whenever you find a product or service you really like, it seems to fall apart? If you haven't been following the news this past week, Evernote has announced changes to their privacy policy that take effect January 23rd. The internet has been pretty upset with these changes because the new policy explicitly states that Evernote engineers could be allowed access to view your data for various reasons ranging from law enforcement requirements to them just trying to improve their service. 

Now, perhaps Evernote has been doing this for a long time and they are just now clarifying their practice. What is unfortunate though is that Evernote has now established a trust problem with its users. Evernote has been the better part of the past five years migrating their platform from a note taking application to a business collaboration platform. With that migration has come a rather hefty annual fee. The business account is $120 a year. I paid for that account because I liked Evernote and I prefer to pay for my services whenever I can. The problem though is that when you pay for a product or service you expect certain things in return. If Google or Facebook were to come along and state that their engineers were going to look at my data for their own uses I would be annoyed, but their services are free and they make money off of leveraging my data. 

Evernote is not that service. I am a paid user and when the service costs as much as it does I expect my data to be fully secure. They have courted businesses and it is not unreasonable to expect some of those businesses to now have confidential or proprietary information store in their Evernote accounts. Having any sort of direct access by any personnel at Evernote is just not acceptable. I would even expect these days that my entire Evernote database can be fully encrypted so no one at Evernote can ever access it. 

Not everyone may share my point of view, but I think it would be in Evernote's best interest to encrypt the data so even if law enforcement does come knocking with a warrant, they can simply say "We don't even have access to the data". 

Evernote's CEO posted a clarifying statement this morning, which I don't feel has clarified much. In the end I feel that Evernote's fundamental and core initiatives no longer match my own and what I want to get out of the service. It makes me extremely disappointed. 

I have been an Evernote user for more than five years now. I have everything from my grocery lists to tax information to my creative writing stored in there. They have continued to show that they are losing their way though. They have increased the prices of their service while not implementing features that have progressed the platform. Basic things such as a night mode for their applications, distraction free writing or even archiving of data just doesn't exist. When you have thousands of notes like I do then searching can become cumbersome. 

Just a few months ago I finally found a great writing application that uses Evernote called Alternote. That app is great, but now I feel like I can't really use it. 

So where does that leave me? At this point I am not sure if I can really stay with Evernote unless they come out and really change the course of their ship. Evernote's business account was nice because my business note and personal notes were kept completely separate. I feel like I will now have to bring my business notes over to Onenote. 

The question is where do I end up with my personal notes and writing? Right now I don't know. Apple's Notes app actually looks pretty robust and being an Apple users I think I can be fine living in that platform. That would solve all of my basic note taking needs. What it won't do is get me where I need to be for my writing. I want to have that minimal writing platform with a night mode. 

I may give Ulysses another look, something I was testing a few months ago. Another candidate though looks to be Bear. It is a really clean note taking interface and with a $15 a year subscription it seems affordable. Time will tell though as I begin to test stuff out over the next week. 

Alternote - My New Favorite Writing App

As some of you who have been following me know, I like to do some writing here and there. I have done Nanowrimo twice in the past few years and both times I successfully completed the 50,000 word goal on both attempts. I won't be competing this year, because I would like to actually finish the two previous novels that I wrote for it. 

So for my writing I have been using Evernote. Many people use Google Docs, Word or even some specialized writing apps like Scrivener. I have liked using Evernote. It is a super clean and simple interface and I was able to keep my writing notes and the writing itself all together in one location. Evernote has some basic text formatting, but that is really all I need for writing. All of the bells and whistles that Word has just aren't necessary. Evernote's desktop application presented two major issues for me when writing. The first, it did not have a "night mode" in the app. Everything is white and it made working on a document in the evening really stressful on the eyes. Second, was that the management of the text size was a bit cumbersome. I like to work in a minimized interface and at times having the text nice and "big" on the screen helps to keep me focused. 

Over the past month or so I have been doing some testing on an alternative. I settled on an app called Ulysses, which I had demo'd for a few weeks. It had just about everything I wanted, including the customizable night mode and some other features. It wasn't perfect though as the text was justified to the left in the minimal interface and it was also $35. Not crazy expensive, but not cheap either. 

Just when I was about to pull the trigger on Ulysses though I found an app called Alternote. It is basically an alternative app for Evernote which happens to have all of the features I was looking for. Even better was that I was able to sync just the notebooks I wanted to (my writing notebooks) to keep the workflow efficient. 

A couple of other nice touches are that it shows me the word count right on the bottom right of the screen, and the text size can be adjusted with a slider if needed. Best of all. It was $7 on the app store. 

If anyone is looking for a nice writing app, and you are using Evernote, or if you just are looking for an alternative Evernote client on Mac, give this app a look. 

Writing Prompt: Your father left 20 years ago...Today he comes home...and the first thing he says to you is "You're never going to believe what happened."

Below is a short narrative I wrote from the sub-reddit "Writing Prompts". It is a sub where a topic is posted and users post a story that comes to their mind. This is what sprang to my mind. Below is the topic. 

[WP] Your father left 20 years ago the night before your birthday to get Cigarettes, Milk, and Bread. Today he comes home with long bedraggled hair, weather beaten skin, and a sword on his hip. The first thing he says to you is "You're never going to believe what happened."

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"I’ll be right outside if you need me,” said Private first class Jennifer Mutin before she turned away from me. I turned my attention back to the room and the door slid closed behind me and I found myself alone. 

The air smelled stale and cold and the room had no furniture. The walls were sparse, only covered with the steel panels from the inner ship hull. The floor was a brushed steel plate and my freshly polished boots contrasted starkly against the stainless steel. I took a long deep breath before I had the courage to look up from the floor to the center of the room, where I knew I would fine him. When my eyes finally saw him I had to choke back the tears. I steadied myself, straightened my uniform and then stepped towards the center of the room. 

Cast in a single spot light lay my father. Dressed in his marine blues, his body was draped with the flag of the marine corps. His arms were folded across his chest with white gloves holding a silver ceremonial sword. My eyes moved from the flag up to his face. It was dark, tanned and he had long curls of hair cast around either side. He looked exactly how I remembered him all those years ago. Is that what faster than light travel did? 

From my uniform I pulled out an envelope with a wax seal and my name on it.  “Marcus” was written in pencil on one side and on the other was a green seal stamped with the letter “R” for Robert. I had received the letter just that morning. It was hand delivered to me with the instruction not to open it until I saw my father. 

I hesitated before opening the letter, but broke the wax seal and then unfolded the paper inside. 

Marcus, 

You are never going to believe what happened, but i need you to trust me. What I am about to tell you now will determine if you ever see me or anyone again. It must be close to twenty years in your time since you last saw me. For that I am sorry, but it has only been a few months since I have left you and your mother. I hope she is doing well. 

That night, on March 26th, when I left the house to get milk and bread, something extraordinary occurred. Humanity finally made contact, or rather contact finally touched humanity. I was there and I went with them. I am still with them. But there is something dangerous out here in the deep of space and it is coming. It has taken notice for humanity.

Please believe me that I need your help. From here on out you cannot trust anyone. They know that I am going to try and get in touch with you. I need you to follow my instructions precisely. 

After you read this letter proceed immediately to the spaceport at NYC13. I have made arrangements to get you more information there. 

Please be safe, and remember do not trust anyone. 

Love, 
Dad. 

I lowered my hands and stared in astonishment at his body lying on the table. Was this some sort of joke? Had my father gone mad before his death? The official report stated that his death was classified. I had not seen my father in twenty years and then suddenly two days ago I received communications from the naval intelligence office stating that he had been killed in the line of duty. Questions were swirling in my mind and I looked from the letter back to my father lying on the table in front of me. What did this letter even mean? What did he mean “if you ever see me again?"

Before I could even think, the door to the room opened and I turned to see Private First Class Mutin standing in the doorway, only this time she was accompanied by two military police. 

“Ensign Caldwell. You need to come with me."

The Adventures of Apath and Spice - The Unexpected Delivery

Spice’s hands clenched the steering wheel of her rental car as anger began to build up inside her. Waves of heat  rose up off the front of the car as the temperature outside on the highway was a blistering 142 degrees. Traffic on intermodal 1 backed up for miles and crawled at a snail’s pace and accordion-like pockets opened up and then closed again as drivers moved through the stacked assemblage of cars. The aerial beacons for the airway system were offline and everyone was now stuck to surface transportation for the afternoon.

“Look at these assholes,” she flipped off the driver of a red car that just squeezed in front of her. Her head turned to her left, to the passenger seat. Sitting there was Apath, her husband, co-pilot, and much calmer individual. He looked up from his cellphone with a look of disapproval on his face, saying nothing.

“Can you believe these people,” shouted Spice. “They need to stay in their lane or use their damn blinker!”

Apath finally replied to her. “Would you just calm down. Traffic is bad and there isn’t much you can do about it right now. Besides, if you wouldn’t have spent the entire afternoon making a cake we would have left on time." Apath gestured to the cake sitting in the back seat,  "I told you we needed to leave by two o’clock.”

The returning glare from Spice shut Apath up. Apath tried to lighten the mood by putting on a little bit of music.

“Look, let’s just calm down a little bit. It’s hot out, but the air conditioner is working fine, we got some music, and the cake isn’t going to melt. If we are a bit late to Anna’s birthday, the world won’t exactly come to an end." he said.

Anna was Spice’s niece and she was turning fifteen today. Spice and Apath were heading to her party and Spice insisted on bringing a cake that she made, despite indications from her sister that there would be plenty of food. Apath touched a couple of buttons on the phone that he was still holding and a deep thump of minimalist techno came on over the car’s speaker system. It was a slow rhythmic beat with a soft, but deep kick drum and a short but smooth hi-hat. Over top of the percussion was a light dance of melodic synth lines, that were filtered just a bit to take off the edge. The whole track had a slightly muffled sound to it and Apath  knew that this sort of music always seemed to relax Spice. He set his phone onto shuffle before going back to browsing the latest news feeds.

A Division Story - Alan

As you may have noticed from my past couple of posts, I have been playing The Division a lot lately. I had a particularly good gaming weekend yesterday playing the game. It must have subconsciously stuck with me because last night while sleeping at had a rather pronounced dream about the world and an agenda named Alan. Well, he didn't have a name in my dream.

I woke up this morning with the dream still vividly sticking with me, so I sat down this morning and wrote the story you see below. I hope everyone finds it interesting. 

Working to Improve My Handwriting

So, tied into my recent notebook acquisition I am now working to improve my handwriting. My cursive handwriting I have always felt was "OK", but my script has been terrible. Following the line with the Midori modification video, I found another video from the "Stuff and Things" Youtube channel in which the host talks about his efforts to improve his handwriting. That video brought me over to a great website called iampeth.com. It is an interesting repository of old handwriting and calligraphy styles. From there I began to drill down and found the Ames Guide to Self Instruction in Practical and Artistic Penmanship. I am using some of the worksheets and style phrasing in that book to practice. 

Megan is also practicing her handwriting using the guides in that book. 

I'm Part of the Midori Notebook Club Now

This past Christmas just about everyone in my family received Midori Traveler's notebooks as gifts. The idea started out with me from my motorcycle trip this past summer to the smokey mountains. I had wished during that travel that I had a notebook to write a daily journal of the trip while i was on the ride. My idea originally began with the concept of utilizing a Moleskine notebook. As I continued my research though I found out about the Midori Traveler's notebook. 

Long story short, I ended up buying everyone notebooks since a lot of my family has either been traveling a lot this past year, or will be traveling this coming year. I found myself though coming out of the holidays with no book for myself, despite the idea sort of originally being for me. Megan bought me a notebook for Valentine's day and went a step further by making some custom paper booklets for the notebook. You can see one of them with some pantone paper pictured above. 

I also decided to modify the notebook by adding some addition spine strings to it following this video from the "Stuff and Things" youtube channel.