Courtney's blog series (linked above) is pretty excellent. You should go read it before you read what I have to say.
Gone and read it? Good.
A Slightly Different PlaystyleOur group plays on a virtual table top. We use Skype voice for out-of-character talk, and we use text messaging for in-character talk.
So we're a little different than a true old school game at the DM's kitchen table. In particular, playing over text is a lot slower than playing in person.
To compensate, I key locations such that players can explore in as few steps as necessary. I'm shooting for a mid/late 2nd Edition-style game, completely in line with the example play found at the beginning of the 1995 Player's Handbook.
Microsoft OneNoteAnother difference between traditional tabletop games and my own is notetaking applications.
Hopefully you're at least passingly familiar with EverNote or OneNote. If not, then let me tell you: this shit is the bomb. These programs keep high-word count notes ready to go at a moment's notice, available from any PC or other device connected to the internet. I can mark things up to my heart's content, then go back later and undo the markings. I can drop stuff in from the web and trust that it'll be easily available when the players go off in an unexpected direction and I've got to wing it.
Personally, I prefer OneNote over EverNote, but both applications get my hearty endorsement and recommendation.
An Example Location: DemonsporeAwright, let's take one of Courtney's examples and see how it would look in my DM notebook.
Since brevity isn't really a virtue here, I write things clear enough that an idiot could look at my notes and know what's up. Ideally each bit of content is complete enough that I can copy & paste it while nursing a can of beer in my other paw. I tend to use nominal phrases--ones that can easily be prepended with expressions like "you see" or "you hear".
So, after spending a few minutes on the Demonspore example from Courtney's blog, here's the fruit of my labors:
I use bold to indicate what's immediately obvious, yellow for monsters, and underlines for monster stats. Usually I include a good amount of information about how to role play the NPCs, but in this case I'm just going with what's in the module. The arrows do double duty as break points in player exploration, and as dividers for DM-only content.
Example PlayThe following example uses the same cast of characters (Helen, Roy, and Jenal) as my earlier post on initiative.
DM: You move quietly up the passageway. Soon you see a massive portcullis of wooden beams, bolted together with iron, barring both the path and the river. The central part of the portcullis has longer bars than the rest of the gate, descending into the river itself. Also, the air is filled with the unpleasant smell of rotten fish.
Helen: How far off is the gate?
DM: Not sure. Check the map. ... Okay, it looks like you're 60' away. It's at the edge of your infravision.
Jenal: Where's the smell coming from?
DM: Are you going to spend time looking for the source of the smell? What's everyone else doing?
Jenal: I'm looking for the source of the smell. Quietly. Not moving any closer to the gate.
Helen: Are there any guards?
DM: You haven't spotted any.
Helen: I'm going to creep forward cautiously, looking for any kind of guards.
Jenal: There might be traps...
Roy: I'm... just watching the tunnel. Making sure nothing comes up behind us.
DM: [Rolls some dice. Jenal is pretty far away to get to see the buckets, so he gives the thief a Hear Nosie check to see if he traces it. The check fails.] Helen sees a bumpy, slouching figure just behind the gate, sitting on a stool with its back against the wall. Jenal, you can't see any obvious source of the smell from here. It seems to be coming from up the tunnel.
Jenal: You mean in the direction of the gate?
Helen: Just the one guard?
DM: It looks like there's another one behind the first. They're about man-sized. As you watch, a long tongue flicks out from one of their mouths, splashes into the water, and retracts with something wriggling and silver stuck to it.
Jenal: Are the guards close enough to the gate for me to stab them through it?
DM: One is, the other is not.
Jenal: Great, then I'm slowly moving up to the gate.
DM: All right. Everyone else?
Roy: I've got my bow out and I'm ready to attack as soon as Jenal does.
DM: Okay, then. [Rolls a Move Silently check for Jenal.] You creep up to the gate within 20' of the creature--it looks like a giant anthropomorphic toad, squatted back on a stool with its large eyes looking lazily at the ceiling.
Jenal: I slip my dagger into its throat, as quietly as possible.
DM: No attack roll is necessary. Roll your damage.
Jenal: Got a 7...
DM: [Rolls to see which of the toad-men is affected.] Jenal, your dagger slips into the creature's throat membrane, and you manage to create a long running gash on its front side with your attack. The thing gargles and burbles, but isn't dead yet. The other creature behind it jumps up and grabs its spear. It is within 10 feet of the gate, just out of sword reach. [At this point the DM pauses and writes down the creatures' next actions.]
DM: Okay guys, we're going to rounds now. Actions?