Of late I've been looking for a way to better track what is going on in various areas in my games, and where plot threads the PCs have started are left sitting when they leave the area. After talking to a couple friends one pointed out that spreadsheets are a solid answer for this. I felt like an idiot for a moment, but it really is a good idea. So I set up a simple sheet to use to help me track things for villages, cities, and other areas in my game. Today I want to talk about that.
When building an area I start with the people in the area. I don't need a lot of information, but I do go for the following things: Job, Name, Gender, Race, Relative Age, and Family.
Job comes first because it tells me about the NPC but also tells me about the area. When building a village having a list of the jobs in the area tells you what resources the PCs can call on while there. For larger settlements you don't need to do everyone, but a general list of some stand out NPCs could be a good idea. For Fantasy games you can google "medieval jobs" to find several sites with listings for jobs. Modern games have, well, the real world. Sci Fi will depend on the world you're doing.
Name, gender, race, and relative age are just the physical details for the character. By relative age I mean are they very young, young, adult, middle ages, very old, and so forth. I don't need specific years of age, but a general idea of youthfulness or more aged is a good idea.
Family I only do lightly. In my own games I tend to use a random generator or die roll to determine sexuality (The Kinsey Scale goes from 0-6 with an 8th option for Ace which means a D8 works great here.) Than I determine if the person is married or not, and how many dependents they have. Those don't always get named, but I do list them. Normally this cell will just be a vertical list with like "partner (m/f), son, son, daughter) for the family. If I think the PCs will interact with the family (like for an innkeeper's family) I'll name them and age them, otherwise I can gloss over with something like "the blacksmith's son..."
Locations of Note
Next I make a page for locations of note where I make an entry for any special or noteworthy locations. I'll normally at least leave myself quick notes for the local inn (always a common place people go) but also for any other landmarks. Are there any special statues? Peculiar landmarks? Historical sites? Something useful but not listed as an NPCs job?
With each location I give it a name, assign a key NPC to it (if applicable), and leave room for a description and notes as to why it is special.
I like key locations because you don't need to describe a whole town to communicate the town. But if you give a couple of key identifiers you can make a village stand out. The players don't have to remember which village out of a dozen villages they've passed through by name and time. They can associate things with it like "the village with the giant raven statue" or "the one with the underwater temple from the flood."
Story Lines and Threads
Finally I make a tab for storylines and quests in the area. These aren't all adventures or encounters. Some are just stories going on in the area that the PCs might run into. Ideas I can use for background information, or to prod things along somewhere or otherwise give seeds for ideas.
Each story line gets a name, key npcs, secondary npcs, and then notes for the setup. In particular I still like L5R's "Challenge/Focus/Strike" method for quickly setting up adventurer seeds so I use that - and will break it down in another post. But you can use whatever means you like for your setup.
A notes section also lets me track how far along the PCs are with a thread. That way if they leave and come back I can quickly see what they left dangling - even if it has been months - and figure out what has happened in their absence with that.
Limited Use So Far
So far I've only had limited use with this, but I like it. It is compiling several pages of notes - files on google docs - into one file that I can navigate while running the game to get my information. Less tab swapping makes that better all around. It also gives a singular place to go and update when the PCs do stuff instead of having to update notes all over to take care of it.
I am, however, always looking for better and easier ways to track notes for games. Is there anything you'd add to this? Take away? Or do you have a completely different method all together?