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Using Trello as a Gaming Aid

By Will Thibault | 01.06.15 23.54.52
Trello is a great project management tool, but the same features that make it great for a business can also shine at the game table.

Trello, if you're unfamiliar with it, is a pretty nifty project management suite. You, and any number of collaborators, can create a series of lists that hold cards, which are collections of text, pictures, and checklists. The system is intended for use in a business setting, allowing people to coordinate and brainstorm.

Every time I run into any of these sorts of tools, I immediately begin to ponder how I can use it for my gaming. Trello was no different - but, unlike some other tools I've worked into my suite, Trello took a bit of percolating before I finally figured out how to properly use it.

Don't take that to mean that Trello's difficult to work with - it's not! But figuring out exactly how to leverage its particular mix of tools, and to have it click for me, took some thinking. So, what kind of uses have I found that work for me?

As a GM Tool

When I first encountered Trello, my immediate thought was "This would make a great campaign wiki." And I wasn't wrong - I'm still sure it would be great for that. The problem I ran into was one of time and commitment. If it were just myself updating the board for the benefit of my players, I'd start slacking on updates in favor of quick recaps during the session. This is one of the downfalls of Trello - it's designed as a collaborative tool, and unless you have a lot of stuff you want to track on your own, it can lose its luster without the activity other people bring to it. I think I've addressed this problem for myself, but that's a point we'll get to in a touch.

Another GM-centric use, related to the campaign wiki idea, is a "handout engine." This is the most basic use for Trello at the table that I've devised. Create two boards - one just for you, and one for you and all of the players. When you would give your players a handout, just move the appropriate card from the GM board to the player's board. Then it's available for commenting, searching, and sorting, all at the whims of the players. This has two benefits over a wiki for me; first, it frontloads the work. I love doing game prep, but I'm not so keen on the followup work, so by frontloading everything I can motivate myself to get it done. Secondly, I find players are much keener to participate in this sort of thing during session time. Outside of it, they might not return to the board until just before our next game!

As a Player Tool

This, though, is where I got inspired. I love fiddling around with GUIs - Graphical User Interfaces. It's probably a symptom of my love for coding, though I guess that could be a chicken or egg thing. In games, this love manifests as a strong desire to have the perfect character sheet. I want it laid out well, convenient, updatable, and pretty. I've done all sorts of variants of character sheets - official and unofficial, spreadsheets or manually-typed stat blocks, hand-printed or in the form of stacks of cards - but Trello seems to me like it's finally hit all of the notes I wanted. You can create a list containing all of a character's information - cards for stats, references, equipment, and conditions - and use labels and checklists for various values that regularly change. Other lists in the board can be used like a traditional character journal for keeping handouts and notes easily accessible. You could even hold multiple players' characters on the same board for easy reference.

For Solo Gaming

Trello TemplatesThe place where I think Trello will really shine - at least for me - is for solo gaming. With Trello, all I'd need to run a game for myself is some dice and a few references for my preferred solo-gaming materials. My setup is much like as described in the Player Tool section above, with a few more lists. I have one dedicated for NPC stats, and another where I hold "Volume" information - essentially, what's happening this adventure. Finally, a list for the current scene and a couple more for any distinct zones in that scene, and I have everything I need. No more index cards or Fate Point tokens for me!

The one downside to this setup is that it's list-intensive. Trello can only display five lists at a time, so I needed a way to hide - without archiving - non-relevant lists. Luckily, there's a Chrome extension called Trellist which adds just such a list-filter. If you use Chrome and want to try Trello as a solo-gaming aid, I highly recommend it.

Will Thibault is a winged, feathered serpent rarely found anywhere except in warm, jungle-like regions or flying through the ether. Due to his intelligence and powers he is regarded with awe by the inhabitants of his homelands and is considered to be divine.
Last Edited: 01.07.15 00.13.30