For today’s Nerdy 9th, I’m going to talk about OneNote and how I use it for gaming. It is exceptionally versatile for that purpose. The above screenshots are from the OneNote notebook I put together for my local urban fantasy series using Fate. (Because this game is designed to explicitly mimic a TV show, I’m using TV terminology, rather than wargaming phrases like ‘campaign’ and such to describe it.)

(Note: You are probably going to want to use ‘view album’ to see the attached graphics, as G+ doesn’t handle them well.)

My goal when I started using OneNote was to find a way to consolidate and organize information that would have otherwise been on cards and in handwritten notebooks and/or a Google Docs document, which can be unwieldy when you have a lot of information that needs to be searched quickly or indexed properly. With OneNote, my notebooks are shared across my desktop PC, laptop PC, Android tablet and cell phone. The OneNote app itself has several iterations, but all them pull from the same data and it saves information entered on any one device to all the others.

OneNote is free, in any of its forms. I believe that Office 365 subscribers get even more functions and there are several paid add-ons, but I am very, very well satisfied with the wide variety of features I’ve found in the versions I already have and it seems like I discover more every day.

I split most of the input work between my desktop and laptop, but I do use the tablet as well, especially at the gaming table, so in that regard OneNote is an extremely convenient tool. It gets more confusing when you realize that there are several different apps under the ‘OneNote’ banner, with OneNote 2016 being a different (and more fully featured) product than the OneNote app that ships with Windows 10 or the Android, Mac or web-based versions. In terms of accessing and reading notebooks, I have found little difference between them, but when setting up a notebook, I find that 2016 gives me the greatest range of options and convenience.

As you can see from the attached graphics, OneNote lets you set up tabs and then individual pages under those tabs that you can arrange in any number of ways. For me, this tends to include the heavy use of tables, just to keep things organized. The entries can be extensively hyperlinked, which I do quite a bit, allowing me to have all the Aspects, Stunts and other information for player characters, NPCS, locations and scenes at hand exactly when I need them.

Also, by putting in custom check boxes, I’m able to record Stress right on the character and NPC overview pages. It isn’t pictured, but for my Blue Rose campaign, I’m using the internal math functions to keep track of health, initiative, etc.

Each entry in the overview sections (Cast, Supporting Cast, Locations, etc.) has a corresponding page with more information, both known to the players and information just for me. (An example is Grimoire’s page, above). The Stunts and Aspects sections are a bit sparse because it is very early in the ‘series’ and the players haven’t worked them all out yet.

Another interesting feature that I haven’t used yet is that I can link not just inside this notebook, but I can include links (both incoming and outgoing) to other notebooks I may have. So if I wanted to copy the SRD for a given system as a OneNote notebook, I could then link in pertinent pages for specialized rules and situations without ever leaving Group notebook. That is, in fact, my next project with this.

For this campaign, most of the encounters are fluid, rather than set pieces, and I use a timeline and plot point method of Gming, so having an episode synopsis I can fill out as we go lets me stay on top of what the players and characters have done, know and don’t know yet, making my set up time very minimal for each individual episode/session, which is something of a holy grail for the modern GM. As you can see from the above graphic detailing the episode, keeping track of what happened with each scene, location and NPC is as easy as filling in the tables.

I can even keep my inspirations and various graphics, video and audio links right in the same notebook. For instance, I find that taking a few minutes out before I start the episode and listening to the series theme (lifted from Only Lovers Left Alive) helps set the mood for me. Or watching the first few minutes of Wolfen, which has the same kind of urban decay vibe I’m going for with the series.

When I need to find something, the search function (also pictured above) is robust and quick. Also of note, is that the embedded media files and links (pictures, YouTube video and audio) can be streamed directly to our Roku TV, which has proven to be a pretty big hit with the players, giving them a visual representation when needed and helping set the mood.

Perhaps the best thing about all of this is that time investment to get all of this set up was under an hour, with a good ten minutes of that wasted because it took me that long to figure out how to make custom check boxes and format them for use as Stress counters. And if I ever decide that I don’t want to use OneNote or the service is discontinued, I can export all of my notes as PDF or HTML files, which gives me another layer of security.

There is a small but very useful G+ group called OneNote for Game Masters that shows the work of people far more talented than I am and what they’ve done with the program. I highly recommend it.


Third on my #nerdy9th   list of slow movies: Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

I’ll be the first to say TMP feels a lot like someone rushed an old Star Trek Phase II script into a movie production after the smash success of Star Wars, because that’s pretty much what happened. It also feels like it’s trying to be either 2001 or Close Encounters, which are both fine films to aspire to. It’s languid and light on action and takes its own sweet time getting anywhere. As a result, it’s not exactly a darling among critics or fans — but I love it so. 

What I love most about Star Trek, historically speaking, is its sense of exploration. The original series had a mandate to send us to “strange new worlds,” to explore new ideas and venture out into the Wild West of unexplored space. This may seem ironic, since my favorite Trek series is Deep Space Nine, but I maintain DS9 is still about exploration… just about the exploration of the tropes and assumptions of Star Trek itself. But that’s a topic for another day.

The early explorations of Trek were heavily limited by budget and technology; the scripts often relied on ideas because they had a couple of cardboard sets and ten bucks worth of makeup. TNG, while a fun continuation of the series, eventually turned less exploratory and more technophiliac, solving most of its problems by reversing polarities and “souring the milk.” Later movies would get pretty hazy on the whole exploration idea altogether, eventually abandoning it entirely in favor of all monster truck action. 

And some of those movies are great! Wrath of Khan is tremendous and still my favorite. But TMP cuts off a big, chewy hunk of unleavened exploration and just drops it right into our laps with no apologies. Kirk and company face a grand mystery in the guise of V’Ger, a strange alien cloud that threatens Earth. We’re shown early on that brute force has no place here, as some Klingons try solving the V’Ger problem by blasting it, and are handily vaporized.

The Federation calls in the Enterprise to handle shit. (Vaporizing Klingons? That’s Kirk’s job!) This early bit of the movie is keenly divided. On one hand, we see the old Trek formula kind of shook up for the first time: Spock has gone off to be more Vulcan, Kirk is no longer captain, the Enterprise is undergoing a refit and has some slight crewman-vaporizing problems in the transporter. Kirk obviously resents Decker and assholes it up through the next third of the movie. In its own way, it’s pretty bleak. 

On the other hand, we get that lovely, borderline pornographic sequence where the shuttle does a flyby of the Enterprise, and holy God is this shot in love with itself. The score sweeps and soars majestically as we pan over the Enterprise, as if the movie is saying HEY REMEMBER THE ENTERPRISE OH MY GOD LOOK AT IT IT’S ON A MOVIE SCREEN IT’S HUGE. And this is sort of the root of the film’s problem, really: it was more in love with Big Space and Awesome Effects than the humans inhabiting the film. But this is a weakness I can easily overlook. 

V’Ger is an absolute mystery, and in between not making much headway in solving it, the crew talks about how little headway they’re making. Everybody is frustrated and disagreeable. There’s a ton of bickering on the bridge over procedure. In a lot of ways, I think it’s the most realistic Star Trek film ever made. A terrifying alien entity might destroy all life on Earth, and everyone’s caught up in one shitty board meeting after another.

My absolute favorite bit of this film is in the middle, where Spock decides to go out on his own and explore the interior of the mysterious V’Ger. He passes through a portal and sees sprawling, massive wonders: entire planetary systems replicated in full scale, mysterious structures, a gargantuan representation of fallen crewperson Ilia. It’s beautiful and bewildering and big. Special effects wise, I think it’s the most ambitious and thoughtful thing Trek’s ever attempted. 

Again, what I love about this is that it’s pure exploration. Spock isn’t trying to beat up the alien cloud, or find a way to thwart it. He goes out, alone, to try to understand. This plays right to what I want out of a Trek film. I love all the Horatio Hornblower submarine-battle antics of Wrath of Khan and everything, but TMP is the mandate of the original series writ very, very large, and we will never see its like again. 

I can’t let any discussion of this movie pass without talking about my other favorite thing, which is the iconic Blaster Beam. The Blaster Beam is a 18-foot long metal beam, under which are high-tension wires and guitar pickups. It’s what produces that loud, alarming BWANNNNGGGG sound you hear all over this film, Wrath of Khan, Battle Beyond the Stars, and a handful of other movies. It was also behind the sound of the seismic charge in Attack of the Clones. If I had enough money and space, I would just get one of those for my house. BWANNNGGGGGGG.