I never understood mindmapping until I read one of Tony Buzan’s books, saw numerous examples, and clued-in. For game planning and tracking, mindmapping is now one of my essential tools.
My mindmapping tool of choice is FreeMind, a free application you can download for Windows, Mac, and Unix. It’s a natural fit for documenting relationships. For example, locations > NPCs > personalities; session notes > open loops, consequences, ideas > campaign elements.
FreeMind for RPGs Introduction
The beauty of FreeMind versus paper is you can brainstorm or document, and then change the structure – move things around – as you write. When I plan for game sessions, I’ll leap from one idea to the next, in no particular order once I get going. Sure, I could use a list or spreadsheet, but FreeMind lets me drag ideas around and connect them to other ideas, like one of those free form-word fridge magnet sets. After a bit of reorganization when I’m catching a breath or done with ideas mode, I can clearly follow relationships, which makes ongoing reference easy, even during game sessions. In addition, any new ideas or developments are quick to append or insert.
TheLemming has covered some great instructions and tips for using FreeMind. Here are a few more gleaned from use:
- Use the direction keys (or ESDF) to move around. You could mouse around, and maybe I’m old school, but my vote is don’t make my hands leave the keyboard until necessary. ESC key takes you to the root node.
- Use INSERT key to create a child node. Use ENTER to create a peer node. Fast and easy. Don’t let mousing slow your flow of ideas. Just keep creating new nodes as required and then organize them later. Capture those thoughts.
- Use the Notes feature. There’s no shortcut for this unfortunately. Go to Insert > Note. Paste or write all the details you want here.
- Use node background colours to communicate more at a glance. For example, give NPCs red, blue, and yellow bg colours for evil, good, and neutral alignments. This simplifies your mindmap (one less node for each NPC, one less word per NPC). It also creates a neat metric: what is the balance of alignments in your cast of NPCs. I found with my Carnus campaign that I had more blue than yellow, more yellow than red. I need more bad guys in my game.
- Get friendly with Export. A great method is to export your maps to HTML for posting on your blog, website, or wiki. Other options include image maps, JPG, SVG, and PDF!
- Link like crazy. Use the linking feature to hook two related nodes together (click on one and get taken to the other – great for huge maps), link to files, link to your campaign website, link to DDI and other online references, and so on.
- Toggle nodes on and off (open / close) to make the view simpler to look at and digest. For example, only open the node you are working in and leave the others closed. Use SPACE to toggle nodes on and off quick.
- Change selection method preference to By Click. FreeMind installed by default for me with node selection via mouseover. I found it difficult to work this way and prefer, when not using the keyboard, to select nodes with a mouse click. As maps grew I found I had to weave in and out with my mouse carefully or accidentally select nodes, but choosing By Click fixed this. Go to Preferences > Behavior > Selection Method.
What about you? Do you use mindmapping? Have any FreeMind tips?