I’m no Luddite, but I’ve always been more of an analog campaign management kind of guy. I type up adventures and notes on my desktop, but print them out to use at the table; I’ve used Google Maps to create a custom “living” map for a modern game, but that game also ended with a two-inch thick binder of material on my shelf.
Having been out of the GM’s chair for over 18 months (Alysia and I had our daughter, Lark, in February 2009, and I spent a year developing and then publishing Eureka with the Gnome Stew team), I’m ready to try something new: abandoning my notebooks.
This time around, I’m going digital.
My intent with this article isn’t to go “Wooo, look at me and my cool idea!” but to discuss the approach I’m planning to take in case it’s useful to other GMs who are considering making this same switch.
There are lots of ways to manage your campaign online, but from everything I’ve heard Obsidian Portal (OP) is one of the best.
The site just won its second ENnie Award, and it’s home to thousands of campaigns. Making my choice even easier, as a contributor to Open Game Table, Volume 2, I received a free 6-month Ascendant (paid) account on OP — a donation the founder of OP, Micah, made to all 70+ contributors.
In a nutshell, OP is a wiki-based campaign management tool with features geared specifically towards gamers, including adventure journals, the ability to hide GM’s-eyes-only material on the same page as public material, and more.
Wikis are pretty easy to update, very easy to cross-link, and are great for collaboration — you and your players can use OP to create and document a campaign together.
My idea is simple, but represents a big change for me:
- Do all of my written game prep in Obsidian Portal
- Bring my laptop to the gaming table
- Take all of my in-game notes in OP
- Document NPCs, locations, and other easily-forgotten elements
- Write up post-game stuff (and tidy up in-game notes) in OP
- Welcome player collaboration in OP
- When the campaign ends, leave it online for reference
No fat notebooks, no crappy handwriting, no decentralized mess — I think this sounds awesome.
I type much faster than I write, and using this approach I’ll have 100% of my campaign material in one spot, accessible from anywhere, and will hopefully save some time both before and during the game.
My players will have access to game material online at any time, something that they enjoyed during the last game I ran, and will have the option of writing character journals, taking notes of their own, and otherwise collaborating on the written record of the campaign.
…And Already Seeing Them
My group just settled on me running a Star Trek campaign, so I’ve just started prepping game material in OP; it rocks.
I have to fight the urge not to jot notes in Evernote or elsewhere, but once OP is open and I’m prepping right there where I’m going to need the material, I can see how efficient this is going to be.
I’m also loving that it helps make a task that can sometimes seem monolithic — prepping to run a campaign using a system I’ve never GMed before — into one that is easily chunked-up into smaller tasks that I can handle as I go. The wiki format is perfect for this.
Resistance Better Not Be Futile
Micah, who runs Obsidian Portal, cautioned me about not trying to do everything all at once from the outset, and I’ve heard him give this advice to others. It’s good advice!
Having started campaigns only to have them collapse under the weight of my self-imposed obligations — like documenting locations that may never get used in agonizing detail, spending hours drawing maps (that may never get used), and writing up adventure recaps as short stories — I can see how this would be a real, and tempting, problem. I’m going to resist it mightily.
I’ll be starting small, and letting my organic prep — and player contributions — drive what winds up on the wiki. I’m going to resist the temptation to over-produce, which would almost certainly lead to under-delivery — it’s the game that matters, not the halo of stuff around the game.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide
I’m not blazing a new trail, here — lots of GMs already do this, and I’ll take all the help I can get. Here are some of the resources I’m already using, courtesy of Gnome Stew (the first three) and Treasure Tables (the last three):
- Laptops at the Gaming Table, Part 1 of 2
- Laptops at the Gaming Table, Part 2 of 2
- Group Lovin’ for Your Wiki
- Wikis for GMs, Part 1
- Wikis for GMs, Part 2
- Tiddlywiki as a GMing Tool
I’m excited to be back in the saddle, all the more so because I get to try out what sounds like a cool approach to streamlining prep and the written side of GMing.
If you do this yourself, have done it before, or have tips and tricks to share, fire away in the comments! Pooled knowledge rocks.