I finally ran the first session of this game last weekend, and I’ve done all of the prep for this game on Obsidian Portal. Since the campaign is now in motion and I’ve had almost two months working with the service, I have more to say about it. I also upgraded my account to an “Ascendant” account, which provides more functionality.
The Learning Curve
Obsidian Portal uses its own markup language. It’s a little easier to pick up than HTML and the markup codes soon became intuitive and no longer slowed me down while writing.
I found a handy drop down menu that lists your existing articles, which makes it much easier to link to other articles. This has made it much easier to make the campaign wiki more wiki-like, with all the fiddly cross referenced links.
Is Ascendant Worth the Money?
I put off upgrading my service from the free version to the $40/year premium version, called “Ascendant,” as I wanted to get a feel for the free service first. I liked the free service, but was often frustrated when stumbling upon what could be a very useful service that requires an Ascendant account.
I finally bit the bullet and bought a year-long Ascendant membership. It gives me the ability to share secret document with certain players, rather than the share with all/share with none settings available for documents with a free account.
Ascendant also opened up a functioning forum and calendar tool. It give me the ability to have several campaigns and more than one GM per campaign as well. There are other benefits as well.
So is it worth the money? If you don’t have the ability to build and host a web page yourself, I’d say it is worth the money.
Here’s the thing I noticed: most of the functionality of OP could be duplicated with a WordPress installation and a few plugins. Not all of the functionality, mind you, but most. If you happen to have access to a web server and the know how to install WordPress (or some other CMS), you may find little value in Obsidian Portal.
Personally, I’ll probably keep the account open indefinitely. While I could set up a WordPress installation for every campaign I run, I’d rather spend the time working on the campaign, not the web page for the campaign. Obsidian Portal campaigns set up in a snap and I can get right to creating. I like that.
That being said, there are some things I’d like to see.
- A WYSIWYG Text Editor – this kind of feature would, I think, go a long way to attract new users. They could offer offer a dual view text editor (like WordPress) so you can have WYSIWYG view or an HTML view. While the markup tags in OP are easy (and require fewer keystrokes), there are better ways to do it.
- A Tag-able Map –
OP offers a cool tool to view map images uploaded by the GM. In the case of a big map, you can zoom in and scroll around, a la Google maps. It would be even more useful if the GM and players could tag locations on the map, make notes, etc.UPDATE: Turns out, this feature already exists, I was just too blind to see it.
- The Ability to Import PC Files – We probably won’t use the PC feature, which is surprisingly complete. The reason? We’d have to type in the characters twice — once in the character builder (in this case Hero Designer) and once in Obsidian Portal. If I could import the Hero Designer files, all the PCs would be up there now.
Now the Hard Part
So I’ve got quite a few articles written, explaining various people and places. I’ve wrote a timeline detailing the first part of the campaign. There are a couple maps up. I’ve even summarized our first session in the adventure log. Now: how do I get the players to look at it?
That’s the rub, isn’t it? I have nine players in the game and only three have responded to the invite to join the Obsidian Portal page as players. I HAVE seen evidence that at least some of them have been to the page and at least read “the story so far” post I wrote.
But I do have to wonder, is it worth it to put all this stuff in Obsidian Portal? I could just put all this in a Google doc or Word file, right?
Right now, I cannot predict if a tool like Obsidian Portal will become an integral part of the table-top gaming experience. If I was running the game online, say on Skype or Stickam, I could see it being of more use to the players.
I did have the page up when I ran my game, and all of my game notes were in there. So for me, it was handy (and will save of paper and printer toner), but it remains to be seen if the players will find it of value.