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The Douchey DM » Adventure Design, Resources » Campaign Organization – Obsidian Portal Part 2

Campaign Organization – Obsidian Portal Part 2

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been using Obsidian Portal to organize my current Fantasy Hero campaign.

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.

Feature Wishlist

  • 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.


Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

Filed under: Adventure Design, Resources · Tags: , , ,

10 Responses to "Campaign Organization – Obsidian Portal Part 2"

  1. JoeGunNo Gravatar says:

    Great Article Stu, as usual. One small note: You can Tag Maps in OP. Just like dropping a pin on google maps and use custom names. You can then have these names be links back to your wiki pages.

  2. ChuckNo Gravatar says:

    I feel your pain about players not paying attention sometimes. I’ve emailed them pdf’s of campaign notes and all that good stuff. Then about a quarter of the way into the first session, I start getting some blank looks. “You didn’t read any of the stuff I emailed you, right?”

  3. SamNo Gravatar says:

    Stu, Thanks for reviewing the paid account aspects of OP, I been using the free version of OP for a few months and have been contemplating the benefits of the paid deal. OP is good for a central place to keep NPC’s organized but the wiki function (coding) is still tough for someone (like me) who really doesn’t understand how that works. The UI for this feature should be much more simple for basic users. Nice article, I agree.

  4. wyrmfoeNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the great review, Stu. I have a OP account setup but, like you, wondered how useful the whole thing would be to anyone but myself if the players didn’t see it. I like some of the paid features you described, particularly the ability to send secret documents to your players. I could see that being useful in getting my players to go to the site initially, let’s say I tell one of them that they have to go the website and sign in because there is some vital piece of information they will need for the next session. When they get access to the document, that document has links back to the wiki. Not only does the player now have pertinent information for his character to use, he’s also got access to back story and other details that might be useful elsewhere. Plot hooks to further adventures later on can be hidden in the wiki for the players to find. The campaign site doesn’t just serve as a infodump and record keeping device, but also as a tool to providing new challenges and mysteries to bedevil the PCs.

  5. whodo_voodooNo Gravatar says:

    Sounds like I’ve come to similar conclusions as you, the site is useful but as yet not essential. I’ve managed to get all (4) of my players to sign up for it but haven’t yet seen much activity from them. I figure that’ll be the test of how useful the site is as if I can get them posting up ideas / locations / opinions of characters then it’ll become essential.

    Though even if it becomes essential I still doubt it’ll fully replace my notebook, there’s something about paper notes that makes me prefer them for quickly jotting down ideas.

  6. BazzaNo Gravatar says:

    Hi there – I am a big fan of OP simply for the idiot proof tabs and the ability to write DM only notes on pages, esp the NPCs and the adventure logs.

    It is also useful if you want to show prospective players what the game is about, the PCs and the NPCs.

    I type up the adventure log in a Word doc each game (As we go) then paste into OP – the online element is a little unreliable for page save and refresh.

    It is also easy to print out to PDF the Adventure log so I have the past few sessions and all my secret DM notes – I paste my notes for the upcoming session into the DM only part of the current adventure post.

    Would love some capability to upload files for players to get too though…

  7. DaeglanNo Gravatar says:

    can you upload PDFs to the site? cause if you can just print to PDF from Herodesigner and upload the PDF

    1. whodo_voodooNo Gravatar says:

      Nope, afraid not. I suspect the site isn’t ever going to directly support uploading character files simply because they’re trying to make it as system neutral as possible. They have however started opening up APIs for external software to use so it is possible somebody could write some software that supported uploading characters.

  8. JoeGunNo Gravatar says:

    Another useful thing I would like to note on OP: My friends and I who grew up gaming together, started up again a little over a year ago, with a live online game. Since we played together for so long, it really brought back memories, but with a couple of career changes and deployments, the whole thing shut down. Fast forward 7 months later and we are looking to startup again and they really want to use the same story line because they remember it being good. So I crack open the OP page and start refreshing my memory and man I forgot alot of stuff! Honestly without it, the campaign would have been TOTALLY different! Not to say you can’t do this offline, or with google docs, or what have you, but just forcing myself to use it, allowed me as a GM to pick up where I left off after a few months off.

  9. MicahNo Gravatar says:


    This is Micah, one of the guys who made Obsidian Portal.

    Thanks for the review, and it seems like you have a good grasp of what we’re trying to do. I think you hit the nail on the head with this line: “I’d rather spend the time working on the campaign, not the web page for the campaign.”

    We hear from a lot of people “Hey, I could do this on my own.” and our answer is always, “Well…go do it then.” A lot of those same people return because it’s a real pain to deal with, and even then you find that the DIY options are almost always close but miss the mark on some really important features like GM Only content.

    Player participation is something we all struggle with, and we (the OP team) haven’t yet figured out any magic sauce to get them to use the website. Sometimes it just comes down to the individual players. Some love it and get involved like crazy. Others will ignore it no matter what incentives you offer.

    Again, thanks for the review and good luck with your campaigns!

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