A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was starting up a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign. As Dungeon Master, it’s up to me to set the scene and ensure that my group’s weekly sessions are intriguing, action-packed, and, above all, fun. Fun for the players, but also fun for me. And one way I have fun is through world building.
We’re using the Planescape campaign setting, which brings all of the published D&D planes of existence together via the infamous City of Doors, Sigil. Planescape was originally released as a boxed set as a follow up to Jeff Grubb’s Manual of the Planes, and… well… it’s dense. There’s a lot of stuff in that boxed set. And the three that followed. Monte Cook’s excellent Planewalker’s Handbook did a great job of condensing the essence of Planescape into a single 160-page tome, but even so, it’s a lot for my players to take in.
That’s where our campaign wiki comes in. A wiki is simply a content management system that employs multiple pages and cross-referencing for knowledge management. In plain English, it’s a way for you to unload all your fancy ideas into a centralized bucket in an organized and easy fashion. Better still, you can share access with friends and players.
There are a number of free wiki services available. I’ve used PBWorks and Google Sites to moderate success, but Obsidian Portal is the gold standard for tabletop roleplaying game wikis. I’ve been using it for over six years and it’s never let me down. It’s designed specifically for the purposes of capturing information about your campaign world, and for sharing it with your players.
The site raised money on Kickstarter a couple years ago, and since then they’ve completely overhauled the system. After spending some time setting up the wiki for my new campaign, I can confirm that the whole thing works even better than it did before.
My workflow is simple this time around. I’m focusing on spending less time prepping for our sessions, so I keep a running bullet list of notes while we play. Then, the day after our session, I take five minutes to edit it so that my players can follow along, and I post it as a new Adventure Log in Obsidian Portal. Anything that I write down that needs to stay secret goes into the special GM Only field.
My favorite part of composing game notes in a wiki? If I mention a person or a place that needs its own entry (or already has one), I can just surround the name in double square brackets (like [[The Hive]], for instance) and the word gets hyperlinked. It’s a fun way to build out your world and share important features with the players, but you have to be careful. If you’ve ever been down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, then you know how easy it is to get lost. It’s even worse when you’re building the wiki yourself.
When the next game session rolls around, I hop back on the wiki and consult last week’s recap. I type out a quick summary to read at the table and spend about ten minutes outlining a few possible paths that my players might take. I use my scanned D&D books, much like fellow GeekDad James Floyd Kelly, to create some statblocks for possible combat encounters, and the wonderful Donjon random generator site for names, treasure, and other fun stuff. And because Obsidian Portal works on all devices and has lovely mobile stylesheets, I keep it up on the laptop or iPad during the session.
All in all, I spend about half an hour prepping for our three hour session. And with the help of Obsidian Portal, most of it is available online for my players to read in between sessions. Not bad at all!