Obsidian Portal – An essential campaign tool

I’ve gushed about Obsidian Portal before. It is a fantastic tool to keep your campaign organized and share information with your players. I particularly like that I can parse out information that is public and have other parts that are for the DM only. I have to say that there is a lot of functionality for free accounts too. There are definite advantages to subscribing to Obsidian Portal, but I like that the folks operating it haven’t hamstrung a lot of features for free users too.

Since I’ve been using it a while I thought I’d pass on a few basic tips for maintaining your campaign:

Start small – Don’t get carried away when you begin your campaign write up. Keep your topics and links down to 3-4 sentences. It’s a tool mostly for you as a DM, so use it as such. Initially having pages and pages of history, and page long descriptions of every location might sound cool, but in the end you are making a lot of work for yourself. Keep it a framework and slowly add the details you need.

Keep an adventure log – One of the best features Obsidian Portal, it’s a great tool to keep track of your campaign. Just get into the habit and update it regularly 1-2 days after your latest game session. You don’t need to write down every nuanced NPC conversation or detail every combat. Just try to cover the highlights of the session.

The adventure log is a really wonderful tool. It helps chronicle major events in the campaign. Best of all, players can access it to refresh their memories which is ideal if some players have dropped out of being a regular at the table. You can email a link of the last session before your game night, and then players can easily get a recap of the past session. Best of all, you don’t have to saddle 1-2 players in keeping a log book of all the important NPCs and locations, everything can be accessed in the adventure log.

Note the important stuff – Don’t get bogged down with every NPC the players come across. Don’t write out a description of every location the group went to. Just note the bare bones and let the campaign grow. Likely you give a lot of detail and description while you are running your game. It works giving the captain of the guard, the shady bartender, and the cankerous priest names during your game. But don’t think those details have to ever need to see the light of day in campaign writeup.

Another important point is once you’ve committed to putting it in the campaign log, you’ve made it part of your world. Keeping things to just the important bits helps prevent you from having problems with continuity. It also helps in making things flexible in your world. Just having the highlights of a particular region allows you to fill in details later if needed, and allows you to switch out characteristics if the story leads that way.

Don’t be afraid to metagame – Especially for the adventure log, there is nothing wrong with listing the exp and treasure gained after a session. Not everything being written needs to be a narrative tale of events. The DM section of pages is also a great use for this. Don’t be afraid to put in those notes to help you with organizing and planning future sessions.

Use a map – I’ve found it immensely useful to give the players a map so they get a better grasp of the world they are running through. If anything, it can spark their imagination and lure them into traveling to some far off location. Obsidian Portal also has a feature to allow you to link webpages to your campaign map. If the players want to know the significance to the Keep of the Eastern Pass, they can click on the map link and be taken right to the proper page. It’s a great tool.

Get your players involved – This is a great way to have your players contribute to the campaign world. Get your players to add some detail about certain regions or historical topics. Another great thing to get their input in is with the adventure log. Rotate the duty and have each player be responsible for providing a chronicle of the past session. Don’t hesitate to allow your players to add to the campaign world.

Use it as a reference – Sometimes it’s hard to keep all the details straight of past events, or try and remember the highlights of a historical timeline. Obsidian Portal is great for a reference to your campaign world. However, try to try to keep it streamlined. I fell into the trap of having a bit too much detail when I started it up. As I kept up on my campaign, I began to keep simpler details and recognize it was there to help me with keeping particular ‘facts’ of the game world straight, but it didn’t have to be some encyclopedic tome of the land.

Don’t expect the players to read it – In the end, Obsidian Portal is a tool to keep your campaign organized. Don’t expect your players to use it much. Approach it more as a tool to help you as a DM for your game. Some of my players love the campaign site. They like being able to understand certain political factions and found the adventure log especially helpful. Others really could not care less about it. Don’t get into a tiff if your players don’t read what you put up. Concentrate more on making Obsidian Portal work for you and help organize the game you DM.

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