Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thoughts On Obsidian Portal

I've had a couple of people now ask me what I think of Obsidian Portal. Until yesterday's post, it had been a while since I had gone over OP, so now's as good as time as any to share a few of my thoughts on it:

-I think one of the most unsung aspects of Obsidian Portal is the possibility for inspiration and ideas from other campaigns. 4ers, there are over 4900 campaigns running D&D 4e. 3ers, 2200. Even disregarding the abortive attempts and dead ends, there are a plethora of campaigns to draw inspiration from. I love seeing how many various systems are represented there.

-If you're a hardcore worldbuilder or have a really expansive campaign, you might find the $5/month for a premium account totally worth it. You get 10x more upload space, unlimited campaigns, the ability to make your campaign private, and a few more goodies besides. The free version isn't bad to try it out, though--and for some, it'll be the perfect size.

-Your pages are edited using a mixture of html and Textile. Textile is easy to learn, and I use this site for quick formatting.

-As one commenter pointed out, it'd be nice to have automatic "back" buttons on the wiki as a timesaver. Add it to the wishlist, I guess.

-I'm a person who makes a lot of files for his campaign, so a dedicated "Files" page would be another good wishlist add.

-It's really easy to get carried away adding new Wiki pages. I like to keep a setting simple and easily accessible, but I am very quick to add another descriptive wiki entry about something in the last wiki entry. I then have to describe that in another wiki entry, and so on...

-Obsidian Portal has a very high hiatus/abandon rate on campaigns. I think it's easy to have this massive idea in your head, but to quickly get discouraged at the scope you're trying to convey. My advice is to start with the sort of information you'd consider strictly necessary for new players. Then, slowly expand to what you'd put in a 32-page player's guide. Branch out from there. I need to take my own advice.

-I really think the key to Obsidian Portal's future success lies in the sort of community they are able to foster. It's one thing to gather a lot of campaigners and worldbuilders together, but let's face it, as good as OP is at what it does, there are other options out there if people don't feel at home. Have people come for the worldbuilding, but stay for the camaraderie and inspiration.

-The last point is more of a general comment which also applies to Obsidian Portal: if you're apprehensive about putting your homebrew world out there because you think it's silly or unoriginal, don't be! There's nothing new under the sun, but you might present in an intriguing new way, or cause someone to revisit an old standard. Write for your friends and players, write for fun, and write for yourself. If someone else digs the end result, that's just icing on the cake.

Yes, please.


Micah said...


This is Micah, one of the guys behind the scenes at Obsidian Portal, and I just wanted to say that you're dead on with a lot of these observations. Let me hit a few of them...

First, the abandonment/give-up rate is definitely something that saddens us. Just like you say, people show up with grand schemes and ideas, only to give up and walk away. My advice is very simple, only put up the bare minimum that you need in order to play your game. Don't worry about detailing every last NPC, location, religion, whatever. If your players won't see it, it doesn't matter!

Once you've got the skeleton of your campaign, play the game! Remember, it's not about having the best Obsidian Portal wiki. It's about having fun with your friends. That's all that matters at the end of the day.

Point 2: You talk about fostering a community, and we're trying hard on this one. The RPG community tends to be very fractured, with the core unit being the game group. There's little cross-pollination between groups, and this is a sad thing as we all have a lot to learn from each other.

To help foster this communication, we recruited our Content Director (Dan aka. Autumnschild) to help us engage with the OP community. Dan has been tasked with selecting the featured campaigns, interviewing members of the community, composing the monthly newsletters, and all the other stuff that's required to bring people together.

Still, there's so much more we could do, and we welcome any suggestions.

Thanks again for this write up. It always makes me very happy to see that people "get" what it is we're trying to do, and that people think it's important.


P.S. We're trying to improve things every day, and we hear your desire for file uploads and better wiki navigation. We're working on it...

Zachary The First said...

@Micah: Good to hear from you! I certainly hope Obsidian Portal can make it to Gen Con again in some capacity…

Thanks for the response, and I’ll really be looking forward to what you guys add. I think things like the blog articles are a great step in that direction.

Aaron said...

Alright, you've convinced me. I'm finally putting something up on Obsidian Portal. Thanks for the posts!

Eric Wilde said...

You got me hooked. I put up my upcoming gaming sessions there. Being burned many a time with grand schemes that end up dying, I've learned through the years to do just the bare minimum. That's what I've done here:

I'll add more and make it more descriptive if the players start to dig the game. Two of the three are newbies and one is a player coming back from a 10 year hiatus.

Zachary The First said...

Hey, awesome! I’ll favorite that when I get home tonight. I’m glad you guys enjoyed it!

That’s a nice mixed group, Eric. Hope they mesh well!

I really do think the key is to start small and build up from there. And talk about your world with other community folks—that’s a personal resolution I intend to fulfill. There are so many awesome world-building articles out there.