WordPress has a lot going for it – that’s why we use it for Campaign Mastery! For a long time now, I’ve been thinking that it has many of the advantages of a campaign Wiki, and a few more on the side, that would make it an ideal platform for game documentation – with the right plugins, of course, something that I’ll get to shortly.

I once investigated the potential for using a Relational Database (Crystal Reports, from memory) to hold the campaign logs for my superhero campaign, and quickly came to the conclusion that it was simply not feasible. There was software that could cope with the 100K entries required for proper cross-indexing, no problem; but it could not cope with the estimated 2-10K words of synopsis, never mind providing the full functionality of a word processor for the adequate display of the resulting material. Sure, there was far more expensive software available that could achieve these purposes; but nothing anywhere close to affordable.

What I only slowly began to realise after we launched Campaign Mastery is that it provides full, if limited, relational database functionality through the use of a combination of categories and tags; it only requires designing the “blog” in an appropriate way. So that’s what this post is all about – configuring WordPress to serve as a fully cross-indexed relational database of game notes and play synopses.

GM Notes: Private posts

One of the options that WordPress offers is the ability to mark some posts private and some public – and to change that designation with a couple of mouse-clicks. That makes it perfect for a GM’s prep and in-session notes, because the post can be edited afterwards and turned into a game synopsis; the notes act as memory prompts, and any flavour text only needs to be typed once. Such notes should be placed in a suitable category, “GM’s Notes”, so that the GM can call up just them and no others.

Category: Post-play Adventure documentation

When such a private-to-public conversion takes place, the post should be assigned to a new category. Or, alternatively, instead of making his session notes public, he can simply copy the content from his private post to a new public post in this new category. This doubles the number of entries, some of the content of which are redundant; but it does enable the GM to keep quiet about things that the players did not learn in the course of the adventure and that therefore should not be made public. Frankly, it’s six-of-one-and-half-a-dozen-of-the-other which is the better approach.

And, of course, there is also a third option: the Emerson Option. Isaac Asimov, when struggling to edit the biochemistry textbook he was co-authoring, came across a quote by Emerson which ran, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” Thereafter, whenever one of the trio of authors came across a minor inconsistency or spelling error in the galley proofs, they would simply write “Emerson!” in the margin and ignore the error.

In this context, the Emerson quotation implies that users should not feel obliged to adopt one solution or the other wholeheartedly, they can pick and choose according to circumstances. If there is “secret” information in the private post, use the copy-and-paste solution a new public post; if there is nothing in the notes that is not known to the players, convert the existing post and save yourself additional labour.

At the same time, the post can be renamed to whatever is desired.

The first plugins

All of which brings me to the first plugin that I would recommend to anyone contemplating this use of WordPress. Actually, it’s a pair of them: “Organize Series” and “Organize Series Publisher”, both by Darren Ethier. (Plugin Website: http://organizeseries.com/). We use this combination here at Campaign Mastery (thanks to Johnn, who found it for us). It adds a third tier to the categorisation/tagging capabilities, a third indexing scheme that is only applied to designated posts. When you add a new post to the series, it automatically increments the entry number of that post when it is published, or you can specify the part number.

There are restrictions: a post can only ever be part of one series at a time, and strange things can happen if you remove a post from a series after it’s published. But for providing a sequentially-organised subset of posts, the combo can’t be beat.

With these two plugins, you can do something remarkable with your play synopses:

Make each adventure’s synopses part of a series!

Most GMs I know group their days of play into adventures. By making them part of a series dedicated to that specific adventure, all the synopses of that adventure become threaded, connected by an automatically generated menu contained within the post. It doesn’t matter how many of them that you have; to the best of my knowledge, you can have an unlimited number of series. For example, Running The Game III: Rules And Combat is part 10 of the series GM Toolbox. If you examine that blog post, you will find an area at the top of the post stating that it is part 10 of the series, with a link – click on that and you get the opening lines of each post within the series, in sequential order (you can see it by clicking on the series link I just quoted). And, at the bottom of the post itself there’s another box which lists all the parts that have been published, with links to each, that is automatically updated each time a new part is published.

Better than a category

This is better than a category because it avoids polluting your category list with dozens of entries, one for each day’s play. For my “Seeds Of Empire” campaign, so far, I would have 19 series, because there have been 19 adventures in the campaign to date:

  • Distant Rumbles
  • Devastation Scene
  • Dead Hands
  • Rights & Rites
  • Captive Audience
  • Troubled Waters
  • Sage Advice
  • Digging A Hole
  • Air
  • Earth
  • Water
  • Fire
  • Negative
  • Positive
  • The Laboratory Of Tenga Mort
  • Columbus Verde
  • Broken Bonds and Lost Worlds
  • The Garden Of Shimono
  • On A Larger Scale

We’ve been playing this campaign about 10 times a year, on average, since mid-2006; about 55 game sessions. That gives an average of almost three sessions per adventure. “Earth” was turned into a standalone adventure and published as part of a Blog Carnival here at Campaign Mastery in March 2009. The PCs are about to start the next adventure, “Specter Of Defeat”.

So, if the title of each day’s synopsis was [Adventure Title]+[Play Date], and each blog post within the “Post-Play Adventure Documentation” category, then you could:

  1. See a list of all play synopses within the campaign by clicking on the Category
  2. Be able to identify by title, the adventures within that list and when each was played
  3. Have a hot-linked list of all play synopses within a specific adventure attached to each part of that adventure.

What’s more, by adding a standalone page on which you (manually) list the adventure “series”, you have multiple ways to navigate through the past history of the campaign – all without using tags or subcategories – which reserves their functionality for other purposes.

All this functionality becomes even more significant if applied to a campaign like my Superhero game – which started in 1982 and has averaged roughly 20 sessions of play a year since. That’s almost 600 sessions of play! There have been at least 300 adventures in that span of time – some long, some short – and hundreds, if not thousands, of NPCs have appeared. On top of that, there have been side adventures and fictional adventures and spinoff campaigns and crossover adventures – between them, these would easily add another 200 adventures to the total. At one point, for a couple of years, we were playing 8 game sessions a month!

The use of comments

There’s one other advantage to this structure: players can add out-of-game comments and clarifications and ask questions of the GM simply by commenting on a post. And there is a permanent record of both question and answer for future reference. And the GM can supplement the synopsis when later events clarify events within an adventure simply posting a comment with a link to the clarifying blog post. For a trivial amount of effort (get link, copy to clipboard, locate post being clarified, start comment, paste link, post comment) yet another layer of cross-indexing can be incorporated.

But that brings me to:

The Second Vital Plugin

Campaign Mastery simply could not function without Akismet (Plugin Site) or some equivalent – if there is one. To date, it has trapped 272,131 spam comments for us – it takes only minutes each day to confirm that the automated selection really is spam, and to de-spam any false positives – and the rest then get despatched into the electronic never-never with a single mouseclick. If not for this plugin, those 272K spam comments would have polluted our blog posts, or required individual handling – so, instead of a couple of clicks every couple of days – maybe 400 clicks by now – we would have faced 272K clicks.

That’s the difference between having time to do something and having a full-time job just dealing with the comments.

It’s easy to spot a blog that doesn’t use Akismet or Captcha or something like them to auto-moderate spam – and I will never post a word to one bearing the stigma; I get enough spam in my inbox already.

Category: PC write-ups

As another set of posts, in a new category, I would put up copies of the character sheets for my reference, and get the players to provide a written summary of personalities, ambitions, etc, for use in planning future scenarios. These can be perpetually edited to keep them up-to-date, or a new post can be created using copy-and-paste so that “the way things were” can be referenced at any time. More usefully, this permits the GM and players to have conversations via comments about their characters – and, once again, the results are permanently stored for future reference.

Category: NPC write-ups

Even more usefully, a category can exist for NPC write-ups, which consist of a private post by the GM containing stats and other pertinent information, and one or more posts describing everything the PCs know about the NPC. What’s more, by using the NPCs name as a tag for both these posts and any synopses in which the NPC is mentioned, referenced, or participates, a complete log of the NPCs presence and role within the campaign can be maintained. With a single click on the relevant tag cloud entry, everything related to the chosen NPC is immediately available.

Clicking on the category entry gives the GM a list of every NPC in the campaign to choose from, with the first few lines of the character’s write-up – perfect for the GM to pick through the list and extract the right name and details any time he needs it.

It’s the cross-indexing that results that is so valuable; the GM can start with a synopsis of play post, identify the name of an NPC from it, and just by clicking on the corresponding tag cloud entry, have the entire history of that character open to inspection.

Category: Exotic Goodies

Every campaign accumulates these. They might be magic items in a fantasy campaign, high-tech gadgets in a sci-fi campaign, or whatever. Giving them a description in a dedicated blog post, and using tags in the same way as NPCs, means that the location and disposition and history of any given item can be found. And, of course, if the item is in the possession of a specific character, because there are entries for each of them (PC or NPC), the tag cloud can also be used to cross-reference goodie with possessor.

Category: Location Descriptions

In the same way, there are certain locations that are going to be significant time and time again. A description of the location and any events that occur there within the game – especially any damage – means that there will never be a problem with keeping those locations dynamic. Just change it a little bit from what it was each time you use it. You can incorporate the consequences of past actions into your location descriptions without even thinking about it – “a number of the awnings still show the scorch marks from Flimwyn’s Fireball three years ago, when you fought the Gorgolich Ascended on this street corner.” Similarly, consistency becomes automatic.

Both these add tremendously to both the verisimilitude of the campaign, to the players feeling that they are really present within the world, and that it has been changed by their presence – that they Matter.

Those are fringe benefits – the real benefit is that you have the location details at your fingertips whenever you need it.

Category: Custom Monsters

Any Fantasy Campaign will have these, as will many other types of campaign. Giving them the same treatment means that the details are always at the GMs fingertips, just a click or two away – which means that should they ever be needed, a consistent and fresh example can appear in play.

Category: In-game Politics & Societies

And, of course, politics is a natural subject for any and every campaign to track in this manner. By now, though, the tag cloud is becoming so clogged with entries that it would be impractical to dig through it for the entry you want.

Who cares? Use a search engine to find a post which contains the referent you’re looking for. Each post will have a list of the tags under which it is indexed; so any one of them gives you access to the totality.

Category: Game Theology

At first glance, you might think that this is only needed for Fantasy Games, but I would beg to differ. Theology has been important in my superhero campaign, my pulp campaign, and in almost every campaign that I’ve played in – be it Travellor, Paranoia, or Lord Of The Rings. Sure, in some campaigns it’s referents are literal, and in others they are simply what characters believe, but either way, theology matters. And that means that a GM might have need to refer back to what has already been established within the game.

Entries within this category might be by religion, or by Deity name, or both.

Category: Magic & Mysticism in the campaign

The same is obviously true of this subject. Branches or practitioners might be the logical subjects of posts, and the significant myths, legends, and relics. That means that quite frequently this category will be used in conjunction with another – rather than having three posts on the subject of “Felix Theonamlous” – one as an NPC and one relating to his arcane practices and one or more on his accoutrements and trappings and artefacts, the “Magic and Mysticism” category would get attached to the existing NPC and item-description posts.

Category: Cosmology

This, on the other hand, is genuinely a category that won’t always be needed – I would argue that even in campaigns where the Cosmology doesn’t matter, such as Western Campaigns, a statement to that effect should be recorded under this category, however!

Category: House Rules

Here, for the first time, I would advocate the use of subcategories, using the chapter numbers of the core rulebook as the subcategory titles. Most house rules could be contained in an ordinary “blog post” – leaving them free to be annotated at any time by revising the post, and offering the facility for players to discuss them through comments. This keeps the House Rules more-or-less structured by relatedness of subject, makes it easier to determine if a given rule in the sourcebook is modified by a house rule.

In terms of tags, there are only four that I would use for such posts: “Proposed” or “Draft”; “Trial”; “Approved”; and “Rejected”. What a lot of people who don’t use WordPress may not realise is that it’s very easy to add a new tag retrospectively, and even easier to remove an existing tag. So the status of any given rule can be verified instantly by means of the tag, and rules can be recalled either by subject (using the subcategories) or by the status of the rule (tags).

Category: Downloadable Props

Once again, these are things that every campaign accumulates over time. A GM usually only has at hand those that he considered directly relevant when preparing for the day’s play; the rest are too bulky and get in the way too much. Giving each it’s own blog post is the perfect solution that would enable the GM to have it both ways.

As with the “Magic and Mysticism” category, this category should rarely be used in isolation; it should always connect or correlate to the game session synopses in which it was relevant, and/or to the location posts or item posts or NPC posts with which the prop was associated, or to the House Rules.

Category: Miscellanea

There’s always going to be something that you haven’t thought of, or that doesn’t quite fit any of the existing categories. Other possible names for this category are “Esoterica” and “Exotica”. Links to online generators, for example. Extracts from research. References, quotes, whatever. A calendar if the campaign uses one.

Each campaign and each GM would use this category differently, but they would all need it.

At the top of the list for me would be the Monster Generator that I reviewed here way back in March 2009 (Building The Perfect Beast: A D&D 3.5 online monster generator) and the results would heavily populate the Custom Monsters category.

The final critical plugin

That brings me to another plugin that I would incorporate into such a setup, and the last one that I will mention. It was this plugin that actually prompted this post, though it’s a subject I’ve been thinking about off-and-on for a couple of years now.

Hey guys, I’m with Awesome Dice — we just released our new dice roller widgets for WordPress blogs and I’m hoping you could give it a shout out (or give it a spin). It’s available from WordPress.org or can be installed straight from the admin, to provide dicing to the diceless masses straight from any WordPress blog.

The die roller plugin works a treat. if you roll multiple dice, it automatically sorts the results from lowest to highest and shows the sum in parentheses; this is often useful, but it would be even better if the sorting was optional. I would also like to be able to roll more than 1d% at a time. But those are minor quibbles, and the product is in constant development.

The plugin is available from http://www.awesomedice.com/wordpress-dice-roller and you can check it out for yourself at Awesome Dice’s blog (and oh, yes, they also sell dice). As of right now, they don’t have a variant for Hero Games damage rolls, and there’s very little ability to customise the die rolls via mathematical expressions, but what they have done works very well.
Once a full suite of such die rollers is on tap, there is nothing to stop WordPress from becoming a key administrative tool for your campaigns – maybe even the best such option.

Why not another Option?

Wikis are another way of approaching the same thing, but they lack the relational indexing attributes of WordPress, and by their nature they tend to be entirely open or closed – though there may be exceptions. They also lack the relatively user-friendly GUI of WordPress.

Another possibility to consider is a more website less blogsite oriented approach using Google Docs. We use Google for a lot of our planning, and migrated the planning and administration/development of Assassin’s Amulet to Google after our first choice of site (ClockingIT) fell apart on us. To be honest, Clocking IT was both more user-friendly and had more options – the integrated chat system was quite useful for example; but it was not reliable enough and when that started getting in the way of the project, we took the hard choice to move. Google Docs offers better document control, and was far more reliable. But if ClockingIT got their act together I’d use it again in a heartbeat. (Not for more Legacies Campaign Setting work, I’m afraid; with more than 90 pages of content and planning to migrate, the LCS project is just too big to migrate again).

But here’s the thing: When you’re looking for a site to host your campaign, you have different needs to what you need when collaborating on a book. If you take advantage of what WordPress brings to the table, it’s better for that job than anything else I can think of, hands down.

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