You write up some town descriptions. You list and link 7 or 8 NPCs that are there. Between all the NPCs, they worship 2 gods with churches there. There's a pretty rad item you want the players to get, so you build a questline that leaves from the town and eventually meanders back. Oh, and that traveling merchant makes a stop here on the 5th of every month.
Excellent, you've got enough of the town written out that you can run a few sessions before you need to develop it further. Nice, just in time for your session on Saturday.
But wait -- you still need to notate the town on each of the NPCs' pages. Also, you're trying to keep a list of the churches on the gods' pages too. That merchant, too. Oh, and that calendar you're trying to track. The questline. That item. And then there's the inevitable characters and events that you improvise during the session... plus one of your players (you know the one) keeps throwing you total curve balls. The last town that he was in, he hired a mercenary crew.
There's one feature that would simplify 90% of this and make your wiki immediately navigable: backlinks. You've seen it. It's a standard among wikis. Every Wikipedia page has an index if you use Special:WhatLinksHere/(the entry), but even easier to find is the list at the bottom of any of WikiMedia's items. It has to be built on the back-end and if the hosting software doesn't natively support it, it's complicated, but it's also the single most useful feature I can imagine. It's also no doubt a big reason why people initially come to a site that advertises itself as a wiki for your D&D campaign.
As far as implementation, we all just need to it to catch the referrers from within our own wiki, so it doesn't need to be more robust than that. I'd like to see a campaign-wide checkbox on the settings page with little "except this" checkboxes on each article that remove the section from display, but honestly even the most basic version of this would be *immensely* helpful.
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Of all the feature requests out there, this is probably the easiest to implement and the biggest immediate payoff in terms of functionality. I can't understand why it doesn't exist yet.
Thanks for taking the time to comment! It really helps us decide where to put our development time.
What makes you say this would be the easiest to implement? At first glance, I see some parts of this that make it a bit more hairy than other features. But I'm wondering if I'm missing something or assuming too much?
As far as why it doesn't exist yet, if we get more interest from the community (aka comments on this Feature Request forum thread), this feature could indeed move up the priority list.
But this is a feature that mostly benefits Campaigns that use a large number of wiki pages. If a Campaign uses a small number of wiki pages, it's not too hard to keep in mind what links to what. The majority of the Campaigns don't use a large number of wiki pages. So if we work on this feature (and it isn't an easy feature to implement), then we're spending time on something that only benefits a minority of the Campaigns, and ignoring the majority of the Campaigns that might have preferred we spend time on a different feature.
Obsidian Portal Developer
I can't comment on the complexity, but I believe that this would be a nice feature to have. I don't think that I have a particularly large number of pages, but I have been adding navigation to the bottom of many of my pages to be able to go back to where you likely came from - work that would be unnecessary if we had the ability to add automatic backlinks.
I didn’t comment before, but I can add that this is one of the missing features that made me choose a competitor instead of Obsidian Portal. OP has the better approach to GM-only information in my opinion, but the wiki-like functionality is lacking enough to undermine that advantage. It’s too difficult to manage categorization and relationships between pages/data.
@ragnarhawk, "Of Runes And Giants" looks awesome! Yeah, it doesn't look like you have very many wiki pages yet. And I think you're saying this would be a substitute for "bread crumbs" or "back navigation". That's all good to know!
@Salvatos, that's really helpful! If you just had a list of "pages that link to this page" at the bottom of each wiki page would that be enough to meet what was missing? Also, just really curious, if you chose a competitor, what prompted you to check the OP forums? I'm very glad you do, just curious.
Obsidian Portal Developer
I tried out OP for about an evening and checked the forums for feature requests in order to see if the things I was missing were potentially forthcoming or had been rejected already. This is one of the threads I had subscribed to as something to keep an eye on if I continued to use OP.
To be entirely frank, having known about OP for many years but never gotten around to using it in earnest, I expected it to be loaded with features absent in other platforms, but I found it surprisingly bare compared to others that are just coming out of beta and still in active development. It does look like OP puts more emphasis on character and game management, though, while I am more interested in a world-building and adventure-writing tool, so I understand that I am perhaps unfairly biased.
Not for me. To give you more insight into my use case, I already had a self-hosted DokuWiki I used for my campaign, but I was missing the ability to keep secret information on the same page, which isn't something I’ve seen on any wiki platform. Advanced map features would also be nice, but not a deal-breaker since I could just install Leaflet on my server and prepare my own map tiles if I wanted it badly enough.
Knowing that, I started comparing services like OP based on what they can offer that I can’t already get with self-hosted free software. I’m sad to say that for my personal needs and wants, OP’s only such benefit is the GM-only section on each article. Even the map feature, while it’s a start, isn’t advanced enough that I would consider paying for it.
At the end of the day, even though I really want GM secrets, OP takes too many benefits away from me to be a strong contender for replacing my own wiki, with only that one feature to make up for it.
Awesome! I very much appreciate the frank feedback, and appreciate knowing that your perspective comes from an interest in a "world-building and adventure-writing tool". I would agree that OP puts more emphasis on character and game management. But I would guess, and feel free to correct me if you see it differently, at the end of the day, both perspectives expect to end up with players that are enjoying the game. So if the perspectives have the same end goal, they probably share a lot of the same needs. So, if you're willing to share, which benefits would switching to OP have taken away from you?
OP had some number of years where it was basically in "maintenance mode", but with some recent changes, we're back in active development mode for the foreseeable future. (Huzzah!)
Also, thanks for the tip on Leaflet!
Obsidian Portal Developer
That’s good to hear! I do wish to everyone helping the hobby along great success even if it’s not something I personally end up using :)
Some of the things I would lose by switching to OP were based on the fact I was moving from a self-hosted wiki, and were the same with any other option I found:
Those are of course not points where I expect OP to be able to compete, although some of them could be allowed to an extent. But since I was enjoying all of those benefits, the bar was fairly high for me to move to any alternative, especially if I was going to have to pay a subscription, because I rarely get to actually play (up to five times a year).
As far as what the competition has over OP, and what is standard on wikis and could be reproduced here, some of the more attractive features were:
That’s a lot, and to be clear I didn’t find any single platform that had all of this and certainly not as part of their free package. But I can’t help but think that if someone just made a GM secret plugin for MediaWiki, it would have the vast majority of the features I need, for free, with full control of my data, and I could install other free software alongside it to handle other features like maps or databases. That thought is making me greedy, I think :) But I do find it surprising that every service in this space seems to have been built from the ground up instead of building on top of MediaWiki’s extensive features and customizability.
I hope that helps! I went out of my way to not name competitors, but I can point fingers if you want :)
This is great! Thanks for taking the time to list all this out.
You're definitely an atypical user, especially if you already have a server that you are using for other projects. But it's great to get your detailed perspective.
Not sure if you saw this feature, or if it wasn't up to the task you needed it for, but if you go to the Campaign Settings, Advanced tab, there is a "Download Backup" button. As it says, it's not an "Import/Export" because you can't re-upload, but you can create a backup that is viewable offline. It's html, so you could "edit it offline", but I suspect you meant you would also then want to be able to re-upload it with the edits.
On that same Campaign Settings, Advanced tab, the Ascendant accounts can enter any custom CSS they want, so that should be fully customizable. We don't have URL rewriting, though you can change "slugs" on many of the forms. For "nomenclature", if you mean the "names of the sidebar navigation", some of the GMs around here have "css tricks" they use to create different names for those. And you can also put HTML in the wiki pages to even further customize the looks of the pages.
Not saying any of that makes up for the other things you would lose, just wanted to note those particular things do exist, though they may not be to the level you were looking for.
That's tragic! Why so infrequently? Have you considered trying a Play By Post game?
That's a meaty list of features. I'm noting them down, and if we get interest from other users saying they would want them, we could start implementing them.
Hahaha! It's hard to give up something that is *SO CLOSE* to what you think it could be, but is just not quite there. No judgement here.
This absolutely does help. Please DO name competitors. We're not trying to hide anything, and if there's a good example of doing something in a materially better way that actually makes the game more enjoyable for the Players, I definitely want to know about it and adopt it.
Obsidian Portal Developer
TLDR: Basically, any feature that allows me to quickly exploit the relationship between various pieces of information and have it readily available at my fingertips would be amazing.
I totally second the idea of backlinks/breadcrumbs, and wish I had time to find every post where someone has mentioned it and add my two cent agreement. I've spent the last three days combing the internet (with my VERY limited, fledgling knowledge of CSS) to find some kind of code that does this which I can implement without struggling over it for hours (more). I haven't understood it well enough to implement it yet.
My GM style is also very focused on world building. I always run sandbox worlds with a ticking timeline that runs in the background to whatever the players want to do. Even if the PCs go off on a wild hair that turns into a two year long campaign focused on saving a race of mer people when I originally intended them to take down a land based cult that is focused on world dominance, welp, that's what we do. If they choose return to their original hook location at a later date, they find that things have RADICALLY changed for the worse, and the plot is much higher level, so to speak. That makes tracking information particularly difficult over a long time.
We play in person, and previous to finding OP, I had scads and scads of notebooks with NPC portraits grouped by location, bracketed by location and story hook notes, with a section that worked like an adventure log. Now that I'm finally getting to set up a full campaign on OP before play, I'm almost primarily concerned with the wiki pages and being able to link them to each other. Even if backlinks/breadcrumbs takes months to implement, being able to have
would be a huge relief. The sheer amount of work staring me in the face for how many manual back links I'm going to need to make is pretty exhausting, unless I can figure the CSS out. I know tagging is supposed to help with that, but it's not a habit yet, so I have a backlog of those as well.
As to the other features listed here, I love all of them, but I would just about die for the timeline/fantasy calendar features, as well as a more robust map system. ..And the relationship system.
I currently use roll20 to display maps (combat or otherwise) on the wall-mounted tv in my living room. I wish I could turn off all the extra interface pieces there that are used for online play, but it suites well enough anyway. I honestly havent gotten to play with the map feature here on OP, but I will likely use it for world/plane spanning travel, maybe? I won't know till I mess about with it a bit. This campaign has 11 planes, lol, so I find it amusing that there's a 10 map limit per campaign. Probably the players won't go to all of them so it won't matter, but it still makes me laugh. I'm really hoping to eventually have a map set up that allows popups/tooltips of the wiki page and/or local map when I click on a map icon.
I pay for Ascendent because of the GM/player secrets (and the custom CSS even if I suck at that part still). Previously I printed info in size 8 arial font, cut each bit out and glued them to 3x5 index cards. I would then fold them in half so they were tiny books, and passed them out to players. Everyone had a 1/5 in spiral notebook to keep their characters in, complete with trading card page protectors they could save their secrets in. That's a really difficult way to track who knows what tho, and sometimes I get too caught up in GMing to keep precise notes of where the secrets went.. being able to pull up a wiki page in real time and type in a new player secret so I can later see exactly what I've told other people already is immensely helpful - especially if I need to refer back to something that happened 20 sessions ago. Thank you for that!
Schedules, distance, children, the usual :) With my current group we aim to play roughly every 6 weeks and end up playing every 2 months. That’s quite good compared to the last 10 years of occasional one-shots and non-starters. It’s on hold now, though, of course. I’ve played online with a couple of friends on a few occasions, but it doesn’t come close to the real deal and we always give up on it fairly quickly. One of my current players doesn’t even have a webcam or microphone.
The main two I considered alongside OP were World Anvil and Kanka.io. World Anvil has a strong focus towards writers and world-builders in general, so even though they also have GM-specific features, it really shows in the overall package. They are the ones that have the very advanced map features, article templates, very flexible content organization, and as far as I can tell easy editing and spontaneous article creation. They also seem to provide multiple timeline styles. Disclaimer: I haven’t actually tried it since it’s rather pricy for my use case, but the feature list is quite impressive and it has a rather sexy vibe to it as far as content management systems go.
Kanka.io is the one with the heavy focus on relationships. Nearly everything is treated as an "entity" and can have parents, children, relations and custom attributes. Each entity has various tabs and subpages, can be linked to a map or calendar, etc. Currently, GM notes take the form of notes that can be tied to a specific entity and given granular access rights. Integrating them more closely with the entities is on their roadmap but unfortunately not currently in. They also have a pretty new calendar feature that completely blew my mind with how flexible it is. There are many little things that bother me but could be ironed out, and it’s worth noting that it’s the work of a single developer that started in 2017 and only recently quit his day job to work on this full-time. The free package is also rather generous compared to what Obsidian Portal and World Anvil offer, so it could become a serious contender very quickly. I think the only things you have to pay for are custom CSS and more image/map storage space, essentially. There are no limitations on your number of entities or access to certain features.
Most of the other things I mentioned are wiki-related (though some of the above could also be achieved with existing extensions or custom templates).
As an addendum, I decided to have a look around since I was under the impression that there was another platform I briefly considered. I didn’t find it, but I saw mentions of several others, including a few that might be worth looking at (both for me and for you!):
* Chronica, which seems to take a similar approach to Kanka’s but seems a little more mature and user-friendly (at a glance). They have a number of extra features I don’t care about, but I rather prefer the way they appear to present content and they have a more affordable entry price than any I’ve seen, I believe (besides Kanka’s free plan).
* Scabard, whose site doesn’t look like much at first but their features look pretty good, their starter package is a one-time fee and they have very advanced relational features. To be honest the relational approach seems a bit overkill with even a graph viewer being available in the free plan, but it seems to be doing a lot of things right, and despite not being as snazzy as the others, it has a price to match.
* Yarps, a project that was funded on Kickstarter just recently and seems to be gearing up for highly granular content management and deep nesting, with a form-based, modular approach. Even their intended pricing scheme (currently they have a free prototype) will allow users to pick which features they want and split the cost with their group (pay per campaign, not per account). And wow, their current and planned map features surpass even World Anvil’s!
Essentially, and there is no nice way to say this, it feels like Obsidian Portal is little more than an outdated blogging platform, with a couple of additional features like the dice roller, basic maps and real-life calendar, but doesn’t go very far with anything. I surmise that that is enough for many GMs, and it was very convenient years ago, yet it is no longer competitive with those other platforms, especially considering their respective price points. It feels like it did not evolve and is being left behind by several highly-motivated newcomers using modern frameworks and libraries to push some really innovative and engaging features.
Unless I misunderstand what you are trying to do, I don’t think you will find what you are looking for. CSS only deals with the appearance and layout of content, and can’t generate content of its own or interface with the server. Backlinks would require information being passed from the server (more specifically the database) to the browser and being added as HTML. CSS would only control how that HTML is then displayed.
If you don’t mind me asking, why use roll20 to display your maps if you don’t use the other features? Are there some parts that you do need?
@Salvatos, I'd definitely encourage you to try out Play By Post, as opposed to "Skype". No webcam or microphone needed, and you're obviously already comfortable posting on a forum. : ) Also, for the schedules, distance, children ... Play By Post gets around all of those, and even makes it possible to play/post throughout the day like while running errands.
Here's the public Campaign Forum Thread where a few of us on the OP team are playing a Play By Post game:
Thank you for the detailed write up on the competitors that you considered! It really helps to get the perspective of someone actively looking and comparing, so we can see where we're weak.
That's pretty much my understanding since recently joining the team. But the slumbering dragon has awoken and is roaring back to life. : )
Obsidian Portal Developer
@ladycallistadaring, thank you for laying all of that out and describing your process! I'm glad OP is saving you the work of the 3x5 index card secrets. Hopefully we can also save you the work of doing the backlinks too. To that end...
@erdtirdmans, @pkmerlott1, @ragnarhawk, @Salvatos, @ladycallistadaring,
I'm not promising anything, but IF a beta version of this "what links here" feature was developed, which of you would be interested in being a beta user of the feature?
It increases the likelihood that we will work on a feature if we already have users that have agreed to use it and test it.
The initial version would likely be just a list of links to the pages that linked to the current page. And they would be only generated when the post was Saved. So to get the links generate on a particular existing post, you would have to Edit and then Save that post.
If that version of the feature saw use, then we would be able to put time into working on something that would create the backlinks without having to Edit/Save each post, and so could put backlinks on all posts in a Campaign in one shot.
Also feel free to say if that "initial version" is not enough to get you to use it, so we can get specific about what is needed to fulfill this request. Though the bigger a feature has to be to be used, the more risky it is for us to put work into because it might end up not being used and have been a waste of time. So the bigger a feature is the less likely we'll work on it...or rather the more interest we need from the users before we'll work on it.
Again, I'm not promising anything, just looking to gauge real interest here. I don't like to say something is going to happen until it's actually live because I wouldn't want anyone to think they were getting something and then be disappointed.
Obsidian Portal Developer
If it only does one of the two, I feel like the initial version should focus on the source page rather than the target page.
Update on target:
+ All links are refreshed at once for the target page when you save it. But consider that link additions or removals imply that you already just edited other pages, so it’s really an extra step.
- If you add or remove a link to the page and omit to re-save the target as well, the list becomes outdated and might create confusion.
Update on source:
- A freshly created page doesn’t get a list, but that is only really a downside if there were redlinks already pointing to the previously missing page.
+ On the contrary, creating a page or adding multiple new links would update every target at once without having to visit and refresh each one.
+ Deleting a page would instantly update every former target.
Basically I feel like checking closer to where/when changes happen would be more convenient for the user since it doesn’t require two page edits per list update. It might not even be necessary to check for incoming links at all except in the case of brand new pages, actually, but I might be overlooking something. I guess it depends on how you handle it. If you use an interwiki link table, you probably wouldn’t need to perform any special check even on page creation; you would only update the table when a page is edited and fetch the list at page generation.
As for testing, I can’t commit to that personally since I don’t use OP at the moment, so I’ll say maybe :)
I could see both "Update on Target" and "Update on Source" being part of the initial version. The functionality for either is not too different, so once one is done, the other would be fairly quick to add. But with either option the (not yet existing) "interwiki link table" would not be complete for pages that haven't been "re-saved", which is specifically the piece I'm saying would be a later version.
Hahaha! Got it. Okay, just to note for anyone else wanting to take a "maybe", "maybes" will be counted as "not interested" for the purposes of "is there enough interest in this for us to work on it".
Obsidian Portal Developer
My comment on Roll20 was pretty short, specifically to prevent my post from being any longer than it is, not because I only use it for a map image. :P. I'm currently using the free version (though I might resub for the duration of our summer game, if only to get the dynamic lighting back.)
To clarify, I use a wildly diverse set of tools, usually because I discovered them at separate times, and the subsequent tools filled a niche I was struggling to jury-rig when I didn't know there were tools out there. I found OP about 7-8 years ago (under a different user name at the time), and have always, as said, loved the secrets functionality enough to use it over any other wiki-style world building or game organizing tool. After that I found Syrinscape and have loved making my own sound profiles for every session. From there I started to wonder other tools were available to streamline some of my (admittedly) too complex preparations. I've found Roll20 at the end of 2017, but didn't seriously get into making my maps on it till about 8 months ago. In between those two dates, I got involved in DnD Beyond, and have a BUNCH of homebrew (unpublished because I tend to lurk instead of be involved with the community). The group I'm DMing for this summer is WAY more combat oriented than my previous "high roleplay" style group, so I feel like I need maps more than I ever have before. Since I'm already established on all these other sites, I don't really need the chat, music, or the compendium roll20 offers. I know you can minimize the window that contains all these things, but I wish I could completely disable all the tools on player accounts except the measuring tool, shape tool, and moving tokens around. It's not that I have distracted players or anything, I just want as few buttons and such cluttering up the screen as possible.
I"m also open to suggestions if you thing there is some other tool out there that I'm unaware of that would serve my uses better. In an ideal world, I would love some sort of tool that allows me to integrate all of the above with a few clicks of the button and run my game from a single web page, but that's not usually how capitalism works. Competition is good for the soul (and the tool quality!)@thaen
Lol! This is what happens when you decide to take a nap before finishing a reply. I would love to help test this functionality, no matter what the initial set up looks like. As I say, I'm not super good at the building blocks part of all this, but I will/would be as helpful as I know how.
At one point I used a free program called GameTable, that has since been renamed and isn’t really being maintained anymore, but it does the basic grid, map, drawing, polygons and pogs thing simply and effectively enough.
Another free project that is still being maintained is MapTool. I only fiddled with it a bit but it also has dynamic line of sight and fog of war capabilities and it supports all major operating systems. The editor is a good deal more complex, though.
I am also vaguely aware of Astral, which is browser-based and has more advanced lighting and weather effects, but I’m not sure whether those are included in the free version. Looking at their feature list, it might also be able to replace some of the other services you use and centralize your GMing a bit :)
@ladycallistadaring, awesome! Any usage/testing feedback at all is helpful. I'll ping you if we end up putting work into this feature and have a beta to test.
Obsidian Portal Developer
Yes, please. I would like to help beta this feature.
Obviously my players have gotten together and convinced you to offer this carrot to get me to work more on my campaign
Please do let me know if/when it becomes available.
@ragnarhawk, awesome! Will do!
Obsidian Portal Developer
Just popping in to add my voice to those supporting this! It would be insanely useful.
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@DungeonMasterLoki, noted! We'll let you know if there is a beta version to test.
Obsidian Portal Developer
I only have a couple dozen wiki pages, but I'm basically adding all those links myself at the end of every page. It would be convenient if it was automatic.
@jdale, cool! I'll post here if we have something to beta test.
Obsidian Portal Developer
Related to this, I just had a player add a wiki page (yay!), but I can't tell what other pages it is linked to, if any. If there was a backlink, I could just click through to find it. Otherwise, I think the only way is to look at every single wiki page until I find it....
@jdale, that's a great point! For this particular scenario, I think you could look at what other pages were recently updated in your stream because those pages would have had to be updated to refer to the new page. But it would definitely be more convenient to have this feature to say explicitly and not need to track that kind of thing through less obvious means.
Obsidian Portal Developer
I want to add that I would love a 'what links here' section at the bottom of a page. Even better if there were css tags to split e.g. characters and wiki pages so that I can style them in different ways?
Since it is somewhat related, I'm copying what I just posted in https://forums.obsidianportal.com/discussion/5394/how-are-things-these-days#latest :
For comparison/shits and giggles, this is one of the mediawiki campaign sites I set up. It is a tonne more work than customizing an OP site, so now that OP is looking much more stable again I would not go down that road anew.
One thing the mediawiki allowed me to do, that I suspect simply isn't possible on OP, is to do some clever database queries.
E.g. for this campaign site: https://tomesoflegend.org/aniburning all the categories on the index page are made using database dives (list the _player_ characters -> show their icons). What characters were in an session, show their icons on the adventure label, etc. Similarly, at the bottom of every character page I show what sessions a character took part in, etc.
Is there some way to do this kind of stuff in OP? It's not a must have, but it's a nice low maintenance way to link content together, for one. Is there a planned features list for future additions to OP?
(And again, with OP back up and running, the whole mediawiki + addons route is waaaaaaaaaaaay more work, so do not recommend unless you're really keen on learning mediawiki...)
GM: https://knights-of-the-realm-1.obsidianportal.com/ - a Greater Pendragon Campaign
GM: https://sagaofthenorth..obsidianportal.com/ - a Dungeon World Campaign
Player/Scribe: https://thepriceofimmortality.obsidianportal.com/ - a Pathfinder Campaign
"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." - Marcus Aurelius
Noted on the css tags to distinguish different types of links. That would be a pretty easy addition if/when this feature is added.For anyone curious, I answered DerkG's questions here:
Obsidian Portal Developer