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Actual Play by blog vs by forum (plus keeping characters system-neutral)

Started by MicahWedemeyer, August 28, 2007, 09:14:48 PM

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I recently started Obsidian Portal (OP), a website for hosting RPG campaigns.  It's not a "virtual tabletop" or anything like that.  It's more like a hybrid blog/wiki/cms specifically for RPGs, with an emphasis on Actual Play and collaboration by all members of a campaign.  I put it together as a way to help me keep track of all the stuff that I was constantly losing in my long running (4+ years) D&D campaign (see the link in my sig). 

Anyways, I've got a few questions for the people here.  I've dealt mostly with (and in) D&D games, and I want to know what people from other backgrounds think.  I really think that OP could be a great resource for lots of different types of gamers, especially when I see all the activity on Actual Play boards like this one.

Actual Play by blog vs by forum
It seems that most AP that I've found is done via forums.  Personally, I much prefer a blog structure.  It usually allows more formatting, and just has a layout more conducive to storytelling, IMO.  Forums have a lot of extra trappings that I find very jarring, such as the sidebar for every post telling who wrote it, their post total, and such.

Is it just that forums are easier for people to use?  Is it more trouble than it's worth to set up a blogspot, livejournal, or (dare I be so bold), an OP account ;) ?  Or do you like getting feedback from readers in the standard forum format?  Then again, most blogs allow comments, too.  Maybe it's just that you prefer to post your AP in a place where there are lots of people doing the same thing, and there are lots of AP forums, but not a lot of free and open AP blogs.  Is that it?

For OP we've gone with a blog based system, and it seems to be fairly well liked by people.  Still, I'd like to know if there is something I'm not getting.  I've always done AP by blog, so there's a good chance I'm missing something.

Keeping system neutral (if possible)
I want OP to be as system neutral as possible, but at the same time be useful.  For example, the most system neutral character sheet is a blank sheet of paper.  However, from a usability standpoint, this places all the work on the users.  Any sort of derived statistics have to be calculated and entered by hand.  Plus, page formatting varies widely from character to character.

Further, having all the data be totally unstructured makes it very hard to search and find anything.  I would like the characters on OP to be "reusable" if possible.  Want an elf wizard?  It would be nice to be able to search by race and class (and system, too.)

So, what is the "core" of a character?  For OP, I've gone with:

  • picture
  • name
  • race
  • game system
  • bio (which is backstory and "fluff" - unstructured text)
  • description (which is stats and "crunch" - unstructured text)

Giving in to my D&D background, I've added level as well, so go ahead and curse me for that one.  I'd like it to mean any sort of quantitative measure of character power, such as character points for games with a point-buy system.

I also allow characters to be tagged, much like delicious.  I was hoping this would be the primary way that people would add system-specific data (like class or job), but it's been pretty hit-and-miss.

What is missing here?  Is there any way I can add more structured data without compromising system-neutrality?

Anyways, now I'm rambling.  Thanks for listening, and I'd love to hear any thoughts on this.

Elizabeth P.

As someone who has tried to run a content management site for writers, I can tell you it's pretty difficult to convince people it's worth spending the time on.  There's a lot of great stuff available on those types of sites, and it looks like you've got a great setup on OP, but people aren't always willing to get that in depth on someone else's site.  A lot of people may have their own blogs, or websites for gaming, and transferring all that stuff to another site (despite the community aspect of it) can be too time consuming.  Playing a game via forum, is pretty neatly set up for someone that just wants to get right into the guts of a game, or a story. 

When it comes to a community setting, forums are structured in a way that makes sense to most people.  It doesn't always have a lot of variability from forum to forum, which is another thing that people like.  Now, I've seen some straight up Wiki sites done for writing or gaming and sometimes it works, but for a small group of dedicated people.  And that's really the key.  You have to know your audience.  If you really want it to take off, you might be better off focusing on one specific game, and making it really straightforward for people to host their game stuff there.  However, at the moment, if you want to get a lot of D&D gamers, it might be a good idea to take a look at what WotC is getting ready to do with GleeMax, because I think that's the sort of schtick their leading with. 

I wish you luck with this.  Despite what I've said, I still think it's a great idea.  I just think it'll be extremely hard to implement a multi-system idea that will appeal to a lot of gamers that have already built presences elsewhere.
A Haunted Night RPG - open for Playtesting.

Ron Edwards

Hi Micah,

It's really hard to answer or discuss anything you've posted, because you're not describing any actual play. This is actually required for this forum, but more importantly, it's required for readers to understand what you're talking about.

Can you provide a short description of an actual instance of play? The link shows us what the portal looks like, and also your campaign notes. They look a lot like the written notes and summaries that often accompany role-playing. But the contents show very little about what the play itself was like. Who played? When the notes say, "The party went here and did this," how did that actually occur at the table? When a character lives through a fight, is that because he didn't run out of hit points, or because the DM decided to fudge a roll?

When we have a better idea of how you all play together, and what D&D looks like for your group, then it would be great to talk about the portal and what it accomplishes for everyone in the group.

Best, Ron


Quote from: Ron Edwards on August 29, 2007, 05:50:36 AM
When a character lives through a fight, is that because he didn't run out of hit points, or because the DM decided to fudge a roll?

Hi Ron,

It's interesting that you mention this particular issue.  Death has always been a part of my campaigns, but in D&D style, I allow (and encourage) raise/resurrection.

However, one player who has been with me since the start of the campaign (the only original left) has ended up with a sub-optimal character.  He's just not as powerful as the others, but I hate to see him overshadowed.

Several times over the campaign, I have fudged many dice rolls to keep his character (and others) alive.  It's probably not exactly fair, but I spread out the fudging quite a bit.  I like them to be afraid of death, but I don't particularly want them to die...much.

During the course of a recent adventure, I sent some pretty tough monsters at them.  In the middle of the battle, the PC took quite a few hits, but I rolled all the damage behind the screen.  I asked him what his current hp was, and he replied, "Tell me the damage and I'll tell you."

I was a little stunned.  Apparently, my fudging of the die rolls had not been as secret as I had thought.  So, seeing as how it was his wish, I told him the truthful amount, which was staggering.  It was easily enough to kill him.

The party reincarnated his character, as was his wish, and the game moves on.  Still, dying sure didn't help his status as a underpowered character.  He doesn't seem to resent it at all, and from his reaction to my question, would rather be killed than live through GM-fiat and die-fudging.  I suppose I can understand that.

I guess I'm just a little exasperated.  He's an excellent player and a joy to play with, but he almost never gets a chance to be in the spotlight.  He really enjoys the combat, but easily gets overshadowed by some of the more tweaked characters.  Maybe a large swarm of weaker enemies would help.  He could kill 1 or 2 by himself while the rest of the party slaughters the other 50 ;)

I've tried a lot of different things, but one I haven't yet tried is to talk to him and ask what he wants.  Has anyone else talked to a player (alone of course) and said, "I see that your character is underpowered.  What can I do to make the game more fun for you?"  I don't want to cheapen the game for him by making him think that I'm specifically serving up challenges just for him, but I'm out of ideas, and I'm terrible at balancing encounters to make them a challenge for everyone.

As for the website, it provides a way for us to communicate about the game and keep the story intact.  I assign a different player each time to take notes and create a posting for the adventure log.  They are of varying quality, but they do the basic job of helping us keep the facts straight.  It may not be great works of fiction, but it always brings me a smile to remember some of the old times.  I'd like to think the players (and any readers we have) feel the same way.

Thanks for the replies!