Recently upon going through some of the backlog of Penny Arcades comics and news posts I discovered a website recommended by the dreaded Gabe possessing a campaign building and toolkit resource called Obsidian Portal. Having begun to test out all the bells and whistles it offers in the last month, I now sit ready to share my findings with you.
I am going to start by saying I immediately used a coupon code provided to Penny Arcade to get one month of free paid membership. While the code was years old, it still did its job and I get to share with you the benefits of what OP call Ascendant membership. Here are a couple of quick notes about Ascendant membership. Only the GM of the campaign has to have it in order for the players in the campaign to use the enhanced benefits. These benefits include more storage space, the ability to make your campaign private, important features such as a forum, calendar, and email notifications, along with other benefits that I am just going to make you read about. One last note, membership price ranges from 5 dollars a month to forty dollars yearly, which is not too unreasonable for the services provided, especially if split between group members.
Now that I have talked about all the pay for crap, let us get down to the nitty-gritty of what this site is providing. Signing in was as simple as using my twitter account to create an account. Upon starting up, I immediately created a campaign for the Pathfinder game I am running called The Reach and sent off email notifications to my players to get off their butts, sign up, and get going. The process was very user friendly and easy as eating the proverbial slice of cake. The only problem I ran into was having to resend one email invite, assuming I believe that he checked his spam folder, and one player who signed up showing up twice. A quick delete and re-invite fixed that problem up. It only got easier from there.
To start, I could mark my campaign as looking for new members and the map provided would allow prospective players looking for a campaign to know relatively where the campaign was to meet. This took a little tweaking to start, but I am willing to admit that is more my ineptitude as opposed to any fault of the OP developers.
Now this is the part where I gush. The Campaign section offered tabs including Home, Adventure Log, Wiki, Characters, Items, Forums, Calendar, Maps, and Comments. Each one of those tabs had a tutorial box at the top including an embedded video or linking to a blog post on how to best use what that section offered. These boxes were closeable when you were finished with them and even after you closed them each section possessed sidebars containing user-friendly tools.
I was immediately drawn to the Wiki tab and proceeded to enter pages both cataloguing important campaign information and in-jokes in equal amounts. The tool seemed easy enough to use and I am sure a more experienced HTML writer would gain even more from what is offered. I will say that I was disappointed with the layout of the wiki after there had been several entries made. Your options for seeing wiki entries seem to be limited to sorting by tags or seeing a listing of all pages. That was a small bother when compared to my utter joy at seeing a section on each page for GM only entries and, even better, the ability to make an entire entry GM only. Oh, the secrets I will keep from my group until the proper time of reveal.
Another bonus seems that the tools are networked in a way that I can make pages on the wiki and link those to locations on the map. So not only will clicking on Fae Wall on the map take you to the Fae Wall entry (alas neither one of those things precisely exist at this point because of my tendency to be a busy bee) but clicking on a location in an NPC’s section would link to the map.
Speaking of maps, the map tool utilizes Google maps technology and is therefore something that is used with reasonable intuitiveness. It also allows the placement of markers for locations and points of interest as mentioned above. However, I was sad to realize that I would still have to obtain appropriate software or a scanner and a much more significant talent in art than I currently possess to utilize the map. Considering my lack of those things and other time constraints I am limited to these surface comments on the map utility.
The calendar and forum are useful out-of-game tools to maintain communication with your group. I would have liked to have seen a buildable calendar for time detailed adventuring log purposes but the adventuring log will serve the purpose well enough. The adventuring log itself allows for the creation of a wiki entry and serves to keep group members informed of what is going on in the campaign (thus preventing session amnesia). These tools can be difficult to get a player to use but that is another article entirely (I promise I am working on it).
Last but not least, I must say that I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing not only a community but also development team that seems to maintain close relations with that community. A development blog is frequently updated, campaigns are selected as Featured Campaigns, a forum is frequently used, and a twitter feed is posted to and read. To me these are all signs of strong fundamentals that look towards consumer support.
To sum up, I am decidedly glad I stumbled onto this little site. It is helping to provide the energy needed to get past the mid-campaign slump but provided an outlet to develop and remember what a fantastic ride it has been. Whether it is as an Ascendant member or a free member, it is well worth a look.
- Strong Community
- Ample tools and tutorials for their use
- Useful for both online and offline campaigns
- Not-so-limited free use and a reasonable paid membership
- A few minor glitches in the invite process
- The lack of even a basic map generator for the map utility
Obsidian Portal Blog
Obsidian Portal Twitter
and because I found this hard to find in-site; membership benefits and a free 15 day trial