Project Proposal

Hey. It may seem somewhat odd that someone other than Heather is posting here. Take note — I’m not Heather — I’m me. Now that we’ve got that cleared up, I’ve got a question for you. I’ve been reading up on Ruby on Rails, and now I want to develop a web system just to play with it. I know I’m supposed to pick a nice safe, boring project like yet another photo gallery or guestbook, but I think I’m supposed to get a prescription for that strong a sedative. I always thought it would be cool to have those nifty meditative powers where I could slow my heart rate and breathing enough to survive being trapped in a downed submarine with only the oxygen in the compartment to survive on until help arrives. But working on some HelloWorld-ware would carry a big risk being declared dead. Which, of course, might be preferable if I were trapped in a downed submarine with a photo gallery and a guestbook script.

Oh so where was the question? Well, I have an idea I wanted to bounce off you: a collaborative RPG campaign world development system. If you have $.02 you’d like to throw in, or if you just want to pretend you’re a big shot Vice President of Product Development who hears pitches and shoots them down with biting sarcasm and a savvy understanding of the marketplace, read on…


The idea is inspired by a friend’s D&D campaign. Like any dungeon master, he has notebooks full of notes, maps of scales and sizes, drawings of people and places, and so on. One of the things he described was the various friends he’s made and how they’ve contributed to each others’ campaigns over the years. An artist friend in the UK hand-draws beautiful maps that she sends him. Another old friend developed the people and plots for a portion of his campaign world. I keep thinking that it would be great to have an online repository for campaign material where people could develop their own worlds and get ideas and material from the other campaigns hosted there as well.

Because this is an elevator pitch, and I don’t want to soak up a huge amount of your time with my typically florid prose, I’ll stuff the main points into bullet lists.

What’s the goal of the site?

  • Provide a place for GMs to create their own campaigns, with the ability to write up material and upload/link in images for maps, portraits, and the like.
  • Allow GMs to get feedback and suggestions on their work from fellow GMs.
  • Allow GMs to use ideas and campaign material from other GMs in their own campaigns. This would be informal, just by browsing and incorporating elements from other campaigns hosted online.
  • Allow GMs to formally arrange trades of material. (For example, I’m good with characters, but someone else draws great maps. I trade two new NPCs for a beautiful archipelago.)
  • Give GMs a place to learn from each other to enhance their own games.

What kind of features would the site have?

  • Obviously, GMs would be able to write and post campaign material, including NPCs, monsters, places, pantheons, treasures, house rules, place descriptions, and more — anything really.
  • Each GM will be able to set up their own campaign space(s) for creating their own world(s), though they will also have the option of working on someone else’s world(s).
  • GMs will be able to set their material such that 1) others can modify it, 2) others can modify it, but changes require that GMs editorial approval before being shown publicly, or 3) no one else can modify it.
  • Each page of material will be able to carry comments. GMs will exercise control over whether they want comments on their work, though I don’t expect they’d be able to deliberately filter comment by comment — you either want feedback or you don’t.
  • GMs will be able to link to material in other campaigns, effectively using it in their own. This carries the benefit that updates and extensions to that NPC, plot, place, or whatever will also be available to the GM re-using it.
  • GMs will be able to copy material from other campaigns into their own. This is similar to the option above, but prevents future updates to the other campaign from changing the copy and allows the copying GM to tailor the material to his or her own world.
  • The site needs to be extremely easy to use. New users will bounce if there’s a steep learning curve to get started, or if they feel like they have to wade through a ton of someone else’s material to get any use out of the place. The focus on creating one’s own campaign and treating the rest of the worlds as a conveniently searchable reference library is a must.
  • The site should support the gaming systems used as must as possible. For example, an integrated NPC generator would be useful. It’d be nice not to have to roll up every patrol of six guards by hand. Some other automated table-rollers might be useful too, such as a treasure generator for AD&D.
  • Even more than mechanical support, it would be great to have features that help people write better campaign material. The burningvoid web site has tons of ideas and suggestions for writing better NPCs, plots, places, etc. Including some of those as tips, hints, and automated support in the web site could be helpful to some folks.
  • The site will need features allowing GMs to download packages to content for offline use. These should be in some sort of printer-friendly format. Many people don’t have net access while gaming or wouldn’t want to spoil the mood and feel by having a laptop open.
  • To build a community, give people recognition. Show the top rated and most prolific contributors to the site in a list, so that people will have a competetive incentive to post more and better work.
  • Have small contests and events, like having a content for the best pirate captain NPC. If financially viable, have small prizes like having the winning character(s) illustrated by a real, live professional artist (or one of the top rated artists contributing to the site. Give people incentive to flex their creative muscles.

Who’s already doing this? And why duplicate their effort? What makes this idea stand out? (I did a little — ok, very little — research via Google search.)

  • There are plenty of play-by-wiki games out there, but no actual live running games would take place on this site. I’m not interested in play-by-electrons for this project.
  • I did find a couple of collaborative world development sites out there, but they all seemed to focus on creating a single world. I don’t want to build a site where you have to buy into the One True World (TM). I want GMs to keep their own campaigns (and provide tools to help create those campaigns), but be able to share material.
  • I think the biggest difference is that each GM would still be working on his or her own world, but in an environment that automatically opens it up for others to use as a resource.

Okay, so before I tell you why your idea will never work, what do you see wrong with it?

  • First, the site requires a critical mass of contributors before it becomes useful. A vacant site with tumbleweeds blowing through and crickets chirping won’t entice anyone to contribute. I’m about to get started on an AD&D world, so I’ll have something to start with, but it’ll take a while to get much breadth and depth put up online — especially if I’m also doing site development at the same time.
  • There’s also a distinct possibility that most game masters simply aren’t very good writers. A resource site filled with rubbish isn’t going to entice new users to sift through the junk to find the occasional gem. There are some technical ways to address this, like allowing the community to moderate itself and rate its own content to help make sure the good content rises to the top. However, this isn’t foolproof.
  • There are also miscreants who will make a hobby of posting plagiarized, copyrighted, inappropriate, illegal, or infringing entries. There will need to be some system to quickly hide that stuff from view. The same mechanism should also cover spammers.
  • Lastly, this may solve a non-problem. Does anyone really want to collaborate with anyone else? The successful sales of campaign material for existing RPG games suggests that GMs do want ready made material to draw from, but would anyone use the site to achieve the same goals? Is it too much trouble to try to adapt someone else’s ideas? Or is a custom built web site overkill compared to the forums and wiki sites people are using now?

What I’d like to get from this post is some feedback on whether the idea seems worth developing.

  • Would you use such a site to try to get ideas for your own campaign?
  • Would you use such a site to write up your own campaign? If not, is there a particular reason, like it’s just easier and quicker to sketch out some notes on a pad?
  • Are there any features that you would absolutely have to have to make such a site useful to you?

And no, no matter how much you ask, the site will have no guest book and no photo gallery for slides of the family vacation.

Posted in Gaming, News & Musings Tagged with: , ,
3 comments on “Project Proposal
  1. Scott M says:

    It sounds very interesting. To answer your questions:
    a) I’d definately steal other people’s ideas… if it isn’t too painful to access the good ideas.
    b) I might, though it does seem like it’d often be done only to share with others (not for my own benefit). After all, the path would be random idea -> quick note -> idea development -> logon and present idea -> print idea in pretty/useful format. Plus, I’m leaning away from intimately pre-detailing my worlds– trying to leave them looser and more responsive. It’d be a handy way to keep track of what’s been created in play though.
    c) Graphically interrelating NPCs (like a Relationship Map) would be the most useful aid I can think of.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    Scott, thank you for the food for thought.

    If you’ll forgive me for restating part b from your comment, the big question to be answered is, “What’s in it for the GM putting stuff online that makes worth the effort?” The more I think about it, collaboration with other GMs is good, but it’s probably not enough. I don’t have a ready answer to this, so I’ll have to do a little thinking out loud here.

    At the very least, it sounds like it should be as easy as possible to enter sketchy notes. If users have to fully develop their ideas or produce complete write-ups, nothing will get put online.

    I’m also starting to see the features of the site in two categories. First, there’s features that make it easier to develop material. While there’s plenty of room for gee-whiz eye-candy features, there’s probably no combination of features here that will ever be as easy to use as a pen and pad of paper for a GM with an improvisational style.

    The second category of features would be things that help organize everything from hastily scribbled (or typed, in this case) notes to full campaign worlds and output them in a pretty, understandable, and usable way. The graphical relationship map you described above is a good example of this. It’s the pay-off that entices someone to put in the names and relationships of the NPCs. Perhaps the lure to get GMs to put their material online is providing more features along that same line — to give them back as organized and navigable material as possible given whatever the GM puts in (no matter how complete, incomplete, or anywhere in between).

  3. Scott M says:

    I think you’re absolutely right about the “allow sketchy notes or people don’t even start”.

    The easier to develop material is interesting… there are a lot of cool things out there across the net for various systems. Some things work for everyone (name generators, etc.), while other support is more system specific. The big problem with system specific support is that the systems you haven’t go to yet will always feel underdeveloped– and the systems you do tackle are often full time projects on other people’s sites.

    The second category of features sounds very cool to me, and would probably be the bulk of the features unique to this site. (I’ve already accumulated links for the aides in many systems.)

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