Sunday, October 4, 2015

Shameless Plug for a DM Tool

As expressed in the title, this post is a shameless plug for my DM Tool, Campaign Encyclopedia.  This post hopes to explain its origin and purpose as well as how best to use it.  I'll stop plugging this thing soon, I promise.  :D

Why does it exist?
I always used to draw a bubble and line diagram that showed character / place / thing relationships in my campaigns.  It was a useful tool in my initial campaign plans that helped me to figure out who was who and what they were up to.  As campaigns grow more complex, these drawings can get out of hand and difficult to modify.

Another thing I would do, only slightly more successfully, is create an "encyclopedia" of my campaign.  Where I would write a short blurb about each of the peopleplaces, and things in the game.  This would work out better than the relationship diagram, but would still prove difficult to keep up to date as the game took unexpected turns.

It was clear that if I really cared about such things (and as a recovery world building addict, I do), I would need a digital solution.  Campaign Encyclopedia is that solution.  I put my campaign info into it, and it can generate the relationship graph, the encyclopedia, a timeline and makes it easy to see how the parts of my game worlds fit together.

How NOT to use it?
No post about dungeon masters tools would be complete without including a few quick notes about how to abuse tools like this.  It is the natural tendency of many dungeon masters to over-prepare, over-document, over-specify and over-do everything.  Most dungeon master's tools are enablers of this sort of obsessive behavior - and Campaign Encyclopedia is no different.  

Here are a few rules of thumb - you can probably get away with breaking one of these rules from time to time, but overall they're here to guide you toward the best experience possible when building your world with Campaign Encyclopedia.

  • Do not put EVERY entity (person, place, thing or organization) that exists or may exist in your game world into this tool before you start playing.  Put in only what you need right now and get playing.  Let the game world grow organically.
  • Descriptions for entities should start out simple and grow over time.  A simple sentence or two is more than sufficient for most NPCs and towns.
  • Do not put in EVERY relationship an Entity has into Campaign Encyclopedia.  Only put in relationships that really matter.  Doing so makes for better relationship graphs.
  • Do not let a sparsely populated game world keep you from playing.  It doesn't take much to get started.

How SHOULD you use it?
Now that I've told you how NOT to use Campaign Encyclopedia, let me say that I have a campaign file for the tool that describes a world that I have used in three campaigns stretching back over seven years.  This is a campaign with a TON of lore, history, home brew deities and magic items and over fifteen different player characters over the years.

Over the last six months since I started working on this tool, I've entered nearly all of the notes I have on the world of Arim into this tool.  It has a LOT of entities (over two-hundred), a lot of relationships (over seven hundred), and a lot of timeline entries (75).

So yes.  You CAN use this tool to define a very rich, detailed world - but the advice in the previous section still stands - let that world grow slowly on its own and let those gaps fill in naturally.

Star Wars
In preparation for this post I watched Star Wars: A New Hope and created a campaign for it using CE.  Avid Star Wars fans might feel that I left out some key information - I tried to only use data that was gained from the film and its spoken dialog, not using any of my Star Wars knowledge or expanded universe information.  (You can open the link on the image in a new tab or window in order to see it in better resolution if you wish)

The key thing to notice is just how simple the relationship graph of this epic movie is.  No, I didn't record ALL of the relationships that existed between every entity in the movie, but the most important parts of the story are captured in this graph.

You can download this sample campaign here.  Feel free to check it out in CE.

The Dream
I do have a dream that one day, my players will use this tool to record what they experience in my campaign.  This will, of course, never happen because of the ungrateful and lazy nature of players (love you guys!), but wouldn't it be cool if your PCs gave you a copy of the campaign file they created?  It would be an excellent way for them to show you just what they're taking away from your games.

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