Worldbuilding: blog or not?

A lot of gaming folks seem to be using their blogs as places to display and store their campaign worlds. Blogs have a lot of advantages for this kind of worldbuilding. If your purpose is to have audience interaction, then a blog can allow busy people to focus their attentions on whatever you’re developing right now. The biggest advantage of a blog for worldbuilding, I think, is that it allows your audience to see the work in process. Because a blog is organized chronologically, it can give a great window into how things evolve, how the creator develops them and where the creator’s attentions go. It’s very interesting to see the creator making progress on her world. It can also be illuminating to look back at your own process and see how your worldbuilding has developed. In short, blogs are a really good way of showing the meta-history of a worldbuilding project.

But overall, blogs are a less-than-ideal medium in which to present a gaming world. If you’re actually using a game world in a game, it can be a clunky format to access during a gaming session. If you want to find a specific topic, it can be hard to figure out where that topic is. If you’ve carefully tagged every entry with every possible label it might need, then you might be able to find the topic you want; and of course a search may turn it up. But really, chronological organization by when it’s written is not the best for something that needs easy access by topic. It can be difficult to hone searches in just the right way, and even then, what happens if you’ve written about the same topic in multiple posts? What if you’re in the middle of the session before you realize you’ve contradicted yourself? And what if you’re at the gaming hangout and you don’t have an internet connection?

Really, I think most people who put their worldbuilding on their blogs are either a) just giving a small sample of the world, the majority of which is actually in some format other than a blog, or b) mostly presenting the world as an exercise for their blog readers, not as a world to be used in actual play. Trying to actually run everything from a blog seems impractical, to me (though I’d love to hear examples of how it’s worked for you).

Alternatives

So if blogs are a less-than-ideal way to present a gaming world for actual play, what’s a better format? There are the old standbys of paper notebooks and drawings, of course. Lots of game worlds still work that way, and they work admirably. And many people use printed setting material: books, maps, etc. Those work well, too. But how many hours are lost having to search through a thick sourcebook, or even thick sourcebooks, trying to find just the right passage? We all know how rare indexes are in gaming books. And I’ve certainly experienced plenty of instances where the GM is poring through piles of hand-written papers trying to find the marginalia where they answered the question at hand — frequently in a completely different place than would seem logical. That GM has been me, lots of times.

Front page of my campaign wiki

Paper isn’t ideal, and neither are blogs, so what works better? The best solution I’ve found so far is wikis. Wikipedia is the most famous, but there are lots more out there. With a wiki, you can of course search for any topic, but even better, you’ve got a hierarchical organization that can link topics together, drill down where more detail is needed, and keep all the information about a given topic on one page. It’s easy to make corrections and to add or subtract wherever you feel it necessary.

How do you actually use a wiki for gaming? There are lots of possibilities. The great Obsidian Portal website is a wiki system, complete with a wonderful Google Maps-like ability to locate important locations and zoom in using a graphic interface. I’ve only used it a small amount, but I found it okay to use. It’s nice to be able to share information so easily with other players (though if your writing style is verbose, there’s a good chance no one will ever look at it anyway). I personally dislike that it’s all online; what if I’m gaming somewhere that I don’t have an internet connection? Formatting in the Textile markup seems a little less flexible than other wikis, or maybe that’s just because most people don’t bother. I also don’t like having my personal work stored on someone else’s servers.

What about a wiki that you host on your own computer? Again, there are lots of possibilities. TiddlyWiki, for example, is a really simple wiki that can easily be stored as a file, sent as an email or kept on a USB stick for portability. And there are a lot of other notetaking apps and systems out there.

My favorite, though, is MediaWiki. It’s the engine that runs Wikipedia, so it’s robust, extensible and very capable. It’s also completely free, which is a plus. Installing it on my old desktop was a huge headache, to be honest, and then when I had to install it again (to put it on my netbook), it was a whole different headache. But now that I’ve got it all working, it’s a huge help. No, more than that — it’s a necessary campaign tool. I probably couldn’t GM my monthly game without it. (And I’ve occasionally tried — going back to paper notebooks and maps feels like trying to walk across the ocean when you’ve gotten used to flying.)

I’ll post more later about the process of getting MediaWiki running, and about how my current campaign wiki works. For now, go check out a really brilliant world wiki: the Almeopedia. Mark Rosenfelder originally created Almea as his D&D campaign world, but it’s become far more than that. It’s now one of the best sites around for conlangs, as well as just an amazing example of how deep a wiki for worldbuilding can go. To start, check out the article on Verduria, the focal nation in the world. Or begin exploring the ruins of Erruk.


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