Saturday, March 14, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Web Tools

Strictly speaking, the task of converting tools is more about restarting a campaign than it is about 5th Edition.  Let me tell you about our web tools.

Previously we had used Yahoo Groups as our primary web tool.  If communication was
the only thing we did on-line, we would be staying with Yahoo.  Alas, Yahoo has fallen behind the times.  They have made little to no investment in Groups, and what changes they did make I felt were detrimental.  

After research different options, wikis, gaming sites, etc. I decided to move to Google Sites.  Partly this was because I was already familiar with the Google tool set, and partly because it is all free.


Yahoo Groups was a friendly way to make sure that everyone was copied on messages, kept message history, allowed email responses once the topic was started so you did not have to go to the site to keep a conversation going.  All communication was kept in the same location whether it was game scheduling, out of character chatter, or in character talk.  It could be difficult to find what you sought.

Google Groups is a powerful communication tool, with many more options than we will need.  The main drawback to changing to Google is Groups is a separate tool from Google Sites, where Yahoo Groups was integrated.  Yes, I can create links in our Google Site to the Google Group, it is not the same.  Yes Google Groups allow you to respond to posts via email just like Yahoo.  Trouble is, if you want to start a new post in Groups you go to a different URL than the Site.  For some of my group, this is confusing and complicated.

Like Yahoo, Google requires you have one of their email accounts to log into the site. Use Chrome, and stay logged in there, and you will never see a login screen.  I find it works rather nice.  For the tech savvy - I created the Google Group first and then used the Google Group for permissions in Google Sites, Google Drive, and Google Calendar to minimize administration.  Add someone to the Google Group, and they get access to all the web tools.

The intention is to use Google Groups for game scheduling and meta type communication. Other type of communication should be handled elsewhere.

Also under communication, when a new file was added to the Yahoo Site you were presented with the option to notify the Group (within the bounds of what individuals had setup in their Yahoo Group accounts).  Google Site relies on individual group members to setup their own notification preferences by site or by page.  If folks have not setup to be notified, they do not get notified.

Game scheduling

Yahoo Groups used an integrated calendar, and all was well until they 'streamlined' their site and move calendar to a place where people could not see it easily.

Google Calendar is a separate tool from Google Sites.  After creating a calendar for the gaming group it was easy enough to display it in a window on the site.  However, to update the calendar you must follow a link and update what looks like your own Google Calendar, except you select the game group calendar from a drop-down menu.  So far this is confusing the heck out of my group.  Part of our first get back together session will need to be a lesson on this.  If we cannot schedule a game, we cannot play.

Adventure logs

After all the disappointment above, you might be wondering why did I move to Google? Because Google Sites is awesome.  We have a story oriented campaign and the adventure logs are a tremendous help in keeping things straight, knowing where we left off, and for looking up old information to insure consistency.  Except when you have 80 adventure logs in MS Word.  Yahoo only allowed us to store files, not create web pages.  Searching for information because time consuming and frustrating.  I tried to combine logs into larger cumulative files, create HTML documents instead, and some other things I do not even remember but nothing worked well.

In Google Sites you can make adventure log posts which are web pages and easily search-able.  Searching is now easy, quick and effective; and not limited to the logs.  I cannot tell you for me how HUGE this really is.

If you have a dungeon crawl game and the history is really unimportant, then this will not mean much.  But, if like me, when during a session the players ask, "What was the name of that healer we met in the capital?", instead of responding, "Uh, um, let me look, ah, hmm......  Well, will just call him Bill for now", with a few clicks I can respond instead, "Raynoldus, Priest of Balben".

Campaign information

The only option for campaign information in Yahoo was to save it in files.  To search for information you browsed through a folder structure and read the titles of documents.

In Google Sites I have turned all those documents into web pages, in a hierarchical structure, with some links to make life a bit easier.  There are pages history and description of places, the gods, the coinage, various lore, supporting characters, house rules including divine domains, and so on.  The key here is now it is all search-able.  Want to see what you might know about Raynoldus?  If he shows up in any adventure logs, campaign history, supporting cast list, DM handouts, or in any in or out of character chats you know immediately.

Notice I just mentioned in and out of character chats?  My intention is instead of having in/out of character chats mixed in the scheduling and logistics communications in Groups, they will each have their own separate location within the Site.  This has the benefit of quickly and easily segregating the two types of conversations which I hope will help players find them easily (searchable) and keep focus.  The down side is you must go to the site to post them, no respond via email.

I have some spreadsheets I had built to organize information which I can now serve up in the site.  For example, there are some customer armors available.  I built an armor table of PHB and customer armor available, stored it in Google Drive and shared up a read only version on the site.

Maps, pictures, and files

Electronic copies of maps and various pictures are stored in a folder like structure area. Additionally, these can be embedded in a web page.  For example, one character had a portrait drawn, that file is in the folder structure.  The city map of Penchawn is located with the city description, so players can read the map and map key together.

At this time I think character sheets will remain a pencil and paper affair, with a scanned copy kept on the site for backup.  It appears 5th edition is simple enough that players will not all be driven to electronic tools for character building.  Since there are no robust tools yet, paper works fine.

We have not started the game yet.  I hope to finish the character conversions soon, but I am currently waiting on the players.  Then the main act - the campaign restarts!

Next up - Table Tools

The dice never lie.
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