The Virtues of a Campaign Website – Pathfinder Sonnets

I’ve been quiet here on the blog of late, and for that, I am sorry. However, at least one of the reasons I’ve been quiet is that I’ve been running a campaign, and the campaign is awesome indeed. It is the Serpent’s Skull adventure path from Paizo, for the Pathfinder RPG, a pulpy romp through tropical jungles, lost cities and fun things like that.

One of the things that make it so awesome is the use of a campaign website, which is the actual topic of this post. A campaign wiki, to be specific – it is important that all members of the group have editing rights for the site. I use the Finnish website Mekanismi, as I’ve used for my previous Legacy of Fire and Rise of the Runelords games. For you foreigners, a quick googling brings up at least Campaign Wiki and Obsidian Portal. I have never heard of Campaign Wiki before, but I recall Obsidian Portal being nominated for an ENnie, so it ought to be good.

For one thing, it makes scheduling games easier. Previously, we did this by SMS or e-mail, and it was a terrible mess. Now, I as the GM put up a number of suggested dates on the campaign’s front page, the players comment on their preferences and schedules, and then I say when we play. It’s every player’s own responsibility to check the website. Of course, we also occasionally communicate this stuff via IRC, Facebook, MSN, cell phone, or at a bar, but the end result is that the time of the game will be there for everyone to check out as soon as it’s been decided.

There are also session recaps, so after a longer hiatus, everyone can check the session page to see what happened, and what was the name of that NPC. We also track loot and experience points on the session pages.

Another point of convenience is that we can have all the character sheets online, people can level up at home and I can check out their stats at any time if I need to check their abilities or just check that they adhere to the rules. The Mekanismi wiki is handy for this, too, since I’m not the only Pathfinder GM with an active campaign on Mekanismi, and we keep tabs on each others’ games. (There’s a total of sixteen Pathfinder campaigns on the wiki. Most have a crapload of information on them.) A couple of guys from the other campaigns have caught character building errors that I didn’t spot. This also brings the advantage of being able to compare notes. There are three Rise of the Runelords campaign chronicles, two of which ran until the bitter end, and all of them have fairly good session documentation. Likewise, there are three Second Darkness campaigns and two Legacy of Fires. This kind of documentation, especially in the public player feedback, allows future Game Masters to see what kind of nifty tricks the other Game Masters have done and identify possible issues in the module and prepare for them beforehand. My Rise of the Runelords campaign owes a lot to Navdi and Blue_Hill, who blazed the trail before me.

I think this is an interesting phenomenon in general with the Pathfinder adventure paths. They’re creating this sort of shared experience between the whole player base in much the same way that I think the classic 1980’s AD&D modules did. I think it was James Maliszewski who originally pointed this out, but I can’t seem to find a reference. But I digress.

The other, and I think far more valuable and way cooler aspect of the campaign wiki is that it creates this sort of literary culture for the game. It may take a while to form, but when it does, the results can be something amazing. It wasn’t as strong with the Rise of the Runelords campaign, but in Serpent’s Skull, played with the same group of players, it quickly became something staggering. The character backgrounds are just the tip of the iceberg here.

In addition to the backgrounds, the player of Niero Brandt (of the Runelords fame) is writing session logs as the in-character diary of his PC. I like his style. It’s slightly over the top and self-consciously epic. Very funny to read.

And as if that were not sufficient, the player of Sujiu, (Gastogh of The Small Dragon’s Den) is writing short fiction pieces about the campaign in English on (I actually wish they were also hosted on Mekanismi, so as to keep everything in one place. Must look into that.)

Also, they’re writing sonnets about the game. In English. SONNETS. And they’re good.

It should be noted that though the campaign wiki encourages the formation of this sort of culture, it also requires the players and the campaign to be awesome. If the game sucks and the players are unmotivated, of course it won’t work. For something like this to take off, it needs that creative spark in the participants and a campaign that makes it all worthwhile. When the stars are right and you have all those elements in place, you get sonnets.

For your next campaign, give it a shot. The results might surprise you.