Building a Campaign Web Site: Blog vs. Wiki

The proliferation of quick and easy hosting options for blogs and wikis – such as Blogger and the Obsidian Portal — has led to a proliferation of RPG campaign web sites. But which is best for your campaign? After experimenting with both options for the last few years, I think the answer to that question varies based on the campaign, and how much information you’re trying to share.

 Telling a story through blogging

Blogs work best for journal-driven campaign web sites.  These are sites built around diary, journal, or log-based updates on the campaign. The story is the thing, and the reverse chronological order of the blog helps people keep up with the story. It can also make catching up with the story a challenge (as you have to dig through the archives to find the earliest posts) but that can be dealt with by maintaining a story page that lists entries chronologically.  It’s easy enough to slide in campaign news updates (requests for new players, notes about new products, etc.) as well as the occasional informational page about major player characters and NPCs.

Blogs are also great for supplemental, in-character web sites and diaries. I used both for my Mutants & Masterminds campaign, posting campaign updates to our Infinity Storm web site and in-character snarks from a disgruntled geek fan boy at The Constant Sentinel. A great example a blog used for an in-character diary is Berin Kinsman’s Zeebo’s Journal, which recounted the adventurers of his gnomish rogue Zeebo in a D&D 3.x campaign.

A key element of blogs is their conversational nature – even when used primarily as a light-weight content management system, you can still enable comments, which can easily spawn conversations with campaign members, fans of the system you’re playing and other random visitors.

Another strength of blogs, particularly when you’re using a customizable solution like WordPress, is the ability to add plugins to expand the usefulness of your blog. Plugins like Akismet cut down on spam comments, while NextGEN Gallery allows you to easily post those photos of the epic Battle of Nar-Shoggoth that you’ve been meaning to share for the last three years. Throw in Google Analytics, and suddenly you have a really good idea of what’s popular on your blog.

Once you move beyond the self-imposed limitations of story and major characters, blogs can become awkward and unwieldy. While you can (and should) impose order on the chaos using tags and categories, I’ve found it becomes increasingly difficult as you expand the blog to include important locations, minor NPCs, magic items, technology and other campaign minutia.

My Holocron of Zend web site for my group’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic campaign is a prime example of a campaign blog that’s struggling under its informational load. I started the site as a blog because I wanted to experiment with WordPress theming, but I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated by how the blog handles campaign minutia, and especially with how it handles internal links (there’s no easy way to find and link to another page or blog post within WordPress).

Wikifying your Brain

Wikis work best for infodumping. If you’re trying to capture every aspect of your campaign (or at least a good chunk of it), wikis are the way to go. They can have organization challenges of their own – you really need to think through what categories you want to use, and how people will move around the site – but once you’ve got a basic structure down, a wiki is perfect for absorbing and presenting a large amount of data.

Wikis are great for cataloging your campaign, and I think their greatest strength lies in their ability to create internal links. In addition to allowing you to easily link to existing pages on the site through some simple wiki code, the wiki also lets you create links to pages that don’t exist yet.

That may seem like a bug instead of a feature, but it comes in handy when you’re trying to figure out what holes need filling in your wiki. For example, Mediawiki (the same software that runs Wikipedia) will generate a list of “most wanted” pages, which are pages that have incoming links, but don’t actually exist yet. You can then go back and create these pages.

The wiki is perfect for cataloging content as you create it, and has proven to be a great boon for finding old content after the fact. One of my gaming group’s major projects in 2007-2008 was migrating content from our “Griffin’s Crier” web site to a new Mediawiki-based wiki. It was a massive undertaking – the GriffCrier tracked upwards of 10 years worth of Dungeons & Dragons campaign material, and it’s still not full transferred – but I found it to be a great resource when writing adventures. If you’re like me, and love to throw out lots of different plot threads, having a wiki can be a fantastic way to keep track of all that work. It’s also saves you crucial time by allowing you to easily find and recycle old campaign material – why create a new swordsmith when you can just use the one you created a year earlier? In short, a wiki makes for a great external brain, and works best when used that way.

Wikis also support bolt-on functionality in the form of extensions. While not as diverse as what you might find for WordPress, there are still a good numiber of useful ones out there. On that we’ve used extensively on the GriffCrier Wiki is the Semantic Wiki plugin for Mediawiki, which gives you new options for organizing data and allows you to build internal queries. This second part is huge, as it lets you query your database for certain entries (like say, all the businesses located in the Wharf District of a particular city) and then display them as a list on a web page.

The downside to wikis are their complexity. If you don’t set out with an good organizational structure (or if you stop using the one you made) things can quickly turn into a huge, unnavigable mess. Equally bad is when you have two or more people following different organizational schemes – good wikis can quickly go bad when people can agree on what buckets to store content in.

Another challenge with wikis is “wiki code”, the mark-up that’s used to format and hyperlink wiki entries. While WordPress and Blogger offer WYSIWYG editors out of the box, wikis typically require markup code. Learning that code has thrown more than one would-be wiki user for a loop, although within in my own gaming group people seemed to understand it pretty quickly.

Converting to the Wiki Side of the Force

We’re now 15 sessions into our Star Wars campaign and the blog experiment has run its course. While I like the ease of adding content to the blog, my frustration with hyperlinking – particularly when I want to do some heavy hyperlinking on particularly important or content-rich entries – has me longing to switch over to a wiki. And that reveals the biggest challenge with choosing between blogs and wikis for your campaign site – once you’ve made a decision, it can be a huge pain to switch between formats. Blogs have a slight edge here, as software like WordPress allows you to import entries from RSS, but even then the clean-up headaches would be huge.

For me, it’s a question of how much more use I expect to get out of the site – we anticipate our Star Wars game is going to run for at least another year, possibly two. And even once this campaign runs, I could see starting up another one in a different era. With that sort of anticipated longevity, converting to a wiki starts to make a lot more sense.

How are you using blogs and wikis with your campaign? Or are you doing something entirely, like static HTML, forums, or Google Pages?