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Add Immediately, Build Later: A Wiki Approach to Prep

As I continue to use and love Obsidian Portal for game prep (Going Digital: Using Obsidian Portal to Prep for, Run, and Document a Campaign), it occurs to me that a basic wiki principle can be applied to non-wiki-based prep, too: Add it now, build it later.

The prep I’ve been focused on recently has been creating NPCs. I asked each of my players to include three NPCs they’d like to see in our Star Trek game in their character backgrounds (along with three things they’d like to see/do in the game, an idea stolen straight from the Stew’s own Don Mappin), and as they’ve sent me NPC requests I’ve created a page for each character in Obsidian Portal.

Usually, I create the page, pull an image for that character if they appeared in a Trek episode or movie, add a couple of tags (npc, starfleet, rival, etc.), and then move on. Later, when I have time, I come back and flesh out their background, motivations, and whatever else I need to turn them into fun NPCs.

The real benefit to this approach for me is threefold:

  1. It forces me to make a note of something that will be important before I forget about it (or it gets lost in the noise).
  2. I can then add to that game element as time permits. Got five minutes? Come up with the admiral’s background. Got 20? Create more material.
  3. Whenever I want to work on a game element, or need to see what’s left to do before the pilot session, it’s all right there in one spot.

Were I not using Obsidian Portal, or not prepping digitally in another tool (a directory full of Word files, notetaking software, whatever), this approach would still be helping me out immensely. If I was using a notebook (like I did for my last game), I could add a page/section/tab/etc. for an NPC, and then come back as often as I liked to flesh them out.

This is really just an extension of a timeworn and effective principle of game prep: start small. But it’s the extension that I’m loving: “Start small, build in a modular way, and add material as time permits.”

Whether you use a wiki, a blog, a notebook, a stack of notecards, or just about any other means of organizing the game material you create in the course of your prep, combining immediate creation with delayed expansion of the things you create is a powerful tool.

Do you take a similar approach to your own game prep? Have you learned any tricks related to creating now and fleshing out later that other readers might be interested in?

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.

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7 Comments To "Add Immediately, Build Later: A Wiki Approach to Prep"

#1 Comment By Sektor On September 9, 2010 @ 2:38 am

This way of working quite resembles the Getting Things Done method by David Allen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done), which has really helped me… well… get things done.

Another benefit you can add to this approach is trying to group these extensions by type, and tackle them together. For example, if you have a couple of NPCs that need statting out, do those together. Need to come up with some enemies for different combat encounters? Have a brainstorm session for all at once.

This way of working will use your brain to its maximum potential because it doesn’t need to switch between ‘contexts’. Also, you don’t have to waste time looking for your dice or that special character building book you have lying somewhere when you go from one extension to the other — all your gear required for the following tasks on your list is already right there at your side.

#2 Comment By Tegemea On September 9, 2010 @ 6:46 am

I agree whole-heartedly with this strategy. I have been trying to train myself to use obsidian portal, and my strategy has been very similar, except that I am creating a new campaign world that I don’t have any immediate plans for. My guiding precept was simply to jot down every cool idea I come up with when I don’t have time to fill it out, or collect ideas I like from various sources. If the world ever sees use, and I have a feeling it will eventually, I’ll have a sort of skeletal wiki that I can expand as desired.

#3 Comment By JohnnFour On September 9, 2010 @ 10:08 am

This is a great method. I sometimes call it Lorem Ipsum. (One day I’ll unleash Lorem Ipsum as an NPC. One day.)

For placeholder game elements, I log them during games in my session notes. After sessions I go through and file all the new elements in their proper spots, with a link back to the session log for context. Then when I have time I iterate and flesh out.

For NPCs, I use what I call my Cast of NPCs. Ditto for locations, items, lore, rules.

Martin, does Obsidian Portal have wikiwords? That is hands-down the easiest way to create placeholder content without breaking stride. TiddlyWiki, Wikipad and other wikis have it.

As you write you just use CamelCase for any game elements. That automatically links them to a page that gets named the same. So, LoremIpsum would link to a page called LoremIpsum.

If that page does not exist, it’s not a big deal. Click on the link wherever it appears and the page will get created. Or create the page on its own and all links pointing to it automatically work.

So, the benefit is you just type. If you create a new element you do not need to stop and create a new wiki page for it, you just keep on typing. Links will be there whenever you need it so you can flesh details out.

All wikis should have wikiwords. :)

#4 Comment By E-l337 On September 9, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

I love wikis.

Ever since one of our newer players decided to make a wiki for the games we introduced him to, we’ve been practically abusing the space for all sorts of things. Maps, character profiles, NPC lists, plot hooks, game rules, everything and anything we think should go onto the wiki goes onto the wiki. It’s extremely convenient, and it’s a great way to remain organized, particularly once a game has been going on for quite some time.

As a GM, it’s an incredible way for me to remain organized as well, while I expand on currently existing rules or start making lists of things shops sell in town. And if I’m in the middle of something, and I know that I need to put something in later, I just create a link to a page that doesn’t exist, which serves as a reminder that I need to get around to developing that later.

It’s certainly done wonders for my group, and made a lot of common information much easier for us to access on the fly.

The best part is that my players can post up the logs of the games after we’re done, so those who weren’t there can catch up if they like. It can be an extremely handy tool, and it only requires as much time as you want to put into it.

#5 Comment By Scott Martin On September 10, 2010 @ 12:09 am

That’s a great idea. I often overbuild with wikis– try and make complete articles from the first. I really think that using it the way you describe (in bite sized pieces) would help me use it more– and better.

Ironically, that IS pretty much how I do it by hand. A quick note on a sheet of paper, later expanding out to an index card or writeup, depending on the system. So it’s an adjustment that should be easy to make.

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