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Spotlight Review: EpicWords

Posted By Patrick Benson On May 13, 2009 @ 1:50 am In Reviews,Spotlight,Tools for GMs | 12 Comments

Are you one of those gaming geeks who loves to mix your RPGs with your technical savvy? Like to have all of your resources available to you from anywhere in the world via the Internet? Do you like loot? Then this review is for you.

EpicWords is a content management system (CMS) designed for GMs and their gaming groups. EpicWords offers both a free account plan and a one year subscription plan for $12 (US). With the free account you can have up to three characters and you can run one campaign as the GM. With the one year subscription plan you can have up to fifteen characters, run ten campaigns as the GM, and you also receive 1GB of online storage space for file uploads. Both plans include access to blogs, wikis, forums, private messaging, and EpicWords’ experience tracking and loot lists tools. All material that is posted can be shared at different levels, such as being made public, shared only within the group, or viewable only by the GM. In essence, EpicWords takes your campaign notes away from the realm of pencil and paper and brings them into the digital medium.

Now that we know what the site does let’s get onto the good stuff. How well does it do these tasks?

Click to view a larger image in a new window.

Overall Site Design

EpicWords has a simple layout with common features such as a search capability to the right of the screen, a dynamic menu that changes depending upon which site feature you are currently using below the title banner, and upon logging in there is a static header menu with your account’s campaigns and some common tasks laid out above the site’s banner. The footer also contains some common links for contacting the site’s staff, site news, and other such features.

Navigating the site was confusing at first because your eye is drawn to the dynamic menu which changes. Your main menu is actually the header menu which is in an awkward location. This is not to say that you cannot navigate the site as all of the features work and I found no broken links.

Yet there is nothing in the site’s design that presents it as an RPG campaign manager site. The theme is pleasant enough, but the doodle and notes upon graph paper is very generic and could be applied to many different sites. Adding some polyhedral dice and other such RPG staples such as a miniature would really add to the flavor of the site design.

Blogs & Forums

Each campaign and each character can have its own blog. While not as powerful as other blogging tools the features provided do get the job done nicely. The forums are also pretty standard features wise, and each campaign has its own dedicated forum which is a nice touch. This way only players who are a part of a particular campaign may post to the associated forum.

Wiki

This by far was the biggest disappointment for me when using EpicWords. You cannot create links to new material on the fly. This to me is what sets wikis apart from other online tools such as forums and blogs. Yet the wiki engine on EpicWords does not include this standard and defining feature. Sure you can create each page and then insert a hyperlink to it later on, but wikis were created so that you could better organize your material on the fly. The wiki is nothing more than a blog with multiple editors without this feature.

Custom Loot & Experience Tracker Tools

Click to view a larger image in a new window. The loot tool is a simple way to keep track of gear within each campaign. It is slanted towards fantasy genre items, but it would not be difficult to use the tool for any genre. A new field for adding item details such as powers and special abilities would be nice.

Click to view a larger image in a new window.The experience tracker is a very nice feature. You can see each character’s total  experience points at the top of the screen, but you also have a history of experience as it was rewarded. By adding notes for every time experience points are rewarded you can create a brief timeline of the party’s progress.

Conclusion

EpicWords has some great features, but overall it lacks star quality. Using the site I and my group members who helped me test the site for this review felt that the interface and layout was awkward. The site also was a bit slow when we first started to use it, but that has been steadily improving since then.

I’m very torn in reviewing EpicWords. Being an IT person I’ve seen blogs, forums, and wikis done better.  The wiki not having an easy method for the creation of new linked material is a serious drawback. Yet you do have access to a lot of features for a dirt cheap price of $12 for a full year. I cannot think of another site that offers as much as EpicWords does for $1 a month.

In the end I give EpicWords a solid “C” as it does many things but none of them amazingly well. Yet the staff was always pleasant when answering my questions, and EpicWords’ custom tools are nicely done. Plus the site is improving and adding new features, such as allowing embedded content from the excellent iplay4e site (another online tool worthy of its own review). So while I might consider EpicWords to be an average site as of today, I believe that it has the potential to ascend to a level more akin to its name.

Are you an EpicWords user, or are you interested in becoming one? Do you agree or disagree with this review? Leave your comments below for others to hear what you think. And remember that the GM is a player too, so have fun with it!

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?




12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Spotlight Review: EpicWords"

#1 Comment By Rafe On May 13, 2009 @ 11:00 am

Personally, I don’t see the need for a content management site for GM’ing. I agree they can be handy, but I just don’t feel the need. I’m using a wikidot wiki, and it’s great. Unfortunately, I’m the only one in my group using it…

Based on what you’ve written and what I checked out briefly, I’d say that was a fair review.

#2 Comment By jasales On May 13, 2009 @ 11:33 am

I have used web pages for years to manage my gaming content. I have switched to Epic Words as I and my players can update content from any comper. Epic Words does a great job of allowing me to get content to players, and players getting content to me and the other players. We have found all of the elements easy to use and update. The staff at Epic Words are very fast at responding to questions or comments and are always friendly. The ability for players to upload character sheets and me to get them player guides is really helpful. I make extensive use of the reference wiki and find that it works very well. As far as other wiki uses I am not certain how I would use them.

#3 Comment By kenmarable On May 13, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

Hey, any chance of a Epic Words/Obsidian Portal side by side comparison?

I’m thinking of giving one of them a try and would like to see people’s opinions of how they compare to each other.

#4 Comment By EpicWords.com On May 13, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

Rafe brings up good questions – why do you want your game stuff on-line? And why not just a wiki?

It’s all about the group. Keeping game continuity between sessions can be tricky. To that end, one of Epic Words’ goals is to provide a breadth of tools to help make it fun and easy. It also helps keep game time for actual gaming.

Since not everyone is a prolific writer, we wanted to provide a variety of features for different game-organization styles. Wikis are great, but for some folks they can be a bit like staring at a blank page. Different tools prompt different types of collaboration. And if all you end up using is the private forum to discuss pizza toppings for the next session, well that’s cool. (It’s not what we had in mind, but who are we to argue?)

*wave* to jasales. Glad to see you read Gnome Stew too!

#5 Comment By Rafe On May 13, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

@EpicWords.com – I agree with the game continuity aspect (very important and a good service), but the core issue comes down to this:

Will the players buy into it and use it?

Mine just don’t. I’ve tried free forums and now a wiki. I’ve gotten them to sign up but that’s as far as it goes. It’s frustrating for me because I love being able to track things, see different perspectives on actual play write-ups, and, at the very least, organize scheduling beyond email (which I find a hassle). No go.

Also, “useful features” depends largely on what you’re playing. Loot tracker? For D&D, yes. For Burning Wheel? Not in the slightest. Experience tracking? For D&D, yes. For Burning Wheel? There is no XP. Etc.

Since my group plays Burning Wheel, you can see how “bells and whistles” are of little relevance. :)

#6 Comment By Nojo On May 13, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

We are using a Yahoo group now. One BIG feature I see in the Yahoo group and not in Epic Words is a calendar.
I set the Calendar to send out game reminders 3 and 1 day ahead of time. These arrive in people’s email, and I don’t have to remember to do it.

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 13, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

Excellent comments, but I’m going to address just one directly:

@kenmarable – I know that another gnome is going to review Obsidian Portal in the near future. I am not a fan of comparison reviews, but I do believe that reviews of similar products on Gnome Stew should be linked to each other for easy reference. I’d much rather give each site my complete attention and use the same system for rating the sites. Just my preference.

Not all groups are going to use online tools, and some game systems will need highly customized tools. Yet I believe that sites like EpicWords are going to become increasingly popular.

I really do believe that EpicWords is a site too keep your eye on. Keep in mind that this is a “first generation” product, and it is delivering what it promises. I am looking forward to what features are added and refined as the site matures. Plus, it might be the right fit for you as of right now. At the very least do yourself a favor and try the free account out to see if it is a match for you.

#8 Comment By Taellosse On May 13, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

I got an EpicWords free account several months back to try out, and came to similar conclusions. Then I found Obsidian Portal, and am using that instead. There are some things EpicWords does better–having a free forum and blog built in among them–but the difficulty in creating new pages and linking them about in the wiki was what finally sold me on Obsidian Portal instead, since it DOES have that ability (except with characters, for some reason–they decided to make characters sit outside a given campaign’s directory structure, so they’ve either got to have unique page names, or, by default, get assigned a random number. Which means you really can’t easily make links to character pages that don’t exist yet on the fly like you can with everything else). I like the look (though not necessarily the layout) of EpicWords better, but I like the functionality of Obsidian Portal more.

#9 Comment By kenmarable On May 14, 2009 @ 7:53 am

@Patrick Benson – I guess I was thinking more of a feature comparison than a “I think X site is better than Y overall” kinda thing since it depends on a lot of different factors that vary per person.

But having taken a look at both, it seems their free versions are robust enough that I’m going to give both a try. Might be a fair amount of copying back and forth, but they both have their benefits, I’ll just have to see which (if either) fits my needs better.

Thanks for posting the review and giving me the nudge to finally try them out!

#10 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On May 14, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

As a Gnome, what I like about this review is that it is honest, even painfully so.

Most videogame review sites are a joke; they either inflate all of their reviews, or base their entire review on that one thing they didn’t like. That way lies madness.

I’m very pleased that we’re starting a tradition of being honest with our reviews. Our readers deserve our frank opinions, the companies being reviewed deserve blunt and honest feedback, and our reputations ride on our integrity.

Good review, Patrick.

#11 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 15, 2009 @ 7:14 am

Thanks Kurt! An honest review was my first and foremost priority here.

#12 Comment By EpicWords.com On May 15, 2009 @ 9:17 am

@Rafe I feel your pain. Getting players (and even GMs sometimes) to use these sort of tools is always going to be the most difficult part. This problem is actually among the inspirations for starting this site. While there is no way to force people to use the tools out there, but you can lower the barriers: Placing the tools on a single site, and gearing them towards the needs of RPGs.
We also realize that we can’t be everything to everyone (despite our best efforts). Burning Wheel is one of those systems that abstracts concepts like equipment and experience in a way that makes our Loot and XP tools less than useful. However, many systems should work well for them. We are, of course, interested in hearing suggestions on making our tools more generally useful.

@Nojo We are actually in the middle of adding calendar/scheduling support for the site. It’s a non-trival task, but we hope to have feature out soon.

@Taellosse We are also adding support to ease linking to other/new wikis when you’re editing. This should be available shortly.

Thanks again for all your comments/suggestions and criticisms. We want to make the site as useful as possible and the only way to do that is to know exactly what our (potential) users want and need.


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