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Are we too D&D?

We try to stay neutral

We try to stay neutral, like the Swiss

I had a chance to talk to the guys from The Bearswarm Podcast the other day. Besides haranguing me for various things, Rob said that Obsidian Portal is “too D&D specific.” This came as quite a surprise to me. I’ve always thought that Obsidian Portal did a fine job of straddling the difficult line of system neutrality. Am I wrong? Let me tell my story…

The beginning

When I first started, I knew there would have to be sacrifices made. Either it would be completely neutral, and therefore useless to everyone, or it would be biased toward one system or another. There’s a wide spectrum in there, and I decided that whenever a question came up, I would bias the system toward D&D, which I was playing at the time.

The best example I can think of is that we added race and level to the character sheets. They were freeform fields, so you could type “Elf” or “Dwarf” if you wanted. Or, if you were in a totally different system you could type “Eldar” or “Metahuman” or just leave it blank. It was up to you. Still, the concept of race and level is admittedly a D&D centric concept.

The shift to neutrality

As I migrated away from D&D to other systems, so too did my views on how Obsidian Portal should work. I realized that the central elements to all RPGs were the characters, adventures, and campaign world. As such, I focused on making those entities the core of the site. We politely declined requests to add more detail and fields to the character sheets and instead added things like the quick select popup to help you more easily interweave your story and characters. When the time was right, we released the Dynamic Character Sheets, thereby saying “Make the characters what you want!” Subsequently, we removed race and level from the character sheets, instead deferring that to the DSTs where it belonged. We want characters to embody the story, not the stats.

The commitment to neutrality

I started out thinking we would bias ourselves toward D&D, but I’ve become much more committed to overall neutrality. I’m convinced that the future of RPGs does not belong to any one company, brand, or game. Likewise, the future of Obsidian Portal, in supporting the RPG community, does not belong with any one game. So, when I’m told that we’re being too D&D specific, this is a cause for concern. What do you think? Are we too biased toward one game or another? Or, on the opposite end, are we trying too hard to please everyone all the time, and therefore offering a mediocre experience? We feel like we’ve charted the correct course so far, but I’m curious to hear what others think.


DM’s: Incentivize Your Players!

Getting the Ball Rolling

So I’ve been running games using Obsidian Portal for a while now, and in the past year I’ve discovered a thing or two about players – they are lazy. Bear in mind that I’m generalizing here but, really, let’s be honest.

Obsidian Portal is this haven for creativity and sometimes implores us DM’s to pour hour after hour of work into our campaign pages, meticulously tweaking every detail until it looks just right on the page and leaving no stones unturned when it comes to adventure logs and wiki pages.


The in-game calendar – Why it’s tough

In Game Calendar

Highmoon, 448PK

Many people have seen the new campaign calendar and extended it to the next logical step: Why not create a calendar for your in-game time? On the surface, it seems like a good idea, and it’s definitely something I have struggled with in the past. Unfortunately, it’s a very tough problem, and the final result would probably not be what you imagine.


My Life as Tech Support

Every now and then I like to pull back the curtain a little and give a glimpse into what it’s like to run Obsidian Portal. It’s pretty much an endless stream of putting out fires and fixing bugs. I really love to do it, but I like to pour cold water on anyone who thinks it’s all fun and glory. For example, today I had two support emails that caused me quite a bit of grief. Enjoy…

Ascension without consent

I never gave my permission to “ascend” or be charged anything, you don’t even have my information. so, yeah, please take off this “ascended” title, because, I’m not going to be charged. so, again, nobody has my consent in anyway for any reason for anything ever. the end.

As it happens, the issue here was that the person in question signed up with a promo code when creating their account. The promo code gave 1 month of free Ascendant time to new signups.

I understand that we could be a little clearer about “complimentary” vs “paid” Ascendant accounts, but frankly I’d rather work on cool features. Some other people have inquired about their strange Ascendant status, and I was happy to answer. In this case, I did exactly as was requested and deleted the complimentary subscription. Be careful what you wish for, I might just give it to you.

My wiki is gone, I hate you

Pages on my XXXX page were deleted. I want them back, along with my money.

These emails always fill me with dread. Did I accidentally delete someone’s work? How long has this been going on? Is this just the first of a flood of hate heading my way?

Luckily, I’ve been hit with a lot of these by now, so I know not to panic. In almost all cases, it’s a misunderstanding. In this particular case, it is a legitimate bug…but not one where data was lost. Instead, there is a case-sensitivity bug for some of the wiki links. In other words, Places isn’t the same as places. The pages are all still there, but some links in the wiki are broken. Definitely something I need to fix.

Unfortunately, it took several back-and-forth emails to discover the actual problem. The original email didn’t have any real information, only anger. I know it’s frustrating when things aren’t working right, but a “You screwed me” email is pretty worthless in terms of diagnosing the problem and finding a fix.

The moral?

There are essentially two morals to this story, one for me and one for you:

For me: Can’t please ’em all

I am the first to admit that Obsidian Portal has bugs and problems…a LOT! But, wonder of wonders, it limps along enough to provide thousands of gamers with the tools they need to manage their games. That provides me a lot of comfort when I deal with irate users. I have to remind myself that even as I’m working to fix one person’s problem, hundreds of people are managing their games and having a great time doing it.

For you (and me too): Take a breath before sending

When I get a support email, my initial gut reaction goes one of 2 ways: I want to help this person, or I want to hurt this person. If the email is asking for help, I want to help them. If they are lashing out at me or the site, I want to hurt them. I can usually swallow my pride and do the right thing, but it’s always tempting to just reflect back the anger and hate coming my way.

The point is to realize that most websites (and small businesses) out there are like this. When you send an email, it doesn’t go to a customer service person. It goes to the head-honcho, the person who pours their heart and soul into the site. If you have a problem, ask for help, and you’ll probably get it. Accusations and rage will send your email straight to the trash bin, or worse, the site owner might flip out and declare war on you. I’ll admit, I’ve come very close to doing this in the past.

Blow your top, or solve your problem?

Before sending a support email (to anyone, not just me), ask yourself: “What’s my goal here?” Do you want to get your problem solved? Or, do you want to unleash your anger and surrender to the Dark Side? If it’s the former, then do your best to describe the exact problem, what you did when the problem manifested, and have a little patience. If it’s the latter, tap into your deepest hatred and let me know how you really feel. Just don’t be surprised when I don’t respond and you suddenly find your account disabled.


Vote for SquidGirl!

Squidgirl Box

We just held a contest where folks could enter Stats, Art, Background, and more for SquidGirl, the enigmatic cover girl from the upcoming Gamma World RPG. See, we thought that picking a winner would be easy, right?


It turns out, there’s a squidload of talent to be found in our forums. So now we need your help. Again. We need YOU to choose our grandprize winner from the 6 finalists below! Who’s it going to be? Who’s going to win the 100 dollar Amazon gift card?! Let’s meet our contestants:

Duskreign’s The SquidGirl

Click to Embiggen

WesleyKinsmanHall’s Improved Employment

Click to Embiggen

Erwin’s Squidonna with Child

Click to Embiggen

Duskreign’s Hit Single Ain’t No Time (for a Squidgirl)

Click to play: Squidgirl – Ain’t No Time (for a Squidgirl)

AnimaUmbrae’s SquidGirl’s Facebook Page

Squidgirl on Facebook

Click to visit Squidgirl on Facebook

JonathonVolkmer’s Shakespear’s SquidGirl Caeser

Squidgirl, written by Shakespeare for performance as a grammar school play when he was still a boy, has long been thought lost to the modern world. However, after long searching, I have come into ownership of a partial manuscript of the play. Judging from the following excerpts it would seem that the Bard based one of his later plays on this, his first great tale.

Excerpts from the final scene of “SQUIDGIRL,” one of Shakespeare’s lost plays:

From ACT 1, SCENE 2:

I shall remember:
When Squidgirl says “Do this,” it is perform’d.

Set on; and leave no ceremony out.


Read the full entry (it’s hilarious)

Time to Vote

Ok, those are our top 6. Now we need your help. (You can vote from this link if the voting doesn’t appear below.)

Voting Closed!

We’ll be announcing a winner and awarding prizes in the next couple days. Stay tuned!


Power To The (Married) People

Two weeks ago I got married to the geeky girl of my dreams. Josh Buergel friend, game designer, and all around great guy officiated our small ceremony at a local coffee shop. I got a real kick out of what he had to say, and I hope you will too.

I’m not planning on doing a long speech, but I do think that a momentous occasion like this richly deserves some of my unique strain of blather and I’m afraid the cost of my participation here is that you have to sit through it.  I feel like a recitation about the benefits and difficulties of marriage is at least somewhat inappropriate, but at the same time, it’s worth reflecting on what brings you both here, in front of friends and perhaps more importantly baristas.  A marriage really is a different phase of your relationship and no matter how casual the ceremony, the commitment is never a casual one.  A marriage is about mutual respect, first and foremost. Without that, eventually the cracks will come.  If you maintain that respect, you can solve everything else.  You’ll both make mistakes and triumphs, you’ll both have bad days and great days, you’ll have days when you wondered what the hell you were thinking.  But none of that matters if you keep your respect for each other and yourselves.  All of the great things of a marriage flow from that respect when combined with your love.

But enough of that!  Congratulations on levelling up your relationship!  Among the benefits you have gained this level are the following powers:

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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