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World Building 101: Campaign Bible Formats

posted Wednesday, December 2nd 2009 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Last week we discussed keeping a campaign bible, a collection of notes and documents detailing the world in which your campaign is set. Campaign bibles are important tools for any DM, but especially for those who are building their own campaign setting rather than running your game in a published setting created by someone else. They enable you to create the same familiarity with your world as one might have with a published setting or a setting from popular fiction, such as Star Wars or Forgotten Realms.

One of the first choices you make when setting down your campaign bible is what format you wish to use to create it. Once, the only real choice was to create a series of hand or type-written documents in a notebook or binder, but with the ease of availability of computers and the world wide web, there are now a number of options open to an aspiring world-builder.

Read on for a few of the more common choices, along with some pros and cons for each option:

The Binder

The traditional approach, as has been mentioned previously, is to keep a binder or notebook of notes on the campaign setting. The binder is probably a superior option, as it allows for expansion of specific sections of the document and scalability, as well as reorganization without having to rewrite the entire thing. Keeping it organized is as simple as using dividers for each category you choose–major NPCs, minor NPCs, important places, etc.

Pros:

  • Does not require access to a computer to use in-game
  • Great for tactile individuals to have a tome for their world
  • Relatively simple to expand
  • Easy for players to contribute to the campaign bible
  • Relatively simple to reorganize information

Cons:

  • Difficult to change information to reflect new situations without rewriting or appending
  • Only one person can access it at a time, barring multiple copies
  • Multiple copies need to be kept up to date individually
  • Can be damaged or lost easily

The Electronic Document

Another option is to store the campaign bible in a text file or word processor. This definitely makes updating and sharing it a breeze, since you can just share or print the file as needed, and outdated information can be removed and replaced with the newest version. One problem with this approach, though, is that several different versions may exist, especially if the players have been making notes or adding to it on their own, and it may be difficult to ensure that everyone has the correct file or update everything to reflect everyone’s work.

Pros:

  • Simple to update and share
  • Can be stored remotely and accessed by several people at once without trouble

Cons:

  • Requires a computer or a printout to view
  • Can become complicated to ensure everyone is using the correct, up to date version
  • Difficult for multiple players to update
  • File format may be incompatible, depending on format chosen
  • Reorganizing information can be a tedious exercise

The Web Page

Putting a campaign webpage up with all the details of your setting can ensure that everyone is looking at the most recent data. It also avoids compatibility issues found with text documents. You can also include hyperlinks to allow cross-referencing of pages with other pages easily, or a search function to quickly locate something. A traditional web-page can be difficult to update for players, though if you include the option for players to append information to the page in a comment or message board style posting it comes somewhere between a binder and a wiki for content management.

Pros:

  • Simple to update and share with everyone
  • No version tracking required
  • Possible to permit players to update individual entries
  • Hyperlinks and searching make finding information simple

Cons:

  • Requires a computer to access
  • Difficult for players to create new content entirely
  • Reorganization is a highly involved process
  • Formatting and initial setup can become very involved

The Wiki

Technically this could be considered a web page, but the philosophy and concepts behind it are different enough to list wikis separately. The wiki format permits easy updates by multiple users, easy creation of new pages, and a simplified markup compared to HTML. In addition, it’s very simple to set up a wiki initially compared to a more traditional web site; otherwise all the same benefits of a website apply as well. As an additional bonus, reorganizing a wiki is as simple as changing the way you use categories.

Pros:

  • Simple to set up initially
  • Very easy to update or create pages for all users
  • Very easy to reorganize
  • Very easy to find information

Cons:

  • Requires a computer to access
  • Players may be unfamiliar with wiki markup

There is no wrong format for a campaign bible, though some are easier to use or better suited to the purpose than others. The decision depends on your personal tastes and the needs of your group. Whatever you choose, though, it’s important to keep it well organized so you can find what you need.

Next week, we’ll look at some ways to do just that.

Comments

  1. Tadhg

    December 2nd, 2009

    There’s also an excellent cross between the Wiki and the Electronic Document: TiddlyWiki, a single-file wiki that runs locally. It provides many wiki advantages while being very easy to pass around, and not requiring hosting. Definitely worth checking out: http://tiddlywiki.com/

  2. Mazetar

    December 4th, 2009

    Great article, would like to mention obsidian portal as the ebst wiki for such things if u wanna try it head rigth over, they even have a short video to introduce you too it:)
    easy for both players and DMs

    Cons: need a computer to access
    but hey in-game u could have some personal notes as well adn add to wiki later and then enxt session u write down a few notes u want as in anmes and such u must know for the session (player)
    and as a DM well u probally have alot of notes on paper already before the wiki started? xD

    anyways have a great day/nigth folks:D

  3. Brandan Landgraff

    December 4th, 2009

    Another option that kind of cropped up recently is Google Wave. I didn’t really have a chance to explore Wave too much before submitting this article, since while I had an account I had no invitations to share until just recently and thus was unable to really experiment with using it as a tool to communicate with my D&D group. There’s a lot about Wave that I can see being potentially very useful to a D&D group in a variety of ways, but I’m not sure how readily I would adapt it to a campaign bible. Keeping it organized could potentially become very difficult.

    It seems well suited for organizing and recruiting for a game, communicating with your players about when the next session will be, tracking experience and treasure, documenting character sheets, or even joining in a hybrid play-by-post/chat game. For a campaign bible, though, it wouldn’t be my first choice.

    I have every intention of trying a short game over Wave at some point in the near future and doing a write-up about it, but it’s going to have to wait until after exams…

  4. Toord

    December 4th, 2009

    Belated post:

    Both Jonathan and Brandan. Superb job with this multi-piece World Building series. I’m amazed at the level of detail you guys have framed all of this info. Simply amazing. just reading ever the articles and PDFs make instinctively reach for my dice. I hope virtual D&D will someday become a reality so we all could enjoy playing campaigns like these remotely.

    Hear me WotC? I’d pay (me, mr. el cheapo) a monthly fee to have the opportunity to experience D&D via the internet. Heck, perhaps even with a pricing scheme that pays the DMs for their hard work.

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    December 9th, 2009

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  7. Kevin

    December 14th, 2009

    Amazing series keep up this great world building series. I am new to reading your blog but it is the best I have read in a long time. You guys put in so much detail and i can feel your passion in your writing.

    Love it.

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  9. Eddie

    March 3rd, 2010

    Another interesting place to store the campaign bible is with One Note. If you have not seen it, it is one of the nicest applications that Microsoft has released, in my opinion. It would fall very closely in the category of the binder because you can organize info into pages, sections and notepads. I use it when brain storming my ideas for my game sessions and … well just about everything I brainstorm about. Give it a try. It still has the same cons as the binder and the electronic document though, however with newer versions of the software a document can be shared and collaboratively viewed and edited so there would only be one version. Anyway I just thought I would chime in. Better late than never.

  10. Elber of Torou

    August 16th, 2010

    You could also try Google Docs–simply share the Campaign Bible document with all the members of your play group. This gives it the advantages of a standard text document, without the compatibility issues, or the problems of multiple copies.

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