In my quest to find the perfect campaign manager, I discovered many great options, but nothing fits the invoice that I’m billing. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s got to work for me. I will likely return to this blog for updates as I learn more. Of course, these are just my experiences and opinions. Some parts inspired by replies from Online campaign tools
Wizards of the Coast really pulled this together. dndbeyond.com Dynamic functional full-service character sheets, full-on resource for all things officially 5e, some home-brew customizability, and a dice roller to kill your browser. But no where to stick your campaign. So, that’s a hard no as a campaign manager by itself or things outside 5e. It might work if you combine with an external resource, or just as a support for 5e elsewhere. On the up side, the bang out sweet PDF characters, and quite a few online resources are known to tap into dndbeyond.
I need universal apps, not something that will lock me down to one computer, a usb stick, one environment, or just one platform. So, no thanks to limited platform apps. Same goes for specialized devices, a pencil/paper/notebook, or even a reMarkable device. Too easy to forget, impractical to take them everywhere, and “uploading” specialized devices via scanning and manipulating formats is time consuming. Such a pain when you forget to “sync” with the digital world. This can halt a session. RealmWorks has a very nice interface but is Windows only. Novelist is also Windows only.
Scrivener is fantastic in functionality. I’ve heard this many times, and I have to agree, but there’s a bit of a learning curve. I think it’s actually an unlearning curve. Their tutorial for using it is way too complex and makes it harder to understand. Once you realize it’s just a tree of documents, you can wrap your head around it, and then it’s pretty easy to use. Unfortunately, Scrivener has a couple drawbacks that make it problematic, aside from the overly complex export functions…
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS, and iOS. That’s it. No plans for Android support. That’s strike one for me. I have these platforms + Android.
Dropbox integration is solid but tenuous. I’ve lost huge amounts of writing because Dropbox and Scrivener do not automatically synchronize. Example: On the iPad, you have to exit from Scrivener and allow the files to be transferred to Dropbox, and then wait for dropbox to sync with the cloud. If you forget to exit for the transfer to finish and upload to the cloud, then when you open your Scrivener project on Windows or Mac or another iPad, you will not have access to the current data. Strike 2.
Compounding the problem: If you’ve unknowingly opened an older version of your project (because of the Dropbox issue above), you can get lost in your writing and realize too late that your changes from before are nowhere to be seen. On top of that, once you do get your project synced with the cloud, you end up with 2 copies of the same project updated in different ways. Fixing that can (and has been) a nightmare. This strike is strike 3.
If I were stuck with one platform, Scrivener would be a no-brainer. Scrivener is d’bomb. But this one can implode if you’re not careful. And I can’t always be careful with so many different devices.
The paid versions of Kanka.io and Chronica.ventures are nice, but ultimately, it’s a subscription to a service that I may leave for months at a time. The free versions of these campaign managers are way to expensive for my taste. The yearly rate is a little better than monthly, but it’s still paying for mostly static documents that my players will see at most a few times a year and then move on. The free version of these managers is full of ads. Not something most of us want to deal with, especially if the ads get in the way, which they do.
Also, Kanka hiccuped data loss for me, which has me rethinking other service as an option as well.
Using a virtual tabletop RPG for online campaign management either cost money or cost computer resources, resources that I just don’t have. Especially the good ones. FoundryVTT, Fantasy Grounds, Roll20 and others that can be used to help manage a campaign have a learning curve. Roll20 is pretty easy, but there are complex elements to it when you try to do things outside of the basics. Fantasy Grounds is the worse offender to resources. Oh, and getting these things to run on a tablet? So far, no.
I thought using a Word master document might be an option. I’m proficient enough with Word and have used master documents before. There’s even online cloud storage. However, Master document file corruption is a fairly common occurrence. MS Word also has specialized formatting of fonts and makes a bit of clutter in its method of formatting fonts and paragraphs when exporting data. Copy paste is very messy too, unless you’re sticking to plain text. And the biggest problem is that MS Word is not universal. Word for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android are entirely different applications that do not translate well across platforms. No way I’d expose my writing to that.
I’m familiar with Google Docs, and it makes a nice word processor. Being natively online Docs more universal than Word, performing about the same on all the platforms. It has integration with the Google suite of applications. It can be persnickety when it comes to personal vs business versions, but those things are likely outside the purview of a campaign manager. The latest change to Docs includes references option using the @ symbol. This is something of a game changer from it being a simple word processor. Being able to reference a document from within another document adds possibilities. I’m not completely sold on Google Docs, but it’s getting closer. Plus it’s free. Still, it has very limited organizability. When they start to include a file tree inside of docs, then we’d be getting somewhere.
The Goblin's Notebook seems promising. Nicely done, but no export to useful PDF or html or doc file, and no complete campaign view. The mobile version is bit too cumbersome for me.
Campfirewriting.com I like the way this looks in general, but navigation through it was not intuitive for me. I kept repeating the same mistakes and couldn’t figure out how to post. No complete campaign view, no export to any useful format. In they upside, they have a local app that can sync with the cloud version. It was a slow to upload. It has a huge potential for writing loss. And apparently, some folks have lost data here.
lets-role.com/ A closed environment, more than usual, but very enthusiastic, and bit like the first time you see Vegas up close, a bit overwhelming. I found no export, and no complete campaign view. Maybe fun, but doesn’t seem campaign friendly.
Lovely organizing features as well as export capabilities. What I thought was a nearly universal app turns out to be a bit of an overstatement. I tried to use OneNote a 3rd time, but it failed me. Aside from the fact that MS has not settled on a single consistent version, OneNote corrupted my campaign notebook, twice, and now a 3rd time. The first time I thought it was something I’d done or triggered, or it was just a fluke. When it happened the 2nd time, I’d moved on, irritated, and fearful of losing again. It has been years now. So, I checked check it out, again. I mitigated the damage, spending a little extra time attempting to make a backup and exporting my data to keep the campaign data a little safer. Since the corruption happened again, this time while I typed on my iPad, I’ve had to resort to bits of recovery tactics. Backup was not possible via browser or iPad. An online search shows I’m not the only one having these troubles with OneNote.
Obsidianportal.comHas very nice features, timeless elements, and an outdated feel. It jumps formatting in odd ways, and I can’t seem to figure out how to get it uniform. I check back periodically to see if the interface has improved. Also, the Download Backup option, is not a backup. You can’t use the downloaded “backup” to restore anything. So, again, there is no backup. The XML format it produces is a joke but not as bad as others I’ve dealt with.
Worldanvil.comIt looks potentially amazing. So much stuff. OMG they’ve go so many ads, I can’t tell where the campaign starts. I’m overwhelmed with ads like it’s one of those virus attacks with ad popups. I also couldn’t find an export feature, but I had a hard time finding much of anything. So, a big no on this one until I .