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Why Are We Here?

For the last seven years I've always turned to Obsidian Portal whenever designing or running a role-playing game. In the last year I've started branching into playing games via Google Hangouts and started looking at Obsidian Portal in a slightly different light. Despite the Reforging last year there are still some design choices made on Obsidian Portal that make it less than ideal to a power-user like myself. I still think Obsidian Portal is a great service but as someone with more technical know-how than your average user there were some limitations that just irked me.

I started looking into Google Sites to see if there was a better way to integrate Google Hangouts than what I'd been doing with Obsidian Portal. It turned out to not be any easier but then I stumbled on some other features that I really liked. Not only will this make my job far easier, but I think once my players dig into it they will really appreciate not having to fight with some of Obsidian Portal's archaic designs.
  • No Markup + Better WYSIWYG: Lets start with one of the features I think will benefit the Players the most. One of the things that has always driven me nuts with Obsidian Portal is their insane Textile Markup language. The one where you had to use *bold* or +underline+ then check the preview over and over. Well, Google Sites has a built in WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface that allows users to format on the fly. Plus it uses standard HTML code on the backend so guys like me don't have to figure out insane bracketing just to make a table layout. All in all, I think my players will find it MUCH easier to edit things here.
  • The File Cabinet: This is a file storage system that is nicely integrated with Google Drive. What does that mean? Well, for starters, I can easily share all of the PDFs needed for this game with my players. Any other handouts or references that might come up can all be easily accessed in one space. There is a 20mb upload limit and the site can only have 100mb of data on it, but since it's integrated with Google Drive I can throw stuff on my Drive and share it in the File Cabinet without impacting those limits. Media storage is a feature that Obsidian Portal has talked about adding for awhile but has never materialized. 
  • Google Calendar: Obsidian Portal has a habit of "In or Out" when it comes to a lot of it's systems. As an example, it's Calendar is either a Yes or No response. As we've seen there are numerous times when you're attendance is a "Maybe", which is something that Google Calendar allows. Not to mention the ability to schedule a repeating event and far easier event copying makes this a breeze for me to manage.
  • Google Groups: The forums on Obsidian Portal are basic to the point of frustration. Having access to Google Groups and a more robust management system makes the whole forum section far easier to maintain and manage. It even provides a nice interface for responding to posts via e-mail and allows users to set far more mail limits than Obsidian Portal.
  • Google Drive: I've been using Google Drive more and more for gaming, mostly as a quick way to collaboratively handle writing and brainstorming. I've become a big fan of using Forms to gather player data and started setting one up to guide my players through the Character Creation process for this game. The best I could do with Obsidian Portal was to direct someone over to it but now it's built right into the site. 
  • Permissions and Security: One of the big headaches with Obsidian Portal is the "All or Nothing" style of permissions it supports. With Google Sites I'm able to share specific pages with specific people. More than that I can set it up so people can either View or Edit pages allowing for a player to have full control over their Character sheet but not be able to change another player's information. This has never been a problem for the group, but it's a nice feature to have none the less. As an example; the File Cabinet I mentioned above is shared only with people who have specific access granted to them (ie: the players) but not to the general public. There are also numerous GM Only pages hidden around the site that only I can see and I have the option to setup the same for the players.
  • Individual Sandboxes: Players now have far more control over their Characters than before. Players are able to add sub-pages and manage content to a far greater degree than on Obsidian Portal. Just the basics like formatting a character sheet is so much simpler. More than that players can expand their Character area for all sorts of things. As an example, during Gotham Reborn players really got into writing Adventure Log entries, which was awesome. There was only one Adventure Log and everyone contributed to it. Now I have the option to break those Logs out into separate character controlled Journals. Players can also setup List pages to track gear or character's they have met.
  • Built in Navigation: The breadcrumb trails I used for page to page navigation on Obsidian Portal were all hand written. I'm talking about the "Main Page → System→ The Basics" navigation I'd add to the top of all of my wiki pages. That navigation is not only standard in Google Sites but I'm able to manage a sweet sidebar so users don't have to keep jumping back to the main Wiki page to navigate. Plus Google Sites have built in Table of Content generators that are going to make navigating longer pages far easier.
  • The Sidebar: More than just a nice way to navigate the side, I finally have full control over the sidebar display. I've always hated how the Party box would vanish from page to page on Obsidian Portal. Not anymore! Players will always be able to quickly and easily jump to their character sheet now.
  • More Control: This isn't something that is going to effect my players but, as some of you know, I'm a control freak. Google Sites puts a lot more power into my hands for how I want to manage my games. Even if most of it doesn't get used, it's freaking nice to have access to all of it.