Saturday, 6 August 2016

One campaign fills two vimwiki installations

I will run a campaign for friends in the coming months. A big campaign.

This idea is fraught with peril for several reasons. The first two that come to mind:

  1. The setting is large. Large continent with large number of people. Many of the opponents have large schemes.
  2. The players who will participate in this campaign setting are smart. And by that, I mean "graduate degree in Engineering Physics" smart. Like "I have multiple patents to my name" smart. Like "I am a moderator on and I have played, owned, or reviewed every tabletop game ever made by humanity and some made by subhumans." So putting together a campaign that is interesting, let alone challenging, is going to require some detailed brain work on my part. I'm going to have to get up very early in the morning several years in advance to get ahead of these players.

This means I need a tool that can keep track of a large number of details.

It'd be best if those details are stored in plain text. That way I can search the content quickly using existing tools. Storing those details in a specific binary format or a database locks the details down and makes transformation a challenge.

Those details are to be shared. Descriptions of people, places and things in the campaign are meant to be shared with the players. I like the idea of putting together electronic books and sharing the details in one unified book with an edition date. Most of my players can use the Apple offering iBooks which means ePub format, but one or two will probably prefer to use Kindle which means either MOBI or KF8 format... maybe both.

It might be easier to put all those details up into a wiki like Mediawiki, and access those details through the Internet. The Mediawiki allows collaborative editing which I want for my players (assuming my players have the time to add details! Everyone gets so busy....) This assumes we'll always be gaming somewhere with Internet access.

Paper handouts of non-player character details could come in handy. That means transforming text into PDF format. Any sort of positioning of those details needs some sort of word processor or layout tool. If I have to make one single handout I could put the details in Pages or OpenOffice or something else, but if I have to make three or more I would look at wrapping the details in LaTeX and transforming those files to PDF.

That sounds like a number of different formats. Plain text also lets me transform and format the content quickly.

But wait! There's more! Not all the details will be shared with the players. My intent is to build one campaign world, but some of the details will be shared and other details will be for GM eyes only.

I could try hiding some of the Gamemaster details in comments, but I don't trust that I can keep commented details secret and/or up-to-date. I'd work with more confidence if I had all the game master secret details secured in a special secure location. The default is public. Anything not secured is assumed to be public details in a collection the player characters can (and hopefully will be excited to) look at.

That sounds like two wiki installations. Sometimes I get part of an idea, and I'd like to capture it somewhere. Two and a half wiki installations? There's also a need for a "PC log" or chronicle of what the players encounter and do. So that sounds like two wiki installations, maybe three, plus some sort of record organized by date.

Enter vimwiki.

Vimwiki will store all the details in plain text files. This means I can subsequently use pandoc to group a dozen of those files together and transform that group into one electronic book in ePub format. Pandoc can also transform text into PDF.

Plain text files means that the wiki can be stored in git. Stored in git means version control and distributed copies (also known as backups). It might not be a big selling feature for most people, but my use of plain text files also means I'm not tied to a vendor or a cloud. I don't have to worry about Obsidian Portal going offline, or running out of disk space on Google Drive nor iCloud nor Azure. I don't have to fear that the Internet connection is down; I can make a backup locally or to the cloud.

Vimwiki can manage two wiki installations: one for the GM and a second one for the public player information. Details can be cross-linked between the two wikis, so the GM wiki can link to the public site without dropping too much information. I heard about this first on a reddit post.

There are tools to sync files to and from a Mediawiki site. Vimwiki has its own wiki syntax, but it also has an option to use the Mediawiki syntax. So, the player wiki will be set up with Mediawiki syntax and the files posted to the public Mediawiki. You might be reading this and thinking "How are you going to keep the two in sync?" Given how busy my players are with other tasks, and given that there might be a dozen people globally that want to contribute to this wiki, I do not foresee a locking nor a synchronization issue.

Vimwiki has a diary function. I'm not one for "Dear Diary: today I plan to take over the world!" type entries. However, the diary function is a great way to open a new file for today, jot down some half-baked thought, then continue. Those half-baked ideas can be stored, searched days later, then pulled into either of the first two wiki installations.

Another term for diary is chronicle. The diary of the public wiki can be used for the chronicle of what the players encounter.

The example above has one gvim instance open with four windows in that instance.

The top row has one entry for the public vimwiki. The path is~/vimwiki/diary/ and the entry shows a public chronicle of what the players did. Better luck against the vegepygmies next time, players!

The middle row is divided into two columns. The column on the left is the public wiki page for a race of creatures known as Fieldfolk. The path to the file is ~/vimwiki/ and that page has one visible link to a second public wiki page where the link text is Cede.

The column on the right has line numbers showing, lines 1 to 5. The cursor is on the middle of a link in line three, on the pipe | character that separates the link on the left from the link text on the right. This is an example of the private wiki linking to the public wiki (the page in the left column). The file is in the private wiki as shown by the path ~/private/

The third, bottom, and final row has a link to the diary of the private wiki, which I'm using as a "Gamemaster's journal for raw notes." The path to the file is ~/private/diary/ and the file has been modified but not saved (as indicated by the plus sign to the right of the file path name). I've also mis-spelled the word "vegepygmy" to show that the spell check is working and has highlighted the mistake.

I used to keep all the reference details for my campaign, something like three hundred names, places and events, in a wiki contained as a separate single HTML file stored on a jump drive. This worked until the browser vendor tightened security and prevented the javascript of the wiki HTML file from working on one OS platform. I moved everything to vimwiki and never regretted it.


  1. vimwiki cheatsheet
  2. Getting started with Vimwiki

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