Since Freemind and other such mind-mapping tools are getting some RPG Blogosphere loving (such as FreeMind Tips for Game Masters, and Free Your Mind…With Free Mind), I figured I’d give another plug for my favorite light-weight GM note-taking and campaign planning software tool: TiddlyWiki. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth mentioning again, since not everybody who reads this blog assiduously combs the archives looking for the pearls of wisdom that might lie buried there. Plus I think it was posted before I joined the RPG Bloggers Network.
I’ve tried mind-mapping software before… heck I used TheBrain back when it was a DOS program… but I’ve never found it a great fit for the way I like to do campaign planning and notes. Basically I tend to think in “bags”, rather than “graphs.” I have a bunch of thoughts and notes all related to each other over here, and then another bunch of thoughts and notes related to each other over there. They’re all in heterogeneous clumps of things like all the PCs, NPCs, rooms, traps, setting, clues, for one particular location or adventure. They’re not naturally organized into parents, children, and siblings, at least by my notion of natural. If I try to draw all the lines that might make sense to me, it becomes a mass of little islands with everything in one island directly connected to everything else in that island and then another island of stuff with no bridge in between unless I deliberately add one just to keep my mind map connected. What can I say, my thoughts are very clumpy. It’s not that I can’t get anything done with mind mapping software, it’s more that I feel like I waste a lot of time deciding where something goes in the web or moving it around, while not finding a lot of added value in setting up those vertices or using the software to follow them. I end up clicking too much and writing too little.
Wikis are much more my style. Lots of text, and just drill down on whatever terms you like to elaborate on, ad infinitum. But wikis can be a pain to set up, particularly if you want to be able to use it while you’re not connected to the web. Enter TiddlyWiki.
TiddlyWiki bills itself as a “reusable personal web notebook” , but conceptually it’s more like a stack of virtual 3 x 5 cards, 3 x5 cards that can wiki link to each other or to anything on the web and be tagged arbitrarily, much like blog posts, and text searched. You want a new 3 x 5 card, either click on a link in an existing card, or click on the New Tiddler button (for no real reason, they call a card a “Tiddler”), and start editing. You can hide or display multiple cards at once, search the wiki for terms that occur anywhere in a card, add or delete tags on a card, and so forth. Like with blog posts, there’s no real organization or hierarchy other than things being tagged with keywords. It’s that simple. Other than learning the specific wiki markup, there’s almost no learning curve unless you get into customization.
Speaking of which, it’s possible to customize TiddlyWiki quite extensively, from redesigning the whole graphical look of it, to adding plugins for new functionality, to writing macros, or even writing your own plugins. For instance, Berin Kinsman, of the Uncle Bear RPG blog, has two TiddlyWikis available for download, specifically customized for use in RPGS: Worldbuilding 101, and TenFoot Wiki. The Worldbuilding101 TiddlyWiki is a great way to think about a new setting, and is worth looking at even if you’re going to use mind mapping software or even (gasp) paper and pencil.
I really like TiddlyWiki quite a lot, and have been using it extensively for my games. Many of the posts you see here about Elves & Espers started their life as Tiddlers in the TiddlyWiki I carry on my keychain, and I’ve been fiddling around with writing a plugin, which I’ll talk about some other time if and when I finally get it done enough to share.