Hello everyone, welcome. I recently wrote a post about using the Software Inspiration 9 as a campaign management tool for RPG. In the process of the writing that post I revisited Scabard, to look at what an actual campaign manager can do and after playing around with it for a while decided to write a comparison post. This is that post.
What is it?
Scabard is a piece of browser software that allows Games Masters to build their campaigns, using Characters, Locations, Items, Events etc. It is “System Neutral” so you can probably make it work for just about any games system. There is a free version and a paid version, so you can try it out and see if it is your sort of thing before committing. For someone like me, the free version simply was not enough as it limits the amount of pages you can have. That is important.
How does it work?
A Scabard Campaign is built on the principle of pages that connect to one another. Pages can be characters, Locations, Events, Groups or Items. You build these pages, for instance NPCs and using the connections feature you can note how they relate to other NPCs (or pages in general. Characters can live in locations or lead groups, for instance). The list of relationships is quite detailed including paramour, spouse, parent, prisoner, companion, subordinate, contact and ally. I have to say, I don’t think sibling was there which surprised me.
Pages can be designated entirely secret, or public knowledge. If they are entirely secret, any time you attach that page to something the players can see (a location or event, for instance), they wont see it. So for instance if you have an event, a ritual or a banquet, and you have number of NPCs there, already attached to the event, The Games Master will be able to glance at the event’s connections and see what NPCs are in the room, but if they are designated as Secret Pages the players will not. So, that gives the GM opportunity to add people in at various points without the players predicting based on a list.
Here you can see one of my events, called Music & Mists. There is a basic description next to an image (I would love to credit the picture of the grove, I found it online and used it in the campaign. If you know the owner, let me know so I can credit it) and on the right of the screen are the connections. You can see that Music & Mists is part of the Prologue Folder, is the next event of A Dark Meeting and the next event is The First Task. This helps keep track. If there are sub events I would be able to click on the tab and view them too (See below)
Even if you set a page to be public, there is a secret section. So, an example for this would be the starting event of a game. You have a description of the set up for the event in the public area of the public page, and you can add an image if you choose. If you then attach the Player Characters’ pages to the event, they will be able to see it. They will see they have been invited to an event and an image representing it and you can start the game by asking them what they are doing to prepare. The secret part of the page you can use to note stuff that is likely to happen in the event (including notes to yourself, the GM, about sub events) and other stuff that players can only find out if they ask the right questions.
In this test event, if it was not a secret event, players would be able to read that they have an invitation to attend upon Duke Evil McNasty. They would not see the secrets part of the page which is for the Games Master only, used to remind them what is meant to happen within the scene. NPCs that are in the scene could be attached to the scene in the connections tab, and if their pages are kept hidden, players wouldn’t see who is present until the GM tells them. Or, you could add the guest list in either public or private section, whatever you like.
Events can also be linked together in sequence, they can be attached and designated opposite one another or even be included as sub events of something larger. For instance if you are in the court of a Noble, and playing an Intrigue Game, you could add secret meetings as sub events of the Main Court Event. So, if the Duke’s Chamberlain is conspiring with a local merchant, you could note in the court event in the secret area they will duck out at one point. If players spot it, you can then activate the sub event where they are plotting. Or you could be a bit more blatant about it…
I took the liberty of taking a screenshot of the first event, with a sub event added. If you click on Interruption then it takes you to the page with the sub event “Interruption”, which is the lower half of the image. And you can always navigate back to the parent event by clicking on the connection linking back.
Is it worth it?
Scabard has a lot going for it and I will list the benefits here.
On the paid subscription, you can build large campaigns with no limits on pages.
You can link everything that you want, and show players what you want them to see so long as they have access to a functioning browser.
The Connections feature is a really handy way, particularly in games with politics, to remind you who likes whom and who hates whom.
You can build locations and attach events to them so you can put side quests etc in the campaign and then more or less forget about them until players find the right location. You can also put items in locations to be found and more or less forget about them until the players go to that location.
It is very visual. I have a lot of time building two campaigns, and it wasn’t onerous at all as it felt much more visual than Inspiration. This was added to by the fact that in the paid version you can upload images and maps. Which I have been doing.
That all being said, I have found a few things I am less keen on. (Though it appears to be early stage of the software so we can hope things change).
It is online. If you don’t have access to the web you can print it but after looking at the printable option I don’t recommend it. It appears to print the entire campaign in alphabetical order. And doesn’t appear to show secret sections.
I have not found a way to export stuff from one campaign to another (I don’t believe it is possible). This may lead to duplication of effort when reusing NPCs, and I tend to make power databases so that I can easily access NPC abilities. Duplicating that will take a long time.
There are stat sheets for characters that are fillable. This is good, but there is currently no way to make a template so that I don’t have to add all the stats for every single NPC. Building each NPC sheet from scratch is time consuming. That being said, the developer does update the software fairly frequently and is responsive to community feedback and this is feedback that has been listened to and is being worked on.
The Stat Sheets are visible to players if the players can see the NPC page. I would like the stats to be secret. As it stands I don’t feel comfortable sharing the NPC sheets as players can see their stats. This defeats the some of the purpose in using images to show the characters.
The help videos are not especially helpful. Most of them have no audio and don’t explain context.
Despite these criticisms, I find that I like Scabard. Putting together the campaign locations and NPCs are time consuming…but once they are built you have a pretty solid framework to work from for as long as you play. It feels more professional and fun to look at the Scabard pages, which actually make me think of a Wiki or Book than the outlines you can generate in Inspiration.
Like I said in the criticisms, the help videos are not all that great but it actually isn’t that difficult a piece of software and the developer has been responsive in his FB group when I have had questions.
My recommendation. Have a crack at making a one night only game in the free version, using NPCs, Locations and Events. See if that works for you and if so, maybe upgrade and run a full campaign. Starting with the free version you really can’t lose.
All the best.