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PBEM, Nova: platforms for long-form writing

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Back in the old days I'd spend hours, if not days, every month tending to my sim (RPG) site and a few others. It was a time-consuming process but a well-designed site attracted quality players and, in Star Trek RP in the 90s and 00s, there was a lot of competition.


These days a lot of Star Trek sims use a platform called Nova. I'm working on a sim relaunch at the moment and have been encouraged to give it a try. It has some great features for GMs, particularly when it comes to archiving logs and managing character biographies. (It's great not to have to dig around for the right rank images, too!) 


However, there are a number of pitfalls that really bother me. It isn't easy to customise at all unless you know MySQL and are confident screwing around in the deep, dark code – and even then it's very hard to do simple things, like creating new categories. There aren't many skins and there aren't any guides to creating skins, the majority of which aren't mobile-friendly. Also, looking at the creator's homepage, it doesn't look like the update promised last year is coming any time soon. 


Someone has clearly put a lot of effort into making an interface that is suitable for Star Trek games of this style and I commend them for doing so – it's a fantastic idea, but it needs a bit of refinement. Does anybody know of any alternative systems? Wordpress fills me with dread, and my XO and I just don't have time to be building scratch websites again.


I'm even thinking of seeing if there's interest in crowd-funding an alternative – perhaps one that would work for more fandoms than Star Trek... but first, I'd really value your feedback on the above!

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Honestly, to the best of my knowledge, the two best options for an RPG with a website or great user interface is Nova or Forums. I use both. I love Nova and the support your get for making changes is phenomenal. I did not host Star Trek RPGs, mine were originals (a fantasy, an action/adventure, and a Wild West). I only moved off Nova because we needed to be able to offer a wider format for posting. However, I managed to make Nova work for a swords and sorcery fandom site.


If you want to self-host a forum, I can highly recommend SMF (Simple Machines). I also use IPS - same as this site, only I use the cloud option rather than buying a license. There are a multitude of pre-made mods for both. There are fewer themes for SMF, but we have someone that does awesome custom work. Get @Arceus to tell you about SMF or join the coterie. There are many other forum options out there, free and paid. myBB is very popular with the RP crowd.


As far as Nova's next major release, known as Nova NextGen or Nova 3, the developer has made significant inroads. It is not scheduled for release any time real soon, but the changes are worth waiting for.


Don't know if this helps at all, if you want to see my old and new sites or need more in-depth info, feel free to PM me or DM me on Discord.

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I've only seen two forums that use what they use here on the initiative and it's peaked my interest a bit. I've also been learning of other hosts through the initiative and grateful for all the resources and options they make known. Been learning so much since I joined.


I've only ever used Jcink and proboards. I find that proboards has more plugins and themes, but jcink has a much nicer user support. If you're curious about any of these two I can send you links to numerous guides and resource sites for both of these.

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I'm an IPS girl all the way. I've been using Invision for 11 years next month and I can talk about it until the cows come home (like our amazing Character mod that was recently developed) however it really depends on the features you need. I could explain a way to create a Nova like system in IPS Pages that, to me, would be easier than Nova and definitely easier to style (It would be a database for characters, a database for "logs" or "stories" or whatever you call them and you link them together.)


However, it would be best to list your must-haves for us to be able to better recommend a solution for you. @Grey

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Thanks, @Morrigan! I'm not familiar with IPS; I'll go and do a bit of homework now. ^_^ 


Here's my ideal CMS for the kind of Star Trek sim I'd be running.



5-12 writers, each writing a post of 500-1000 words per week

Each writer has at least one character who will have a biography (stats, background text, awards, promotion history, photo, etc.)

Writers collaborate sometimes to produce joint logs, where several characters are involved



A neat, responsive front end containing:

– OOC info: what the sim is, rules of play, how to join

– Archive of posts

– Manifest of characters and their biographies

– IC info: ship specs, deck listing, previous missions

– News/bulletins


Back end:

– Ability for players to log in and update character information

– Ability for players to write/save/post their logs

(ideally, also sim statistics)


I'm aware that I've pretty much described Nova here – it's the ugliness and lack of logic in that system that I am finding tough to work with. Creating new pages and organising them into categories is particularly frustrating. I'd also love to be able to update the imagery more often to incorporate any new pictures or designs created by crew.


@Stormwolfe: you say that you've received great support for your Nova in the past. Can I ask where you accessed that? Anoydyne's forums don't appear to have been updated for some time. @MADI don't think forums will work for what we want to achieve, sadly, but I will have a cruise through 'em for some inspiration.


Now for me to confess my idiocy – I don't know what IPS is so I'm going to go and find out right now! And, MAD is right – I'm so impressed with the support here! You've got me hooked. ^_^

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This is going to focus on IPS and SMF with some Nova tossed in. There are other great forum options out there. I do not know much about them so hopefully you'll get more info from other people on the Initiative. Over and above that, there are coteries for various site hosting platforms, resources in our Codexes, Guides, etc. Nova is amazing and can do most of what you want out of the box, but it has its drawbacks too. I still have my Nova swords and sorcery site set up if you want to look it over.


Back when I used Nova more, the forums had awesome support. These days, it's mostly done on their Nova server. However, unless you know Nova, are pretty savvy with PHP, HTML, Javascript, and CSS - or know someone that does - it is still a bear. I say this from the point of view of a non-tech savvy person. If you decide on Nova, I'll get you the link invite to their Discord.


One thing to remember when shopping for a server host for your Nova, some don't play well with Nova's email service because of their email security settings. Some will change them, some won't. They've added the ability for Nova to use a 3rd party email client BUT some hosting packages don't allow you to use a 3rd party.


This site runs on IPS and both of mine do! I'm going out on a limb and say that IPS will do most of what you want it to do with some tweaks and mods. RPG Initiative has a coterie just for IPS users, you can get coding support in our Coding Requests & Help forum. There's also the IPS Staff People coterie where you can find tips and tricks. 


I run two sites on IPS. One has the new IPS Character almost operational (we're using it but I have not finished finagling the bio forms yet) but we do have amazing bios set up on the IPS Pages feature. My wild west site uses the account linking mod and Pages for the bios. My action adventure site has been migrating onto the IPS Character Mod. I think a majority of what you want could be done automatically using IPS' mega-awesome features.


If you want to prowl my sites, you can click on the buttons in my signature. My SMF site is not ready yet.


Also, take a look at SMF (forums) and the SMF Character Manager created by @Arceus. That's the one that works with the current SMF release. There is also one that works on the new SMF 2.1.  If you decide on SMF, read this before committing to a version. I can tell you that the Character Manager is amazing, the bio layout and options are beyond amazing. You can also get content management systems (portals) to add functionality to SMF. Arc might kill me for saying this, but likely can provide mods for most of your needs. You can also request SMF help in the same help forum listed above or in the SMF Staff People coterie.


Hope some of this helps!



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@Stormwolfe, thank you so much for this in-depth response! I am going to look at IPS, and your sites, in depth with my den of geeks and get back to you. A link to the Nova Discord would be absolutely fantastic. Three of the other RPs in our group run on Nova and as unofficial head of communications (read: I'm That Guy) it'd be great to have a line in.

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So for the IPS stuff here you go:


5-12 writers, each writing a post of 500-1000 words per week - That's a user based thing so not something the software will control.

Each writer has at least one character who will have a biography (stats, background text, awards, promotion history, photo, etc.) - You can use the Character Mod or setup a database. I'll explain more in a moment.

Writers collaborate sometimes to produce joint logs, where several characters are involved - Same answer as previous.



A neat, responsive front end containing: Yes it does. Just resize this site and see.

– OOC info: what the sim is, rules of play, how to join - Can be created in a guides database or a forum.

– Archive of posts - Can be put in a specific forum, left where they are or if you use pages like I'll explain in a moment, different things.

– Manifest of characters and their biographies - Character Mod does this automatically, you can also do this with the database I'll explain.

– IC info: ship specs, deck listing, previous missions - In a set forum or another database or setup in guides called "IC Info" category.

– News/bulletins - There is the built in announcements where you see on the index of the Initiative in the right column. Or again a forum or database.


Back end:

– Ability for players to log in and update character information - Yes it can. Both versions I'm about to explain.

– Ability for players to write/save/post their logs - Yup.

(ideally, also sim statistics) - Members, characters, forums all have statistics.


So first of links for you. The character list (mind you we have a custom template):


Character Mod features and screenshots:




Now to fully explain, with IPS Pages you can create a very Nova-like systems by creating a Characters Database and a "Logs" database. From here you would create templates for appearance but the important part would be using a "relational database field" that you list characters in. This would then show them at the bottom of the log (or top etc).


Hard to explain without already having something setup. We sorta do it here on the Initiative with our Playby Directory. We list Familial relations. From here these character's images show up in the other playbys potential family members. You can see it in use on this character:


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@Morrigan This is all awesome information. I've stuck a bunch of content into Nova for now simply to get my game up and running, so I'm converting this into a project that I research and execute for a 2.0 in a few months' time.


I believe that IPS, and some of the other options I've been looking at, could really do the job and well. I've been shown some awesome sites – those above included!


What I need to consider is this: ST is hugely nuanced when it comes to writers and their perceptions and the word 'forum' risks alienating some longer-form writers. Various technical aspects will need to be translated and writing delivery (how posts are run and displayed) adapted, or gameplay adapted. It gives us the potential to rethink how we play, even introduce completely new styles of play in terms of post regularity and length.


That, however, is a lot of Big Thinking – technically, conceptually and pragmatically. I'm really grateful to everyone for your advice and your time to this point. Allow me to digest and discuss and I'll let you know where I head!

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