I Need A Relationship Mapping Tool

I was asking for better ways to track PC/NPC relationships in my game on RPG Stack Exchange and Brian brought up the free game Minimus, which is basically an example of social network mapping for an RPG.  This reminded me of the person-to-person tracking diagrams I’ve seen in books on intelligence work, it’s a common HUMINT technique. But then I started looking for good tools to do it and started coming up short..

There’s super complicated open source BS like graphviz – not something I want to deal with as part of my hobby. “Do it in R,” suggested someone who clearly wanted a punch in the nose. Then I thought maybe I could use a virtual corkboard like corkboard.me or  Spaaze but those don’t even have basic “pins and yarn” kind of ways to represent relations. Then I looked at online graphing tools like yED and diagram.ly, which are fine but I already own Visio. That has a lot of fiddling around with layout for the desired use. I’m hoping for something a little more purpose built (like a HUMINT tool) that could be used with maximal ease by a GM.

Such things are also called sociograms, and are used in social media (all examples I could find sucked) and sometimes to map out character relationships in fiction, which is very much where I’m going with it.

I envision just entering names to create cards/whatnot and then create positive/negative relationships (color?) of various intensity (thickness?) connecting them, with some explanatory labels.  Perhaps being able to assign them to a location (like the village they live in) and assigning other affiliation (guild, organization, etc. where you could perhaps get the aggregate opinion of “those guildmembers to that PC” or “that person to the party in general” ) would be nice.  In a simple UI that is editable while also trying to run a darn game, and lets me quickly look up what this person thinks about the PCs (or if maybe they know someone that knows the PCs…).

I know this has to exist, it’s what intelligence folks do all day… I’m happy to pay a consumer amount of money for something if it hits my needs exactly. Anyone seen anything that would do the trick?

Seems like a simple enough “yarn and cards” solution would be a nice virtual replacement for all those wall-covering “find the serial killer” big boards in crime movies… And on the other hand, to construct lovely virtual stalker shrines to Justin Bieber or whoever… WHY DOES THIS NOT EXIST?!?!?!?

Here’s an example of what one small part of a relationship diagram for our Reavers campaign might look like… The Gendarmes in general are quite suspicious of the group, but they have a better relationship with the God Squad and Salvadora is specifically fond of Sindawe… I did it in yED, and had to spend 75% of the time fooling with layout.

Edit: Based on recommendations in the comments, I tried out The Brain.  Here’s my results:

It’s OK – it does let me do color/width of the lines – but the automatic layout is pretty bad, it’s really hard to even see who all is linked to the ship (the alternate outline view is even worse). Everything I click on, it gives me a weird curvy-lined mess where it’s hard to even see what all is linked to the central thought; the line routing is Godawful. I used to work for the company that makes LabVIEW, which has to do a similar task, and I know it’s quite hard, but… It somewhat hits my requirements, but in the end, I’m not sure it’s compelling and easy enough that I’ll use it for this purpose.

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64 responses to “I Need A Relationship Mapping Tool

  1. Hmmmmm, maybe some mindmapping software would do it. They’re all about connections. I forget the name buy there are several free cloud-based ones to play with.

    Jeff

  2. Mindmaps tend to be too ‘centralized’ for my taste, for this purpose (I like ‘em otherwise).

    I’ve been meaning to delve into PersonalBrain. I might be pretty close to what you’re looking for.

  3. Agreed, it’s bizarre that this doesn’t exist. It would be amazingly useful for Smallville, TechNoir, and any other games that include a relationship map as a vital part of gameplay.

    There are lots of Visio variations, but for those you have to connect and position everything by hand. What would be awesome would be a program that could somehow lay out automatically a map so there are as few crossover lines as possible, and all you had to do is, as you note, generate text and relationship connections.

    I briefly used MS Access as a really hacky solution for this, as it will generate a map of linked database tables.

  4. I ran into this problem myself some time ago. Genealogy software just doesn’t quite do it, not least because RPGs simply don’t work that way sometimes, either. (Summers Family Tree, I’m looking at you.)

    Ah well. If you find a solution, I totally want a piece of that action too.

  5. Wikipedia has a potentially useful list of related tools: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_concept_mapping_software

    I also found a number of relevant sites by just googling for “sociogram software”. Many were educational in nature. And, admittedly, many of the top hits were people asking “why can’t I find this software?!?!”

    • I am actually capable of Googling… I did so and all the ones I came across suck. I wouldn’t be putting a call out if the naive lists of such things were valuable.

  6. powerpoint should do this well, using smart shapes. org charts are a very common thing to put together for slides afterall, and that’s basically exactly what this is.

    • Again, same thing as Visio. Which is fine, but I want relationships and stuff to be an actual supported part of the tool instead of using a basic shapes tool and doing the rest myself. Doing it properly is way more complicated than an org chart.

  7. Interesting post. I came across out whilst looking for software that would allow me to create relationships between different types of objects (people, roles, and other user defined objects). The relationship could be defined (employed by, teaches, is taught by, contains…). I can’t find the right tool either! I’m starting to wonder how easy it would be to develop an app using a tool like Expressions Blend and Visual Studio…

    • Sigh. Does the brain allow me to characterize strength or type of a relationship? No, it’s a general mind mapper. So it doesn’t do the job.

      Let me restate my requirements because I don’t think they’re that unclear.
      1. Nodes are people. Optional linking out is nice.
      2. Connections are relationships, with a type and strength ideally reflected visually.
      3. I don’t have to mess with layout myself.
      4. Nice to have, nodes can be grouped.

      So mind mappers, diagramming tools, etc. don’t do the job.

      • Actually yes, TheBrain 7 does this (the Pro desktop version). I don’t consider the dynamic layout to be ideal but I think this is the closest example to a solution that exists so far.

        Downward links indicate sub-units or sub-structure (for organizations, races, or family trees. That’s how I’m handling grouping. And a “thought” unit can be a member of multiple groups.)

        Side links (“jumps”) are social relationships or other loyalties.

        You can assign weights and colors and most importantly, labels and directionality to any link. So for example, I’m currently testing this approach:
        Label and line weight/colors…
        Acquaintance = thin gray line
        Friendly = thin green line
        Ally = thick green line
        Dislike = thin red line
        Enemy = thick red line

        Since you can preset the line color and weight as a “link type” the first time you establish it, then the next time you establish an “Ally” relationship, it’s automatically green and heavyweight. And the direction is an optional checkbox.

        Since you can also type notes on any label, I can put notes right on that “Ally” link to say “Due to a treaty two years ago blahblah blah”.

        I’m actually hoping to use this to plan out and track my entire campaign. I can list out geographic sub-units like countries, cities, districts, neighborhoods, dungeons or buildings — I can link up who lives there and do relationship links between individuals and even between cities to indicate politics. Races and their sub-clans and members, religions, etc.

        I’m sure it’ll be a mighty tangle when I’m done, and I don’t plan for printability, but it will come in handy I’m sure! We’re in a city setting so since it’s easy to hop over to a new neighborhood, I need all this information handy.

        Another feature I appreciate is that not only is there a notes field for every item, you can also attach things — like say character portraits and stats, or for cities maybe a photo for ambiance or what have you.

        • P.S.: Here’s a video demonstrating the linkage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xk5wq1KJe2I&feature=relmfu

        • Hmm, seems like a possibility. I’ve downloaded it and am messing with it now. The visualization is a little frustrating… Here, I’ve added a pic with my results to the article.

          • I tried TheBrain with my large ensemble cast. Getting colour-coded links and “Thoughts” was fairly straightforward but the visualisation’s not particularly useful and every. single. relationship. has to be created manually – which means in addition to manually linking every child to both parents individually, you have to link the children to each other as “siblings” or the relationship doesn’t show up.

            A household with two parents who have five kids is a lengthy nightmare to show the links – and that’s before we get into the territory of linking friendships, rivalries etc

          • Yeah, that was my experience too. Too cumbersome, in the end, to use for this.

  8. I’ve spent the last few days looking around the web for the same thing and fortunately stumbled across this blog. I’m no expert in this area but looking for the same thing. I am an old school computer systems guy turned psychologist looking for a way to map out family connections. I basically want the same software you are looking for. If I find something I will post it here.

  9. There is Analyst Notebook

    http://www.i2group.com/us/products/analysis-product-line/analysts-notebook

    Though I don’t now if it’s available to the general public and fairly certain it would cost a hefty chunk of change. (I think around $3800, don’t think you want to pay that much, but I never know, some people are that willing). Now I have seen free downloads of it but fairly certain those are either fakes or trial versions

    • Hmm, interesting, could be good. Can’t tell from the screenshots if it lets you characterize the relationship link easily though, they all look black and nondescript – but definitely the closest thing so far!

  10. I’ll be interested to see if you come up with something appropriate.

    I landed here while googling the same thing – I want a tool to track the relationships between characters in Game of Thrones – something where I can enter any and all links between people, be it family, employment, or whatever, and have the result displayed in a graph where I can see an overview listing names, or drill down and see the details of the links between people.

  11. I think you’ll be very interested in an upcoming RPG tool called Realm Works. Managing RPG content and all the interconnections between that content is the primary focus of Realm Works. The initial phase of Beta testing started in February, and the product is targeted for release this Fall. If anyone here is interested in joining the next round of Beta testing, you can submit a request to participate on our website. More information will be found at: http://www.wolflair.com/index.php?context=realm_works

    • Looks promising, but from the screenshot IMO it needs to add more to the actual visualization. I want positive/negative, strength, and kind to be visible on the “line” itself (e.g. heavy, red, “hates”). Box and line stuff is common enough, many things do it. See the Minimus example at top.

  12. I am trying out NodeXL. An add-in for Microsoft Excel. You don’t map as such but create a list (spreadsheet_ of the connections and the category of connection. Excel then creates a graph from the data. So something like Bilbo, Frodo, Uncle. Frodo, Sam, Friend. and another sheet of the work book says Friend, Medium Line, Blue. Uncle, Thick Line Black etc
    Yet another sheet will say Bilbo, Hobbit, 20mm (size of graphic) Frodo, Hobbit, 15mm etc
    I think you get the idea.
    Try it – its free – at least it was when I last looked.

  13. And I’ll add my voice to those who found this page whilst googling the same problem.

    I’m trying to find a way of representing the interrelationships between characters in my stories. Tried mind mapping software, genealogy software and the likes of Visio with the same problems as the OP.

    I’d like to be able to just define nodes (people) and their relationships to one another – preferably just enter their names into some kind of expanding database and select the sort of relationship I want between two of the database entries and give it a name – and have it do a best-fit graphical representation.

    Hell, I don’t even want to make it too complex – just who’s biologically related to whom – which, when you have people who have had more than one spouse and children from multiple relationships, is complex enough – rather than mapping every little friendship and even that seems beyond the scope of most software I’ve tried.

    The ability to add relationships to a relationship – pretty much the way a family tree is displayed and for exactly the same reason – would be ideal. While in some cases you might want to have the kids under one person (solo parent, widow(er) etc), for the most part, the kids should be displayed as coming from the “marriage” (or de facto etc) link between two of the other characters.

    Will be watching this thread with interest for any developments.

  14. Hi all! After one of my friends pointed me to this post, we got to brainstorming and now I’m actually writing a piece of software to create just these kind of sociograms. Would anyone here want to help test it? If so, shoot me an email at pmandrews at gmail, with “sociogram” somewhere in the subject. Questions, feature requests, and anything else related to the program is also fair game for an email :p

    The program is entirely open source, under the MIT license, and is hosted at github (https://github.com/aurule/Sociogram).

  15. The only software I’ve seen that does what you are looking for is I2 Analyst Notebook. Expensive, complex (you have to build your tables to suit your analysis), only sold to Law Enforcement and military. I’m not trying to be a smart a$$ here, just giving you an idea of the complexity you are getting involved in even for an RPG.

    The brain might come the closest to what you are looking for if you intend to stay computerized.

    A big blank sheet of paper or index cards on corkboard connected by color coded string might be more cost effective*.

    *method still used by some Police Departments who cannot afford I2 ($5k USD for desktop solution) or simlar products.

    • Yeah, this is one of those things that is “thousand dollar software!” till someone puts out a free javascript web app to do it. It’s not that complicated really. It’s corkboard.me with colored/weighted lines.

      Oh, by the way, i2 Analyst Notebook was mentioned in the comments above, there’s a link ti it there, and also it’s apparently been bought by IBM. Two fun facts!

  16. Oh, hmm, seeding searches with it leads to alternatives like Sentinel Visualizer (http://www.fmsasg.com/Products/SentinelVisualizer/) and some leads on free ones – CASOS’ ORA: http://www.casos.cs.cmu.edu/projects/ora/

  17. Try http://kumupowered.com.

    It has all the features except the grouping, as far as I can see. You can get a free account (Kumunity) if you don’t mind your sharing the maps you build.

  18. Saw this yesterday while searching for the same kind of tool as you are (I’m a writer, and I needed something to help keep track of all the characters I have and their relationships to each other). So far I have tried several different programs – Kumu, The Brain, Mindmeister, Mind Map, and even Prezi at one point, when I got desperate. (Unfortunately, that particular web program requires more artistic skills than I actually have.)

    I finally found Freeplane, at sourceforge.net. As the title suggests, it’s free. It took me awhile to figure out how to make it work the way I wanted to, and it’s not perfect (still requires artistic skills of some sort, but at least I can keep my maps private), but it’s the closest thing to what I’ve been looking for thus far. The screenshots at Source Forge don’t really do it justice, but if you want I can send you one of what I’ve got done so far.

    Only downside to it is that you may end up having to create your own layout. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of pre-made template options in the program. I know you said you didn’t want to spend a lot of time on them, but this post helped me to get started on finding what I’m looking for, so I figured I’d return the favor and send a review of what I’ve found that works for me. Hope it helps.

  19. Keith, I appreciate the dialog here. Very informative. I am looking for a similar tool. My criteria (yours plus a couple others)
    1. Nodes are people. Optional linking out is nice.
    2. Connections are relationships, with a type and strength ideally reflected visually.
    3. I don’t have to mess with layout myself.
    4. Nice to have, nodes can be grouped.
    5. Private.
    6. Can work with a large group (100+) people can create their own maps and then those maps with relationship goals (how strong they want those lines to be).
    7. Capacity to generate an aggregated map.

  20. Where did you end up?

  21. I really like XMind. There’s a free version that has lots of options, and there’s a paid version that has even more. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. I use it for story outlines and mapping character relationships. It does more than any other mapping tool I’ve been able to find. Here’s the site: http://www.xmind.net

  22. Omnigraffle 5 looks like an option. It has added a layout engine that reorders the various nodes for you as you add more. Sadly all the video demo’s use a standard hierarchical organisation however the layout engine Omnigraffle uses can support networked links, there is styling of connections and those connections are maintained by themselves as the network redraws when you add new content. Also, if you fork out lots of money it does subgroups which allow you to link individuals within a group to individuals outside of a group and then collapse the group when you don’t want to see it.
    From what I can find it seems to be either Kumu (online, potential monthly payments) or Omnigraffle (offline, one time payment) are the two good options.

    • When I say the layout engine can use networked links, I also meant to say that Omnigraffle has an icon the seems to suggest it is making use of this.

  23. Not sure if you’re still looking. I found an older tool that looks like it will be a good stop-gap until something better comes along: http://www.habitualindolence.net/labyrinth/

    For my purposes I just want to track a few notes and relationships, I hope this is some use to you.

    • I just downloaded it and gave it a preliminary test. Hasn’t got lots of bells and whistles but seems quite good.

      Thanks.

  24. Lucidchart looks nice! Kumu has started properly now too (https://www.kumu.io/) and looks similar. The free version of kumu is more useful though – public projects are free. Lucidchart limits the number of objects for free users.

  25. What’s the recommendation for one of these that isn’t “cloud” based? I don’t really have any privacy concerns for my RPG stuff, I just want a local install/local copy of my data, I don’t want to deal with a web-app or requiring an Internet connection.

  26. Stan_Stapledon

    Hello Gamers :)

    I have stumbled over this thread while researching some reviews about the npc-pc-relationship heavy RPG ‘Minimus’ (like the original blogger was searching for gameplay-helping software in regard to playing ‘Minimus’ and similar character-centric games).

    I felt the urge to hint at the FREE and intuitive, also very fast, but powerful diagram designer ‘Dia':

    http://sourceforge.net/projects/dia-installer/

    It’s completely offline, local install on Windows/Linux/Mac.

    It runs very smooth on older machines with the MOST complex diagrams (for professional software design e.g.).

    I prefer it now (while testing some Mindmappers like XMind) for ALL my fast&easy RPG DESIGN NEEDS, because it gives me, what I want:

    1. Drag&Drop/Copy&Paste Textboxes with individual color/font/linewidth etc.
    2. different Arrows/Lines with text/color/width/direction etc.
    3. Object Grouping
    4. Object Layering
    5. Full Text/Object Search

    You could do the NPC/PC-Mapping with ease, just define, copy&paste, change, iterate, connect/disconnect/delete, push around.

    I can structure whole Campaigns/Adventures in an informative way.

    Even Location Mapping is practical with a multi-layered approach and custom image/symbol loading. You can design vast Hexgrid/Square Maps with extreme ZoomIn/Out. Everything is exportable in different file/image types for further use in other software. Panning and zooming around even monstruos maps/diagrams should be no problem for a shitty 2007-generation-gfxcard (like mine …).

    If you want to add STRUCTURE & INFORMATION to your game or novel planning, I just cannot praise and recommend this tool enough.

    Try it!

  27. I just want to say thanks all for the suggestions. I am working on a project now that requires this. Just wanted to say thanks for the conversation and suggestions.

  28. I have been looking for something like this as well. Have you checked out InFlow at Orgnet? Here is a link: — http://www.orgnet.com/InFlow31.pps

    I’d be curious to know how this fits your criteria (or not)

  29. It is still in the beta stage, so there is much room for improvement/is very new. It is also a web app, so likely not what you are looking for either. But I wanted to put it out here as an option for others: http://www.wriget.com/

    You just add in the connections, then a character map is made for you automatically. Drag things around to see them better, or if you are bored.

  30. Writeitnow 4 has a character relationships tool, and you can add whatever type of relationship you like, the program doesn’t limit you. Here’s a screenshot: http://www.ravensheadservices.com/V4Relationships.php

    • The relationships tool is probably the only thing I like about Writeitnow, a stand-alone relationship tool like that – with the user-customiseable table input – is the sort of thing I want… without having to pay for Writeitnow just to get that bit.

  31. Hi! I’ve been following your website for a long time now and finally got the
    bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Texas!
    Just wanted to say keep up the great job!

  32. Combine UNCINET with the open source tools taught in this series and you could make something unique.

  33. I’m currently trying to use My Family Tree to build something similar. But it’s limited in that it doesn’t allow you to write new brands of connections and such. Which is important to me.

    • I tried similar with Ultimate Family Tree and experienced the same problems. In fact, I found it problematic just trying to add different sorts of “Marriage”, let alone anything else.

      Is there any reasonably priced or (better) Open Source family tree program that enables you to easily different connections and automate their reciprocals with appropriate terminology?

      Carrying on from above, I gave WriteItNow’s relationships a try and found that it doesn’t create reciprocal relationships, which is to say that while you can select a relationship type (and create your own on the fly) and a character from the list, you then have to manually go to that other character and add the reciprocal relationship – which gets cumbersome very fast if you’ve got more than a few characters.

      At least a family tree program “works both ways” when you add marriages, births etc.

      • Yeah. I figured out how to make my family tree display lines between “adopted” people. But yeah,I’m thinking about just writing my own program.

  34. Hi, I hope, that our product SVAT can meet your criteria – check our website http://www.nfgsvat.com .

    • That looks like it’d do what we want… but one small problem, there’s no download link, to get a “trial” version you have to contact them. And when you try to, it tells you your email is restricted so you can’t get through. So… yeah… how do you go about downloading that program Marek?

      • You’re right, there is no download link, because we want to know our (potential?) customers :) I don’t want to spam this discussion – can you write me to marek.susicky profinit.eu – I’m very curious about email restriction problem and then I’ll send you demo and licence file.

  35. Just use Visio after all. It has an layout option which will layout your sheet for you using the options you specify. After that, you can relayout the sheet just by a click on the menu item.
    I use it just for the exact same purpose: visualizing and modelling PC NPC relationships for my campaigns. I would never layout a diagram by hand.
    Also, there are a lot of shortcuts and little tricks of getting your characters and relationships in the sheet (nothing fancy, but let me know if you are interested).
    The part you would have to do in any software is to enter the relationships. But with the relationship tool and some shortcuts, you can do this visually and in no time. Trigger relayout afterwards.

    I once wrote a tool for my day job (software developer) which reads objects and the relationships between them from database files (and by parsing source code) and dumps them as shapes in visio, connects them and just uses the auto layout function. This saves so much time.

    • I went to Dia. Takes some getting used to. But it’s everything I wanted except proper size control over the images.

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