RPT#135 – 12 Tips For Internet GMing
A Brief Word From Johnn
This Week’s Article Great For Pen & Paper GMs Too
In his introduction, Daniel says his tips lean more towards online GMs. However, I think pen and paper GMs would benefit from many of them too. If you are a P&P gamer, check out Tips #2 (speaking instead of typing), 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 specifically.
Online RPGs Link Request
Are you a Tips subscriber and run a PBeM or Internet based game? If so, send me a link and I’ll post it in Issue #136 as a follow-up to today’s article to help other Tips GMs and players who are seeking online game recommendations.
Send your link and online RPG title/blurb to: email@example.com
HackMaster Contest Winners
Thanks to everyone who entered the HackMaster GM Screen contest in #133! The winners have all been contacted and the screens will ship soon. Congrats to:
Adam T, Amber M, Antonio C, Ben K, Bislab, Chuck T, David N, David W, Dwayne T, Ivan E, Jeff G, Jeffrey J, Jeffrey D, John B, Joseph M, Julia S, Mark W, Paul L, Todd H, Tom G.
Johnn Four firstname.lastname@example.org
RARE OUT-OF-PRINT RPG MATERIALS!
As a special bonus to Roleplaying Tips subscribers, all orders from The Hero Factory get a free item from our secret Resurrection page! This month we are featuring some rare Planescape and Shadowrun materials, along with T1-4, Q1-7, Rary the Traitor, and The Complete Book of Necromancers!
A Guest Article by Daniel Howard
Playing over the Internet using ICQ, OpenRPG, or some other Internet chat-based system is similar but not the same as playing across a GM’s screen and a dinner table. For example, typing is slower and more formal than speaking, but whispering using Internet chat is much less obvious and more viable than passing notes in full view of other tabletop players. To account for these differences, tips for Internet players and GMs will be somewhat different than for regular tabletop players and GMs. Use the following tips to help you run efficient, organized, exciting, and popular Internet RPGs.
- Be A Fast Typist
If there is one GM and four players, the GM has to type four times as much (and usually more) than each player. Since a GM needs to type so much he will always be the bottleneck. Find and use those cut-and-paste shortcuts. Look for every way to shave a second or two from getting that text to the players. In the end though, nothing beats being able to rip out sentence after sentence by being a demon typist.
- Set The Scene In One Sentence–Be A Frugal Typist!
The corollary to being a fast typist is being frugal with words. Make scenes and places as vivid as possible with a single, short sentence. Then transition immediately into NPC actions, scene updates or “now that you look at it” details. That way, players will imagine the scene quickly and be able to type in their actions and questions.
Accuracy is important, too; your frugalness will be wasted if laden with misspelled words. Misspelled words and abbreviations can break the mood as players struggle to decipher you.
- Suggest Actions To Clarify And Speed Things Along
When you turn your attention to a single player and ask “What do you do now?”, consider adding some obvious and sensible actions. “Lanival, what do you do? Roll d20 to attack? Run away? Do something else?” will both clarify what is expected (allowed) and help out a confused player. Sometimes, players get stage fright or get stumped. Help them out.
- Use “Best Guess” And Go With It
Sometimes, it isn’t worth clearing up little misunderstandings from the players. Make your best guess at their intentions from their input, describe what they actually do, and then describe the result. As long as you guess sensibly, the players will not complain. Slowing down to make everything precise is not worth it. Over time, if you give your players the benefit of the doubt and make them look smart, they will come to trust you.
- Use Narrative To Move The Game Along
If you are running out of time (or trying to keep the pace up), consider describing rather than role-playing pieces of the game. If the party is returning to a previous spot, you could just type, “The party turns around, runs down the hall, turns left and jumps over the trap. They skid to a stop in front of the unexplored corridor.” Why take the time to role-play it?
Also, if you are ending a session, a few sentences where you “make” the party perform some (reasonable) actions that get them back to “town” is preferable to just “freezing” them in a dungeon. Ending each session in “town” gives the players a sense of finishing and prevents the awkward, incontiguous problem where a “frozen” PC does not show up to the next game.
- If Players Do Not Act, Make Them React
The players might be confused or they might be indecisive (decision by committee is never easy). The solution is to have something explode. Have water drip. Make a door swing open. Have footsteps be heard on the floor above. Don’t waste precious session time while players dither trying to find something sensible to do. Force a decision or, at least, a reaction. Imbue a sense of immediacy. As things happen, little misunderstandings will be cleared up and your players will get a better sense of what their options are.
- Keep Everybody Involved & Address Everybody Directly
When you type, nobody can tell who you are looking at or who your statement is directed towards, so start a line meant for a certain PC with his name. You don’t have type: “Lanival, what do you do?” over and over. Mix it up. For example, “Lanival falls back after being hit. What do you do?”
You might also consider scrambling the initiative order to keep the players on their toes. Try to draw in the players who haven’t typed anything in a while and might be getting lost in the shuffle. Through a chat window, it is much harder to tell when a player is distracted or bored so be proactive about keeping each player involved.
- Use “Whisper” To Its Best Advantage
Most Internet chat systems allow you to send a message to a single person in the room without letting the others see it. Rather than describe details, use this “whisper mode” to give details to a single player and let that player relate the information to the party.
Encourage your players to use “whisper mode” to ask about rules clarifications so they do not disturb other players. A GM who is a fast typist can even let the party split up and neither group will know what each other is doing. Internet chat shines in comparison with tabletop games in this respect. “Whisper mode” is less obvious than passing notes during a game. Use it to its best advantage.
- Make Every Session Exciting And Complete
It is a drag to play in a game for 3 hours as a new player and your only accomplishment is killing a few wandering monsters. It is also a drag to have to “flash freeze” your game in the middle of a dungeon. That makes PCs unable to perform any action over e-mail.
Even if a player only shows for one session, he should have an exciting time and a sense of accomplishment. Plus, Internet players are brutal. If your game is boring the first time or is just a “building up” session, they’ll quit. Make every session worthwhile and avoid those “bridge” sessions.
- Be Ready To GM, No Matter What
The Internet is an anonymous place. If you ran a tabletop game, you could phone or run over to your player’s house to get him to come to a session. On the Internet, however, people can drop out of the game with no warning.
Furthermore, if a player’s first session is dull, he probably won’t come back for a second one. As a GM, be prepared to deal with old players who don’t show up, new players who don’t have character sheets, too many players, or too few.
If you have a policy to play–no matter what–you’ll be fine. Games with GMs who are picky or dictatorial quickly turn into solo sessions.
- Have A Web Site
Consider using a web site as a preparation and organizing tool. When you are too busy, a site can help players with information on:
- How to join the game
- Your e-mail address
- Your style of play
- How to install any necessary software
- Example character sheets
- An example log from one of your sessions
- An introduction to your campaign world
- Scanned images of campaign maps
- House rules
- GM’s suggestions to new players
- GM’s commentaries
- Links to other sites
- Have And Use A Campaign Message Board And E-Mail
Sign up for a free message board for your group on Yahoo! or any number of other free sites on the Internet. Use the message board to maintain a list of your current players and their e-mail addresses.
More importantly, between sessions, you can involve the group in PBEM (Play By E-Mail) story lines for your game by posting role-playing narratives on the message board. Players can then post their actions and discuss party strategy.
If a player wants to pursue a private plot line, he can e- mail you directly. By doing this, you can reserve your chat sessions for parts of the game, such as combat and play-by- play role-playing, while using the message board for longer and more personal narrative-style role-playing. The best of both worlds!
Our first book: NPC Essentials is a collection of tips, techniques, and aids designed to help game masters inject detailed NPCs into any role-playing campaign. Inside, readers will find advice on designing, role-playing, and managing NPCs during the entire lifetime of their campaigns. Also included are NPC archetypes, charts, and an example NPC-centric adventure. Written by that hack writer Johnn Four. 🙂 Now available at:
- Creating Teenaged Versions Of Your Favorite Superheroes
Sometimes, the worst thing that can happen in a superhero RPG is creating teen or preteen heroes who seem a little wimpy compared to the adult superheroes. They could be seen as sidekicks to a hero, but by themselves they’d seem to be more of a hanger-on than a sidekick. Worse, even after they grow up, people still think of them as sidekicks–not heroes.
Well here’s a way to beef up your teen heroes into superteens worthy of Youngblood and Young Justice. First, study current comics such as Generation-X, Gen 13, Young Justice, Power Pack, F REEX, and even the aforementioned Youngblood, for a good idea on how to create your Teen Hero.
Second, using your game system (such as GURPS, HERO, Fuzion), set some stats for your teen PC that reflect his or her age so that she is not mistaken for an adult hero.
Third, keep in mind that this is a teen hero–not a follower or a sidekick–with their own stats, so make sure their powers and characteristics show that they are a super hero and not a sidekick.
Fourth, keep your PC developing in experience until he or she is a full grown hero so that they’ll progress realistically and in full detail.
- Plan Campaigns By Seasons & Episodes
From: Ryan Boell
What I find helps me is that I plan my games by seasons and episodes. For example, Season 2 has 24 episodes. The 24th episode is when the main bad guy dies. Throughout these 24 episodes, I introduce minor villains, some little bad things, and then a big bad thing.
I number a page from 1 to 24 and start placing key events that HAVE to happen at said episodes. Very easy and it works.
- How One GM Dealt With His “Problem” Players
My response has to do with Reader’s Tip #2, Issue #99. (The Three Types Of Gamers From: Roger H. http://www.roleplayingtips.com/issue99.asp#r2 )[Comment from Johnn: for more info on the terms used in SF’s advice below, check out FAQ1.art at: http://www.darkshire.org/~jhkim/rpg/styles/faq_v1/ ]
This taxonomy is the same as power gamer, average gamer, roleplaying artist, that has floated through my group. We tend to favor the simulationist approach.
The three types tend to conflict with each other. My play group was huge at the time, a 12-20 player Champion’s game in which we had a wide diversity of players and play styles. We had some annoying intra-player conflicts over rules, genre, and roleplaying. They were beginning to eat up a great deal of play time. This problem was exaggerated by the group’s large number. There are more people to argue with, offend, or put their two cents in. Every time I got involved, it only aggravated the situation.
After a particularly annoying session, I realized that the issues were not going away and were only getting worse. To avoid having the game group self-destruct, I had to solve the problem without appearing to solve the problem. Taking a page from my illuminati handbook, I devised a plan.
It started simply. I told a gamist that his experience point rewards would be higher if he just roleplayed more. Then it just took a simple suggestion to some of the dramatists that instead of harping on the people who were not roleplaying, they should guide them to become better roleplayers. This eliminated some of the immediate issues. Its success (and improving of everyone’s gamecraft) spurred me on to continue the process.
When a dramatist was unable to achieve their important dramatic action (and created a resounding thud in the plot) because they did not know the game mechanics they were bitter and frustrated at the game. I suggested they learn a bit about the game system to avoid future resounding thuds. After a few more suggestions, I got the gamist/game mechanics experts to help the dramatists build better characters and improve their characters’ efficiency. That way, the dramatists actually learned what their characters could do and learned enough of the game rules so that they could enjoy game play.
With my two problem sections happily fixing each other, I had time to work on the larger issue that was bothering me. The game was becoming a soap opera rather than a super hero comic campaign. I had good players, they just were not comic fans.
To fix this, I made few subtle suggestions. I said to the gamists that their rewards would be greater if they gamed more in genre. To the dramatists, who were complaining about the lack of certain plots, that those plots needed to fit the genre conventions, and that they needed to better fulfill the “entry conditions”, I made a few suggestions about who they could talk to for help. This got both groups talking to the third group: the simulationists.
To round things out, I made some suggestions to the simulationists that they could use help with their roleplaying or rules (as needed) and who to talk to about that.
The groups began to interact.
In short, a little subtle communication resolved the group’s power struggles and conflicts and improved its gamecraft. And everyone still liked me because I didn’t get involved in the struggle.
Most GMs should not have to deal with these issues with Machiavellian means. However, by determining each player’s strengths and weaknesses, and pairing them with someone who has complimentary weaknesses and strengths, you can improve the gamecraft of all your players.
As a side benefit, as the average level of gamecraft goes up in the group, other players strive to improve their play. Play just gets better. Everyone needs a little of all three groupings to be a great gamer.
- Inspiration In The Strangest Places
From: Sean Hexed
Real life can be more inspiring than fiction. Check out these two links:
- Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
This website is about a nuclear waste site that is being designed here in the States. It’s a fascinating read as a current event and, more importantly, as inspiration for GMs designing threatening and foreboding locations. It’s given me plenty of ideas for design elements for my villains’ lairs or forbidden sites of ultimate evil.
- The World’s Stinkiest Flower
I always thought the plants/fungi/etc. in various gaming books seemed awfully ridiculous and far-fetched. Then I just happened upon this article on cnn.com. Shriekers? How about a flower with a eight foot pistil that only blooms several times in its 40 year lifespan, heats up ten degrees warmer than the surrounding air, and gives off a smell of rotting corpses?
Another good article on the Corpse Flower: http://whyfiles.org/shorties/080corpseflower
- Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
- Use A Voodoo Doll For Wounds
A quick idea: if you have trouble keeping track of the wounds characters sustain, I recommend using a “Voodoo doll”. It’s an outline drawing of the character on which you mark all wounds. (Actually I’ve created my own system, and I have the Voodoo doll printed right on the sheet.) Use a code to show the different kinds of wounds: I use a dot for punctures, slash for cuts, darkened area for burns, etc.
- Use A Dice Pit To Settle Rolling Disputes
I’ve found, when playing around a table, things can get confusing with dice rolls. Does the roll count if it falls onto the floor? Does the roll count if it hits this or lands on that?
My group has solved the problem by having players roll into a large plate with a flat bottom and steep sides. The roll doesn’t count if it slips outside the plate. With this method, everyone can see the result of the roll and it keeps the dice in one place. Anything can be used as the “dice pit” – a saucepan, plate, pasta bowl, as long as it has a flat bottom and raised sides. GMs can even decorate them if they so wish!
I hope someone finds this tip useful.