Saturday, January 2, 2010

Rolling the Dice

When I first started playing games over the internet I decided to play them over a chat client (mIRC) and we used a dice roller that would allow for rolls to be generated in the screen. You could also program scripts into the client, such that I could pregenerate all of the room descriptions for my map such that if the PC's entered room 12 I would go to lvl1-12 description in the client (using a short cut key like cntrl+shift+0112) and the room description would drop right down into the window. If you wanted to roll some dice you typed /roll 3d6 and you got some results. All my players were able to roll their own dice for saves and attacks and we color coded the text such that descriptive text was one color and command text and bot output was another color. This allowed you to focus on the descriptive text but reference the mechanics as necessary. I also played a couple of fudge campaigns and you could preprogram common tasks like roll 4 fudge dice.

This was a really nice way of playing that came really close to the table top experience. I've been thinking that one of the newer technologies that might also make gaming interesting like this would be the WebEx, Skype, and iChat technologies. I'd like to be able to have the characters chat face to face like they are in the room together, share a screen that shows diagrams of the dungeon etc... and at the same time have a chat window to handle the rolling aspects. If anybody has played in a game like this - I'd be interested to hear about the technology you are using.

Currently however, due to the aspects of playing with some of my gaming group who are in Italy, Scotland, Seattle, Florida, etc... with some gamers leading lives that take them to Asia or Australia, or Morocco at times - it just isn't possible to get everyone onto a chat window at a certain time of day for several hours anymore (at least not without it leading to several divorces). Also, I wanted to be able to play games in a format that allowed others to join in (people recruited via advertising on, or etc... or from off this blog or people who might stumble into my game somehow). This led me to the PBEM concept and it is something that is working right now. It isn't for everybody (see my posts here and here on the subject of the campaign I am running right now) but it is working for my tastes.

In the two games I am playing in right now (one as DM, one as player) all the rolling aspects of the game are handled by the DM. For my game I can say honestly that I have a set of Gamescience dice and I have rolled every die for every attack/save/contest. I'm not sure what the DM of my other game does. None of my players have had a problem using this approach so far... in fact one of them said he prefers the game this way. He can sit back and think of his move, describe it out well, and then let the DM take care of the mechanics. I am also worried that if I added a dice rolling mechanic/program/robot this could really drag out combat needlessly.

The way I run combat is 1 round at a time. Each player posts what they want to do - details are important. During combat I give each player 2 days to post (or until 75% of the party has posted) then I take control of their players move for the round. Initiative for the players is determined by posting speed (post first = first initiative) and the monsters initiative is determined randomly relative to the PC's. Typically a 7 round combat would take 1-2 weeks to complete and involve ~6-7 posts from each player. Using simple combat rules like C&C, LL, or S&W allows combat to be quick and deadly - there are no feats, no attacks of opportunity, etc.. to worry about. They tell me what they want to try - I roll some dice and then tell them what happens.

I typically format combat posts in the following mode:

Round #
Text Description of what happens (usually 1-3 paragraphs of text).
Description of Battlefield Positioning (who is next to what, etc...)
Summary of Important Rolls (1s and 20s that affected outcomes - fumbles, critical hits, max damage, etc...)
Summary of Player HP

At the end of the combat I update the player HP in my Database (they can view this at any time) and then I also update the treasure database (they can also view this at any time).

In my latest game we haven't had a combat since October. But it is about to get intense since the players are entering a sunken desert city (modeled after The Lost City by Tom Moldvay - but with a more Lovecraftian bent). I don't want to give away too many details in case I let my players know about this blog before they finish this section of the game - but I will definitely be posting info about how things are going if it turns out to be awesome.

Sometimes I wish I could give my players the experience of controlling their destiny with a d20 - but I don't have a nice application that would sit on my Group webpage allow my players to tap on a button and then post a roll into the page somehow. I would want it to operate outside of our typical communication window such that it doesn't clutter our email boxes/posting window. Also, would my players be able to log into the computers at an even more regular frequency to keep up with rolling?

I would have to drastically change the flow/method/format of the game and have players who are all dedicated to posting daily. Right now I have a mix of players - some check in 2-3 time a day and post like crazy and I am carrying a couple of players who like to post twice weekly and are fine with me NPC'ing them through a couple of rounds of combat now and again.

In summary, for PBEM/PbP I think things are going well without the dice roller. The players have to trust the DM to be impartial with his dice.

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