I have had fairly strange interests in RPG games. My first roleplay experience was when I was ten at a freeform play-by-post forum. When I learned D&D 3.5, I was 14 and had nobody to play with. So I played it over MSN Messenger with some friends. Since then I’ve played a lot more maptools, chat games, and play-by-posts than real life stuff. I’ve always liked running the game with text. I think it lets you do some fun story stuff that you couldn’t do around a table because people don’t have the text they can go back to, manipulate, or take their time with. The way I play takes more time than a normal game, but I enjoy it, especially because I have limited time to allot to running games over Maptools or Google Hangouts. I can play more leisurely. Google Documents has been a big help hosting play by post stuff for me. So I thought I’d briefly discuss how I play on it.
Google Documents is a free cloud computing word processor from Google. I would go more in-depth as to what it is and what it does, but I feel by now most of you would know. Here’s a link to Google’s overview page. It’s not a forum, and it’s kinda bare-bones, but you can do so much with it if you try and it’s so easy.
So basically, you get a google account (your friends don’t necessarily need them, I believe you can invite them in with any email, but you’ll need one to manage the files) and you start a document. I’m running a Deathwatch campaign like this and I keep all my files in a folder in Google Documents like so:
Start some documents for your games. Players need a document with guidelines, houserules, stuff like that, so they know the character creation guidelines. Then they can write their character sheets in separate documents. You don’t want each document to be hundreds of pages long so it’s better to start new ones. You can organize all the new documents into one folder on your side for easy access (something I’ve yet to do as you can see, the character sheets aren’t there yet, and I should take my own advice on this). You then start documents for parts of the game. The Deathwatch RPG has Missions, so I make a new Document every time they embark on a new Mission, and then I make a “Transition” document for “between mission” roleplaying stuff, where they can just do whatever they want while I prepare the next adventure.
Above is a snapshot from my current game, with an environment picture drawn by one of my players, actually! So how do you conduct play over Google Documents? What I did was give every player their own personal text color (I reserved black for Narration, and Bolded Black for DM Meta stuff like telling them if they failed rolls) and have them continue the narration from their character’s perspective, adding their actions and reactions to the ongoing story.
I find this a huge amount of fun, and it’s really my preferred way of going about RPGs. I love writing – I majored in English! And I have two tumblrs in addition to this blog, both of which host web fiction I’ve been writing. I write these games like fictions, and encourage the players to add to them. I’ve not yet found a game where this was an impediment to my group, but this is definitely not a format for everyone. You really have to enjoy writing to get the most of it.
Of course, you don’t always have time to do write large, detailed paragraphs – sometimes you just add a little bit and you hurry on. Players can always go back later and edit in more stuff to their past “bookmarking” additions. So sometimes I see stuff like [Bergstrom goes in the pyramid, I'll add more later] from a player. And that is cool, and we advance the game and later when they can, they write more. Everyone plays at their own pace, and at the end of each mission I have a little story there about the characters, their battles and travels, and a lot of dead evil aliens.
Dice rolling seems like a problem, but one of my favorite web sites, Invisible Castle, makes this quite painless. Each player makes an account there, fills in the fields, and you game on. Invisible Castle keeps track of rolls by character and campaign (if you’re logged in) so you can see the history there. I’m not expecting anyone to cheat, because I play with my friends and I trust them, but I know people have hang-ups about this, so this solution is great.
Similarly, some games require grid maps. Sometimes Google Documents is uncooperative and squashes up or distorts the grids I make, but I’ve had success in the past using a table as a map:
You can embed images so you could embed a nice battlemap for everyone, although you can’t edit it (I don’t think) so you can’t “move the pieces” like you can if you draw a table and populate it this way.
I play it like a play-by-post, but there’s no reason you can’t “host a session” here like you could over a chatroom. You can tell everyone in your party a date and time each week where they can log in, and show up together and start writing. You’ve got a text chat on the side of the document for Out-Of-Character chatter, and a comments system at the top where you can leave notices and such. It’s a lot more flexible than it may seem, because after each “session” is done you can go back to writing in a calm and leisurely manner like usual. For organizational purposes, I usually “advance” the narrative as GM once each player has given input, much like a normal game, so that one player doesn’t run away with things. But even if that were to happen, the players can get together and fill out missing spaces later. Though you may want to set a “no time traveling” rule – players can’t go back and edit past things using future knowledge to change events in their own favor.
So what about you? Have you ever played over Google Documents or a Play-By-Post? How was your writing style there, and did you enjoy it? What do you think of how I do things? Would you be willing to give it a swing if I ever theoretically GMed a game for you? Sound off in the comments, on twitter, via email, as you like.