Thursday, May 21, 2009

Planning for Online Gaming

These days I'm doing a lot of playing of online gaming. This takes two different forms:

A real-time or near real time game (NRT) using a virtual tabletop, chat, and/or VOIP, OR
a play-by-post turn based game.

Many of the concerns that are issues for real tabletop games are issues for NRT games as well. You need relatively simple rules that can be quickly processed. Its ok to have situations where back and forth between the GM and players is necessary because its happeneing over voice chat. Everyone is sitting and waiting so turns need to move quickly.

Play by post games, however, are different. Unlike a NRT game, in a PBP game the players have plenty of time to think about their turns. If someone spends 10 minutes pondering something, that's ok. What is not ok is lots of back and forth between the player and DM (each exchange may take hours or days to complete), extremly simplistic rules-lite systems that mean the player can't make a strategic choice (rolling 1d20 to hit with a weapon every round gets boring when its the only choice), or rules systems that the players cannot apply on their own without DM intervention.

For example, in 4E, skills are quite defined. Players know that if they want to jump over a pit, they roll athletics and need to hit a certain DC which is given in the PHB. This is great for online play because the players can look up the DC, weigh their chances, and then roll/post without neeing any DM intervention. It is not as good for NRT play because looking up rules in the middle of play slows things down.

Compare this to, say, an ad-hoc stunt system added on to AD&D where maybe players make a save to make the leap/perform the stunt. This works great at the table because its fast and easy to adjudicate on the fly. But its not so good for online play because the player must ask the DM first what the saving throw is (vs. PP, BW, Spell, etc), then if its modified by DEX adjustment, then if there are any situational modifiers. This back and forth might take days on play-by-post while it would be very quick in NRT play.

This is why games like chess or diplomacy make good postal or play-by-post games. Every turn the player is faced with a strategic decision, its alright (and even good) to spend plenty of time pondering each move, and the rules are clearly defined so there need be no questions for the DM. Chess rigorously defines each piece's movement and what happens in every specific case (en passant, advancing a pawn to the last rank, etc). This can slow down face-to-face play (especially among non-expert players, who may need to look up an obscure rule) but is a great aid for postal play. Same with diplomacy.

This leads me towards complicating player choices some, multiplying specific rules for at least the most common 80% of activities, while keeping underlying mechanics simple so that players can roll them themselves.


rustybattleaxe said...

Great information! I was thinking of online play with my 70's D&D gang but was baffled by the options and had too little time to investigate. Very helpful. Thanks!

Vedron said...

Glad it was helpful.

Just to make clear, in this post I am really distinguishing between "Near Real Time" play whether it happen on a tabletop or over VOIP, and play by post. A VOIP/virtual table is somewhere in the middle, but closer to NRT tabletop play than to play by post, I think.