Friday, January 31, 2014

Running Roleplaying Games Over IRC Part II

Some more thoughts on running RPGs over IRC, to round up the overview begun in the last post.

Some more things IRC does really well:

5: IRC is self documenting. The autologging feature of most IRC client programs is pure awesome! Everything in the main channel(s) is logged by the post time, so you have a complete record of what was said. It makes a lovely real-time resource for finding the name of that alien with the squeegee or the address of the bomb-maker. With some mild cleanup - typos and sequential overlap problems - it's a comprehensive actual play record. This is just GOLD!

6:  Nicks! Nicks are nicknames. You can change them at will, so long as no-one else is using it, so it's not the player's name there but the character's. It aids immensely in the immersive gestalt when it's not BobJones but MirkoTheHeretic selling you a riding griffon. Also, MirkoTheHeretic can disappear with a quick command when Waranda_Lanargi enters the scene. Great for players, awesome for troupe play.

7: Dice bots are wonderful creatures specific to the server network you are on. The better ones can give you any type of dice result from linear (1d20) to additive (3d6) to dice pools (4[1d10]). The results are there in the open, with results shared. There are also ways to make private dice rolls - useful for some GM rolls.

8: You can walk away from the game to visit the bathroom, have a smoke, or even go to the store for necessities without bothering others. They can go on without you, and you can scroll back and see what you missed when you return.

Like any electronic gaming platform, you can game with people around the world, given time zone issues. I played with a player in Europe and another in California at the same time. Remember to allow for these issues in scheduling.

Expect occasional no-shows. To limit this, remind the players a day or two before the game, and again the day of the game. It is *really* easy to forget about the game completely. I have done it myself, as the GM! Be forgiving with those who occasionally miss a game. Real life sometimes gets in the way of games, sometimes unexpectedly.

One problem specific to IRC is a NetSplit. This is a strange situation where the players may be on different servers of an IRC network, and the servers lose communication with each other. If a player suddenly goes silent and unresponsive, it may be a NetSplit. They may be sitting there, staring at their screen and wondering why *you* have suddenly gone quiet! The best solution for this is to all log onto the same server. Luckily, it very rarely happens nowadays, though it used to be much more common.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Running Roleplaying Games over IRC

IRC - Internet Relay Chat - is an old technology, and doesn't get a lot of interest in a world with Skype and Google+ Hangouts, and Virtual Tabletops, but it has its own compensatory features that make it still a very viable medium for roleplaying.

I have been running games over IRC since 2003. That year I started a StarCluster game that finally wound up last year, after its 11th season.  In 2006, I began alternating it with In Harm's Way: Napoleonic Naval, each one running for six months before changing. That game has been running now for eight years. I have run many other, shorter arced games as well over the years - from one-shots to six months at a time. In other words, I have a lot of experience in the medium.

Things IRC does *really* well:

1: Since IRC is a text medium, your graphics are limited only by your imagination. This is very much like a game played over the tabletop - no computer-generated scene can ever be as well done as your imagination!

2: No one can see or hear the players. All you see is the text they type. There is no cognitive dissonance between the sweet young girl character and the bearded, sarcastic player. The player is not part of the mental image, just the character. This leads to easy, deep immersion in the characters and their world. This is actually better than the tabletop.

3: GM-Player communication is generally over side channels directly between the two - this talk does not interrupt the flow of text in the main channel, and keeps that environment very immersive. This goes as well for player-to-player communication.

4: You can open another channel and roleplay two scenes at once, each with part of the group. The GM can switch between them as needed.

Things IIRC is not so good at:

1: Speed. The pace of an IRC session is slow. Typing is far slower than speech in the first place, and if you have slow typers, respons speed can be very slow. Figure on at most half the speed of a face-to-face session.

2: Transposed replies are another typing-speed based problem. The reply to a sentence can come after a second or even third statement is posted. This is usually the result of having some faster and some slower typists in the mix, but it can also be the result of GM and players being active in a side channel, and not getting back to the main channel fast enough.

3: Positioning can be iffy when you are not used to abstract positioning. There is no common view of the field of play, as there is with a battlemat or whiteboard, because of the inherent limitations of text. Use more abstract positioning, though, and you should be fine.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Creating a Venusian City-State in Lowell Was Right!

Today I'm going to generate a random Venusian city-state for LWR!.

Size:  1d20 roll is a 14 : Medium City. Nice, something substantial but not overwhelming. This gives us three Ancillaries.

Technology: 1d20 roll is a 20 : Oooh! Very high tech for Venus! This means black powder guns, efficient sailing ships, clockwork, the beginnings of science! Very cool!

Ancillaries: 1d20 roll is a 14 : Herds.
Ancillaries: 1d20 roll is a 1 : Extraordinary Adjacent Farmland.
Ancillaries: 1d20 roll is a 9 : Ingenious Craftsmen.
OK - they have pastureland with herds of some kind. I will say some moderately sized herbivorous dinosaurs. useful for meant, sinew, bone, and hide - and possibly mounts? Why not! Also extraordinary farmland - volcanically enriched fields? Yes! And ingenious craftsmen, able to work with the dino bones and sinew to fashion both beauty and utility.

Government Form: Roll 1d10 is 9 : Theocracy
Hmm. The Government outwardly looks like a Theocracy
Government Substance: Roll 1d10 is 4 : Oligarchy
So, the *real* government is by a select few - perhaps a committee of the faithful - who send the priests their orders. Sounds quite functional.

Castes - Rigidity: Roll 1d10 is a 8 : Bendable
OK, Castes are not very rigid, and there are ways to manipulate them if necessary. Practical.
Castes - Base: Roll 1d10 is a 2 : Religion
The Castes are based on Religion - makes sense in an ostensible  Theocracy!
Castes - Complexity: Roll 1d10 is a 1: Byzantine
Aha! This is how the Castes are *bent*! They are so complicated that those who actually understand them are very few, and it's relatively easy to push the envelope!

Cultural Oddities - Economics: Roll 1d20 is a 14 : Matrilineal Succession
So - descent is traced through the mother - perfectly rational! You always know who the mother is!

Cultural Oddities - Interpersonal: Roll 1d20 is a 17 : Amazonism
Cool! The warriors are women, not men! Hooks up nicely with Matrilineal Succession!

Cultural Oddities - Leisure: Roll 1d20 is an 11 : Alcohol
Alcohol is central in leisure activities. I'm picturing bacchanals with hard-bitten Amazons and their fancy men, sealing the deal with off-world traders.

Cultural Oddities - Fashion: Roll 1d20 is a 19 : Courtesans
With this culture, I'm interpreting this result as open Courtesans being central to the culture. Courtesans would be mostly male, but also female - a big gender reversal implied by the Amazon warriors.

Cultural Oddities - Taboos: Roll 1d20 is a 13 : Marriage
Marriage is taboo, and really not needed under Matrilineal descent. This doesn't mean that pair-bonding is unknown, just that it is not officially sanctioned, and probably rare.

This culture took some sharp turns there! Let's roll with it! Since Martians took their Human slaves from all sorts of places and times, we'll say this City-State recons their ethnic descent from the ancient Amazons known to the Greeks, which was from some place along the Euxine (Black) Sea. The Martians, in fact, took the whole tribe, which is why it vanished from Earth's history, leaving only a scattered remnant which died out.

This implies the religion to be some offshoot of Greek polytheism - not the same, but an evolved version of it - as the Greeks wrote about the Amazons as if they shared much the same religion. We can safely assume that female deities were held in higher regard than among the Greeks. So - both male and female priests would be allowed, depending on the deity they served. I will push that into a dualistic Female Principle (Gaia) and a Male Principle (Anthros), who manifest themselves as various Gods and Goddesses as appropriate, each with their own priestly Caste. The Ruling Council, then, would be the head priests of these Castes.

There seems to be a fairly strict division of work between male and female implied by the Amazon Warriors, with some professions being male-centered, some female-centered, and a few jointly centered. There would be a strict dicision of sexual relations between sex-for-pleasure - harmless, ambiguous, unstructured, and open to same-sex as well as opposite-sex dalliances - and sex-for-procreation - serious, limited, opposite-sex only, with heavy obligations. While descent is determined by the mother, the father is also important - possibly cementing relationships between families, possibly healing breaches, with the father or his family giving some resources as a male dowry.

I will name this City-State Hippolyta, after that most famous of Amazons.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Languages in Lowell Was Right!

In Lowell Was Right!, humanity has spread throughout the solar system - Martians found them to make excellent slaves, and eventually free associates, and put them everywhere Martians went - Mars, Mercury, Venus, and the Asteroid Belt. Martians began stealing Human slaves from Earth far back in history, and as they stole slaves from everywhere at different times up to the Medieval period, a polyglot bunch of languages were brought to the inner planets with them. It is just as likely a Mars Human speaks a language directly descended from Akkadian as one evolved from Koine Greek, or Nahuatl, or Sanskrit.

On Mars and Mercury, many ancestral Human languages brought from Earth evolved into House Languages for various of the Human Houses. These languages are held closely within a House, and used for secure communication, as the US Army used Navajo Codetalkers to communicate securely without worry of Japanese eavesdropping. Other Human languages became more widespread - regional languages on Mars and more frequently on Mercury. As humans are far more heat tolerant than Martians, the more sunward areas of Mercury are almost exclusively populated by Humans.

On Venus, without much Martian meddling, these ancestral Earth languages evolved into small pockets of City-State specific language. Each city state has a different language, evolved from different Earth languages. There is also a Trader's Pidgin which is understood most everywhere, but it is not a real language, being very limited by design, and not very useful outside of trade.

Martians also have a bevy of House Languages, each one specific to a House. Regions have their own languages as well, for common communication. There are also several Lingua Francas. For example, Old High Martian is an ancient language preserved for diplomatic and ritual usage. There are a different set of Lingua Francas on Mars and Mercury, with only Old High Martian being used in common.

Venusian Kraat have many languages of their own, though they have no Lingua Franca. Kraat languages are impossible for Humans to use or learn, as parts of their speech are ultrasonic.

The Galileani have a variety of languages of their own, all descended from Callistan bases. As Galileani are a type of fruit bats, they do not have ultrasonic hearing, and neither echolocate or speak in ultrasonic chirps as Kraat do. Humans are able to learn and use Galileani languages with no problem, though sometimes concepts are hard to get across.

Optional Rule: Languages

This is a three part option. 

I) Each skill rank in Language represents a new non-native language. These "basic" languages are leaned to a conversant level, but do not indicate anything like fluency. Normal conversations are possible, but accents are heavy, vocabulary is limited, and grammar is simplistic. Example: Paula has Language+2, and thus knows English and Old High Martian as basic level languages, in addition to her native Italian.
II) Each Specialization in a language indicates a language which is used perfectly fluently, to native-speaker standards. The specialized language must be one already known at a basic level, and the character also learns one new language at a basic level. Example: Paula gains another rank of Language, working on polishing her Old High Martian, and bringing it to a level of Fluency - Language (Old High Martian) +3. She also gains the new basic language of Demotic Ganymedian.  
III) Instead of taking a Specialization, a character may instead opt for taking a Language Group at basic level. Characters may not later Specialize in a Language Group. Instead, they may only Specialize in one language of this Language Group - for example, Russian. When taking a Language Group instead of a Specialization, the character does not get an additional basic language, as happens when Specializing. Example: Paula gains another rank of Language. Instead of Specializing in English or Demotic Ganymedian, she chooses to take a Language Group - Slavic Languages - getting basic use of all Slavic languages - Russian, Czech, Polish, etc.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Interesting Contrasts!

I recently underwent the same process of setup for two different groups, both over IRC. On Sunday, my group - consisting of four players - set up an Association to play Blood Games II, while on Wednesday, my other group - consisting of three players - set up an association to play Lowell Was Right!. The experiences of both were very different, and show two valid ways to approach the same phase of setup.

Associations, or Player Character Companies, were a tool I first used in In Harm's Way: Wild Blue back in 2007-2008. An Association is a company or grouping that the Player Characters belong to. The game purpose is threefold - to bind the PCs together in a shared history; to enable the PCs to draw upon resources beyond their means; and to allow the players an opportunity to tell the GM what they are interested in doing by what resources they choose to purchase with a limited "bank" of points.

The process is thus: A pool of points are allocated to the Association to represent raw resources, this can be done by rolling randomly or by choosing directly. The more points you have available to spend, the larger the Association can be. Then the group determines the source of their funding, and the nature of their company - the stated purpose for its existence, and how that existence is maintained. After those are determined, the Association allocates points to purchase various assets, such as security, espionage, knowledge bases/libraries, vehicles, and the like. By seeing the pattern of assets purchased, the GM can craft adventures in which the players can best use these assets. In other words, purchasing assets sets player "flags" for their collective interests in-game. A group that purchases many espionage assets will be interested in adventures focusing on spying, for example.

The Sunday group decided up front that it was interested in playing members of a Consulting Detective Agency set in Victorian London, and concentrating in the Occult. Blood Games II was not written with a section on creating Associations, but the other games in this series, On Her Majesty's Arcane Service and Outremer, were. Since BG II was written primarily for Modern American settings, we decided to use the Association rules from OHMAS - basically Blood Games set in Elizabethan England - suitably updated to Victorian times, with equipment from Sweet Chariot, which was set on  a steam tech world.

The group decided on a 256 point pool as being suitable for the aims of the group. As the Association's HQ, a house was selected in a respectable part of London, just south of Victoria Station. As one of the group was playing a Savant, extra-dimensional rooms were added, to make the HQ larger on the inside than on the outside, at the cost of some points. Further points were spent on espionage based assets - Informers, friends in Scotland Yard, and the like - and on creating an Arcane Library, with many books, charts, and strange maps on various Arcane subjects purchased. Throughout, discussion was lively, but it moved fast, the group having a clear idea of what they wanted to be and do. The group had already created characters for the game, and this added to their certainty of what would be required.

The Wednesday group, in contrast, came into the session with nothing decided, other than the general conditions of the world, set up in the previous session. The group knew they wanted to travel throughout the solar system, but not why. Lowell Was Right! - not yet published, but in Beta Play-test - does contain a proper Association-building section, and that was used. Funding was rolled for rather than agreed upon, with a result of 128 points, half that decided on by the other group. Then much of the session was occupied by throwing various ideas around for the Association's purpose and funding source. it was finally agreed upon that the group would be hired by other groups to perform one of three tasks: to legally inspect an area to be purchased for possibly exploitable resources; to illegally do the same thing, without benefit of permits and such, for a higher price; or to illegally despoil a area another group was planning on purchasing or had already purchased. The Association would maintain two fronts, one operating legally and above board, the other working illegally and sub-rosa, while sharing the same assets otherwise. The rest of the session was spent in constructing the major asset, the Association's space ship. A small balance of points was left over for possible small purchases, but the session was running long.

The contrast in approaches and methods intrigued me, coming as they did within the same week. I hope this post is as illuminating to you as it was for me! :D