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Playing Without Brains

Jeff Freeman
 

Mantra of the mean: "It's only a game!"

It's bad enough that when you're trying to play an online multiplayer role playing game, you have to put up with roaming hoards of powergaming nitwits that simply miss the point of RPGing - or don't care. They're playing the game to win, and they think that killing you means they're ahead. It's like trying to play poker with monkeys who keep eating the cards and think they're winning.

Not just RPGs either. A friend of mine plays some sort of online airplane combat game and has recently purchased access to a secure gaming network, because some obnoxious jerkwads would crash the PCs of anyone playing via the insecure internet. They weren't doing it to "win the game". They were doing it to stop the game, which they weren't even playing. They were doing it because they could, and because they are mean.

But they aren't the worst aspect of online gaming. Not by a long shot.

Mantra of the morons: "I'm roleplaying!"

Recently I downloaded WebRPG `Online' (and the Java run-time thing). I downloaded both at the same time and it took about half an hour. Setup went without a hitch, really. All pretty much point-click and then try to figure out how to play.

If you are unaware, WebRPG is sort of like a chat-client that allows you to play RPGs online, the very same RPGs that you would play offline. It uses an IRC-type "chat window" for communication and also supports online character-sheets (or whatever else you might want to keep track of online and share between players), online dice-rolling and... this is the best part: Miniatures.

No fooling. You get a grid or hex "map" on which you can put "miniatures" (icons, really). The players can move their own mini's and the GM can move anything (likewise, the players can view their own character sheets and the GM can view anything). WebRPG calls it an "internet game table" and that's about the best description. It is for playing traditional, table-top RPGs, but online.

WebRPG is into version 2.0 which adds some slick features - the ability to add your own graphical icons (for miniatures, terrain symbols, map backgrounds or whatever else) is about the niftiest. It also has a way to go before it's as convenient as the kitchen table.

You can't draw on the map, first of all. That's damn annoying. You can put mini's on it. You can create a map in something else, put it on a web page, then link the `map' to the web page so that every sees your creation `on the map', but you cannot, in-game, quickly and easily simply draw on the map.

That's a pretty major shortcoming. After all, miniatures and a marker are all you really need. The rest is nice, but it's fluff.

Also, the built-in dice-roller doesn't offer FUDGE dice as an option. Just the traditional polyhedron dice and the ability to roll, for example, a 5-sided dice, should the need arise. But no way to roll four '-1 to +1' dice, fudge style.

My final complaint regarding features is about the chat window. It's basically modeled on Internet Relay Chat. If your name is "Joe" and you type says hi then everyone sees this:

[Joe]: says hi

And if you type /he says "Hi" then everyone sees this:

Joe says "Hi"

Nicer, but why in the heck wouldn't you model that particular part of the interface after MUD's/MUSHs instead of IRC?! After all, those systems are designed for role-playing chat. Frankly, they handle it better.

You type "Hi (that's right, no closing quote) and everyone sees:

Joe says, "Hi"

Or you type ;'s pager beeps and everyone sees:

Joe's pager beeps.

It's just simply a much more flexible system that Internet Relay Chat for speaking and emoting "in character". Many of the MUSHs even support a different symbol (other than ; or ", that is) for Out Of Character chatter. For example:

Joe: *OOC*: be right back, nature calls...

Or whatever.

Anyway, enough about the interface. I suspect that WebRPG will implement some sort of white-board marker functionality to the map eventually (because it is, quite frankly, just the best enhancement they could make) and hopefully, ultimately, someday, someone at WebRPG will play a MUSH and see that the chat interface is just way much nicer than their own.

So all that's no biggie. I downloaded the software, installed it, and jumped onto 'WebRPG Online' and looked for a game.

The first one I joined had 5 people in it, plus the GM. The GM, however, was apparently away from his keyboard. People would pop in "Need another player?" and we'd chat back, "We don't know."

Finally someone volunteered to run a game in another room (whomever creates the room is the Host, and that's the GM, so in order for him to run a game we had to get out of the no-GM zone).

Three of us entered that room, bringing characters with us or getting characters from the GM. Naturally, having used WebRPG for all of five minutes by then, I didn't have an online character sheet. The GM gave me one and I was set (it's that easy character creation I've been longing for).

We were just about set to start when someone else popped in. "Need another player?" This meant we waited for a few minutes as the GM setup a character for them.

Then the GM locked the door. No more interruptions, we were ready to start.

GM: "You're traveling along and it's getting late when you spot a campfire up the road"

Hendil: Are we all friends?

GM: "Yes."

Now, this lack of introduction, history and background is not, of course, a WebRPG thing. It's an impromptu-game thing. I've experienced the very same thing offline. A person could get the characters created, with backgrounds, ahead of time - via email or web page or whatever.

We moved along to the camp and discovered some kobolds there. We charged in and they all ran away. Then Hendil's player said that it'd been fun, but he really had to go, and he popped out of the room. The GM asked if we wanted another player (now there were only two players) or if we'd like to continue. I said I'd like another.

So the GM unlocked the door and changed the sign to read "One more player needed". Almost immediately, someone popped in. "Need a player?"

Then Hendil popped back in, "I have some more time, we can keep playing."

Grrr...

So now (after a few minutes to setup the character for the new player) we were up to four players. The newest one, Sheldon, was a bit quiet at first (tweaking his character sheet and adding a miniature to the map, I suppose), then began typing in all-caps.

Sheldon: "TRA LA LA LA LA LA"

Sheldon: I am singing the Smurfs theme song.

Sheldon: My character is obsessive compulsive.

We camped for the night and in the morning Sheldon (a 1st level mage with one spell) memorized Ventriloquism, then used it immediately to play a prank on one of the other players. Well, me actually.

Then he starts in with the nonsense again.

Sheldon: "HELLO ORCS COME AND GET US!!"

Sheldon: My character is obsessive compulsive.

Sheldon: I'M GAY!!

Etc. I'm not exaggerating. Was he being obnoxious? Was he a moron?

Naturally, a person can't go into monster infested woods with a screaming idiot in tow. So my character (a warrior) handed Sheldon's spell-less 1st level mage his head. I was actually hoping he would go away at this point.

This upset him. I suppose he thought I was one of those mean powergaming kooks.

Sheldon: You're neutral good.

Sheldon: I would expect you to kill me if I you were chaotic neutral, but not neutral good.

Me: I just saved my life and the lives of my companions. You were screaming in a monster-infested forest...

Sheldon: I was role playing!

Hendil: Okay, I have to go now.

And with that, Hendil popped out of the room.

Sheldon: Hey, can I play Hendil?

DM: Okay, but he's not gay and he isn't mentally challenged.

Sheldon: I know, I was just role-playing.

Two more people popped in, wanting to play, since the GM had forgotten to lock the door after Sheldon joined. He setup characters for them and we were just about to continue... then his computer crashed.

When the host's computer crashes, we all crash. This created about a thirty minute delay as well all slowly figured out what happened, closed WebRPG and re-connected, etc. But I just wanted to hit on that last line from Sheldon, really.

"I'm not an obnoxious idiot, I'm role-playing!"

Man, oh, man... You know what? I don't even care.

Could WebRPG use some enhancements? Yep! Will any of them make for a better game?

Not by a long, long shot.

It used to be said that with a good GM, the game system didn't really matter. Likewise for online games. Except now the game system doesn't really matter, because in the anonymity of the net, the jerks and morons are out in force.

Setup and schedule your game in advance.  Have the players apply in advance. Ask pointed questions. Delete email from kooks and creeps. When the game starts, keep the door locked. Kick out the nitwits at the first sign of trouble.

You'll thank me for it.


Feel free to email Jeff at ack@rpg.net. No, really!

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What do you think?

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All of Jeff Freeman's Acks

  • The One True Way to Roleplay, Online: July 20, 1999
  • What Were We Thinking? September 8, 1998
  • Random Thoughts August 9, 1998
  • Run With It! July 14, 1998
  • Background: I'm Evil! June 9, 1998
  • Who Wants to Role-Play? May 12, 1998
  • Playing Without Brains Apr 8, 1998
  • Ultima Online Looked Good Off March 10, 1998
  • The Perfect Game February 10, 1998
  • "INTRO TO RPGs" January 6, 1998
  • "Do I Have A Point?"
  • "LOOK BEFORE YOU LARP" November 11, 1997
  • "RPGs: Then and Now" October 7, 1997
  • Chicks in Gaming", September 9, 1997 (and its Danish translation)
  • The FUDGE review that inspired it.

    Other columns at RPGnet

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