Introductions and "That Thing We Call Honesty"
The Spider's Den
Welcome to my column, "The Spider's Den", where I am going to be looking at the problems and advantages of setting up or moving a campaign to the internet. While many of the old rules apply, there are many new challenges that must be faced if you want to achieve the same or similar results.
Before I get into that topic, I feel it is best that you know the credentials of the person giving out the advice. That way you will be able to judge whether it is worth your time to keep reading. My real name is David Rowe and I have been doing RPG's for over twenty years. I have been a member of the RPGA for the last five years. Most of my experience in roleplaying has been as a gamemaster ( GM ). I have experience with a large variety of games and have tried out a good deal of the market at one time or another. I am mainly a table top style of gamer though I have done a little LARPing and MU*s.
My online experience began when I ran a one year AD&D campaign called "Pokemal". I have since run a one year campaign of Earthdawn and am eight months into running a campaign of Pendragon entitled "All Falls Down". I have been a participant in several other campaigns including a Star Wars, Wrestling League, Call of Cthuhlu, Diplomacy, Pendragon and Vampire. During my time of gaming I have tried several different styles of gaming on different systems and found both the good points and bad points of the different methods.
My discussion of gamemastering on the internet will focus on trying to recreate the feel of table top gaming. That means I won't be spending much time talking the pros and cons of MU*s or the computer hack and slash enviroments like Ultima Online.
The First six topics in this series will be
Issue 1: "That Thing We Call Honesty" which will focus on the problems of trusting another player's dice rolls when they are not in the same room with you.
Issue 2: "What makes an Online Campaign so Different?" which will focus on some of the problems you can expect to find when you move to the internet.
Issue 3: "What makes a Great Campaign?" which will focus on what players look for in an online campaign.
Issue 4: "I Have this Great Idea but No Players" which will focus on where to advertise to find players for a campaign and where players can find GM's willing to host a campaign.
Issue 5: "What Do You Mean You Don't Own Word 98?" which will focus on the problems of compatability and what formats are the best to use when sending information to players and GM's.
Issue 6: "You Don't Own a Copy of the Game?" which will focus on the problem of teaching a player a new system of rules without breaking copyrights and choosing a common set of rules that all can use.
If you are still with me then you know roughly my qualifications and what I plan to do with my column. The last thing to do is to sell you on the worth of my advice by giving you an example of my writing.
That Thing We Call Honesty
The biggest challenge for GM's who move to the internet is to accept that they are going to have to let go of their sense of dominance of the gaming enviroment. When your players are scattered from England to Australia, it is a little difficult to enforce the kind of order that you are used to when they are only three feet away. Most importantly, a gamemaster may have to accept, that it may not be possible to require that players make every roll in front of the gamemaster to check that the players are not cheating. That is at least the worry that most GM's have when they first decide to set up a campaign on the internet. I am going to take this first issue to discuss how this very fundamental problem can be handled.
A GM has several possible solutions to the problem.
Choice 1: The GM makes all the rolls. This solution ensures that you are in control of all the dice rolls and that makes sure that no cheating can occur. The problem with this choice is that is not very popular with players who often prefer to use their "lucky" dice to make those important saving throws. Players will feel more that they are pawns being brought along for the GM's amusement then real partners in a story. This method is not recomended as it usually causes plenty of arguements and has less player involvement. Part of good GMing is drawing players into the game rather than keeping them in an uninvolved way.
Choice 2: Use a Game System That Doesn't Use Dice. This solution works well as long as everyone can come to an impartial way of solving problems. Amber solves problems by a straight stat comparison while wrestling leagues and writing circles go with the best written response. Writing ability and player cleverness is rewarded in these systems. The problem is that many of the most popular systems like AD&D and World of Darkness are based around dice rolls and do not transfer well to diceless play.
Choice 3: Play with only People You Trust. This means that you only play RPG's online with people that you have met before and have learned to trust to be honest. This works fine except that it misses out on the power of the internet to meet new gamers from around the world and in your own neighbourhood.
Choice 4: Use an Electronic Dice Roller. Electronic Dice Rollers are a sticky subject for many people because you often wonder how random are the rolls that these dice rollers really make. I hope to at some point in the future discuss Electronic Dice Rollers in more detail when I discuss some of the tools that are available on the internet to make GMing easier. Particularly I am focusing on the type of electronic dice roller that Emails the results to another person. Irony Games and Macrey's Keep both have dice rollers that perform that function. This allows the GM to ask a player for a dice roll and receive a hard copy of the dice roll. This guarantees that no cheating is involved but you have to wait until the Email arrives with the message.
Many Mu*s have dice rollers built into their code, too. The problem with MU* dice rollers are that they are often dedicated to the enviroment of the MU* that they come from. This makes it difficult if you are using the MU* as merely a more stable form of chat room then actually roleplaying in the MU*.
Whatever your choice, you will still have players unhappy as they will blame their problems of luck on the bad programing of the dice roller.
Choice 5: Ask For More Dice Rolls Then You Need. I sometimes use this system myself. I ask a player to make more then one dice roll for a situation and then I will use my own d4 or d6 to choose which of the numbers the player rolled to use. This allows the player to generate a number using their own dice or favourite dice roller and then have the GM randomly pick from the group. It is a very good method for detecting people who might try to fake some rolls by choosing numbers. Looking at a series of six numbers should give you a fairly even spread of numbers to look at. This method though is much slower when you are doing live gaming over the internet rather than electronic board postings or emails.
Choice 6: Trust Your Players. This is the system that I use most often. Normally if a GM is concerned with what number is being rolled all the time then they are seeing the gaming as a contest between them and the players. I personally do not recommend that you play with GM's that have this out look because they are less concerned with the story then they are with satisfying their ego about who is the smartest person of the group. Myself, I really do not care if my players cheat or not. If that is what makes my players happy then I say let them go and do it. If a character constantly survives against all odds then do not sweat the details. Many heroes in stories are the same way ( what does a box canyon have to with the Lone Ranger excaping; little really ).
Additionally, once a player realizes, that by cheating, they remove all problems from their character's lives, they will realize how boring that really is. Personally, I have come to look forward to times when my characters mess up in an adventure because that is when the story often gets interesting. Constant success becomes boring very quickly. Most players will soon realize this truth or they will move on to another campaign where they can recapture the thrill of beating someone through cheating. The end result is the same, a group of honest players.
Honesty is one of those things that is often talked about in RPG discussion groups but really should not be the focus of our concern. Roleplaying is about telling a story to entertain ourselves and others. It is a shared event when done right that allows us to spend time in a relaxing way. If you are spending all your time wondering whether someone is going to cheat or not on the next roll of the dice then you need to remember that roleplaying is not monopoly or chess. It is not a contest with winners and losers. It is a story told for fun and everyone is invited to share in the story as they wish. The rest is details.