What Do You Mean You Don't Own Word98?
The Spider's Den has previously looked at the problems of how to attract players, how to find players, and what do players want in an internet GM. This issue I want to look at one of the major stumbling blocks of the internet, compatibility.
I can not tell you the shock that I received the first time this problem caused me trouble. I had been running a fantasy adventure and my players had asked me for a map for the next game. Not a big problem. I made the map and sent it out to my friends. Only one person, out of a group of four people, could use the map despite my using a standard Window's 95 program to make the map. What a disaster. I tried several different formats but most of those were no success either. We finally worked out a compromise that allowed everyone to view the map.
Later, I was to suffer similar problems as I expanded my horizons to role-playing with other people in other parts of the world. I learned that not everyone has the same "basic" programs or hardware. What may be common in the United States, may not be standard in Israel or Ukraine. This means that you often have to develop a standard format for all information exchanges.
Myself, I have found that *.txt files are the best to send to anyone that you are not sure of their computer capabilities ( This even applies to sending files to RPGnet ). It may not be as pretty as a file made with all the fancy fonts but you can guarantee that the Email program will transfer the information intact and the other person will read what you send. It is important to tell players to follow this format convention or you will receive files in formats that you will not be able to receive.
This brings up an additional point. I personally prefer to write most of my long Email posts in a separate wordprocessor and then copy the contents of the file into the Email program. I have found that many Email programs get hung up, crash, or lose their link at the worse point in time. If you have just spent two hours writing a four page story outline, only to find it all disappear in a blink of an eye, then you will never again make this mistake. I now limit myself to no more than three paragraphs of text in an Email before choosing to do the original composition in a wordprocessor. Using *.txt makes it less likely to have the appearance of your work altered as you copy the information from your wordprocessor into your Email.
Maps are always an important consideration for a campaign but they require special attention. If you have a web page then it is best to post them on the web page as then they will have the least chance of being altered from what you intended. The second best choice is to go with a text map. If you choose to go with a text map then you should state a grid ( like in the game battleship, E6 moves to F7 ) to the other players that they can all understand. I recommend that you use a typewriter font that equally spaces out each character and space when making all text maps. Many "standard" fonts ( like Times New Roman ) do not equally space out all characters and the result are maps that appears to shift from one line to the next.
When I create text maps, I first generate a map specifying the underlying terrain. I then give the coordinates of all the story characters, creatures, and important objects; that are not part of the terrain. I have found this conveys the information to the players and allows them to easily understand the terrain of the map and the situation that is being represented.
Another big problem, with Emails, message boards, and chats; is making sure that everyone uses the same conventions to express the same ideas. I am going to go over the common conventions that are used.
OCC: ( Stands for Out of Character Comment and is used when the player wants to tell everyone that the information that follows is directed towards the GM and is not being said by the story character. ) ICC: ( Stands for In Character Comment and is used when the player wants to tell everyone that the information that follows is being said by their story character. ) " " ( Stands for in story character speech ) < > ( Sometimes is used to mark OCC information ) :: :: ( Sometimes is used to mark actions that are seen like opening a door or driving a car but require no accompanying speech. ) ~ ~ ( Sometimes used to mark thoughts when telepathy is being used ) << Results >> ( Used when a random check is required of a player or GM that is using a skill ) << roll d20 >> ( Used to request a die roll, in this case, a d20, of a GM or player ) << roll against your SKILL >> ( Used to request a test verses a skill ) +tele ( used to mark a communication by a telephone )
There are many more conventions which are specialized to the universe that the GM and players are creating ( for example it may be a convention to have +spell to indicate any magical conjuring in a fantasy campaign ). It is important that the GM specify the way he likes to see the information appear to make sure that he and the players understand each other. This will avoid wasting time with a GM pouring through a letter trying to decide what the player was trying to do and what rolls need to be made.
A last bit of game etiquette for the internet. It is always a good idea to start each message identifying who you are and for which story you are writing. This is greatly appreciated when a GM may be involved in several different stories and has to keep them all separate.