What makes a Great Campaign?
Last Issue I looked at some of the differences that you can expect when you move a campaign to the Internet. This issue I will look at what makes an Internet campaign a success. While it is important to have interesting plots, there are more important things to making a successful Internet campaign.
The first key to a successful campaign is dependability. If you say that you plan to send out an Email twice a week on Mondays and Fridays then you should make sure that you do Email something. If you say that you will run your chat at 1 PM EST on Sundays then you had better show up. Nothing makes players upset or leave a campaign faster than a GM who does not keep a dependable time table.
GMs who are dependable have a strong following on the Internet as this is the hardest quality to find. The best analogy of this problem is to consider what it would be like if you had invited some friends over to your house for a regular game night and then gone out somewhere else without telling them. It is simply a matter of courtesy.
The second key to a successful Internet campaign is preparation. I know that there are many GMs who have gotten so good that they can just "wing it" when they need to. The problem is that when you choose to "wing it" on the Internet is it slows down the game. It takes time to draw a map to send out to people. It takes time to generate information for a monster. It is takes time for half a dozen tasks which will take away from the time you should be spending on writing replies to your player's questions. If you are prepared then you can spend more time meeting the needs of your players. Players will appreciate the extra effort as it makes it easier for them to stay interested in the campaign.
The third key is pictures. Pictures are a great aid if you can find them. With an Internet full of sites to search, the choices are almost unlimited. Add that to a few sound files and your campaign will come alive for your players. Even a simple map will help make the difference if you can arrange it. Be advised though that not everyone has the same software as you have at your house. What looks perfect to you may not even show up on another person's computer. I once spent several hours preparing a colorful detailed map and found out after sending it out to my players that only one out of the group of five could appreciate the map.
The fourth key is descriptions. Take the time to write good descriptions. The Internet is closer to a book for the people who use it and the adventure should be designed more to fit that need. While speaking out a long description to players will cause them usually to fall asleep, the reverse is true on the Internet. It is almost the same difference between theater and books as it is between table top gaming and Internet gaming.
The fifth key is use the power of your computer to aid you. This is especially important when doing a chat style game. I find it useful to have several "windows" on my computer active and each providing a different function. I usually have the scenario with monster information in one window, encounter descriptions in a second window, a third window I use to keep track of combat order, a fourth window has a dice roller, and a fifth is for making notes during game.
Often, I add to this a couple of Internet windows to keep the amount of game chat separated from personnel chat. This type of organization takes more time and effort but it will speed up game in a chat environment. You then need to only cut and paste descriptions and change a window to check the information on a monster during an encounter. If you have a map on file then you can Email it to all the players for their usage. Without this style of organization, you can expect to spend five to six times as much time resolving a single combat compared with the time required in regular table top gaming.
The sixth key is related to being organized and that key is avoid game delays. When people are looking at you and can see that you are madly paging through several volumes to find the proper answer to their question, they can be extremely forgiving as they can see that you are working hard. When people's only contact with you are the words that you type, they begin to get worried when they do not see a new word appear after five minutes ( sometimes less ). Remember, even though you may be working hard making a dozen combat rolls for a group of monsters, your players have no sense of that. They only know that you have gone silent and they want to know why.
It is important that players, especially in chat style environments, learn patience as there are plenty of rolls for a GM to make. The rolls all take time to make, interpret, decide if additional rolls are required ( say a damage roll to go with a to hit roll ), and finally report back to the players. When you are live, the sound of dice rolling tells players that they need to be patient. When you are on the Internet, silence could mean anything from the GM has taken a break to the GM has lost his link.
The seventh key to good GMing on the Internet is to adjust your style to focusing on a few important scenes. When you are gaming in table top style it is not uncommon for a GM to toss a small fight scene or two at the players. Another common scene is a conversation scene that does little but add color to the plot. These scenes are good filler in table top gaming as they spread the plot out more.
When you are on the Internet, you will already find that your plots are spread out do to time delays. To overcome this you must try to move the story along by making the most of every encounter. If it is just an extra encounter that you thought you might add a little extra color then it is best to leave it out. If you do not then you may find your players spending a long time going no where as they deal with the latest rock or gazebo that you have described.
The Greatest key to success is always being ready to improve anything that is not working. Great GMs are not born great. Great GMs are people that are never satisfied with good when they know they can do better.