RPG’n With Google Plus
Screw Facebook. Facebook is for teenagers to ruin their future lives by posting inappropriate pictures and commentary on their lives so that future employers, significant others, and law enforcement can disqualify them from any meaningful place in society so all that’s left for them is to become hipsters and crash on friend’s couches.
Using Google Plus, however, is a great way to run an asynchronous pencil and paper (PnP) RPG. Yes, they still exist, and if you think that RPGs began with World of Warcraft, click this link to learn more.
The Total Noob Inn and Alehouse
Chances are, if you’re a G+ user, you have a higher than average IQ. Bravo! However, you’ll still need a few more things before we can link arms and skip down the Google Brick Road to fun and happiness. And poppies.
- An RPG system of your choice. Go nuts. There’s a lot to choose from, including the venerable workhorse of the RPG world, Dungeons & Dragons, the futuristic Cyberpunk 2020, the chilling Call of Cthulhu, or any obscene number of other systems that may tickle your fancy (which is illegal in 3 states, so check with local authorities before tickling anything).
- People to play with. Seriously? Did I need to tell you that? Yes. A good party is roughly 3-5 players, with 5 being about the norm. You may need to modify packaged adventures to accommodate the level and number of players. Speaking of which…
- A packaged adventure. You can get all ambitious and write your own, but that’s like taking a pogo-stick into a minefield. Sure, you have a lot of fun bouncing all over the place, but you never know when you’ll explode in a bloody mess. Start with an off-the-shelf module to get used to the system.
- Webcam and headset mic. These are optional, and we’ll talk about it in a bit.
- Dice, pencils and a shit-ton of patience.
Getting’ RPG-y Wit It.
There’s two ways to go about using G+ for RPG gaming. The first is asynchronously, and the second is live. Both have their pros and cons.
Playing async isn’t new. It used to be called “play by mail”, which was used by chess players, believe it or not, or more recently “play by email”, or even “play by post” for you forum geeks. In this system, the GM will post an intro: what is seen and what’s going on around the player. Subsequent comments from the player respond to the initial post, like asking for more info, taking an action, etc. The GM responds, and it’s back and forth until the “scene” concludes and a new post is started.
Async gaming and G+ are a natural fit. A single post can be “+Directed” at a specific person or persons. This allows a GM to address a single player for some quality one-on-one time, or to address an entire party. It also allows for players to direct comments and asides to the GM without involving the other players. For more general involvement, create a circle with all players and the GM in it. This is useful for game announcements.
G+ supports hash tags, which is important for heavy G+ users. Applying an appropriate hash tag to an initial scene post can help the GM and the players organize their sessions by date, scene name, or even by creating a tag for the entire party to allow everyone to search the hash and save it to their profile sidebar.
The only problem is that G+ only allows for inline images in the opening post, and it only allows ONE inline post at a time. To get around this, a GM should have a publicly accessible image hosting location that allows him or her to link in an ongoing scenario.
An additional problem is dice. If the GM or the players are hardcore rules Nazis, then there may be a heavy reliance on the outcome of dice rolls for everything. An async game might be better suited for GMs and players who are more interested in the story, and not so much on the mechanics. In this case, dice are rolled by either the GM only, or the GM for private rolls, and by the players for their own rolls. One alternative is to use online dice rollers and screen-shotting them to appease the more paranoid players.
Live Role Playing
One great benefit of G+ is the Hangouts feature. Several people can fire up their webcams and headset mics to communicate with one another in real time. Normally, this would be pretty damn useless if not for a few integrated features.
First, Hangouts allow participants to share their screen, or to share specific elements on their screen. An organized GM could array maps, online die rollers, and handouts on his screen, and then share each one when the time is right.
Second, some enterprising souls have actually created a Hangouts plugin called Tabletop Forge which pretty much solves most issues. It keeps the webcam and mic interaction, but allows players a chat window which includes die-rolling macros. Users can upload and share images, and for those of you who are hell-bent on playing with miniatures, tokens can be used for more complex battle scenes.
The downside to this is that yes, it’s live. Everyone has to have a schedule that meshes so everyone can be online at the same time, and for the same amount of time. Live playing can be a little more tense, as the GM and the players need to make split-second decisions in order to keep the game moving, and even a simple combat scenario can take an hour or more to complete.
Another downside is that you have to look at other people and hear their voices. In all honesty, this actually is a problem for some people. While it’s OK to play with people in your dining room when you’ve known them most of your life, playing with people you’ve only interacted with in text can be an intimidating experience for a lot of people. At the bare minimum, a mic should be used, but if everyone agrees, you can use the integrated text chat – although you lose a lot of the forward momentum while waiting for someone to write up what they want to say or do.
Best of Both Worlds
Of course, the best solution is to combine both systems! The live session (if you can agree on a schedule) can be used for token-based map situations, and during the rest of the week, individual and story-heavy scenes can be handled through the async post method.