Play by Discord - first thoughts
I started a game of Mausritter a couple of weeks ago, after a twenty-odd year hiatus from running RPGs. Given that I don't have a regular gaming group at the moment, I thought it would be a good way to play with other people.
I recently discovered Discord as well, and after a bit of trawling the internet and thinking about structure, I figured that the option to set up multiple text channels on a server and tweak who can see those channels might work well. More on how I set them up later.
I put together the skeleton of the server, did a little bit of planning and preparation and found some players on the Mausritter Discord server.
This is my set up, and it's likely it will change and tweak as the game continues - a good example being adding the split-party channels I added earlier this week.
I decided that I wanted to play by text, rather than include voice. Because the players come from different time zones, it's inevitable that play will be staggered and having a permanent record of the actions is vital. As I'm running the game similar to a play-by-e-mail (PBeM) game there is no set time to to be online and no time limits for turns. That works for now, but creates its own limitations.
The basic setup I decided on was one channel for table-talk, which is the (mostly) in-character discussion you'd have in a face to face game. I also had a general channel, which was intended to be for out-of-character (OOC) and non-game discussion. All of these channels are open for all the players.
I created one channel for each player which is a private player-GM channel for any discussion that only that player knows or if the player wants to talk about anything privately.
To store all of the lore the characters know, I made a lore channel and intended to post directly into there. However, given Discord isn't good for organising lists because posts are shown in chronological order, I switched to a document that I can upload to that channel when it changes. Again, this isn't ideal, but it seems to work right now. I also stuck a few maps and suchlike in that channel where they're easy to refer back to.
After some discussion with a more experienced online game master (or Game Mouster as I restyled it), I added an out-of-character channel to separate the OOC talk from the non-game talk and a dice-rolling channel to keep those rolls out of the narrative feed. I'm using Dice Maiden for rolling - the option to add a description to the roll being made keeps track of the purpose of a roll in that channel.
And with that, we began. After a short on-rails section to setup the start of the game, the mice (characters) had a task to get a salve to help their injured friend. They had a couple of leads on how to go about it, and from that point the decision on where the game would go was up to them.
The first thing to say, is that I'm loving getting back to running a game. There are some differences from when I last ran a game in terms of the players expectations and what constitutes how-a-game-works. One of the really interesting things (to me) is the expectation that you should see threats coming. For example, when I used to play D&D a million years ago, you'd have a pit trap in a corridor and, unless you had a thief searching for it, then it would be discovered when someone stepped on it and set it off. Now, there is more emphasis on pointing out that there is a trap there (for example there are swinging axes crossing the corridor or you can see blow pipes sticking out of the wall) and the characters get to decide if they'll chance their luck.
It's a subtle difference that I think I'm liking - I can see why it appeals to players, they have more agency in the game, rather than being the victims of fate. It does feel more cooperative between the GM and the players, which I am appreciating.
Because everyone isn't physically in a room, it makes some things, like telling a character "you know this thing about what you're all looking at" and letting them decided on whether to share or not, much easier.
Splitting the party is a dream. When the party came up with a pincer-attack plan to distract some rats, I set up two private channels - one for each half of the players - and the two channels of play continue with one not knowing what the other is doing. There's a little bit of throttling the actions to ensure one part doesn't get way ahead of the other (Mausritter's time tracking works well here - I told one channel "hang on a bit, just waiting for the other group to catch up" until the other group had resolved their actions) but it works really well for the narrative without forcing players to try and act as though they don't know what is going on with the other part of the group.
The text format (or maybe it's the players?) pushes description and narrative to enrich the experience. Asking people to describe themselves, what they're doing or what they're saying has brought out some fantastic moments and I have a strong vision of some of the characters simply from the way their players describe them and how they act in-game.
I get more time to plan. And write. And re-write. And draw. And research things (how do newts breed?) that are pertinent to the game. I really like that, and the fact that I don't have to decide on all the fine details beforehand means that I can adapt the direction as required without having to make split-second decisions.
The main limitation to the game is the timing. Because it's not face to face it takes a long time to progress far. But is that bad? I wonder if we don't get more detail in the game precisely because there is time to think. I certainly try to give richer descriptions so the players have something to hang onto and help them create the world in their minds. Likewise, the increased detail from the players gives me much more scope to weave the narrative around them.
Are time zones a limitation? I think they are to some extent; there are times when one half of the group is most likely asleep and so you need to be patient when there is action unfolding. I don't think this is solely because of having players on different continents, but I think it does make it more likely that this will happen. One of my worries is that one part of the group feels like they are constantly catching up to decisions taken by the other half of the group.
Feedback. Are the players enjoying the game? What would make it more enjoyable for them? Which bits do they really like? In a face to face game I think it's easier to see what people think, the feedback is much more immediate. I resorted to asking the players how they felt it was going (and telling them I am really enjoying their playing). Especially after a long time away from running games, I find that I have a certain amount of anxiousness to be delivering a good game.
All things considered, I'm loving playing RPGs in this format. I think Mausritter and similar games (Into the Odd and DURF, for example) that are "rules-light" fit well with this way of playing. I'm not sure a rule-heavy system like GURPS would work so well for example. Specific things about Mausritter that I think lend themselves to it are the 'attacks always hit' rule or the assumption that you only call for a save as a result of characters taking risky actions, both of which reduce the number of "can-you-roll-for-this/i-rolled-this/that-means-this-result" exchanges that would slow the game down. The inventory slot system also makes it easy to see what's going on with equipment and what will fit where.
The hex crawl generation tools and adventure generation tools in Mausritter are SO helpful and give a good procedural start to fleshing out the world if you don't want to use a pre-generated setting. I've got a couple of pages of hooks, a fully worked out map and some rumours and potential plot lines just from generating the original 19-hex map. As the players decide where they want to go next or what they want to do, I'll develop those places and situations. Again, the time between actions only serves to help.
It will be interesting to see where it goes - I wonder what else I'll have learned in a few months?