Gaming Guide for GMs and Players
The following is
a compilation of the basics and pieces of advice that have been floating
around for online GMs, players,
and coordinators. Thanks to everyone who contributed
to and reviewed the document!
Please send comments
to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Last updated 12/09/2010.
A detailed update
history can be found below.
Table of Contents
Finding and registering for games
A number of Yahoo!(R) Groups
( www.yahoogroups.com ) exist to organize online RPGA and other living-style games. Most of the groups specialize in specific campaigns (though they are not necessarily sponsored by the respective campaign staff) The major ones are:
OnlineGameDay (OGD no longer sponsors its own conventions and game days, but does allow individuals to post to organize individual games.)
- Legends of the Shinig Jewel: lsjonline
- Living Arcanis: ArcanisOnline (Individual games are organized here as well as the annual Arcanis Online convention, usually held in the fall.)
- Living Greyhawk: LG_Europe_Online lists games specifically for European timezones, and OGD has been hosting a lot of people organizing LG games.
- Living Kingdoms of Kalamar: KalamarOnline
One way to register for games
(either as a player or a judge) is go to the Polls section of the respective
Yahoo!(R) group. The con coordinators usually set up polls for each game,
specifying the times they are running. You then "vote" for the session
in which you'd like to play. Paying for the games is done after you've
played and varies according to the game organizer.
- Games set up by individuals
sometimes have polls and sometimes don't. If they don't, signing up for those is usually done by responding
to the individual organizing it, either by posting a reply or contacting
the individually directly, as the post directs.
- Some online conventions use Warhorn for scheduling. Follow the directions of the convention organizer.
Setting up to play
The tools used for online games are agreed-to beforehand by the GM and players. AIM chatrooms with Google spreadsheets for maps have been very popular for their ubiquity and low cost of entry, but a number of other tools have also been popular. For example, many Living Greyhawk players used OpenRPG, and MapTool is popular for Living Forgotten Realms and D&D 4e. Just be sure to ask (if you're a player) and decide (if you're a GM) what tools to use well before gametime, as people will invariably not have a tool installed, or the GM will need to prep maps.
- Online games usually take about 50% longer than face-to-face games. As a general rule of thumb, plan six hours for a regular 1-round module. If you're splitting the game over two nights, that's three hours a night. If you're playing all in one shot, plan 6 1/2 or 7 hours, since you'll want a break about halfway through. Note that this can vary both with the tool you're using, and the module itself. An average module without an excessive number of combat encounters will take approximately 6 hours on AIM; more combat will probably take longer. The same module will run in 4 hours using MapTool and Skype.
- What kind of encounter maps are used depends on the application you're using to play (AIM or OpenRPG, for example), how the GM prefers to run online encounters / online combats, and sometimes on the encounter itself. (My personal preference, for example, is to run small or cinematic combats without a map. For bigger or more precise combats I use a grid much like one you can produce with an Excel spreadsheet. So, a typical PC move might be: I move from A5 to C5, and whack the bad guy in D6, flanking with Hunter (who happens to be in E7).)
Make sure your environment
is comfortable - that you have drinks and snacks if you want them; that
you have room to type; paper and pencil for notes; and most of all, nothing
that's going to pull your attention away from the game and your players
- and have this all done at least 15 minutes before the start of the game.
a screen name just for GMing (if you're using AIM)- then *don't* give it out! Make it clear
to those who do know it that you won't reply to IMs during a game, unless
they're really important.
Ask for at least Player name
and RPGA number (if appropriate), and PC names at the beginning of the session. This is also the
time to gather any other PC information you'll need and put it somewhere - on
paper or in a file - in a form you find easily usable.
It's usually a good
idea to ask for physical descriptions as well. The easiest way to
do these is to have people put that information (or a link to a URL) in
their AIM Info, but they can also describe themselves in the main window.
At any rate, they may wish to amend their standard description if they're
wearing something unusual, or behaving in a particular way (angry, sad,
At this point, match
up PC names, player names, and screen names. Since not everyone's PC name
matches their screen name, having the correlation and using the PC name
keeps the feel of the game.
You'll need to save
a copy of the game log.
Start *now* and give
the file a name that reminds you of what you're running. Concatenating
the module name and date usually gives you a unique and findable file name.
Save the log periodically
during the game session.
Keep as much of the
action as possible in the main chatroom, not in individual IMs. This accomplishes
It keeps your distractions
as a GM to a minimum.
It keeps players involved
and aware, even if their PCs aren't.
It shows that the game
is moving along, and you are paying attention or doing something. A GM
who goes "offline" from the main window is perceived to be "gone" even
if he's furiously typing somewhere else.
It keeps the resources
used by your machine down, and makes for faster processing of individual
If you must do something
in IM, tell the players. A message like "dealing with an individual action
in IM" really helps. So does checking back with the main window periodically;
sometimes a player will post a question there you can answer quickly, and
let them have more "think time" while you're off.
When the party splits
or you're dealing with individual actions, make it clear who has the spotlight
- then switch that spotlight at reasonable intervals.
Tell the players
if you're having technical difficulties, or if there's anything that will
prevent you from running a smooth game. In the former case, there might
be players that can help you out; in any case, they appreciate knowing
that it's something beyond your control. If this is a *really* bad day
for you, consider rescheduling if possible.
Keep the game moving.
This is really important in online games, where the players can't see that
you're doing something.
For boxed text, use
the signals bt (or <bt>) for the start of boxed
text, and /bt (or </bt>)for
If you have a text version
of the module from which you can cut 'n' paste, 3-4 lines or 2 sentences
appears to be a good rule-of-thumb for how much AIM can handle.
Type (or cut 'n' paste)
in small chunks instead of long monologues. The idea is to have the players
read the snippet you just typed while you type the next one; small snippets
keep the illusion of a continuous flow of information. Use the signal <more>
after a piece of information if there's more coming but it might not be
If you have a text document,
keep it open and scrolled to the right place. Move it as you use it, or
take advantage of lulls when the players are talking amongst themselves
to "cue up" the next encounter.
Keep a printed copy
open to the correct spot and the text (or rtf) file open at the point where
you currently are. The printed copy helps
you to look up things, plan actions, and such while the text is what you need
to paste and copy boxed text. The text does not
work well for finding
the stat block for an opponent or looking back to verify something.
Have a feel for the
pacing of the module and figure out when in real time you should be reaching
a certain point or have completed a certain number of encounters. If you
can adjust the pace early, you won't be running the final big, wonderful
scene when you're overtime and players (and you!) are tired.
Don't be shy about pushing
the players a little. They can't read your body language for when they're
going down a dead end; you don't need to be blatant, but you do need to
give verbal signals for things which in a face-to-face game would be nonverbal.
Don't be afraid to do
a little creative editing when appropriate. If you're not running on schedule,
cut combats short when it's obvious that the PCs are winning and won't
use up significant resources to finish the battle. If the PCs have done a decent
job roleplaying and are moving onto another roleplaying encounter, consider summarizing
NPC information for them.
Recap frequently, and
especially at the end of each round of battle - particularly if you're
running without maps or with many opponents. The minute you spend re-describing
the current scene will save many more minutes in player questions and confusion.
Pre-roll sets of Listen,
Search, Spot, Hide, etc. checks for your NPCs, as well as the results of
the personal spells they are most likely to cast.
Particularly if a player
may miss an obvious alternative action (usually because of lack of visualization),
you can give them alternatives: "Would you like to keep attacking the monster,
or take a 5' step and whack the wizard?" Or, "you might notice that the
evil cleric has moved awfully close to your fallen comrade ..."
up the party if at all possible. It's boring for the people not involved,
and it takes real time.
If there is a rules
question about a PC's action, move on to the next PC if possible while
the player looks up the rule, then come back - unless you know the player
can look the rule up very quickly. (There's a tradeoff between the time
spent waiting, and the time spent sorting out potential confusion from
going out of order, and from the effects of the action.)
When all else fails,
use the infamous red herring or neon carrot. Have them meet an NPC
named Red Herring - a bartender, perhaps, or a cleric - the High Priest
of Perpetual Pompousness, Herring the Red. The NPC can drone on and on
about nothing until the players /PCs catch on that there's nothing here
for them. Or, someone can spot the neon orange glow of the neon carrot
in the distance, indicating a good direction in which to proceed.
If you can, put Player
Handouts (especially long ones) and maps up on a website and just paste
the URL into the window when it's time to look at them. Alternatively,
you can send them as email to the players, but there can be a lag between
sending and receiving it, and some people don't like to have their email
client up during a game anyway (takes up those machine resources..... )
Using a gridded map
for combat can make life easier, especially when you can tell the players
"the bad guys are in A3, A5, and A7" and have the players describe their
positions accordingly. One version of a generic gridded map is here.
Prepare the combats
before hand. Make sure that the opponent's stats are easily at hand or
in a form most useful to you (here's one some judges find useful).
Gather all of the PC
information you'll need for combat before the game starts, and put it in
a form easy for you to use. If you don't need PC information (asking PCs
for their AC or Def during the combat is perfectly acceptable), at least
make sure you have some way to keep track of initiative order during the
combat. Initiative cards (they can be found here)
are extremely useful.
When answering players'
questions, particularly during "Q&A" encounters with NPCs, it's a good
idea to be specific about to whom you are responding. There may be
several posts from other players between the player's question and your
answer, which means it may not always be clear to whom you are responding.
PC hygiene suggestions
Reboot your computer
15 minutes to a half-hour before the game or mustering. Many programs use lots of
machine resources - and too many programs don't
clean up after themselves. Rebooting resets all of your machine resources
and makes them available again.
Once you've rebooted,
bring up ONLY the programs you need to run the game. Typically, that's
whatever game tools you're using and the viewer for the text version of the module (if you have
one). Unless you must, *don't* bring up even a browser or email client
unless you know you won't have problems.
If there's a program
you have to bring up, keep it up for the least amount of time possible.
Don't clutter your PC's resources or your screen space with anything unnecessary.
A tip not specific to
online gaming, but worth repeating: read and prep the module before you
run the game. Think ahead to how the party might react to each encounter
and determine what you'll do. Also identify any 'holes' in the module,
and plug them.
Check below for online
forms that make event reporting easier.
Read the Judge information
or FAQ available for the con for which you are running if one is available.
Conline, Crossroads, and OGD (OnlineGameDay) all have FAQs in their files
sections that list their special requirements and contacts.
- Install and test whatever tool(s) will be used to play the game. Especially if it's your first time with a particular tool, arrange time several days before the game with the GM or someone experienced with the tool to try it out and iron out any kinks.
- You, too, can help the
game run smoothly and on time. Here are just a few hints for doing so:
Try to avoid IM'ing
your GM unless it's really essential that you do so. Moving the GM's focus
out of the main window makes the game flow less smoothly as the GM fields
- When a GM declares boxed
text (often by using the signals bt and /bt in a text-based tool), let him finish
it before saying anything, unless an action is required. Certainly avoid
IC or OOC chatter unrelated to the boxed text.
- Be ready! Know what
your PC is going to do, and pay attention to what others are doing so that
you can make adjustments. Particularly in combats, have your action typed
and ready to send as soon as it's your turn. Try to give alternatives if
you're not sure that you can do something. If you have alternatives,
type each of them into WordPad, NotePad, or your favorite editor - that
way, you can just cut and paste when it's your turn.
If you have questions,
try to ask them concisely.
Pay attention - many
questions asked have already been answered in boxed text or because of
a previous question. Don't forget to scroll up and look at them!
Don't interrupt other
player's turns with your questions.
Be aware of your place
in the initiative order - sometimes a distracted DM (remember those questions
other people shouldn't be asking outside of their turn? :-P ) may accidentally
Be aware of when you
and your fellow players are wasting time - particularly by a lot of OOC
and out-of-game chat. Keep that sort of chat out of tha main window - it's
distracting and makes the game hard to follow.
Be ready to start at
the time specified for the game. Show up 10-15 minutes early if possible
- often the GM will be there and can get information from you as players
show up, rather than having to wait and waste game time.
If the game is being
marshalled, it's critical to show up at least 15 minutes early,
and more than that can be useful. You don't need to be glued to your seat
during those early minutes, but registering your presence and providing
any other information the marshall needs makes the marshalling process
go much more quickly and smoothly.
Tips for High-level Combats
- Be ready. When it comes to your turn in initiative, have your
action typed in as well as any modifiers (Ex. PA5/HA5/LionsPounce). If
you don't say it, it's not going to happen. No "I meant to do this",
or "That's what I always do."
- If you aren't ready, the GM should consider you in 'Delay' mode and will
progress with the normal initiative. He will give a reasonable typing
time. If you have a question, say something like, "Question, first."
That will alert him that YOU are alert, but need to type.
- Do not assume any buffs. Tell the GM any that are active
(long-running, etc.). Tell him when you raise them. If there is any
prep-time before a combat, he will tell you how long.
- Have a breakdown of any extremely high number for AC, Attack,
Damage, Skill checks, Saves ready to copy-and-paste. The GM very well may
ask for it. If you are stacking bonuses, note the type of bonus. Something like:
- AC 38
- +10 Base
- +7 Armor
- +5 Armor enhancement
- +2 H. Shield
- +3 Shield Enchantment
- +4 Deflection
- +1 Haste
- +2 Dex
- +4 Nat Armor
(These should actually already be standard practice at high levels.)
- If you have any variable damages, type them in with the results
(Ex. 23 damage reg + 11 fire + 16 holy) when presenting the results.
- If you have any special tactics, or clever combinations, you may
want to verify with the GM that he agrees that they work the way you think
they do. If you are using a special ability, have the page number or
link to SRD handy.
- Have any certs or curses/blessings/enduring affects that need to
be presented to the GM ready to be shown.
High Level combat can bog down and become miserable very quickly and
for hours on end, so help keep it organized and smooth and have fun!
Tools tip: Use the online
forms below, and send your judges copies or point them to the forms.
If you are planning
on running RPGA games online, you should double-check with the campaign
in question, as they may each have slightly different restrictions or requirements
for playing the mods online (for example, LG only allows Core mods played
online, LDS requests a copy of the game results, etc.).
An online version of
the old RPGA scoring packet is still
available. It will calculate the Judge's scenario and group scores (the
stuff that's usually on the inside of the RPGA paper scoring packet), and
will also calculate the total scenario and judge scores, and scores for
each player. It does not list placements.
Living Death Roster of Heroes
- Away From Keyboard
- Back (to indicate you've returned
after BRB or AFK)
- Blaster Pistol
- Blaster Rifle
- Be Right Back
- bt (or <bt>) and /bt (or </bt>)
- Boxed Text and end of Boxed
- Heavy Blaster Pistol
- In Character
- Out Of Character
- Universal Cutting Tool (Lightsaber)
- Streamlined this main page to point to other pages, and to keep only general information
- Changed the background
- Removed links to retired campaigns
- Added references shared spreadsheets.
- Added a link for downloading Gametable .
- Added clarification of Yahoo! group for OpenRPG minis.
- Updated section on Yahoo! groups for games.
- Added General Tips section.
- Added a link to the Gametable setup and use document.
- Added a link to a second OpenRPG tutorial.
- Added MD Kniese's description of adding miniatures to OpenRPG.
- Added a line to clarify the explanation on how to join an existing chat room.
- Added a link to an OpenRPG Tutorial.
- Added pointer to recommended
OpenRPG User Guide
- Added section for common
- Added section for, and references
to, OpenRPG (though content is still needed)
Noted the existence
of campaign-specific requirements for online play under "Coordinators".
Moved the update history
to the bottom of the file and added links to it.
Added a tip on introductions,
and information on registering for online conventions via polls.
There is now a section
for AIM-specific tips and how-tos.
New section added for
tips on getting started (such as where to find games).
Added a pointer to an
online version (spreadsheet) of the tracking form.
Added a pointer to an
online version (spreadsheet) of the LD Roster of Heroes and the LSJ Roster
of Heroes, and added a "Forms" and "Table of Contents" section.
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New material copyright Maryrita Steinhour, 2003, 2010, with thanks to all contributors!