Monday, March 3, 2014

Playing by (e)Mail

Maybe I am just waxing nostalgic, but this past fall I decided to start a play-by-mail D&D game--something I haven't done since high school. At first this was just a way to get a little extra gaming fix every day (10-15 minutes of reading the player's posts and responding), but now it has become one of my favorite games that I am running (of several) and the one I find myself devoting the most brain-space too.

So...time to once again get on the blogging horse for a post or two about it.

Some logs of the actual play will probably follow, but let me start with some observations that have come out of the last 5 months of playing this way.

Observation 1: Text-based D&D makes conversations a little more choppy (delayed responses), but gives a lot of room to explore character motivations, thoughts, and development more deeply. Which is to say, voice-overs and explaining your thought process are pretty annoying at the game table, but easy to convey in text without being distracting.

Observation 2:  I've always been a stickler for language in fantasy games (not surprising given my seven years of hanging out with linguists at a language software company). I build complicated language trees for my worlds, make charts of loan-words and which languages have partial mutual comprehensibility. In face-to-face games, if player 1 & 2 are talking in a language that player 3 doesn't know, I'll make player 3 leave the room or shut up. I've even played in games where multi-lingual players establish real-world counterparts for the languages their characters know and use them (i.e. Elvish = French and all the players have to speak French if their characters are conversing in elvish), and the characters are only allowed to know as many languages as the players.

In this play-by-mail game I took this a step further. Every language in the game was assigned a real-world counterpart. The players have then been using Google Translate to convert their conversations to the equivalent language (s.p. for languages known only to a few of the characters). In some cases, their are even deliberate misinterpretations being used (for instance the character Hrud only speaks Javanese, while another PC, Frantiska, repeatedly tries to communicate with him in Indonesian). GT makes this especially amusing, since syntax, word order, and meaning tend to get slightly garbled when text is translated from English to X, then back.

Hilarity ensues and everyone is having a great time with it.

Observation 3: It makes it super-easy for the GM to turn a knowledge-skill-heavy PC into his mouthpiece for setting information without having to pass notes at the table or "speak for the PC". You'll see a LOT of this in action through the character Donovan.

For any readers who care about mechanics and the like, the setting is a heavily home-brewed version of AD&D 2nd Edition, complete with kits, psionics, and all the other nonsense that entails, adjusted to have ascending armor classes and attack bonuses, and to be about as player-customization friendly as Pathfinder (read as more options than anyone actually needs). The setting is a heavily modified version of the Forgotten Realms, based loosely on the old Pool of Radiance computer game. You can find all of it on Ruins of Adventure (the Obsidian Portal sight for the game).

Now some statistics, mostly for my own benefit:

  • First game post: 08/14/2013
  • Runtime to date: 28 weeks, 5 days
  • In-game time elapsed: 48 hours
  • Total posts to date: 1255
  • Average posts per week: 44.8
  • Combat Encounters: 5
  • Average combat duration: 3 rounds or 25 posts