Friday, December 9, 2011

Guest Blogger: Brian Liberge

Brian Liberge did a really wonderful job in adapting & statting-up our Unnamed Monster and we'd like to see him convert a few more of our critters over to more modern rules or maybe he'll consider taking a shot at converting something from 4th edition over to Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry one of these days. That'd be interesting, and we'd really like to see more of that sort of creative cross-pollination taking place, which is why we're developing a few things for Savage Worlds in addition to the various old school projects we already have in development. In any case we want to thank Brian for contributing his talents to our blog and we encourage you to check out his excellent work over at Stuffer Shack sometime.

Without further ado, here's Brian's Guest Post:

Gmail at the Game Table
by Brian Liberge
Columnist for Stuffer Shack

The digital movement with Pen & Paper types can be a sensitive subject. Some will tell you players should have physical character sheets, written on in pencil, and the DM had best be toting some graph paper and perhaps a binder or moleskin. Others have embraced a plethora of tools, from Word to Obsidian Portal. You can even jump on a Virtual Table and/or Skype and have a live game without ever touching dice or seeing the other players’ faces.

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying many of these tools are getting quite sophisticated as well as more popular. My group is currently playing D&D, 4th edition. Dungeons & Dragons Insider Subscribers get access to a character builder tool which is now hosted online. As more and more official options have come out, my players have relied on this tool more. It’s no longer uncommon for half my players, between three and eight each week, to have a laptop open during play. I’m sure people’s first worry is that players will do other things and cease paying attention during game time, but this hasn’t been an issue for us.

However, it has allowed us to stumble upon a surprising system to add depth to Role Playing. That’s right; I said that laptops, at the game table, enhance my groups RP.

I should preface this slightly. While I still do some work with paper notes and maps, most of my world as the DM is now on my computer. It has substantially lowered the weight and mass of what I bring to the D&D Session each week, which I do not physically host. So I have the laptop up and I’m often typing a new note, or updating a file, or keeping track of statuses. The players on laptops as well may be taking notes or updating character sheets. There’s no reason to think that in reality I’m having a one on one conversation with the player while running the scene for the group.

I’m talking about secrets at the game table. It used to be that if a player wanted to do something, he either had to speak Out of Character, and everyone else had to pretend they didn’t know this was a set up, or they had to publicly ask to step aside with me or pass me a note. That very obviously raises eyebrows.

Now, with a quick chat or email, I can let my arcane duelist know that if he wants to pretend to attack the spirits but not deal any real damage, he can roll a bluff but call it an attack roll to the rest of the group. Characters who have secrets can act behind people’s backs, or more simply, quickly confirm that the person I’m currently describing really is their old rival no one else has met, and they’re not just guessing.

My players are not the biggest role-players. We also play in a large, homebrewed world. The fact that they can quickly confirm back story elements in play, or confirm an action that shouldn’t be immediately known, is huge for us. I guess it’s kind of like: “build it, and they will come.” We didn’t realize how much this would add to the game for us until it was in our laps. Also, the fact that it’s subtle and not really showy is probably a factor. As a bunch of twenty something guys, drinking and unwinding while we game, we have a tendency to give each other a hard time over things, in a dumb joking way. I don’t think anyone wants to be the person who gets way more into character than everyone else.

The downside of this, mind you, is I have to be very aware of the people who are not on computers. I still need to make sure they have the opportunity to have secrets, have integrated back stories, and know what is going on. That means that sometimes I’m still passing notes, sometimes I send emails that are less than critical and sometimes I still pull people aside to talk to individuals. Recently, I stopped the session and told everyone to shop for stuff and level. They each had a day before the next event and I wanted to speak to everyone, alone, individually. Someone had a friend over, and they gave me a little lip since, in their opinion, I had basically stopped the game for them. I don’t really care. I got to do some real deep, while quick, development and exchange with some players. Other players just told me what they did for that day, and we talked about what Epic Destinies they were thinking about. Everyone got equal time and equal secrecy. I think it helped prepare the next arc and get people excited.

How does everyone else handle secrets at the table and balance party involvement?

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