An RPG designed specifically for online play?

Keith Mann's picture

Here's a question to ponder: We're all familiar with taking a conventional set of PnP RPG rules like HMG and playing online via an IM or perhaps via a more sophisticated tool like the one provided by RPGTonight. In such cases, though, the rules were designed to be played with pen, paper, and dice; they neither take advantage of the computer's potential, nor do they compensate for its shortcomings.

So, imagine you're starting from scratch (or if you prefer, with HMG) and designing a set of rules that will be incorporated into software for "online PnP gaming". What would they be like?

ken's picture

I'd stick with the core of HarnMaster Gold I think, but I might be inclined to increase the options and complexity of combat, knowing that I had a computer there to handle all the number crunching.

Sigurd's picture

I play all my RPGs over the internet with a VTT (Virtual Table Top) called Fantasy Grounds.

I have to say there is generational change between a pen and paper game played on the internet and a computer aided game. It becomes clear if you talk about it in the context of a game like chess. You can enable people to play the game as written across long distances or you can change the game by offering strategy or tracking moves or modifying the rules with 'real time' things that the players can do. I hope people treat RPGS as games and preserve most of the rules.

In the first instance - Internet enabled Pen & Paper - all the rules need not change. Extra routines can be made to simplify DMing or rolling on complex tables but it is fundamentally the same. The computer is little more than a glorified phone for an unchanged conversation. This is my preferred mode. I hate twitch games.

In the second instance of an RPG Computer RPG hybrid I think you have to start from the computer side of things with a promise of capabilities then work back to the RPG simulation experience. Here I think you work back from 'Simulation' and 'Reality' into crafting a game. The problem so far IMHO is that you end up with something like Diablo (A great game but not much of a simulation) or Second Life (I gather a great simulation but less of a game).
I suspect that for the computer simulationists out there Pen & Paper RPGs are too much of a backwater. The results will come from a refinement of 'World of Warcraft' into a personal shared reality not from an expanded PnP RPG.

I really hope there is always a place for pen & paper RPGs even if they are played across computer terminals. Ideally there will be an automation of dice & player interaction that will allow genuine story telling. Fantasy Grounds is IMHO the best package for structured storytelling through an RPG on the net.


Balesir's picture

I, too, have played RPGs using a VTT - in my case Screenmonkey and BattelgroundsRPG (plus brief sessions on others at the iCon virtal RPG convention). My opinion is that they are at their best when they don't try to computerise the game itself, but just provide a substitute for the table top (ooh, that would be why they are 'virtual table tops', right? ;-) ).

A map space, chat client and means to handle whatever type of randomisation is used by the system you are using is all you really need. Hence why I choose BRPG to run with in my own game. (1)

You do, however, need to adjust your general routines and modes of play. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the bandwidth of communication face-to-face is much wider and false assumptions are easier to avoid. It also tends to be a little slower online, but taking that bit more time can allow some real magic to develop in character play - the lack of a physical presence that may be wildly at odds with the character portrayed can really help, here, too.

(1) - Oh, and a Fog of War feature so that each player can have a personalised view of just what their character can see can be pretty cool, too!

Sigurd's picture

My philosophy is that the only problem with pen and paper RPGs is getting the people power to enjoy them. They take up a fair whack of time and organization is really difficult especially as people leave school, move away, have families etc... VTTs should be like a roleplaying phone. They shouldn't change the rules or take over the decisions.

I prefer to see people face to face but its not practically possible with friends in different parts of the globe. I'd rather play on a terminal if it means I can play with my friend who happens to be 7 hours away. I'd rather not leave my home, if I have responsibilities here. Having no travel time means I have that much more gaming time.

Telecommuting for gaming shouldn't change your games except to make them more available.


PS. I'd love to join a Harn Game on Fantasy Grounds if anyone is interested in GMing?
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Keith Mann's picture

Obviously the consensus is conservative. Does this extend to mundane mechanics? For example, would you have players and GM literally rolling dice and consulting tables? Is this different from the combatants telling the computer their choices of combat options and clicking a button to resolve the round? If so, how? Would the latter not both offer the opportunity for more complex underlying mechanics and reduce the time required?

Sigurd's picture

Its not really conservative so much as traditional.

Have you played any VTT?

I think the element I don't want to lose is the rolling of the dice. In FG everything still uses the pen & paper tables but the dice are a pretty direct x replacement. IF you need to roll a 20 sider for a rule you pick one up off the table and roll it for all to see.

If you automate the roll into 'you attacked'..... it changes the game. The dice make the strategy more transparent. So if you climb the hill to higher ground and surround your opponent on two sides the DM says "Add 4 to your roll" (or whatever). It helps to have the knowledge of the effects of your strategy.

Some things are automated. There's a great mod called "the Box" that hides certain roll results from the player. If you are rolling to detect a secret door you might have to roll into the "the Box" and you will never see your results but the DM will. Stops the problem where a thief rolls a really poor detection roll and second guesses the process. The DM says "you dont find any traps" the player can't look at the numbers to second guess the results.


Balesir's picture

Using computers to support the GM and players while using complex rules, thus allowing rules to be crafted to be 'more realistic' and take more variables into account has occurred to me in the past, but it has two serious flaws, IMV.

The first is one of proportion. I'll try to illustrate it by asking "what is your chance of getting a strike with a single bowling ball on your first try? 13%? 15%? Which is it closer to? My point is that, in real life, we really have no precise view of how likely many things are. Why calculate the chances of successfully striking an opponent in combat or of crafting a good pottery bowl in a game when the chances of such things in what we are accustomed to term 'real life' are so approximate?

The second point is one of flexibility. If we code in a VTT that automates an 'attack', we immediately limit ourselves in terms of what an 'attack' can entail. What if I wish to try something a little bit 'out of the box'? With PnP RPG rules I can usually extemporise something - usually based on (but not identical to) the rules already in place. When the rules are coded in, such scope for improvisation is hampered by the fact that the rules themselves are so complex.

As a result of these issues and other preferences, then, I really don't want the rules for *actual play* to be computerised. In general, what I want is something that produces realistic *outcomes* rather than a blow-by-blow simulation of each limb movement. 'Behind the scenes' stuff, like weather and the workings of the economy, on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish...

Robin's picture

The principal reason why I never switched from Screen Monkey to Fantasy Grounds, despite the fact that I was given some free licences (to explore the possibilty of content development and endorsement) is that FG had a tendency to crash when I loaded a 'big map'. If this is no longer the case, then FG is very interesting... What I remember of the interface is that it was well... pretty, intuitive and functional...

Sigurd's picture

I can't deny that 'best practices' for FG include reducing the size of your shared files to eveyone's general advantage. FG2 is much much better in this regard than its previous incarnation. Its still not perfect but it doesn't generally crash.

Varying upload rates from house machines creates some problems with timing. They have an obscurement layer that you can carve away to reveal the map underneath - that feels a little pioneerish. Still its come a long way in terms of stability - it hasn't crashed on me since the new version over a year ago now.

I'd happily set up a test drive with people if they'd like.


Quisario's picture

Hey Sigurd,

It looks like you and I have the same idea trying to get a Fantasy Grounds II game going for Harn! :) I'm replying to your post, since you did so on mine at the FG site. It would be great if we could spark some interest. Being in Toronto (Canada) I have yet to find anyone who plays Harn table top, so this is the best alternative in my mind.

So far I haven't experienced any crashes with FGII related to map file sizes. Though I think the case for any data transfer over the internet is the smaller the better because of different peoples varying bandwidths.

ken's picture

I'm up to give it a play or two if anyone is running a game.

TsuliChigana's picture

and a bit long winded, so pardon this first post length.

Firstly, Harn is the only system I have ever really enjoyed and used over the years. Back in the 80's I ran a game for about two years before my situation changed and we had to break up.
I have been involved in RPG's off and on since 1978. The percentile system that Harn uses is the best and easiest to learn. But not enough people (at least in my gaming circles) knows about it or wants to use it.
I agree with others,that there aren't enough people that want to learn a 'new system' and second, getting enough people together on one night (or afternoon) to do a game face to face.
I discovered several years ago group boards online that call themselves 'rp boards' but it is actually collaborative writing. There are no gm's, no character sheets nor dice systems. Just writing. Everyone has a fundamental understanding of the universe (Star Wars in this case) and very little intervention was needed.
At first I balked at the absence of a GM or rules, but if everyone knows the basic rules and physics of the environment and social system, you don't need a rule book or a GM to monitor everyone. I tried a game like that and it was very difficult to 'wait my turn' when the GM person wasn't there for a week and then we have to wait for the other players to make their move.
The other, tinier and miniscule group is one that role plays in a chat environment. I played for about a year with a group that was doing a Matrix RPG. It's as close to person to person you can get online are all there at the same time, scattered across the country. We had issues with people's connections and time differential, but the concept was sound.
I haven't played the true Harnsystem in over ten years, but I would love to be involved in something online with a Harn rpg. Text, dice or otherwise.

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