Behind the Screen: DMing in the Digital Age…

2007 September 8
by Dante

As the years have gone by, new tools have emerged that can be used to augment your standard pen and paper roleplaying experiences. In the last few years, we’ve explored several different new options in our own campaigns and met with varying degrees of success.

Blogging, for fun and character development

Several years ago, I suggested to my players that we would track our campaign progress via a blog. I would post a summary after each session, and I encouraged the players to post in-character and when they did they would receive a small experience reward for doing so. I enjoyed having ready access to the perceptions and thoughts of my characters, and they enjoyed getting into their own backstory and being able to pull up last session’s summary on a whim.

The universal language of online chat

We have recently made the decision to allow laptops at our gaming table. Having the ability to instant message individual players with private game information has come in handy. We have also used this capability to attempt team-DMing, where one person runs the sessions and the other player writes the campaign and acts as a situational NPC.

The general consensus is positive, however some players have felt that the in-session conversations between the two DMs can be disruptive. Even DMs can become disengaged (or at least appear that way), and this is something that you will have to be aware of if you choose to incorporate this into your sessions.

Miscellaneous Web Tools

I have a personal collection of several links that I use: Wizard’s dice roller, town generator, and NPC Generator.

These tools can really aid in winging sessions, or just adding some depth to your world. If you’re using the dice roller, I still highly recommend actually rolling dice when you want to ensure that your players know that you’re adding some random chance to a situation. I use all of these tools every week, so I can vouch for their function and excellence.

Be united in your choice to use technology

All of these technologies have their own benefits and drawbacks. First, we had some difficulty with people drifting off-topic with their laptops and doing work, surfing YouTube, or generally just disengaging from the rest of the group. This is a situation that you will have to address with your own group, and I suggest making it a part of your social contract to determine the appropriate use of these technologies during the gaming sessions.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Phil permalink
    September 8, 2007

    I agree that online/offline software tools are a great help.

    I use a laptop opened on my DM Wiki. It’s where all my prep notes are. I never thought of using IM on a table for secret notes.

    But then again we did away with secret discussions as we prefer everything on camera and refrain from exploiting info a player has that his character hasn’t.

    We also use Google Group as a private Houserules compedium and discussion board for discussions between 2 sessions.

    Finally I just might ask my more chatty players to guess post their take on our game on my blog. Consider the idea stolen!

  2. Yax permalink
    September 9, 2007

    I’m very oldschool and I feel like I should try DMing with a laptop. I’m not sold on the idea of every player having a laptop. I am afraid of the internet’s magnetic power.

  3. Stupid Ranger permalink
    September 9, 2007

    One thing I enjoy as a player in these campaign is the IM’ing with secret messages. I feel as if my fellow party members are not metagaming as much, since they don’t know I had a private conversation with the DM. We used to do hall conferences, and everyone would know that something important had happened. It’s been much more comfortable and less disruptive (generally) to our previous modis operandi.

    And Yax, we did have occasional problems with non-gaming laptop use during sessions. So we brought the issue to a vote and majority passed for allowing laptops. Because of the vote, we became more aware of how disruptive we could be when playing online, and we’ve seen a pretty sharp decrease in non-gaming use. I think it just has to explore and outlined as part of your social contract.

  4. Phil permalink
    September 9, 2007

    Please keep us posted on this as I’m thinking of allowing wireless laptop and PDA for the express reason of consulting the SRD and IMing… But I need to think about it some more.

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