Roleplaying in Text Chat

In episode 45 of On the Shoulders of Dwarves, I mentioned my online, chat-based gaming group. A listener sent us an email asking for more details about my game, and the resulting answer was so long I decided to turn in into a post, so others may use it as well.

Steve asks:

Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of play-by-post games, and I wondered if you have any tips for text-only roleplaying. What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages? Are there any systems you recommend for text-only games?

And specifically for Aviv, do you still schedule sessions where everyone plays together? Or do you play by post? And what do your Discord channels look like? Do you have separate channels for in-character and out-of-character posts? Are there any resources you recommend?

I’ll start from the end: yes, we still plan regular sessions. I have got a long history with play by post games on discussion boards, and my experience was that I’ve difficulties to keep the game running if I don’t have a fixed schedule to stick to. If you can read Hebrew, you can even come to watch us play as the channel is viewable by everyone on the server.

About three years ago Eran and I first attempted running a chat game. We used Google Hangouts after discovering it has /roll commands. That game didn’t last long, but after a couple of months, I started a fully fledged group, playing Dungeon World in Hangouts, with Eran as a player. We played an entire campaign for 14 months, after which some of the players left and I recruited new ones.

We continued to a second campaign and lasted just as long, and have now transitioned from Dungeon World to Masks. Somewhere in the middle of the second campaign, my group moved from Hangout to Discord because we wanted the option of using different channels for in characters discussions.

First, we use a Discord bot called Sidekick for dice rolling. Second, we have a main “sessions” channel that most of the game takes place in. We use it just like a regular gaming table, combining both in and out of character discussion, as well as talking about the rules and sometimes off-topic stuff as any group would.

The other channel is for when players want to continue a scene between themselves while the rest of the group keep talking in the main session channel. In the last campaign, we even had characters that started a romantic relationship that way – the first for me, in any tabletop game.

There are a couple of important things to keep notice of, even in a regularly scheduled text game: it’s still slower than a face to face or voice chat games. We play for 3 hours each week and sometimes it could be minutes of in-game time because it just takes longer for people to type their actions than talking about them.

We’ve also established from the beginning that the chat game is more casual – people participate while doing other things; I used to be at the office for our session for a long time, GMing while working. So it is okay if people’s response time is longer than usual. One of the things I miss about the move from Hangouts to Discord is the ability to see who has “seen” the last message so I could know who is paying attention at the moment. But you learn to get past it.

The last thing I mention that you should be aware of is that a chat discussion is linear. All the messages go on the same screen, and the GM has to keep track of who said what and when. I use the Discord tagging function a lot (where you can @ someone and the app highlight the message for them) for me to keep track on which message belongs to what player, and for them to notice it.

This is also the reason you need a separate “character talking” channel because it’s hard to have more than one conversation in the main sessions one. I also recommend splitting the party as little as possible because it becomes a bit boring to the other players when you play a scene with just some of them.

Want to hear more? Feel free to contact via Twitter. You can also keep up to date with our current campaign through the portal.