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Old Screeds

Playing RPGs Online [22 Dec 04]

There are plenty of reasons to try role play games online. Maybe you can't find a good group of people to play face to face. Or the players can't agree on a place or time. Or they don't want to play what you want to play. Or you just don't have four or six hours or more to spend in a session. Or you simply prefer typing to speaking, and anonymity to social intercourse.

But there are many ways to play online. Here are a few, with links, followed by some thoughts on my personal favorite.

  • Computer Games: Commercial games, especially Neverwinter Nights, offer real time play using the Dungeons and Dragons rules as a base. You can adventure with other people and even with a living DM, You see your character on screen, and there's a real "you are there" feel to it. There are even downloadable options for playing a wemic in NWN!
  • MUDs: Multi-User Dungeons offer a free, low-tech, text-interface way to play in real time with other players. These games have been around for years and years, and do not require fancy graphics cards like NWN does. Some basic MUD info sites can be found here and here.
  • MMORPGs: Massively Multiplayer Online Role Play Games hit the spot between NWN and MUDs. These are commercial games that are like graphical MUDs, but with more complex rules and varying ways to enjoy the game: fighting, exploring, crafting, socializing, etc. There are more and more of these; World of Warcraft and Everquest are two of the more popular ones.
  • Chat Rooms and IM: Another free way to game, the easiest way to do this is to get enough friends online at the same time and use an Instant Messenger program. More formally, there are IRC channels that do the job when you don't have access to enough friends at the same time. Here is one list of IRC and chat room game resources.
  • Play by E-Mail: So far all those options are real time, and require dedicated sitting at the computer. What if you only have a few minutes here and there? What if you want to ponder and (heaven forbid!) spell check your role play? The first of two good free options is play by e-mail. To do this, your DM e-mails the players a written description of what they see, and they write back (and to each other) about how they respond. The best way to find an e-mail role-play game is through Irony Games' ancient, wonderful and still popular PBeM News listings. Click on the New Game Openings.
  • Play by Post: Play by e-mail is intimate and immediate -- and everyone online has already mastered how to write and send e-mail! But there are drawbacks too -- most notably, that games tend to be evanescent. As players' (and DM's) enthusiasms wane, these games might slow and slow, or just end abruptly. Play by post -- that is, on a message board of some kind -- can avoid that problem by drawing a larger dedicated group of people. With a long-lasting community, especially with a critical mass of active posters, games can last consistently for years and years. Let me mention three of the best (and I've played in all three):
    • Rondak's Portal -- A place where DMs can run their own games, with as much or as little connection to other games on the Portal as they like. Rondak provides the infrastructure (including dice rollers and PC sheet hosting), and DMs run games in a wide range of genres and systems.
    • Tazlure -- A freeform, diceless RPG that avoids the chaos of most freeform games through its well-realized campaign world, common rules, and (most of all) guiding moderators. Many players have really good RP and creative writing ability.
    • The Wold -- Like Tazlure, the Wold has a central campaign universe that all PCs share. But like most Rondak games, the Wold sticks pretty close to a dice-based pen-and-paper RPG rules base, in this case, Dungeons and Dragons. Full disclosure: I still play in the Wold and do a lot there.
My personal preference is play by post. I just never have the time to sit at the computer for scheduled, hours-long sessions; I *can* grab five minutes here, 30 minutes there at work, in the john, over breakfast. I don't think all that well in the heat of the moment; I love to ponder and plot my turns for a while before I post. And I hated playing in online games that folded; I love being part of a longstanding community of dedicated and creative people who constantly challange me.

On the other hand, all options have their pros and cons. Explore, join, and enjoy!

Update [28 August 05] Here are two play-by-post sites of which I just learned: Storycrafter and D&D Online. Enjoy!

Home | This page last modified: 28 August 2005