A "Novel" Idea — Is Conducting a 4e D&D Internet-Based Game Possible Exclusively in Text?

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Hello.

Like others here, I played D&D in my youth, back in the game's early-1980s heyday when so many first discovered that they were "gamers."  Given my fond memories, I've been looking to return to the game for a very long time.  And while I've tried any number of video games — which obviously offer convenience and a hard-to-equal instant gratification — for freedom and imagination, balance and depth of interaction, there simply is no substitute for the tabletop game.   

But, honestly, while I may visit the odd gaming store from time to time, I'm just not comfortable in that environment.  And the games I've witnessed are often jovial, casual affairs, with abundant humor, high-adventure hijinks, out-of-character chatting and equally abundant soda.  Clearly, the purpose of the game is to have fun, and this brand of play is the preference of a great many tabletop gamers.  

But it's not what I've had in mind.  

My vision is of a deeply immersive and rather serious game, perhaps with an abundance of suspense and even some horror, or at least dark psychological, moments.  It would have the sober, sometimes desperate, tone that dominated much of the Lord of the Rings films or the Game of Thrones series (novels or HBO show).  It might at times feel like the D&D version of LOST or The Walking Dead.  In the ideal, it'd feel like an improvised book, a good, gripping book.  In short, D&D high drama. 

And so I was thinking that perhaps the way to achieve this would be to indeed pursue this "spirit of the book" notion and make the whole game text, and played online.  This game would benefit from the relative anonymity of the players — no real-world voices, with the inevitable verbal stumbles of extemporaneous speech (text entries are usually more considered) or amateur orc imitations to break immersion and the tension — inherently fragile — that must be carefully maintained.  On the flipside, in text (and anonymity), I'm quite sure that many players would lose the inhibitions that may well prevent them from feeling comfortable speaking or, moreover, acting out their character.  (Honestly, how many of us can say, "Marshalling my necromantic power, I beckon my undead brethren — dormant far too long — from their musty graves.  Their internment endeth." with a straight face?)  Gone would be the impulse of a player to follow up an unintentionally goofy spoken line with a joke to offset his/her feeling of awkwardness.  Then, of course, there is the way that text fuels the visual imagination in a way nothing else quite does, as we all know from reading even halfway decent works of fiction (or even nonfiction, for that matter).

The question is, technologically and practically, can this be done?  Is this something the hopefully upcoming D&D Virtual Tabletop will allow (I can't find much information on it)?  Would it be easy enough to exchange the necessary information online and in silence?  Of course, the game could be augmented with voice chat to facilitate rapid out-of-character interaction.  But, in the ideal, the DM could just copy and paste any lengthy descriptive text that's prepared in advance.  

Has anyone had any experience with this?  Any recommendations against it?  Do you see "mature" players having interest?  I'm very enthusiastic about the potential of this, but have no recent experience with the game.  

Any input would be greatly appreciated.  And if this isn't the proper forum for this topic, I apologize.

Thanks very much for reading,

ELB

         

        
Play-by-post is something that's existed for decades.  Many large forums have their own sections for such a thing.  And yes, it's perfectly possible to play any tabletop RPG online (except maybe Dread).  Depending on the time zone the participants live in, things might not progress at the same rate, and conditional triggers that are normally easily resolved in real-time are harder to do, but it's perfectly workable.  Depending on your set-up, you can do all sorts of other things like throw in pictures, music, videos, maps, etc.  It's not a magic bullet that will instantly make your game a masterpiece, since there's nothing stopping people from being complete clowns with the distance of the internet between them, so I wouldn't go into it thinking things are going to be gripping and gritty.  It can do that, but you can do that in real life as well, with both it all depends on the personalities and skills of the group you've assembled.
Play-by-post is something that's existed for decades.  Many large forums have their own sections for such a thing.  And yes, it's perfectly possible to play any tabletop RPG online (except maybe Dread).  Depending on the time zone the participants live in, things might not progress at the same rate, and conditional triggers that are normally easily resolved in real-time are harder to do, but it's perfectly workable.  Depending on your set-up, you can do all sorts of other things like throw in pictures, music, videos, maps, etc.  It's not a magic bullet that will instantly make your game a masterpiece, since there's nothing stopping people from being complete clowns with the distance of the internet between them, so I wouldn't go into it thinking things are going to be gripping and gritty.  It can do that, but you can do that in real life as well, with both it all depends on the personalities and skills of the group you've assembled.



A thoughtful response, thank you. 

To clarify, I wasn't thinking in terms of play-by-post, which I imagine to be a slow, e-mail exchange kind of game where someone makes a move and then waits for the other members to respond when time allows.  I was thinking of playing a chat-based game in real-time, but I'm hoping for far more robust tools than a simple chat engine (which is why I'm very curious about D&D Virtual Tabletop). 

You're quite right that a text-based game isn't impervious to folks clowning around and deviating from its expressed mission.  That said, my hunch is that a text game would lend itself better to the consistent maintenance of a serious, gritty storyline than a live group does.

- ELB 

There are people who do what you're suggesting.  Basically all you need is a chat engine, and so that's what people have done.  It's a pretty simple thing of stating your targets and such and making your rolls, posting larger texts to websites even.

Actually upon thinking about it this might be exactly the sort of thing you're after: www.rpgport.net/terres/
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition
There are people who do what you're suggesting.  Basically all you need is a chat engine, and so that's what people have done.  It's a pretty simple thing of stating your targets and such and making your rolls, posting larger texts to websites even.

Actually upon thinking about it this might be exactly the sort of thing you're after: www.rpgport.net/terres/



It's good to see that people are actually playing this type of game.  While a chat engine would, clearly, facilitate text exchange, I'm interested in a tool that would handle all the aspects of DM-player communication...essentially hosting the game itself.  I'm talking about chat, yes, but also maps, graphics, dice rolls, allow for multiple forms of DM communication (whispers, etc.) and so on.  I believe that this is the intention of the D&D Virtual Tabletop, made even more functional by, presumably, being preprogrammed with D&D content (and, I suspect, packs you can purchase or upgrade to, like dungeon tile sets, pre-rolled NPCs, etc.).

Combine this with the Character Generator and so on, and this would be ideal.

- ELB
I believe that currently the VT has no real implementation of the D&D rules and no plans to do so, but otherwise sounds like it does pretty much what you're looking for. It is also not the only such product on the market.
theres tons of games like this
rptools.net/

Try this it takes some work to get it going but it's pretty powerful. I don't know if it supports whispers. Features that it does have are dice, tables, line of sight, lighting, fog of war, tokens with properties, you can write your own macros, etc.

Heck PM and  I can have you log into my campaign and you can see a tiny bit of the interaction available. On the rptools.net forums there are some bright programmers who have very powerful campaign templates as well.
Hello.

Like others here, I played D&D in my youth, back in the game's early-1980s heyday when so many first discovered that they were "gamers."  Given my fond memories, I've been looking to return to the game for a very long time.  And while I've tried any number of video games — which obviously offer convenience and a hard-to-equal instant gratification — for freedom and imagination, balance and depth of interaction, there simply is no substitute for the tabletop game.   

But, honestly, while I may visit the odd gaming store from time to time, I'm just not comfortable in that environment.  And the games I've witnessed are often jovial, casual affairs, with abundant humor, high-adventure hijinks, out-of-character chatting and equally abundant soda.  Clearly, the purpose of the game is to have fun, and this brand of play is the preference of a great many tabletop gamers.  

But it's not what I've had in mind.  

My vision is of a deeply immersive and rather serious game, perhaps with an abundance of suspense and even some horror, or at least dark psychological, moments.  It would have the sober, sometimes desperate, tone that dominated much of the Lord of the Rings films or the Game of Thrones series (novels or HBO show).  It might at times feel like the D&D version of LOST or The Walking Dead.  In the ideal, it'd feel like an improvised book, a good, gripping book.  In short, D&D high drama. 

And so I was thinking that perhaps the way to achieve this would be to indeed pursue this "spirit of the book" notion and make the whole game text, and played online.  This game would benefit from the relative anonymity of the players — no real-world voices, with the inevitable verbal stumbles of extemporaneous speech (text entries are usually more considered) or amateur orc imitations to break immersion and the tension — inherently fragile — that must be carefully maintained.  On the flipside, in text (and anonymity), I'm quite sure that many players would lose the inhibitions that may well prevent them from feeling comfortable speaking or, moreover, acting out their character.  (Honestly, how many of us can say, "Marshalling my necromantic power, I beckon my undead brethren — dormant far too long — from their musty graves.  Their internment endeth." with a straight face?)  Gone would be the impulse of a player to follow up an unintentionally goofy spoken line with a joke to offset his/her feeling of awkwardness.  Then, of course, there is the way that text fuels the visual imagination in a way nothing else quite does, as we all know from reading even halfway decent works of fiction (or even nonfiction, for that matter).

The question is, technologically and practically, can this be done?  Is this something the hopefully upcoming D&D Virtual Tabletop will allow (I can't find much information on it)?  Would it be easy enough to exchange the necessary information online and in silence?  Of course, the game could be augmented with voice chat to facilitate rapid out-of-character interaction.  But, in the ideal, the DM could just copy and paste any lengthy descriptive text that's prepared in advance.  

Has anyone had any experience with this?  Any recommendations against it?  Do you see "mature" players having interest?  I'm very enthusiastic about the potential of this, but have no recent experience with the game.  

Any input would be greatly appreciated.  And if this isn't the proper forum for this topic, I apologize.

Thanks very much for reading,

ELB

         

        

www.fantasygrounds.com
rptools.net/

Try this it takes some work to get it going but it's pretty powerful. I don't know if it supports whispers. Features that it does have are dice, tables, line of sight, lighting, fog of war, tokens with properties, you can write your own macros, etc.

Heck PM and  I can have you log into my campaign and you can see a tiny bit of the interaction available. On the rptools.net forums there are some bright programmers who have very powerful campaign templates as well.



I just figured I'd echo this. It's the BEST Virtual tabletop I've used and its free. There are others out there that may be better, but would cost you money to purchase and run. If you look at the forums, you can find frameworks to help run a 4e game. Easily my favorite and easiest to use is Rumble's 4e Framework. A framework is a structure for maptools which sets up the ability for your players to use at-will/encounter/daily and consumable powers. It also includes targeting which will display which monster or ally the player is targeting.
I want to thank the responders for the advice and recommendations; much appreciated.

I'll look into these tools and see what might suit such a game best (just FYI, while the appeal of a free-to-use tool is clear, I feel that a robust utility has great value and would be more than willing to pay for it).  Additionally, I did find this article, which directly addresses my interest in a virtual tabletop tool: www.tor.com/blogs/2010/11/playing-tablet...

It mentions at least one of the suggestions made here (fantasygrounds), in addition to Wizards' own hopefully soon-to-arrive VT. 

But Istaran said that the D&D VT from Wizards "...has no real implementation of the D&D rules and no plans to do so..."  If this is true, I think this would represent a real missed opportunity. 

I, for one, would love to see D&D take a big bite out of MMORPG's massive following.  Players of these games who haven't experienced what tabletop RPGs have to offer are really missing out.  Coming from one who has experienced both, to think that World of Warcraft and the like are worthy inheritors of the D&D legacy — modern surrogates for the game — is laughable and verges on insult.  But, obviously, one of the barriers to D&D play (or any other tabletop game, for that matter) is scheduling, preparation, etc.  But it requires little imagination to envision an online tool that integrates all the game mechanics and would greatly facilitate and speed up the adventure creation process on the part of the DM, in addition to making improvised play exponentially simpler.  Couple this with a "matching service" that lists the hosted games, along with descriptions, etc., and offer a free trial program, and you'd open up D&D to an enormous fresh player base.    

While this wouldn't offer the 24-hour convenience of a persistent world, I could see dynamic one- or several-session games being devised, allowing for more flexible (if much less consistent) play options.       

Further, one could see D&D offering online modules that would significantly lighten the load for the DM, allowing him/her to just trigger descriptive text, manage encounters, distribute XP, etc. and focus on the role-play elements with minimal planning and calculation (for those looking to make a long-term commitment to a game, this could be used to "audition" other gamers to ensure the chemistry is there to warrant a deeper time investment).  A further evolution of the model that incorporates a tactical engine (but remains true to the turn-based D&D model) could potentially enable individuals to play solo, though I realize that many would consider this a form of RPG heresy, as, obviously, the interactive dimension that is the heart and soul of the game's creativity would be gone.  It would be a pale alternative, but, nonetheless, it would undoubtedly boost the game's following.

As for a revenue model — for those concerned with such things — the same formula we're seeing for video game add-on content could be applied to "packs" of dungeon tiles, NPCs, monsters, scripted modules, and on and on.  From what I can tell, this is pretty close to the D&D Insider vision with online player matching.  I could see tossing in some social networking tools too to allow players to better identify others with similar tastes.

Please understand that I am in no way advocating for the end of traditional, campaign-level games either played in person or via computer.  I know that nothing quite takes the place of those hardcover books.  But (selfishly) I'd just welcome the option to come home from work, park myself in front of the PC and get into a game for the evening with no advance commitment, or to get into a regular game with people from all over the country (or the world) for that matter.

It's my hope that Wizards sees the potential of this approach to expand the game on all fronts.

- ELB 
rptools.net/

Try this it takes some work to get it going but it's pretty powerful. I don't know if it supports whispers. Features that it does have are dice, tables, line of sight, lighting, fog of war, tokens with properties, you can write your own macros, etc.

Heck PM and  I can have you log into my campaign and you can see a tiny bit of the interaction available. On the rptools.net forums there are some bright programmers who have very powerful campaign templates as well.



I just figured I'd echo this. It's the BEST Virtual tabletop I've used and its free. There are others out there that may be better, but would cost you money to purchase and run. If you look at the forums, you can find frameworks to help run a 4e game. Easily my favorite and easiest to use is Rumble's 4e Framework. A framework is a structure for maptools which sets up the ability for your players to use at-will/encounter/daily and consumable powers. It also includes targeting which will display which monster or ally the player is targeting.


 

So MANY complaints with regards to bookkeeping and combat (literally 1/2 of these forums) would be eliminated if this were an official, easy to use tool. WotC is doing the fans a disservice with their slow implementation of tools. 
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