Facebook, Blogs, and Illustrated Primers; Atypical Electronic Tools for GMs


I’ve sometimes had a challenging experience getting players to “buy in” to a setting or campaign as deeply as I’d like them to. No amount of handouts, props, lighting, or otherwise could get them out of the gaming room and into the experience. Then I realized I could use their foul addictions against them.

Let’s face it…the amount of time many people spend on social networking sites is obscene. Even when they aren’t on those sites, they often have their computer in front of them. I’m sure your players are no different; I know mine aren’t. What’s worse is that often they are just clicking back and forth between three or four things waiting for something to change. When I’m working on campaign material I have my laptop in front of me, and whenever I hit a wall I look up at the TV, check three or four message boards, check Gamegrene, check Facebook, then go back to what I was doing.

It’s stupid how much of my time I spend doing this, but I don’t even really notice. It just becomes part of the routine.

Using a Facebook group I could send event invites to people.

If I had something interesting to look at that was constantly updated I’d be a lot more comfortable with my online addictions. And if it was roleplaying related I’d not even consider it a shameful waste of time.

While trying to figure out the best way to get my players to think about the new setting we developed using the deconstruction process I was flipping through useless crap on my Facebook page. I started removing groups and friends that served no purpose or whom I never talked to when it dawned on me…I could be posting campaign info right here and people could look at it wherever they were.

I know the concept of having a campaign website isn’t novel or new. But using a Facebook group I could send event invites to people (for the next session so there would be no confusion on time and place). I could easily send a message to everyone in the group and *know* that they would read it. I could easily post pictures of NPCs. I could write little stories and vignettes to exemplify the settings tone and theme.

And I could do all of this without needing hosting for a website, or having any idea how to code at all. I’m not as computer literate as I should be, so this medium suited me perfectly.

It also has had the dual benefit of being useful to the players. They can access links to rules related information, write summaries of sessions from their characters point of view, etc.

A few of my players thought the idea was awkward because they didn’t want all the people on their friends list to see all the updates to the site as part of their pages news feed. Simple; make the group secret and only the members can see it. (a conversation on why they are ashamed of their roleplaying addiction is probably a topic for a future article so I won’t go into it here).

This is when the Primer concept dawned on me. Since most of my players spend such an inordinate amount of time in front of their computers anyways, I thought it might be useful to compile a huge chunk of information for them in a digital format. If you have Adobe Acrobat (not just the reader, the whole thing), then this is really easy to do, and it can be made to look pretty damn professional if you take the time to do it well.

This is when the Primer concept dawned on me.

I wrote a bunch of little stories and used them to develop iconic characters, just as most game companies do when they release a rulebook. Then I set about writing setting material in an *in character only* tone. Then, I compiled it all into one big digital handout. This then lead me to writing an *in character* description of each players Skills, Advantages, and Disadvantages; and tacking that on to the Primer as well.

Now, each player has a customized and character specific guide to the setting, complete with all the rules that are relevant to their character. All they need is to print it out, put it in a binder or duotang, and grab their dice. There’s even a printable character sheet in the document so that they can easily print a new one whenever they want and get rid of the one stained with cup rings, spilled stout, and marred by vigorous erasing.

So far, all the atypical digital elements I’ve provided have gone over like free beer. I have a Facebook group for each campaign I currently run (three in total), and have made Primers for everyone in each campaign (though they're only called Primers for the Iron & Etheria campaign.) As part of my mission to democratize roleplaying and put more control of the immersion and knowledge of the games systems and setting into the hands of the players so I’m free to just run a good campaign, this has been a great success.

You could also use this to run a play by post campaign and have all the information right there at people’s fingertips instead of them having to access multiple sources. Because most of your players are probably on Facebook anyways this puts you, them, and what they need to know all in the same place. The same thing can be accomplished with MySpace, PerfSpot, Hi5, or whatever the falvor of the month happens to be.

(Here's an example of one of the Groups. This is the setting I developed when we first sat down for the deconstruction process; there isn’t much information about the setting as it’s assumed you’ve read at least the first version of the Primer, which I can’t post here because of how much of it I took verbatim from other published materials. Still, it gives you an example of what I’m talking about. As soon as we play the first session in a week and a half the Group will take a different tack; it will be more campaign and less setting related. Also to note; I'm only leaving the Group "public" for a week or two so Gamegreners can get a look at it. then I have to switch it back to Secret or my players will start getting sore at me.)

Scott, you don't need to convince me that you work for the illuminati-zionist-secret nazi-CIA-FBI-reptoid-
911-Big Brother-chupacapra-bigfoot-skull & bones-freemason-whatever anymore. Just a few questions though

1- Hows the pay?

2- Do you pick up girls doing this?

1) The pay is miserable.

2) I already have the only girl I need. Besides, the day that having a group on Facebook dedicated to your roleplaying campaign gets one girls...wow. That'll be a hell of a day for gamers everywhere.

Social networking sites are a reality. They're here to stay. As much as they might annoy conspiracy theorists, since everyone is on them anyways we may as well get some use out of them from a gaming standpoint. Most (including FB) only ask for a little bit more information than you needed to give to get on Gamegrene. It doesn't even have to be *real* information if you don't want it to be.

Why not create facebook profiles for the characters? Then players can avoid the embarrassment of having their friends know they game, and you could create a database of stats, backgrounds etc. Introduce new profiles for important NPCs. Attach artwork. Share character journals. Etc.

Two of my players are starting exactly that, in fact. To be honest I tried to convince them not to do it...I'm on a mission not just to democratize gaming for all involved, but also to get gamers to come out of the closet already. It's not like heroine addiction or deviant sexual behaviour; no harm will come of people knowing you roleplay. This mission started in 2002 when I was on a bus and I saw a guy that worked in the same mall as me reading an adventure *inside* another book. I started talking to him about roleplaying and he was into it (though really quiet so no one else on the bus might hear us). The next day I went into his store to ask him if he was down to join a group and he pretended he didn't know what Iwas talking about.

As long as gamers treat roleplaying like deviant pornography, so will the rest of the world. And personally, I'm sick of it. I've been waving a flag for roleplaying since I was 11, and I've never been ashamed to admit it. I know people that talk openly about cheating on their women, drunken debauchery, getting into fights, lieing or stealing at work, drug use, and all manner of other hedonistic or socially aberrant behaviour; and yet roleplayers are still embarrased to admit what they're into?


(having said all that though, having a profile for your character is pretty cool as long as it's for the right reason. my cat has his own profile)

My gaming group uses a personal wiki for all this. It's great.

I don't know much about wikis. I understand they're easy to use on the back end, and they're certainly easy to use on the front end. They can do alot more than a FB Group as well. My problem is that I would have to learn something new to make use of a wiki, and I already knew how to use Facebook. I barely have time for the three campaigns I run, work, and a personal life besides.

That, and every time I learn something new I forget something old. Like the time I learned how to make wine but forgot how to drive.

SF wrote:
"I'm on a mission not just to democratize gaming for all involved, but also to get gamers to come out of the closet already."

I was on a decade long gaming hiatus between university and marriage. A committed relationship is the best way to get people back into gaming. You see, increasingly, how many lapsed gamers in the 30s and 40s who've taken "the plunge" have gravitated back to their childhood pastime. Once you are removed from the potential dating pool, you're free to embrace your childish geek side. At least until the old morningstar starts asking for a baby.

The other thing that brought me back into the gaming fold was a gut feeling that our culture has become too materialistic. I was getting bored of "buying crap" and "dining out" and calling that a hobby/lifestyle. I wanted to do something that didn't actually require the spending of money and was somewhat constructive.

Gaming as a hobby, I think, comes in cycles:

- Cycle 1 - Childhood to University/Early Adulthood - cause you don't have anything to do and girls won't talk to you.
- Then there's a period of adapting to adulthood, getting a job, drinking, maybe trying to get laid. Money, time and attention just aren't available.
- Cycle 2 - You've found steady, reliable employment, and maybe found a significant other. You have time. You're trying to avoid places and people your significant other might not approve of. You take up gaming again.
- Then you might decide, for whatever reason, to breed. Free time disappears. You need to get your head back out of the clouds. Put the games away.
- Cycle 3 - You have a 8 year old son or daughter. You're worried he or she might be growing up too fast. You dust off the old game books and start playing with your kids so you can prevent them from becoming teenage whores and idiots.
-You're kids eventually stop playing with you. You have not friends. You stop.
- Cycle 4 - You're old, by you still have an innate and highly-developed geek radar which eventually lands you in a conversation with someone down at the pub who used to game. Over Guinness, you reminence and decide to give it another go.

That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

Not a bad theory either! I'e seen the same cycles with many people I know. I took a short hiatus from gaming just after high school because I was busy being a really bad person. It didn't take much to get me back into it though..a random encounter in the woods actually, LOL.

Still...people always seem to make time for TV, movies, video games, whatever. So that means they have time for roleplaying. It might not be at the top of a priority list, but as an example two of my closest friends just had a baby several monthes ago and as such made it one of their top priorities to free up one weekend a month to play in my monthly campaign. You need space, even when (or *especially* when) life gets hectic.

Hey, you know what else is a very harsh reality that here to stay for a very long time? Human Stupidity.

They only need a bit of information so they can hunt down the rest by themselves.

Ah sweet hubris.

I really want to take you out by the bikeracks Gazgurk...but I won't. I used to think that there was something to be gained by verbally tearing down people like you. I've left all that in my past though. I'm awfully shocked actually at my development as an individual; I never used to take kindly to being called stupid. I guess SSRIs are a hell of a thing.

That being said I kinda like it around here, so kindly don't muck it up too much. As another of my semi-religions bits of wisdom states, "when in anothers lair show him respect or else do not go there." Last time I looked neither of us pay the bills around here.

I am fortunate enough to be in a group run by an IT guy, so we actually do have some interesting access to web resources. Scott is on the right track with this.

If you're group and GM don't mind Folgha I'd like to take a look at some of those resources. I'm always on the lookout for more great ideas to steal...I mean mine. LOL. If no one minds of course.

If anyone else uses an online resource for their group I'd love to be able to take a look at it.

Don't blow your wad dude. Your not a stupid person. Noone is truly stupid. What most people conseder stupidity is the results on your IQ test. I believe stupidity/intelligence is cause by a lack of education/education caused by bad/good desicions. You just made a stupid decision, just like everyone on facebook, and thats fine we all make very stupid decisions at one point or two in our life. I was just about to use facebook because I was under peer-pressure by relatives before I learnt of the danger.
Plus I really didn't think it was worth all the personal information to have some silly little apps, taking
silly poll, joining silly groups, or talking to a bunch of people I don't know. facebook doesn't allow
you to post false information, I checked. That just too suspicious.

Seriously man, enough already. I don't need some stranger's running commentary on my life/decisions and whether they were good or bad. We talk about gaming here, not...whatever it is you're doing.

If only the internet were less anonymous, then trolls would think twice before trolling.

As for computer tools, I'd really love a method to keep track of time. But not just tracking turns, I want a full calendar system where you can impute the names and lengths of your campaign's years, months, weeks & days. I would take it even further though, with stages of the moon, the seasons, holidays and perhaps even an average weather conditions generator (based on real world climate parallels).

Any IT geeks want to work on this with me?

This ones not bad. It's a shame that Irony Games online tools seem to have vanished into the ether, their calendar generator was bad ass. it even generated random things like shooting stars, comets, weird events in the sky...I miss it, and I only just now learned it's vanished. :(

Dude, I have no idea how you'd make that but if you can bring it about I would totally pay for it. That's just the sort of thing I want, too, man.

Scott, thanks for the link. The calendar is useful, if somewhat limited. Since it only generates one year, it makes it hard to extropolate long term stuff... for instance, I imputed that my world has two moons, and I wanted to determine when both moons would be full on the same day. That would be a rare cosmic event, but just the kind of thing fantasy camapaigns are built on. The gamewyrd calendar doesn't really help determine that. In some respects, it makes it harder.

The Irony Games calendar sounds perfect.

Hey, here's another computer application for GMs:
I just discovered Google SketchUp, it's a freeware 3D architecture program that allows you to construct 3D maps very quickly. Good for building complex terrain.

That Google thing sounds pretty cool. That link wasn't bad for the basics. Too bad irony games went down...:(. That is very sad.

I think to create a realistic random calendar, you'd need to spend some time on weather websites and figuring out how the whole thing works. Keep in mind that having two moons would change the tides and therefore change weather patterns on your world. If something that detailed and user friendly could be generated, it'd be awesome.

You know, I /am/ a programmer. If you folks wanted to get together into a forum and start banging out specs on what you wanted, I might, just might, be willing to code them and release them under the GPL (as well as hosting them here, I think). I can't guarantee anything, of course (I'm currently working on a game.module for Gamegrene already, actually, but that's a long story), but I'm sure any service owner would be interested in hearing your pie-in-the-sky ideas.

I was just looking for the calendar maker for our friends here. All my current campaigns use a normal calendar. I'm sure they'd love that though, if you made them something. Tzuriel loves it when I use Google for him...imagine if you coded for him!


Very nice, Scott. Soon I'll have you all doing things for me! lol, it's mainly just cause i possess a potent combination of laziness and a complete lack of coding, computer skills beyond knowing that Google is awesome. I know the net, but beyond that I'm at a loss.

There's a utility called DM secretary...here which, among other things, includes a calendar tool. I don't remember the details, though.

They also have an RPG Suite on their site, which is some amalgamation of freeware RPG tools.

Hi All,

Did anybody ever find out what happened to Irony Games?

I have just got back into RPGs after a LONG hiatus, thanks to my kids showing an interest. I remember how useful IG's online tools were for generating quick maps and so forth. I see they disappeared about a year ago.

Anyone know if their tools still exist on another site?

Really love a method to keep track of time. But not just tracking turns, I want a full calendar system where you can impute the names and lengths of your campaign's years, months, weeks & days. I would take it even further though, with stages of the moon, the seasons, holidays and perhaps even an average weather conditions generator...