How do you use technology in your story games?

edited November 2018 in Story Games
I'm currently running a PbtA homebrew where secrecy between players is a big part of the story. It's early in the game and they're still circling each other, trying to figure out whether to trust each other (and having a lot of fun with it), and part of that is keeping the nature of their powers secret from each other, even when they're using them. So I've been taking advantage of the fact that everyone has their phones on them at all times, and using texts for secret exchanges, so they can tell me what they want to do with their powers, and I can give them any feedback the other players wouldn't be aware of. (I'm on my laptop using Google Voice, so I can just type, and even complicated messages don't take too long.) This feels like a big upgrade from the traditional passing-notes-to-the-GM routine in RPG — it's faster, and afterward they have a record of key game information they have and no one else has.

I also like it because it ends the problem of separating player and character knowledge. I hate games where Player X's big thing is a high perception (or insight, or knowledge score, or what have you) and the GM gives them information no one else would have access to, and the other players immediately act like they all noticed/knew that thing too. It makes the character who invested in information skills much less unique. With a lot of secret messages going around, players get to decide what to share and when, and they get to do it in character, as opposed to saying "I tell you everything the GM just said."

I'm curious whether other people use texts or email or other tech tools in their face-to-face games. (Obviously if you're playing online, all of this is much easier — Roll20 has specific tools for it.) Or whether you have other technological tools to get around game problems that annoy you. (I've become very fond of a certain Star Wars dice roller, for instance — it's SO MUCH FASTER than trying to tally up the success/fail/triumph conflicts on the physical dice.)


  • That's pretty much the set-up I'd like to do for my next Paranoia or Amber campaign, both of which are under consideration. I'll just need to procure a few generic tablets or such to have compatible and reliable gaming tools for players who fail to charge their phone batteries before play or whatever. That, and solve how to write on them efficiently.

    In general I've grown to be somewhat ambitious about gaming tech over this decade, but it seems like my specialization is towards office supply handicrafts more than computer stuff - not because I wouldn't know my way around a computer, but apparently the handiness and aesthetics of the tools is important enough for me that I haven't jumped for any quick and dirty digital tools. I'll need to resolve the hardware questions (select machines and peripherals I want the players to use) before really starting to integrate computers into the tabletop game.

    As an example of what this attitude means, my last Paranoia campaign a couple years back, which obviously featured the same need for ubiquitous private communications, featured small player-specific notebooks that would be used for hand-written messaging back and forth with the GM and each other. It's the low-tech office supply alternative, and got up to some pretty high density information exchanges by the time the campaign ended. The aesthetic was nice, and the solution was reliable and cheap, so I can't complain.

    I feel that this specific problem of writing-focused play at the game table is in a bit of a problematic place right now in some ways, though: people nowadays often have horrible penmanship, but meanwhile there is a bit of a dearth of truly efficient keyboard solutions for the gaming table. Having people use their own smart phones is probably the best solution you can get, as presumably most people have learned how to write quickly and precisely on their own phones. In the ideal world I'd probably just set up half a dozen work-stations in the same room and play Paranoia on those, with full keyboards to facilitate fast writing [grin].
  • When I GM I use random generators for making up setting, NPCs, etc.
  • edited January 2019
    When I GM I use random generators for making up setting, NPCs, etc.
    Oh, what are your go-tos? This is a great example I hadn't thought of. I rely heavily on online name generators because I'm bad at coming up with names, either on the fly or in pre-planning. Some of my most used:

    Exalted Name Generator
    Noble House Name Generator
    Random Name Generator (This one has a ton of selectable options for cultures/countries.)
  • edited November 2018
    I use Fantasy NPC and town generator for fantasy but also for space western (adapting obviously). I have printed some other pre-gen random stuff but I am not sure I can track their origin. When I use this stuff, I replace it : it's a buffering function.
    There's no difference in nature with, say random tables on paper (things like 100 oddities found in a car or Augmented reality holistic city guide). It's just part of the equation (genre, screen size, volume, internet connection) if I travel for a family gathering or if we play at home.
  • I have a whole page of random toys for gamers...

    Ya need something that isn't there or some new functionality? Ask and if it strikes my fancy, I'll be glad to update or create a new web toy.
  • Also, I only play online any more. So, Discord, Skype, Rolz, and Roll20 are my ace tools for the job.
  • edited November 2018
    I have a little hexmapping / notekeeping / random map generation tool at . Mostly geared towards OSR stuff but there's things like random name generation and random item generation that can be helpful for doing things on the fly or getting oracles of some kind.
  • Technology is best whenever it gets things out of your head. The more processes it gets out of your hands, the better it works in the session. However for the most part of it I found its presence tends to create other problems instead, which distract you from the game. Of course, if you are organized and have previously become familiar with whatever you're using, the impact on your game will be positive.

    If your group is all present in the room, I'd say it's time to take advantage of that and talk, use gestures, body language, pay attention to people's expressions, etc. We've got thousands of years of experience with these tools and yet people rarely master them. By all means, use technology if it doesn't get in the way of that.

    In my case, every small interruption in the conversation threats to stall things, break immersion, cut the flow of the game and give the chance for distractions to take precedence. Interacting with tech, whenever it takes more than 5-10 seconds, presents the same risk. Preparation can help here a lot, like having an ordered playlist of ambient music at hand instead of searching for it on your laptop whenever the need arises

    (nowadays I hate how Youtube inserts ads in the start or worse, the middle of most videos not one but several times, it made it useless for roleplaying)
  • A friend has a dashboard of various Star Trek space sound clips, it's pretty great. I have never interacted with it apart from hearing cool noises during spacey games.

    We don't use a name generator, because we bought a giant book o' names a while ago.
  • Fantasy names are easy, if all the players share the same native language. Just take two valid syllable from you common language, or even one (using English as my example).

    I can think of many useful uses of random generators, but name is pretty weak.

  • The name book is great. It has a section for each of many, many (real) cultures. So we'll often turn to just one section for a specific game, or a specific piece of a game.
  • edited November 2018
    I usually dislike using digital devices at the actual game table, as they tend to draw attention from the actual people playing. That said, I occasionally load material onto an iPad and bring it to reference (e.g. random tables, pictures, illustrations, name references).

    However, I've been doing lots of play online, and there we are somewhat forced to use technology. Things that are useful and fun:

    * Create shared documents (a la Google Docs) to share character sheets, campaign notes, game summaries, and house rules. These are easy for anyone to access at any time (even between sessions!).

    We also add illustrations to these sometimes (e.g. character portraits), and they serve as a nice record of the game afterwards.

    It's nice to be able to say, "Hey, I know the game isn't until Tuesday, but I updated my character sheet/the campaign log/the list of NPCs. Can someone take a look and make sure I didn't make a mistake?"

    Here's an example excerpt from a "character facebook" I made for our Apocalypse World game, and we could all add to it or make notes as things developed. It makes a great reference.


    * We often use online dice rollers. Usually they are somewhat frustrating, but occasionally for a given game they are actually superior to regular dice on a table.

    For example, we recently played Sorcerer online. Comparing Sorcerer rolls can be somewhat of an involved process - roll the dice, organize them by number, then starting talking to each to figure out how many successes you have.

    In our game, however, we used an online dice roller, which organized all the dice by number automatically. This means that we could just hit "roll the dice", and then the dice would appear on the screen in order. We had each player roll dice in different colours, too, so they were easy to tell apart. Whoever had dice over at the far right scored that many successes/victories. Let's say I was red and you were blue, and we look at all the dice and the three on the far right are all blue, we know you have three successes (or two, if the last one is a tie). It was easy and quick, and no conversation necessary, because it's immediate and visual. Real sped up our game!
  • edited November 2018
    I'm like Paul in that I dislike digital tools. I never use them when playing face to face. I am a bit of a luddite when it comes to other things in my life (I draft all my fiction by hand), so it's no surprise that this is the same.

    In my ideal world, even when playing online we're still rolling physical dice. We did that when I GMed Mouse Guard online; when I did that we had very little digital interaction, I just had the players give me copies of their character sheets.

    But when I played in an online Sorcerer game, we used a full virtual tabletop with images and the Sorcerer character sheet diagrams, etc, and it worked very well. Like Paul said, it really helped with the dice, even though at first I was bummed that we wouldn't be using real dice. I've been thinking of running Sorcerer online soon and I'm pretty set on having a full suite of digital tools to do so. If I were to run something like Mouse Guard again, though -- even Burning Wheel! -- I don't think I'd want much. It really depends on the game how useful digital tools are during online play, and it may not map 1:1 to complexity like one might assume.
  • Speaking of con-langs and randomness, I have a web toy for that. It allows you to create a custom syllabary or use one of those built-in. It also has batch functions so you can make a list of random words in the same style.
  • In our Psychodrame campaign, playing a Belgian electropunk band trying to make it big in Paris, we had a WhatsApp group. It was mostly used to plan sessions, but occasionally we used it for in-fiction communication, posting as our characters. Once or twice inbetween games, but also in games, since the band of course also had a WhatsApp group. So when my character wrote a song lyric about how her friends were destroying themselves and the band, I'd written it up beforehand, then in-game I set a scene where they were all present, then sent the text to their phones, and they had a scene where they read it and reacted. It was nice.
  • edited November 2018
    I make all kinds of simple generated lists:

    When I played Feng Shui, I thought the dice system were too slow for a fast paced action game, so I just rolled 20 results on my dice generator, and used a d20 instead.
  • Reluctantly.

    I'm making a Google spreadsheet for Ryuutama.
  • I made an iPhone app for loot rolls in Torchbearer. I like how it decreases handling time (from several minutes down to a second) and yields granular detail. You can find a spell book with three random spells in it, you can find specific tools each skill, etc. The detail is higher than what the dice tables provide, which I enjoy.
  • edited December 2018
    I have found two audio solutions you can take a look at for your own GMing:

    The best one is free and even has broadcast ability for online playing: Tabletop Audio - an awesome free GM audio solution

    Syrinscape has the official support of WOTC and a large and growing library, although it is a little pricey: Syrinscape starting at about $7 per month, is a massive and amazing audio tool for GMs

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