Monday, September 20, 2010

Spoiled by computers?

The Lords of Tyr has always been pretty technologically savvy group of gamers.  The original lords were all IT professionals who met through work.  While the group soon grew beyond the founders, we still tend to use technology into our games liberally.  For character creation we use tools like the D&D Character Builder.  Rather than a battle map and miniatures we use RPTools.  We even broadcast our games using UStream and allow remote players to join using Skype.

I am starting to wonder if this is a good thing.

This is a concern I have had for awhile, but it really came to the forefront a few weeks back when we were playing a Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 game.  One of the lords had been gone for a few sessions and didn’t realize we were running a new game.  He didn’t have a character so he had to make one up on the spot.  After awhile it became obvious that he couldn’t.

The problem was that he generally used E-Tools to create characters for D&D 3.5, but he didn’t have it loaded on his laptop.  After I noticed he was struggling, I helped him load PCGen to help get him started.  Once he had a character creation program in front of him, even an unfamiliar one, he was up and running.

This feeling was only exacerbated when I heard my fellow lords talk about the Heroes of Hesiod game Tyrwench ran on September 11th.  The game was run without any of the technological tools we normally use.  Everyone present talked about how nice it was to play old school with pen, paper, and tokens.

On the other hand, our embracing of technology has provided us with many benefits.  Despite my comments above,  the Character Builder does make character creation much simpler.  The Rules Compendium has allowed us to run games without lugging around a backbreaking amount of books.  Using electronic maps and initiative trackers has sped things up at the table.  More importantly, the remote capabilities of these tools have allowed members who might not be able to attend the session otherwise to at least be able to attend virtually. 

In fact, the success of these tools have lead to a Wednesday night game which is entirely remote.  The Lords of Tyr are scattered throughout the Greater Chicagoland Area.  There is no way we could get together on a Wednesday night to game for three hours if we had to include travel time.  Without the technology, that game wouldn’t even be possible!

I am not suggesting that the Lords of Tyr abandon technology completely.  Maybe we just need to step back from the edge from time to time, similar to the Heroes of Hesiod game.  Throwing a low tech game in every so often might be a nice change of pace.  More importantly, it might remind us why we fell in love with pen and paper gaming in the first place.

So how has technology affected your gaming?  Do you loathe it when someone cracks open their laptop or are modern gaming tools a convenience that you would not want to go without?

6 comments:

Red Jack said...

It's kinda odd how frequently this has come up lately... I've had discussions about it with my players, with folks elsewhere, and even with a friend who is generally technophobic.

So do I, for one, welcome our new technological overlords? After several conversations, I've come down on a very rigid "Maybe."

I've let my players build their characters almost exclusively with CB, we keep in contact between games via e-mail, I use graphic software to create handouts and nifty maps...

But recently I realized that part of the slowdown in some of our games came from the players knowing exactly what to roll under totally normal conditions because it's what the sheet said. Anything out of the norm and they quickly got turned around. After some discussion, I realized that they had a good handle on the mechanics of the game itself, because we'd discussed all that and played out scenarios by hand. When it came to their characters, however, they seemed to be a little lost because they hadn't really "participated" in putting together all the little nuts and bolts.

When it comes to laptops and phones at the table, I'm unsure. They can get disruptive and serve as unnecessary distractions, pulling people away from the game and turning them into non-participants.

On the other hand, I realize that at least some of the temptation is my own fault: When the story gets going, the axes are swinging, and the eldritch horrors from beyond the stars are burbling in their ears, they pay rapt attention no matter what bright lights and happy noises their personal electronics are capable of producing.

VBWyrde said...

Well, what I want from my computer for gaming is this: I want it to do what computers are good at, and leave me to do what I'm good at. So I want the computer to save me time crunching the numbers, keep the number crunching accurate(!), help me with the record keeping, let me search for information when I need it, store information about my world online where I can get at it anywhere, and basically serve as my very own Gamesmaster's Butler.

What I do not want it to do is interfere or try to override the creative aspects of the game, tell me what the monsters can or are doing, prohibit me from building my world the way I want to, or otherwise getting in my way on the creativity front. Creative helper who is unobtrusive and provides interesting info from places like wikipedia? Sure! Rules lawyering me on creative aspects? No thanks.

Can I get my computer to do that? Then great, it's a plus. If not, then I'd rather not use it for RP Gaming. Pencil and Paper has the virtue of letting us create what we want and run with it. I like that too much to sacrifice it to the computer's all powerful and unforgiving mechanism. However, I can envision a program that will do what I want, and not do what I don't want. So I'm in favor of that.

On another point, I think that the problem with players not remembering how to build their characters - the systems which we have been watching evolve over the past thirty odd years have become much more complicated, and there is much more to remember and calculate. What I also want, in addition to the computer crunching numbers, is actually a simpler rule system as well. Something that I won't forget even if I don't happen to be at the computer. So if I can get that then the computer serves as a handy helper, not a game-requirement. I prefer that too.

Overall, I definitely use the computer quite a bit for my game, and have created an application to Butler my simplified rules system. So far it's working out for me, and I'm happy with it. I do not try to use the computer during the game, though. I mostly use it simply to help me with the prep work for a game. Once done, I get a print, and the game itself is Pencil and Paper all the way. That's my current practice, and it's working out nicely.

rook103 said...

I have to say that being a Lord in the Lords of Tyr games I am quite conflicted about my use of technology. I am a self professed tech geek and love all manner of technology, but I am finding that a nostalgic joy is re-surging for analog pen and paper gaming.

I was at the forefront of the digital gaming solution and really enjoyed the record keeping and power that the computer brought to the table. This all came with a huge caveat, when the digital component did not work I was ready chuck it with the bathwater and start over. When it did work it was pretty cool, it took care of all of the annoying things that were a huge time suck, such as condition tracking, initiative order, ongoing damage, and easily seeing AOEs. I really liked that it provided a portal for people to make it to the game digitally when they could not make it in person.

Having said all that I find that I am really enjoying playing with minis again and a real battle mat. I found that people were more engaged in the game and aware of what was happening.

I guess I come down on the side of technology in a supporting role. I take issue when it interferes with the active participation. Using the power of the computer to look up an obscure rule, great! Using it to play a video game in between your turns, I find to be disrespectful.

Anonymous said...

Some very good points have been made on this subject. Yes, technology tools can be excellent helpers at the game table, and when used properly can greatly enhance the game experience. The trappings of technology can just as easily become a millstone that grinds the game to a halt with endless debugging of a program or questions as to the validity of rolls or rules applied.

I guess we also have to remember that the old analog methods have just as many pitfalls. I recall a time when I kept a folder with all my character sheets at the ready (yes it was a Trapper Keeper). I had a folder for each character and the latest update of that character was always kept at the top of the paper pile. One night we stopped the game to have some pizza and when we came back, someone's little brother (who shall remain nameless) had gotten into my folder and dumped the contents all over the floor and had begun to either crumple or destroy the same. All my character sheets, their variations for future use, my notes, everything was destroyed by an analog virus (still to remain nameless). He even got to the character sheets that were on the table, as well as the DM's notes to boot. This may be the extreme, but there are a host of other potential analog dangers, such as…

1) Ripping through the paper of your character sheet with the eraser you've used too many times due to ever changing state of your character's status.
2) Making your character sheet a de-facto napkin because you were eating greasy food and forgot to wipe your hands before picking it up smudging important notes or info.
3) Your favorite dice rolling off the table and into an (uncovered) vent in someone's home where it remains to this day because you could find no way to reach it. (Yes I thought of breaking into the walls).
4) Character sheets that are completely useless because no one (not even the player whose character it was) could make out what the chicken scratches actually meant.
5) Waiting for that one player to figure out what he will do and then roll his entire bag of dice, and then wait while he adds up all the numbers (which he inevitably gets wrong) and has to do again…
6) Then there's forgetting that one book at home that no one else has with them you needed.
7) Or as stated previously in the blog, lugging around a stack of books that would be considered an encumbrance even for The Hulk.

I guess what I'm getting at is the fact that any tool (digital or analog) has its pitfalls and can become an issue. What's important is finding the right balance for you and your group (every group is different), and have a backup plan for when the cosmic DM rolls his Murphy's Law dice. There will be times when life will make game night difficult or outright impossible so we just need to enjoy the company of the people at the table (or on the phone) and be thankful for that.

Anonymous said...

Some very good points have been made on this subject. Yes, technology tools can be excellent helpers at the game table, and when used properly can greatly enhance the game experience. The trappings of technology can just as easily become a millstone that grinds the game to a halt with endless debugging of a program or questions as to the validity of rolls or rules applied.

I guess we also have to remember that the old analog methods have just as many pitfalls. I recall a time when I kept a folder with all my character sheets at the ready (yes it was a Trapper Keeper). I had a folder for each character and the latest update of that character was always kept at the top of the paper pile. One night we stopped the game to have some pizza and when we came back, someone's little brother (who shall remain nameless) had gotten into my folder and dumped the contents all over the floor and had begun to either crumple or destroy the same. All my character sheets, their variations for future use, my notes, everything was destroyed by an analog virus (still to remain nameless). He even got to the character sheets that were on the table, as well as the DM's notes to boot. This may be the extreme, but there are a host of other potential analog dangers, such as…

1) Ripping through the paper of your character sheet with the eraser you've used too many times due to ever changing state of your character's status.
2) Making your character sheet a de-facto napkin because you were eating greasy food and forgot to wipe your hands before picking it up smudging important notes or info.
3) Your favorite dice rolling off the table and into an (uncovered) vent in someone's home where it remains to this day because you could find no way to reach it. (Yes I thought of breaking into the walls).
4) Character sheets that are completely useless because no one (not even the player whose character it was) could make out what the chicken scratches actually meant.
5) Waiting for that one player to figure out what he will do and then roll his entire bag of dice, and then wait while he adds up all the numbers (which he inevitably gets wrong) and has to do again…
6) Then there's forgetting that one book at home that no one else has with them you needed.
7) Or as stated previously in the blog, lugging around a stack of books that would be considered an encumbrance even for The Hulk.

I guess what I'm getting at is the fact that any tool (digital or analog) has its pitfalls and can become an issue. What's important is finding the right balance for you and your group (every group is different), and have a backup plan for when the cosmic DM rolls his Murphy's Law dice. There will be times when life will make game night difficult or outright impossible so we just need to enjoy the company of the people at the table (or on the phone) and be thankful for that.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the double post, ran into some technical problems.

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