online play

I didn’t set out to write a game designed for online play, but I did design a game while playing online. So since the bulk of the mechanical playtesting took place online and the game got revise according to how well it played there…well, I guess I designed a game for online play.

You can still play at the table. It’ll be great.

Anyway, because it wasn’t initially designed for online play it’s not entirely clear what parts make that work. And if I’d started from scratch with that as the motive, I’m not sure these are the parts that I’d design. So here’s me disentangling the online-friendly bits and maybe I’m right. I know it plays, though.

“The true object of all human life is play.” ― G. K. Chesterton

First, by online play I’m talking about text chat. We play in a Hangout, using Google docs for supporting, persistent material. Many online approaches will be similar. Some will not.

There are no physical dice games. The position of the dice is not important. The dice have limited memory (you don’t need to go back again and again to the same roll for information). Games that don’t do this and make online play harder include things like ORE and our own Hollowpoint.

There are no positioning rules. So you don’t need a map. Maps are fun: by all means draw maps! But the system does not require you to keep track of positioning and so you don’t need a map that you constantly revise. You can make this work online but its can put gaps in your game as you tinker with your graphics tools.

Things resolve immediately. One roll. This means you can stop any time and you don’t need to preserve any game state. Once the roll hits the table and is interpreted, you’re done.

There is a very high degree of player input in the setting, and it’s spontaneous. While there are some touchstones for setting established, and there is some lonely prep work for the ref to do, there is no need for everyone to spend a lot of energy understanding the setting. It will evolve as  you play, as the players invent facts about their characters and the world. So you don’t need to keep secrets, own the book, or otherwise rely on shared content outside of the play space.

Adulting is too hard. Let’s play something else.” ― Tanya Masse

There’s a cheat sheet. The rules are summarized on a single page. No pauses to look things up, not much debate about how the rules work. This is important in online play because when people shut up you can’t tell what’s going on: is the player still online? It also feeds another goal: managing time. This isn’t about being online but it’s often why we’re online: we are grown ups with things to do and not enough time to create the whole physical social event of play.

I think that’s it. If you’re playing The King Machine and think of more — or think I’m wrong here — shout out! I’m still deconstructing my own game. So the next ones will be better and better.

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