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A Word About Game Forums

   
A Word About Game Forums

Disclaimer The following is entirely my opinion. You should be able to tell if this will help or hurt your play style as a GM. Feel free to completely ignore anything in this article if it doesn't suit your personal tastes or preferences.

An Introduction This article is a continuation of my “A Word…” series. The first can be found here and is a great resource (if I do say so myself) if you are just starting out as a GM. Definitely check it out, as this article is an extension of it and covers one of the most important aspects of the Myth-Weavers forums: The Game Forums.

Time and time again I have seen games that use little to none of the tips here, and it makes games chaotic and hectic. Granted, things such as using the Dice or Roll tags are essential in any game on the Weave, they aren’t always used to their greatest effect. I hope that everyone finds this article as useful as, if not more so, than A Word About Being a GM/DM.

So, let’s dive in. You’ve got an ad, you’ve got interest, and you’ve got people raring to apply for your game. Now, how do you go from there?

Organization is one of the most essential parts to using the Game Forum to its maximum effect. Most successful games split things into Thread Groups. These can be created by the GM of a game for the purposes of cataloguing and separating pieces of information that can otherwise overlap and cause confusion and chaos. In general, there are a few Thread Groups I set out to create whenever I start a game. In no particular order, they are as follows: Archive, Character Threads, Gameplay, Handouts (As a sub-thread group of Gameplay), OOC, and Hidden GM Stuff. When you first create a thread group, it will be empty; that is, it will have no threads or posts in it. When you create a thread in a Thread Group, it will stay in that Thread Group and is only accessible by accessing that Thread Group (with The Main ThreadGroup being the only exception.) When you create a Thread Group, you can name it whatever you’d like and choose a Parent for it. A Parent Thread Group is effectively a folder that can contain a number of Thread Groups. By default, all Thread Groups you create are Parent Thread Groups.

As the GM, you can of course move and delete Thread Groups – without fear of losing threads that were in them. If you need to delete or move only one or a few specific threads, you’ll have to do that using the menu on the lower-right corner of the forum view after selecting which threads you’d like to move or delete. Otherwise, your threads are persistent and if you delete a Thread Group containing threads, those threads will be dumped into the Main ThreadGroup.

Character and Player Threads are an excellent way to keep character sheets, character-specific questions, and individual player requests and discussions separate and organized. Each character or player should have his or her own thread. When this is done, it allows you to make the thread private to both yourself and that player, which means you may discuss meta-game things (such as when a player makes a private Knowledge roll) privately and without worrying about other players seeing what you have told that player. If you decide to make Character or Player Threads public, then you may still use Private Tags (which, in addition to Private Threads, we’ll get into later) to hide information from other players.

The Main ThreadGroup is where everything comes together in one place. In general, you want the Main ThreadGroup to be the place where all of the most important information to the game is readily available, without archived threads or unnecessary clutter getting in the way. By Editing the Main ThreadGroup, you can select one or more Thread Groups to be displayed in the Main ThreadGroup. In general, I have Character Threads, Gameplay, and OOC shown in the Main ThreadGroup, since those are going to be the most important threads that players will need to access right away upon entering your Game Forum. Additionally, you may post threads in the Main ThreadGroup that will not appear in any other Thread Groups. This too can help reduce clutter and redundancy.

Private Threads and Tags are how games are run smoothly and effectively. They can do anything from preventing metagaming to creating a sense of paranoia or intimacy that can make a game even more immersive. When you create a new thread, below the text-box you have several options as the GM of a game. You can select to have only certain people able to see the thread, or you can exclude certain people from seeing the thread. One thing to note is that even if you make a thread private, Mods and Admins can still see the contents of that thread, so be sure to follow the site rules even in private! In a post, you can use the Private tags to allow only certain people to see the contents of the private tags. To add Private tags to a post, simply click the masquerade mask icon above the text box. Then, type in the list of players you would like to be able to see the contents of the Private Tags. You may only list yourself if you want to create a private note (such as the statistics of enemies) for yourself in the post.

Formatting is how you go about presenting information and narrative to your players. There are thousands of ways to go about doing this. For the most part, I prefer to take the “If I can read it, then it’s alright” approach. That means that as long as I can understand what is going on in a post, then I don’t care how it is formatted. Some of the most common ways to format posts is to have all In-Character content presented regularly, with no special formatting except for dialogue. Most players choose to have their character’s dialogue bolded and in a specific colour, to help distinguish themselves from the rest of the players. After any In-Character content, a Spoiler tag or Fieldset tag can help distinguish when you are speaking Out of Character, and allows you to separate dice rolls and other out of character content from the rest of the post. Some excellent Formatting ideas for both threads and game advertisements can be found here.

As a GM, it’s important that you use formatting to engage and captivate your players, allowing for them to take in the entire atmosphere of what you’re posting. “Pretty” formatting can help do this, especially when coupled with images and flavorful fonts.

Dice Tags are the most important aspect of BBCode. They allow for literally any kind of dice roll to be made, with recent developments allowing for images of specialty dice to appear instead of just numbers. The complete documentation of the Dice and Roll Tags can be found here. The Wiki page I’ve linked is an invaluable resource and will ensure that you are able to roll dice for any game at any given time. In line with the Dice Tags, there are also Roll Tags. Roll Tags work extremely similarly to Dice Tags, it just changes how the information is presented. Roll Tags create a hover-over link that, when you hover over them, show the details of the dice roll instead of just displaying all of the nitty-gritty details in a neat, if obtrusive, box.

When is Enough Enough? How do you know you’ve taken some of these things too far? There is such a thing as trying too hard, believe it or not. Excessive formatting changes and refinements can happen, especially if you have a great technique that you enjoy using. Formatting and organization can be fun, but you must be careful to not have too many Thread Groups, or too complicated a format. If this happens, players can get confused and even begin to give up on trying to understand how a game works. A great example is the distinction between the Character Threads Thread Group and the actual Character Threads themselves. A player, usually, does not need to have an entire Thread Group to themselves. The only exception to this would probably be that you are intentionally separating players/characters in the game. Similarly, if your BBCode format starts to look like calculus, then you’re likely creating a format that no one can decipher at which point it begins to be dubious to even make the simplest of posts.

The Built-in Wiki is a freely editable group of documents that can be attached to a game. The most common use of the wiki is to provide Setting information. For this reason, a Setting Thread Group is not necessary, although one can still be created and used if you wish. Anyone in your game can edit the Wiki. This is especially great for Dawn of Worlds style games that require players to make changes to each other’s lands and races. It also allows for collaborative world-building efforts that usually would not be possible. The Wiki can also be used to present alternative character creation concepts to players, be they homebrew classes or alternative statistic generating methods.

Out of Character Content is how players can communicate with each other about pretty much anything. Most commonly, the Out of Character thread is used to let players know if you are going to be absent. The same is true if a player wishes to ask for additional time to post, or has a question about how the game is progressing. Asking questions in the Out of Character thread is the best way to handle these questions or issues, assuming you aren’t using the IRC channel. The Out of Character thread doesn’t even have to be game related, though. It can be jokes, links to YouTube videos, or even just discussions about what the weather is like in London. The Out of Character content is a relationship building tool that allows players to grow on each other and become friends, which could allow them to play together in the future or establish a repertoire of players they can rely on when they wish to run a game for themselves.

Establish a Posting Order. This is a bit vague and depends a lot on GM style. For example, I know several GMs that allow each player in the game to make one post before posting himself. I personally only post when I need to either advance the plot, answer an in-character question, or present more details or information to the characters. The reason to establish a posting order is to allow for a consistent style that players can rely on when, especially in combat situations. If you’d like to have players post in Initiative order, then this can greatly speed up combat. If you’d rather they post in whatever order you’d like, then you can sort everything out and put actions in proper initiative order when you as the GM post.

Efficiency, Efficiency, Efficiency A Game Forum is designed to allow for the most efficient style of play possible. GMs have the power to modify threads, remove or add players, and even to control the posts of the players themselves. These are all great tools and you should use them to great effect. As far as in-character efficiency goes, there are several ways to make your game run as smoothly as possible. For example, in combat have players roll both their attack and damage rolls simultaneously. This allows for one post to accomplish what two would. Instead of posting, seeing what the dice roll to attack was (to determine if the character hit the target) and then posting again or editing an existing post to add in a damage roll, if the character misses then the damage roll can just be ignored and no love is lost. Also, if the player does hit the target, damage doesn’t need to be rolled in a new post or by the DM.

Another great example is Knowledge-type rolls. Have players go ahead and make rolls for their Knowledges as necessary, and then you can make a post in their personal character or player thread and tell them the results. This allows other players to continue posting while that player waits both for other player posts and the results of their roll, instead of all the players waiting on you to post the results so that players can continue to post.

Anything Else? It’s great to talk about all of these ideas, but it’s even better to see them in action. I’ve created an example game forum here to allow for everyone to see specifically what I’m talking about for some of these ideas. If there are any questions or discussions to be had, everyone is free to post in that Game Forum or to post in this thread. The final comment I has is that you as a GM should be prepared to teach your players some of the concepts found in this thread and feel free to ask and answer questions of your players to reach the best solution for your game.

Thanks for your time guys, and I hope you enjoyed it! Be on the lookout for another “A Word…” article in the future. Sometime.

And as always, input and peer review is appreciated. Flaming won't be tolerated and will be met with swift justice.

This is an excellent article. Can we get a sticky on this?

Scratch that. This has a read me.

What is the benefit of putting the IC and OOC threads into separate threadgroups? That seems like it adds inefficiency to the system, as you then need an extra click and page load to access either from the main threadgroup. If the threads are displayed in the main anyway, that seems to negate any organizational benefit to having them elsewhere.

Inevitably - assuming your game lasts long enough - there are going to be a lot of IC and OOC threads. I especially use the OOC group to have an Announcements thread and (because I use IRC too) to post IRC logs that help clarify the game or answer questions quickly. The Main ThreadGroup is great because it brings all these things together, but once you get five or more IC threads, coupled with however many Character Threads and OOC threads, it starts to get cluttered. Having them in their own Thread Groups allows for people to still quickly find all of the IC content in one place without everything else clutter them up, same for OOC or Player Threads. It's not so much an efficiency thing as it is an organizational thing.

The alternative, then, is to use an Archive threadgroup for everything that falls out of use. For the average game, only one IC thread, maybe two, would be active at any given time, making the IC threadgroup a little unnecessary. Your method, though, is excellent for games with a number of active IC threads at once.

I use dauph's method for managing active threads. There are mechanisms for causing threads to appear in multiple threadgroups. They're somewhat limited, though, so I don't think I would advocate trying to use them to improve SS's arrangement.

+1
Nice writeup Shamed! I support having the IC threadgroup instead of closing things and stuffing them into an archive. I use a fairly elaborate header on all my IC posts, and it's nice to be able to go back and EDIT a post to grab the formatting code for a new post. When we change IC threads because of a new narrative chapter or something, having to Quote the archived thread adds a step to the process. It's not a lot of extra work, but it's enough to give me a preference.

Also, wherever they actually reside, it's nice to have the OOC thread appear with the IC thread(s). It's another time saver when explaining something I just said in the IC thread.

An excellent write-up and indeed, I have faced all of these issues with my players and my own game organization.

Just a heads up that I'm going to let the example game forum I made live for one more inactivity cycle (another 42 days) and then let it die.

So, last call for people to check it out.




 

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