Eventually there came a time when I thought it might be useful to construct a primer on IRC gaming. This is a roleplaying game played inside an Internet Relay Chat room. Unfortunately, I wasn't the best qualified to write such an article. Equally unfortunate, no one else seemed to be doing it (that I could see), so if you're reading this, take it as it is and good luck to you. I hope you find it useful.
The first thing one must do is get into an irc chat room. If you already know all about irc chat rooms - feel free to skip this paragraph; you might read on from there. There are various ways to enter an irc chat room, but you must have the proper software to do it. I personally use ircle on a MAC, but most people use mIRC on a windows machine. There are differences between the two but they both offer access to a variety of networks like Dal.net, Ef.net, Under.net, and others. Each independent network connects a number of chat channels together and each channel acts as a separate room where people may meet and talk to one another. With this software you can connect to a network of your choice and then join a channel or room you find interesting. You must adopt a nickname or a NICK at this time since this is how you will be known while there. If your chosen nick is already in use just pick another one or slightly alter the one you have (like change Molly to Molly44 or ^Molly^ or something that isn't being used). You can always change your nick, however, so don't worry too much about it.
Frequently, for roleplaying purposes, the best place to start looking for a game is a channel that is named #particulargame, such as #ad&d, #Gurps, #Runequest or the like. These places tend to draw a lot of traffic and you may find people there who are either interested in running a game or playing in a game you'd like to run. (There may also be a lot of people there who don't really care about the game as well, often lurking there simply because such channels are high traffic). This channel is not, however, where the actual games will take place anyway. Players will usually gather there, like a watering hole or a singles bar, and then the interested players will move to another agreed upon channel to conduct their game in the new room. (Remember that a room can be made simply by naming it and need not already exist. So you might to go your own world of "#Doyewannaplaywithme" or whatever better name you can derive.
But before you are ready to jump into a game you might like to sit and chat for awhile, listening to and participating in the conversations. And though the conversations in such rooms are wide and varied, they often talk about gaming on topics ranging from the more juvenile "oh yeah, my character is much better than that." to the more in depth conversations such as "but if the Speak With Deadspell actually disturbs a spirit or soul and forces them to yield information they may not wish to, isn't it a morally bankrupt spell that will raise moral and ethical concerns for the characters of good alignments?" Or you might simply want to talk about the latest movies, the most recent computer games, or any number of other things that also strike your interest. There also may be a lot of light hearted flirting going on, but that is to be expected in a singles bar type environment.
Once you find a channel where game discussions are actually taking place, feel free to join in and tell them things about your gaming experiences or ask questions about theirs. There will probably be some jerks who have quickly forgotten they were once newbies like yourself and they may give you a little static, but don't worry for there are frequently kind hearted souls as well who are more than willing to help you out. Just ask for help and someone will give you a hand more often than not. Then you can begin to learn how to use your software and perhaps find and watch a few irc games to see what they are like. A good GM doesn't mind if you sit in their channel and silently observe their game, but they will mind if you interfere with it or take that time to ask them too many questions. IRC gaming is, in my honest opinion, a lot harder to run, and a GM may be too busy during an actual game to answer all of your questions. In such a situation, please don't be offended if the GM and/or players feel they must ignore you.
Now, outside of the main channel of interest you can open other windows. These can be of several other channels at once, or they may be what I call QUERY windows. A query window is a direct, secret contact with another user. In a query window you can pass messages to one another and no one else will be able to see them except you two. As you will learn, this is one of the advantages to gaming in irc that real life simply doesn't have. Using /msg NICK (or query), you can pass secret notes to the GM or other players, ask them questions, get answers, and do a few things your character might like to keep secret without the other players seeing you secretly talking to the GM or passing them notes. Also, the GM may have these windows open for each player and be able to click on one and quickly send only that player some information. Then that player can decide what they wish to do with the information. They may share it in a role playing style in the game window with everybody, share it with select players (as you can query them as well), or keep the information a secret. I have found, as GM, that this is one of the best ways to disseminate hidden information to select players so they may do whatever they wish and not have to worry about the other players using "table talk" information their characters shouldn't have. It is quite an advantage over real life, face to face gaming.
DICE: One of the most commonly asked questions about irc gaming concerns dice. How is it done over the Internet in a chat room? The answer can be found in what is commonly know as a bot. A bot is a software robot, a script program that will generate random number and may perform a number of other clever tasks as well. If such a bot is invited into your channel, each player may be able to manipulate the bot using a set of simple commands. Each bot is different so results will vary superficially, but most will simply roll and total any dice a player may request. Such as, when you type 1d20, the bot will recognize this and do it, finally responding to your request with your NICK (so everyone can know for which player the bot is rolling) and the result. For example: Molly types in 1d20 and hits return. The bot responds: Molly rolls 1d20 and gets 14. Many bots are very clever and you may be able to request things like 3d6, 20d10+5, 5d6-2+2d10+5, or similar dice and bonus combinations. Using such a bot, if the GM wishes they may even have you roll your character up in a chat room while they supervise its generation, but this will usually only happen if you intend to play in a standard form game (follow the link The 4 Forms of IRC Play to find out about those).
BOTS: Bots are a must for the irc game (well, nearly so) as they will handle dice and much, much more. If you are a skilled programmer, you can make a bot second to none and really have a great GM's aid for your game. They can roll initiative for each character, take each character's speed modifiers into account, keep track of damage, and even reply with randomly chosen messages from a list of prepared messages to make it seem the bot has a personality (all with incredible speed). When the GM gives the bot certain codes, the bot may even recognize where the PCs are and respond appropriately. For example, a really clever bot might recognize you character is in a bar, serve your ordered drink, ask for a set amount of money, and give you a snippet of conversation, all while the GM is doing something else more important than playing bar tender. It makes for a great back ground while the GM is playing a more important NPC. The imagination and skill with scripts is about the only limiting factor here. Ultimately, however, any old bot that will role dice for you is all you really need.
You may acquire several characters over time and wish to play them again in a new game. If the standard or relaxed forms of play are used, the GM will certainly wish to approve of your character before allowing it in their game. To do this, you must be ready to send it to the GM so they may look it over. You must give them time to do this since they usually won't have time right before a game, so a little advanced planning helps. Get their email address and email it to them or find them in irc and DCC send it to them. Then give them some time to digest the information. They will tell you what corrections need to be made, if any, before you can include it in their game.
It helps to have a more universal format to these character files, so name.htm or name.txt or a simple text file is often appreciated. Many helpful souls may even be able to send you blank character sheets that simply need to be filled out and returned. Just ask for them. But if you cannot find one of these, at a minimum your character information should include the following (for an ad&d game, but other games have different forms and needs):
However, for a free-form game or a loose-form game the first 7 or so items in that list may be enough.
CHARACTER SHEET TIPS: Be aware that having an electronic character sheet is a must, but even then, during play it may take time to manipulate files and look for things amid all the other windows, and keeping your screen clear of other clutter may help. To that end, having a hard copy of your character on paper right in front of you is also a very good idea. It is actually often easier to look it up on paper in front of you than it is to shuffle windows, open files, and then search, THEN shuffles windows back to your irc program and type the information in. For a lengthy passage like a character description, you would still need a handy file for a copy and paste treatment, but when the GM asks you what your Constitution score is, for example, it's a lot easier to glance at the paper in front of you and tell them "16" or the like.
It is also not that hard to keep both electronic and paper character sheet up to date, and it is always good to have a hard copy anyway should electronic gremlins visit your hard drive. Also, if you have several computers and may play from several locations, be sure a copy is at each station and be sure to update them regularly. Finally, the GM will want you to send him or her updated character sheets on a regular basis (at least as often as you make a major change (like level) but not each time you get hurt for one hit point or spend 2 copper pieces. The GM likes current information and will probably have your original file and current file, always replacing the current one each time you send it to them (the GM keeps the original as a base record to see how much the character has changed or to prevent cheating, if necessary, so it is not easy to explain away huge alterations should they, a-hem, crop up). The GM's copy also helps if you lose your own or find yourself at another station as the GM can quickly send you a copy wherever you are. So make updates often as it hardly ever hurts (even once a session is not that great a chore).
As a potential dungeon master or game master gets up the courage to put their creation out there (as well as their necks on the line :-), the first problem they will face is finding the right number of "good" players. What is a "good" player you ask? I wish it were a simple question to answer, but the truth is that what constitutes a good player is often nothing more than a player who shares a love for a certain style of gaming that the GM also enjoys. So what is good depends as much on the GM as it does on the player. But I may still venture a few qualities that I think are necessary for a good irc player, and though these are not absolute, they may be commonly desired. I will speak of this a bit later on for the GM's first hurdle is primarily concerned with the number of players rather than their relative quality.
In irc gaming more players translates to more typing, more reading, more confusion, and more connection problems. It is a virtual nightmare, and as you increase the number of players, the chaos exponentially rises. Unlike a real life game (RL), irc is harder to control since more of the game is funneled through one medium, the written word (and that is usually quickly typed, badly spelled, and will contain numerous typos). In RL the GM can rely on sight, sound, touch, and other senses to keep track of the players, the characters, and the world around them. In irc it is usually only the written word, and too many players quickly becomes too much of a chaotic jumble. Thus, the GM is forced to limit the number of players to a handful or so. More than this and it gets too difficult to run. In a RL game you may have a lot of players, and when one or more doesn't show up the rest are still sufficient to pick up the slack. In irc, however, when one or more of an already limited number of players don't show up, the session is usually a bust. The GM can't run the missing player's character as an NPC as easily in irc, nor can they hand off the character sheet to another player so they may play it for that session (at least not without taking some serious game time away and transferring the character electronically to another player). And even then, few people want to type for two characters that should, let's face it, be talking at the same time and reacting to the same information.
This is the GM's first major problem. In order to assure there are enough warm bodies for a game, in RL they can have 4 to 12 players (more or less). If half don't show up, so what, they may be able to simply adventure with the remaining players. If all show up, a good GM can still handle that much. In irc if the GM overbooks their game and all the players do show up, chaos ensues. And without overbooking, if only half show up, the session also usually falls through due to a lack of a sufficient number of players. So the first quality a GM will probably want in a "good" player for their "regular irc game" is a player who can reliably show up during game time and stay the entire session. Kiddies who have to go to bed, adults who have to get their sleep, or flighty individuals who will cut out whenever they feel like it will not make good players in those time slots for those games. If you don't think you can reliably show up for a game during a set meeting time, don't be too surprised if the GM doesn't want you in their game. It isn't like RL where a good GM has more options and can include you as a causal player whenever you might show up. This is irc gaming; it is a bit different.
THE GM'S SECOND HURDLE
Next, the GM is faced with a question of finding players who share their style. A Hack and Slash GM wants Hack and Slash players, a Monty Haul GM wants Munchkins, and a roleplaying GM wants roleplayers. There are more styles than these three (and you can read of them by following the Campaign Types link). The GM may not, however, have any idea of what a player is really like just by talking to them briefly in an irc chat room. Over time, perhaps, but in the short term it is unlikely the GM knows what they are getting. Some anxious players may use this fact to their advantage, entering into a game of a particular style they know they may not like just to be included in a game or to simply try it. Sadly, they will probably soon disrupt the game due to improper playing. They may have to be banned from the game and the channel, and the more petty and vindictive amongst them may then seek to disrupt the game in other ways, but that is an extreme case. Hopefully, players will not attempt to join a game where their style is bound to cause friction. They should instead seek another game or try to run one themselves in the style they prefer. But if all goes well, the GM will eventually find the right number of players who enjoy a style of play similar to their own, and the game can then proceed.
The rest of proper irc playing can be summed up in one word; courtesy. Treating others with courtesy will often make it possible for others to treat you in kind. Treating others badly will just as likely have others treat you as poorly. Remember that you are all there to have fun and no one likes to be put upon, bashed on, berated, or let down, so try to do your best when playing and chatting and the rest should take care of itself.
The following is a brief list of some of the things that I personally find to be disruptive to gaming in general. I mentioned them here, however, because they have an even more disruptive effect in irc gaming than they do in RL games.
ARGUMENTATIVE PLAYERS: A player who argues with the GM is never a good thing, but in irc it is particularly devastating because
a.) the other players may not be privy to the argument and be able to offer their wisdom and support to help settle the matter quickly, and
b.) it takes a lot of time away from the GM who should instead be concentrating on a job that is already difficult enough.
Even when your disagreement with the GM takes the form of a simple OOC sarcastic comment, it will usually not help the situation and may even exacerbate it. As always, if a player disagrees with the GM, the best time to talk about it is after the game and not during the game. Ask once, if you must, but then go with the GM's ruling until after the game when you may have a more in depth discussion (unless you are so offended you are going to quit anyway, but don't expect to be let back in if you take this opportunity to let the GM have it. You may even get a bad reputation, so be careful).
CHILDISH PLAYERS: It may be a fact that a lot of players are youngsters, relatively speaking. This is fine, but it is often not the case that their characters are also children. They may be mighty warriors engaged in life or death situations; their lives, and the lives of many others may be resting upon their actions. As such, it is bad roleplaying when they act like children and do stupid things to amuse themselves in otherwise dire situations (unless the point of that particular game is to be a Loony). So if a player's character treats the situation like a kid would treat a game, it is a sad thing to behold. In irc gaming, this is very bad as it clogs the narrow funnel through which vital information passes. Now, the kiddie garbage must be read just to weed it out so the more serious players can find the important stuff, and this takes time. In real life you can at least know the voice of the Loony and ignore it if you wish, but the type written word is harder to set apart from the others. This is why horseplay in the game window slows down a game and may obscure finer details that shouldn't be missed, but may be lost in all the clutter.
OOC CLUTTER: OOC, or Out Of Character talk is even worse in irc than in RL. A player or a GM who can't see you smile or smirk or hear that certain something in your voice may not know you are joking. As such, they may end up taking your comments as real and then further react to them. They may even reveal hidden information that would become important if your character actually did or said what you said it did. But when you then claim you were just kidding, the information is already out there where it shouldn't be and it's your fault. Mostly, however, OOC comments are just so much unnecessary noise that clogs the game window with clutter. In the better games, when OOC comments are made, they must be off set using special symbols like (parenthesis) [brackets] <lt and gt symbols> or similar means so they may not be confused with things your characters actually say. It is best if you can manage to keep these sorts of comments down to a minimum. If you want to make a joke with your friend, I find it better to do it using a QUERY window with your friend rather than putting it in the game window and using OOC off sets. But, not to take away form everyone's enjoyment, if you think it is a good joke all would enjoy, then you may put it in the game window using OOC off set symbols. If you are really funny, they'll love you for it, and if not, you will eventually be invited to stop making a fool of yourself. Or, as another option, the GM and players may all share a second non-game window where the horseplay and OOC comments do not matter. The players who are not interested in this can simply ignore that entire window. However, the GM may also use that window to give "above table" instructions to a player. For example, the GM tells you in the non-game window that they think your character's bold attempt is doomed to failure, but if you'd like you may roll at a -5 penalty. Then in the game window you may roll (1d20-5) if you choose.
NON COOPERATION: It's never very good when a group is pulling in several different directions at once, but in irc this flaw is again magnified. An actual general verbal melee of in character and out of character comments quickly becomes all that is going on to the exclusion of everything else. It is so frustrating that many players have been known to simply walk out and never look back. This is why many irc games come to quick and untimely ends. Thus, it is especially important for all players to unite in a common goal (or at the very least, not get in the way of other party goals). Playing an aloof, mysterious, or non-talkative character may be proper in many circumstances, but without frequent interactions this can stall a game. In irc, therefore, it is typically better to quickly come to an understanding with other PCs rather than make them fight for every little scrap of information. If you still feel your character wouldn't talk or say anything, at least put in a description of your character's expressions, actions, or demeanor so the other PCs do not end up staring at a blank screen and think you did not even hear them.
IN PARTY FIGHTING: We've all had our share of disagreements and friction between players and their characters, but when this degrades into an actual fight between PCs it is somehow worse in irc than in RL. For one thing, it may take much longer to resolve in irc since combat is much slower there. Since this means the other players may not play for a long time (much longer than a quick death in RL if it comes to that), any time that bickering takes away from the game is time taken away from the other players and the GM (and, as I said, in irc this may be a lot more time than in RL, so how dare you steal it from the others by your inability to get along and play nice)? If it ever comes to pass you feel that due to friction between players or characters that you are compelled to attack them, you should do the proper thing and resign from the game instead (or ask the GM to kindly invite your "adversary" to stop it or leave). If you do choose to resign, however, have consideration for the others. Do not ruin their fun by quitting in the middle of a session. An irc game is too delicately balanced to unexpectedly lose players midstream. You should at least wait until the end of the session, thus giving everybody fair warning and enough time to prepare for the next session. If you do not wish to resign, do NOT throw the first punch. If your opponent also feels the same way, they shouldn't throw the first punch. And if both of you are firmly resolved not to start a fight of that nature, then the fight will never occur. In my opinion, however, whoever does actually throw the first punch is usually the troublemaker and should be dismissed from the game, so keep that in mind.
Sadly, it may be the case the less capable players find it easier to screw up a game in irc than in RL simply because they are not dealing with their friends and they may have little or no consideration for other people they have never really met in person. They think very little of being rude or inconsiderate to others since they can always walk away and not have to deal with the fallout they might have to in a real life relationship. If this is you then you are a jerk - know that now, and know it well. And if this is not you (or you don't think it is), remember to treat your playmates with respect or you will soon be alone. And if this still doesn't bother you to be alone on the irc playground, know this: the knowledge that you are a jerk can keep you company.
Finally, remember that this is a roleplaying game. It is not just roleplaying alone, but it is also a game, and games should be fun for all that play in them. With that in mind, though it may be great roleplaying to play an inconsiderate, selfish, or hard to get along with character, this frequently isn't fun for the other players who find their characters on the receiving end of such abusive behavior. Thus, it is strongly recommended you try to play characters who are not difficult to get along with, or characters who will find it difficult to tolerate others for whatever roleplaying reason they care to come up with. In a RL game this is easier because with more player interaction, one can often see the huge differences between a player and their character. In irc, however, it is too easy to lose this distinction, and a nasty, inconsiderate, selfish, or perhaps even evil character does tend to make the player whose character is on the receiving end of such abusive behavior feel worse since they may not know as well the abusive character's player doesn't share this opinion of them (assuming they don't, naturally, for if they do, then that's another problem). This is not fun, so consider this while generating your character concepts and remember your characters will have to work with others. This may make it more difficult to play dark, brooding, or antisocial characters, but such characters are often better left to fiction rather than made for inclusion in a fun, social game.
NO LEADERSHIP: When a party doesn't have strong leadership it may proceed slowly or not at all. Again, a bad thing in any game, but in irc you frequently wonder if the inactivity is due to real inactivity or if you have been disconnected instead. A player should keep the game moving with "In Character" comments, observations, and descriptions of their actions, thoughts, and feeling so all can see the game has not faltered and come to a stop. Without the visual cues one has in RL, you may not know that anything is actually happening and idly sit looking at your screen for a minute or two before something does happen. Don't let this happen. Fill the screen with something meaningful. Not childish Tomfoolery, but actual insight into your character's thoughts, feelings, or actions. You can even be whimsical and take a moment to remember how this "situation" reminds your character of a happier time. For example, use the /me command. (this /me command indents and puts your nick in front of what will follow). For example: /me looks around, feeling sorry she isn't at home where her warm bed remains empty. Assuming your PC's NICK was Bethany, for example, this becomes indented as:
Bethany looks around, feeling sorry she isn't at home where her warm bed remains empty.
(Now you have added something in character and the game keeps moving).
UNRELIABILITY: In an irc game, reliability is far more important than many other qualities. Bad ISP, phone, or other Internet connection problems will keep you away often enough without letting one's own inability to show up both on time and with regularity adding to the problem. Remember, only a few may be able to play in the first place, so everyone counts and everyone is needed. If you do not show up for trivial reasons you are greatly hurting the GM, the other players, and the game, and this discourteous and disrespectful behavior is not appreciated by anyone. And, if it ever comes to pass that you feel the game is no longer for you, please consider the other players too. At the very least give them fair warning you are leaving. Walking out in the middle of the game is bad form and the mark of an inconsiderate player. Such reputations can stick with you, and you don't want that; if not for the other player's sake, then for your own.
Do not simply decide between sessions never to return and assume they will figure it out when you fail to show up. You may uselessly steal a large section of game time while all the players sit around waiting for you. If you feel this is not your concern as you never have to deal with them again, you're a jerk. Such discourteous playing is the mark of an asshole. How hard is it, anyway, to email your GM and explain why you feel the game is no longer for you? By giving proper notice, they will not waste their time waiting for you. Furthermore, with enough advanced warning, the GM may have sufficient time to fill a limited game slot with a player who really wants to be there.
If for any reason you MISS a session, at your FIRST opportunity you should email the GM and tell them what happened. That way they can know if you are likely to show up next session or not and plan accordingly.
Though much of this is what I feel is common courtesy or simple game etiquette, it bears mentioning here as not everyone clearly has this idea.
One of the better styles of play is the free form style. It has almost no rules, save one. As a player, it is your job to add to the story in a reasonable way. This style may have little or no GM direction to it. Whether it works or not depends entirely upon the quality of the players. In fact, the GM may simply be another one of the players with their own character (but the GM may also be able to answer a few more questions in QUERY than the others may). Some good things about free form is that it is the easiest to get into and play or run, it frequently meets for only one or two sessions, it isn't therefore an on going concern, and one needn't spend a lot of time passing character information around as it is assumed the responsible player won't bring in inappropriate characters or display undue or unrealistic powers or abilities. In fact, the need for dice is practically non existent in a free form style and a bot may not even be required. I have found these games to be more on the order of excellent roleplaying exercises rather than lengthy campaigns, but a group of players may surprise you and play for many free form sessions. In any event, they are frequently fun and I highly recommend trying a few.
This style is similar to free form, but the GM gives much greater direction to it and will direct possible avenues of exploration through a variety of NPCs. It is, however, similar to free form in the lack of control the GM must have over your characters. Again, this assumes you will bring in reasonable characters with reasonable powers and play in a reasonable way. Thus, it is sort of a privilege to be included, and if you abuse the privilege you will be excluded. Dice are more frequently used in a loose-form game than a free form game.
A step up from lose form, the relaxed form brings in greater GM control over what you bring in. The characters must be created for this game OR meet specific criteria before being included. This usually takes the form of statistic requirements, level requirements, alignment requirements, or a number of other possible requirements the GM feels will be necessary. This also begins to take much more work than the lose form or free form games, and it is here that games turn from single shot sessions into more regular sessions with actual scheduled play times. Games of this nature are usually by invitation only. Furthermore, since the actual numbers of your characters are available, a dice bot will almost certainly be necessary and many more rolls will be required during the game. When the GM sends you a query request like "1d20" without explanation, you probably should just roll 1d20 in the game channel. However, you will usually have a good idea of what you are rolling for already.
The relaxed form is a relaxation of this standard form. The GM runs a much tighter ship, probably needing to see or supervise even the minute details of your characters or their creation, perhaps actually helping you roll them up in the chat room while using a dice bot. This takes even more time to prepare, so be warned- do not enter this game unless you can make a serious commitment to playing it regularly. Furthermore, the GM will also probably require more in depth character sheets, perhaps even to the point of knowing where your character keeps their water skins, how many torches you carry, and the exact change in your purse. The GM will let you know the level of detail they will require of you.
So, that's about it in a nutshell. Now you can go forth and find yourself a game. Happy Gaming and Good Luck!
© May of 1999