Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Seven Players With Computers

We finished that Paranoia game on Sunday night. We picked up right where that post leaves off, since by the time the rest of the group came back everyone else had to go home.

In between sessions, we added two players, this being a mostly social "hang out with some friends we haven't seen in a while, and maybe do some gaming" kind of affair. So we had seven players, one GM, and everyone in possession of a laptop or other chat device.

I had fun. Make no mistake. I got to bother people with a sock puppet and reprogram a bunch of scrub bots to attack my fellow troubleshooters. But I can't say I recommend the size of the group or the level of technology in use. For some, maybe, and in our group it worked out okay, but there were some problems.

Most important was that the set up slightly overwhelmed the GM. Seven people texting to you trying to pull secret bullshit is kind of hard to deal with. This is a problem in any group of that size -- I've had issues running groups that large myself -- but the technology factor amplified it. If we'd been passing notes, the volume would have likely been a bit more manageable.

It would have also made it more obvious which other players were sneaking around doing their own thing. Everyone was fiddling with their devices, but some of us were passing notes and others were just recording suspicious events. (Or goofing off, but I'll get to that in a minute.) On the one hand, it was nice for me, being one of the people getting up to a lot of the antics. (Not all -- our Happiness Officer turned the air ducts we were using into trap-filled pits of doom. Good times.) But the guy playing our Loyalty Officer pointed out that this greatly reduced our options to spend Perversity Points to thwart the other players actions.

But the major problem was just how distracting being hooked up to the internet can be. It might have been okay with a smaller group, and a large group might have been okay without the gadgets, but together? The people who weren't in the spotlight had a terrible temptation to decouple from the game entirely.

Not that it didn't go well. I had fun, and everyone else seemed to have a decent time. We've got an experienced group that works well together, and we had a good GM. But the combination of a large group and laptops has some definite pitfalls.


  1. I disagree about note-passing being less likely to overwhelm the GM. I actually deliberately chose IM for the most recent two sessions because I really didn't enjoy dealing with note-passing in the first one. Of course, you're right about the temptation to goof off and the difficulty of determining where trickiness is coming from, but as GM it's much easier to keep track of who's doing what, to make sure that no one's getting ignored (especially with the new laptop and layout I was using for the most recent session), and to respond in a reasonable amount of time.

    Of course, another factor in the lack of perversity spending was the mission itself. I didn't have much to start from, outfitting and the service service got skipped, and by the time you guys reached the mission's target we were out of time and I was out of ideas to make something obvious and exciting happen. Also, I hadn't read the combat rules and didn't especially want to create a situation in which they would be necessary.

  2. True, with a good set up messaging would make everything a lot easier to keep track of. I know that the volume of notes (at least from me) would have been much lower without IM, but as you've quite rightly pointed out, that's not the only factor involved. Not surprising that I missed that, being a player; I really need to get better about considering player issues, rather than just defaulting to the GM perspective out of habit.

    Heh. Prep. Seems like the Paranoia book has some decent mission generators, though. Everything went off well as far as I could see.

  3. I've found most of the problems like distraction away from the game are worse when you're hoping between media. That is, a player is more likely to be distracted by the 'net if they're hopping between 'net-use and face-to-face. If they're all-'net-all-the-time, it seems like less of a problem. But then, most of the folks I play with are older, and so 'net-in-my-pocket hasn't been a natural assumption for them from the first days they could walk and talk. ;)

    - Brian