Out of focus shot of the Bluecliff discord channels

Running the (Online) Game | Campaign Diaries

  • Reading time:8 mins read

This article was originally found on the Grinning Rat Publications Medium account. It has been brought over and made free for viewers. Note: Some ideas and considerations may be out of date.

While the objective of Retrospectives is to discuss previous campaigns, before I begin in earnest I thought it might be helpful to establish the foundation for what Bluecliff Adventures largely was over the course of nearly two years.

I mentioned in a previous article (see below) how one of the goals for Bluecliff Adventures was to run a game that could be played and enjoyed with an adult schedule. That is to say, a schedule that changed abruptly and often — making a consistent scheduled day to play impossible.Decision ParalysisIn which I go through old campaigns I’ve run and talk about what was good, bad, and ugly.medium.com

What I did not discuss in that article were the full means to how that was achieved.

A microphone and headset hanging next to a computer
Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash

Running the (Online) Game

Bluecliff Adventures, like many games we play now, was run and played almost completely online. We utilized Discord for the entirety of the campaign. The way it works is that you create a “server” that acts as the container for all of your “channels”. Each channel is named and can have its own permissions, rules, and members.

Running an online game comes with its own quirks as well — things that wouldn’t be thought about at a physical table. For example, we had a lot of issues in the beginning with both people not talking as often as they should and with people talking over each other. This sort of acclimation is not uncommon, especially now that we live our lives mainly online due to the pandemic. But in 2018, we were figuring out the boundaries of what we were capable of.

One such boundary was sound quality. It’s one thing if your sound is awful during a 30 minute Zoom meeting — it’s another thing entirely when you’re roleplaying a character for 4+ hours. This led to many of us upgrading our equipment (microphones, headsets, desks with better soundproofing, etc) over the course of two years.

One of the important facets of running an online game is compartmentalization, or dividing the differing aspects of the game and needs of the group into their own areas. My group consisted of heavy role-players, for example, so I needed channels that helped facilitate that aspect of the game.

One of the most important of these channels was the Guide.

People working on computers at a table
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Stumbling Into Greatness

When I was making the server, I was comparing the construction to things that I was reading about online. I looked at dice bots (Dash Delta / Avrae), music bots (Rythm), even recording bots (Craig Records). But one of the most innocuous additions at the time was the creation of the “Guide” channel. The name came from an idea I had at the onset of the campaign, where there was a sort of “Adventurer’s Guide” that the players would fill with details of their exploits.

The guide was not that. It was something immensely more powerful.

The players and I decided that open role-play in the channel was acceptable, rather than the soft recap of events from character perspectives. My players took that and absolutely ran with it. It wasn’t soon after that I was having a hard time keeping up with them — each player writing paragraphs and paragraphs discussing their fears, their anger, their victories, and their plots from the perspectives of the characters themselves. They actively planned in the channel, oftentimes looping in anyone who happened to be online by, in-game, going and knocking on their door at the Guild. For an example of what this looked like, see below:

A discord chat between two players roleplaying in character
Professor Buff Orpington and Rook establish their stakes

As an aside, I know I said I would go chronologically with these retrospectives, but I want to give you an idea of what I mean when I say this was an unprecedented victory for the campaign. By the end of its use, towards the end of last year, I archived the channel and totaled up the word count. Over the entirety of the campaign, they had written 72837 words (or 161.9 pages) — equivalent to nearly 6 straight hours of reading. This was something that, over the course of the channel’s use, was gently rewarded by me but ultimately was performed for their own benefit. I simply enjoyed reading their perspectives and ideas.

This also extended to how we performed downtime to a lesser extent, which was done over private text message one-on-one. But the guide was something else. To this day, I don’t think I’ll be able to recapture that feeling of hopping online and seeing 20+ messages of actual, serious character development happen overnight — development that ingrained within several characters a new facet to their relationships. It was, quite simply, magic.

Setting Off

With that bit of set dressing, we’re ready to dive into the campaign. The campaign consisted of nearly 50 sessions, each session offering a lesson on what I could have done differently and what I would do again. Thankfully, I’ve kept decent notes on each over the past few years so that I can return to them.

I likely won’t cover every single session, mainly the ones that I felt had a significant impact on myself, the players, or the campaign as a whole. I will be talking about them in chronological order, as I mentioned before, but I will also be discussing how certain plots link together or how certain events would lead to a problem down the line.

If this feels a bit like the previous article, I can understand that. But realize that this understanding of how the game was actually run is imperative to understanding what actually happened in the game and when. This background is extremely important, as it informs why certain decisions were made.

Next week, then, we’ll talk about the formation of the Adventurer’s Guild, the downtime sessions that impacted the party, and the events that led to both the introduction of the main antagonist organization — Starcross — and the early death of one of the characters, Rook.