When I discovered that Google Docs allows multiple people to edit the same document simultaneously. Add to that the fact that you can actually watch others typing, and I immediately saw gaming potential and tried it out at the first opportunity I had. In htis article I will discuss how my group and I use Google Docs to game.
When my group plays we usually use Google Docs instead of a chat. Everyone writes their part of the story as if it were prose. This includes descriptions of actions, feelings, inner monologues, and speech. Over time I have refined how we use it, and will more than likely continue to refine our use as we continue gaming. I would like to discuss different methods we have used to make it work for gaming and the pros and cons when using Google Docs compared to other mediums. Of course, some of what I say is predicated upon the idea that the goal is to have "publish ready prose". That is, prose that I could conceivably post on a fiction or fanfiction website.
A major consideration when using Google Docs is what to do about mechanics. For those of you that wish to keep track of all the mechanics in the game, Google Docs provides the comment feature. For instance, if I'd have a player write something like:
Jim backed up, took a running start and leaped to the next building.
I would highlight the leaped to the next building and add a comment describing what roll I wanted. Jim's player would then respond to the comment with the result or request some clarification. The comments are like mini chat logs and do very well for unobtrusively recording what mechanics were at work behind any particular statement.
However, as time has gone by, we've really found that it is unnecessary to record those mechanics and have stopped doing it.
Currently we chat in skype and use that to resolve mechanics and then write the prose.
This one is a hard one for many people. Because most RPGs are played in the first-person present ("I do") switching to third-person past ("He did") is a bit of a challenge. With the goal of having publish ready prose, though, it is necessary to make that switch.
Here are a couple of the pros of using Google Docs as your gaming medium.
Real-time Grammar Correction
If you have someone that is good at grammar, they can fix grammatical, spelling, and capitalization errors even before the offender is finished typing the sentence.
Character Inner Monologues
I have yet to find a medium that allows everyone to see what is going on inside the heads of the PCs as Google Docs does.
Splitting the Party
The bane of GMs everywhere. This is not as much of an issue as it is at other times because everyone can be editing a different part of the document at the same time. So, when the party splits, I simply move one group down to the bottom of the document, and let them start their scene. I, as the GM, will then bounce between all the different parts of the document that are being edited so I can respond as necessary.
There are definitely some cons to using Google Docs, and I don't want to simply gloss over them.
This is by far the biggest con. We average about one scene every 1-2 hours of play. Our latest game has been going on for 5 3-4 hour sessions and are still on the first adventure. The game is slow, but the rewards, we feel, are worth it.
No Maps and Minis
This is obvious, and is the same problem that all text-based gaming faces. We get around it by using a Google Drawing when maps are required.
No Dice Roller
Because Google Docs was not created with gaming in mind, there is no built in dice roller. This one doesn't affect us too much because I trust my players about their dice results and don't generally verify them. If blatant cheating were to become a problem, I would have to find an online solution to this.
If you are interested in seeing what the results look like for our current game, you can check out my blog at starwarsdeepstreets.blogspots.com.
Additional Ideas (2)
Forgot about these on the original submission.
In suggestion mode, you can edit, delete, and rewrite text, but it only makes the changes as suggestions, which can then be accepted or rejected.
We use this to not step on each other's toes. If we want to reword, add, or otherwise change the text that someone else has typed, we use suggestion mode. This also let's us suggest alternative courses of action, but gives the original author the final say.
Google Docs has a built in Chat function that you can use as a light-weight chatroom if you don't have any other alternatives
Voice to Text
Google Docs has recently released the ability to type by speaking (I believe currently only Chrome is supported).