I promised a more formal post about the use of Discord (or, really, any online, very well organized chat room system) to organize your staff after this weekend, so here it is. A big thanks to Ryan Hart and Jason Knox for providing the setting where we really tried to push this platform to the MAX of it’s useful capabilities and it worked so well. I’m mainly going to be speaking to the use of Discord for staff organization, because I am not in great support of players using it in character other than in VERY specific settings (like cyberpunk, where it makes sense. Otherwise, I don’t want players buried in their phones during a game.)
Traditionally, I’ve seen on-the-ground staff organization happening by walkie-talkies or wireless headsets. While they are semi-effective, I’ve found the communication to often be breaking up, unclear, and distracting while I’m attempting to run a scene or mid-plot. The moment I’ve got a wireless bud in, I’m constantly 10-20% out of scene, always waiting for that vital buzz. Walkie-talkies have similar issues. Now, for games that take place in deep wilderness where cell signal is laughable (and we do know a few campsites as such) these are clearly still the way to go. However, if you have mobile signal or wireless internet, I’m sold on Discord and this is why:
1. Levels of Chat Rooms for Levels of Staff: You can have a head staff room only, reserved for big emergencies and highest level plot. Then your storytellers chat room for ongoing plots, hand-off of shifts, report backs of face NPCs, and organization of sharing NPCs. Then there is a room for ALL staff (witnesses/marshals) where they can bring up issues with mods (“Oh hell, the players took an hour to hook!” or “We forgot the stats for this important bad guy, please help?” or “Player injured on mod #4, please send EMT staff.”)
2. A Running Record: There is then a running record of all these things that can be reviewed after a game. Whether it’s how a mod went down messy (or really well!) or which mods got run and which didn’t. I’d even encourage having a separate ‘Plots’ room which is simply a note of ‘This plot went out at this time’ so staff can see what was run and when.
3. Silent Communication when Convenient: Staff isn’t constantly listening or half checked out to what is being said on a radio. While phones will have to be looked at fairly often to keep up with chat, they can be referenced in quiet/side moments when it least disturbs gameplay, instead of staff having to step away mid-sentence because the wireless went off in their ear. Also, there’s nothing like trying to put out a stealth plot and yelling into your wireless because the signal sucks. Silent communication is rarely needed but essential when the plot calls for it.
4. Eyes Everywhere: This weekend, we had all our Facilitators (NPCs) on a ‘Facilitated Chat’ where I could check in with them easily. It meant I had eyes on every single plot as it went out, what the players were doing, where they walked, and even what they were wearing. While this was particularly paranoia inducing in a Cyberpunk game (How does she know where EVERYONE IS in 2 square miles?!) it could be incredibly helpful for a wide range of games, in the timing of mods, NPC resources, and on the ground calls about when to return to base.
5. Easy to Use Interface: Once I got the hang of the Server Bar, then the Chatrooms on that Server bar, Discord was surprisingly easy to grok. Each chatroom lit up when there was new activity and automatically brought me right up to the line of the new activity, so I didn’t have to search through scroll to figure out what I’d missed. The highlighted rooms meant I wasn’t checking everything constantly and keeping my servers clear of everything other than games I’m actively staffing meant it was not distracting.
6. Not Distracted by Facebook: Now, this might be a personal plus because I KNOW there are lot of younger gamers out there who use Discord as personally/often as I use Facebook, but I have found attempts to organize games on Facebook quite distracting because of the GLUT of other, non-game information. Discord had the game entirely focused on a single server and as long as I stayed on that server, I had no non-game distractions pulling at me for being on the internet. I have no clue how this would work for people who hang out OOC on Discord every night, even when a game isn’t on.
So, there’s my thoughts. Clearly they will not function for every game. The other and, perhaps biggest, issue I see is the fact that cellphones are still delicate pieces of technology and a lot of the games we play are some form of full contact. Therefore, I would recommend to any game that decides to switch to Discord as a way of staff communication, that they get some protective cellphone cases that can be passed out to staff at the start of their shift and returned at the end. If your staff member’s phone isn’t protected, take a small measure of safety and give them a case while they are using it on the ground to make your players’ game better.
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