So, Ethan and I have been talking a bit, and we hit on some ideas, and so we wanted a feel of what everyone thinks.
The primary concern is how to differentiate rules from standard english when they use the same word. Consider a hypothetical situation: Asëa is 25 feet away from a friend (lets say Boots for example’s sake) who was just reduced to -1 HP by an enemy attack, and it is now Asëa’s turn. I might send an email saying “Asëa runs over to boots and casts Cure Light Wounds, rolling a 4, and raising Boots to 3HP”. The problem is my usage of the word “run” – I meant it in the english sense of the word, “to move rapidly on foot” but the word is also used to mean, in the game sense, “a full round action wherein you move up to 4x your speed in a straight line and lose your Dex bonus to AC and so on”. I only used the word “run” because I wanted to indicate that she moved hurriedly, and a standard move action implies just a sort of slow, unrushed motion which is NOT what I wanted. Now, in this case, there isn’t too big of a problem, it is obvious by my desire to use the standard action in the same round that I did not want the full-round action “run.”
Other odd cases are things like the Heal skill, versus the Heal spell (versus the Heel trick that my eagle animal companion knows. I guarantee you I will spell that as “Heal” at least once!). In the rules, they are kept distinct by italics for the spell name, but what happens if we end up using SMS? Anyone know how to make italics in SMS? I don’t. And any of us with iPhones beside myself should note that italics are impossible in the mail app. And personally, I dislike reading [underscore]foo[underscore] in emails to mean “foo”, and heck, underscores probably aren’t easy to get in SMS anyway.
Other issues, that the rules themselves have trouble with, is that there is a large difference in standard english between “magic” and “magical.” In standard english, anything that looks like magic is magical. A dragon, for example, is a magical beast in terms of standard english, but by the rules, it isn’t a magical beast at all. A stage magician (think Penn and Teller) performs tricks that are “magical” but certainly not “magic.” So, how to avoid this ambiguity? The specific trap that I can point to as an example is to look at the difference in wording for an Elf’s immunity to sleep versus a half-elf’s. I think it is obvious that they both SHOULD mean the same thing, but do they? one uses magic, the other magical, and these can be very different in meaning. One says “sleep spells” and the other says “sleep effects” (note change in italics, and also the use of the restrictive word spells). We cannot allow ourselves to be this vague in our emails, as if we have to ask for clarification, the already slow play-by-email will become impossibly slow. We can all agree that, in the rules, we should probably read “magic” and “magical” to mean the same thing (roughly, those things disrupted by Anti-magic field), but if I, or Nick, or someone else says “magic”, can we all be sure that he meant magic and not magical? For that matter, is a Dire Wolf really magical? It’s type is “magical beast”, which seems to me to be used in general to mean “something that is completely or almost-completely non-magical and really is just a big/cool animal, BUT not an animal that exists one earth” (see also Owlbear), but then it is also used for beasts that have magic properties (see also, Unicorns). Say a Dire Wolf had, I dunno, non-magical sleep poison on its claws (ignore the how or the why). It then attacks a half-elf and an elf. The strictest reading of the rules says the half-elf is immune to the sleep effect (as it is a magical in that a magical beast delivered the attack which caused a sleep effect) and that the elf is not (as there is no magic involved and the elf wording specifically requires magic, not merely magical). Clearly in this case this is wrong, but I am just using this as an example of where things can get messy. And here, I am using entirely words out of the rulebooks. No trickery involved!
[note the other trap I just fell into myself: non-magical means “not using magic” – something that is magical-but-not-magic, such as Penn and Teller, is still non-magical. If you mean “not magical”, you have to be explicit and say “not magical”. So, the confusing example from hell: Penn and Teller are magical, and yet non-magical, but they are NOT ‘not magical’ nor do they employ magic. Confused? I am, and I wrote the damn thing!)
So, here is what we should all try and figure out: How do we want to talk about rules in emails/SMS that is easy and readable and unambiguous? the possibility of SMS limits us to a small number of characters (there is another problem: character-the-letter as opposed to characters-like-Boots-and-Asëa-and-so-on) that are easy to type on all platforms? Keep in mind that we want to be able to easily distinguish run (as in the english word meaning motion faster than a walk but slower than a sprint), run (the full-round action), and run (the feat that allows a better use of run-the-full-round-action). Also to distinguish between sleep (the thing non-elves do at night), sleep (the spell named sleep), and sleep (any spell that happens to cause sleep, such as Deep Slumber) and sleep (any spell that contains the word “sleep” in its name. Note that there is currently no visual distinction between those last three, BUT THERE SHOULD BE!). 99 cases out of 100, it should be obvious, but there is likely to be some case where it is vitally important and patently unclear which is meant.
At an absolute minimum, we need to try and capitalize all rule-words, so that “run” means “swift movement on foot” and “Run” means one of the full-round-action OR the feat. that way, “Magical Beast” in an email means “any creature with the Magical Beast type”, whereas “magical beast” can mean roughly “any animal that does not exist on earth” (that is, a dragon is a “magical beast” but not a “Magical Beast”). Or is that too subtle?
(It should be noted that the SRD and books themselves are not entirely consistent, so do not rely on them always being right.)
Another issue, which I mentioned elsewhere but suspect it got lost, is how we want to deal with text in non-Common languages. Asëa, for example, is going to slip into elvish from time to time because I think that is a cool quirk, and I could easily see Ethan wanting to, for example, have an elven NPC speak in elvish to her without the rest of the party knowing what is said (just a random possible example). Asëa can speak elvish, and Dice can too (the only two I am sure of), so obviously if an NPC speaks elvish, both of us need to get an english equivalent to know what is said, but anyone whose character does NOT speak elvish should NOT know what is said. And, if any of us characters speak in a non-common language, all other people who have characters that know the language need to get an english translation, AND Ethan needs full text translations for everything because, well, DM is god, rite? But again, no one else should know what is said. That would be a pain in the ass to manage manually, to want each person to deal with sending the english to people who know the language and gibberish for those who don’t, so I am contemplating setting up one of my home computers as a email relay server that will automatically do text transformations for us, but does anyone care? Do we want to keep languages distinct, or should we just let everyone know what is said in some random language (Druidic, for example, I know that ONLY Asëa and any druid NPCs know. If I have Asëa say something in Druidic, that is a pretty good hint that I do not want anyone else to know what is said, BUT Ethan has to know because odds are I am talking to a druid NPC).
Another possibility for languages is to get a simple letter-swap code for every language, and Ethan has the master decode-keys, and gives every character who can speak Elvish the key to decode elvish. Then, anyone who wants to use elvish text manually runs it trough the translation matrix and posts the translated equivalent. Anyone without the key (that is, non-elvish speakers) cannot do that. But that is slow. (and throughout this entire thing, I have been using “Elvish” to mean “any non-common language”, so substitute Auran, Draconic, or whatever as you see fit)
So, here is what I am interested in (I am just assuming that I am going to be “the tech guy” so if we decide on a technological solution to our problems, I’ll be the one to implement it, hence me asking) is what everyone would PREFER to see done in such cases? Ethan, if you want more, feel free to edit this. I realize that we still have not decided if we are going to try email/SMS, but just lets see what everyone wants. I have all next week off, so ideally I’d like to know how much tech-work I will need to do before then, so that I can get it up-and-running and tested ASAP.
I will not post my opinion for now, and I’d suggest that you do not immediately either, Ethan (at least until someone else has a chance to comment), because it is far too easy for the others to go “I agree with Ethan/the DM coz I don’t want to piss him off”, or “I agree with Dylan/the tech guy because he has to do the work” because it is easier than thinking of their personal optimal solution, and what I am most interested in is what each person actually wants. (That said, Ethan, if you have any other particular things that you are concerned about, feel free to make them). So, lets get some discussion here. What do we all want? If you are really dead-set against SMS, then feel free to make suggestions that are not SMS-friendly, etc. I just want an idea of what we all want to see, and once all the chips are down we can all come to a decision that works for everyone (note that it is very possible that the final solution is a mix of many things, if one person has to use SMS and the rest of us want a non-SMS solution, I can very likely handle it so that everyone gets what they want). You can go ahead and assume that I can figure out how to do anything you want with a computer. It may not be the case, but just to see what everyone wants, it is easier to assume that if you can imagine it, it is possible. So, there are no stupid suggestions. I just want a feel of what we all want (lets go ahead and merge this with the “how do we want to play” thing as well).
Oh, and if anyone doesn’t really care, just say that. I just want to see what everyone wants.