Paul Mitchener came up with a new writing challenge on role-playing games called “12 RPGs for the 12th Month” (see the full list of questions here.)
Question 10: 19th to 20th December
Mobile phones and the internet in an RPG setting in the modern day world (perhaps with fantastic elements): discuss. What possibilities do they open up? What, if any, issues come with them when it comes to RPG scenarios?
I guess this is a question for us old fogeys. Players and game-masters who are in their 20s don’t need to discuss this (and probably scratch their heads at the question.)
Some elements jump to mind:
Instant communication between characters give a very different feel to splitting the party. They can be physically apart but still in contact; if you truly want them separated, they have to lose the signal somehow.
Communication can be private and silent, via text messages (watch out for that buzz or the lit screen that can give you away, though!)
Knowledge skills are strongly impacted: online, you can learn to make Turkish coffee, decode a cryptogram, or use a Raspberry PI and Lego blocks to create a recon bot. This means that intelligence should be treated much more as the capacity for reasoning and analysis, and less as the accumulation of data.
Instant proof and documentation—snap a photo or secretly record a conversation, upload. While opponents of the PCs will sometimes be able to claim it’s a doctored photo or recording (and some supernatural critters may not show in digital media, I guess), in general that alters a lot of stories depending on “No one will believe us” or “Get the information in the right hands” premises.
Always have the right tool: With apps for GPS, magnifier, starfinder, compass, first aid manual, birding field guide, drawing, banking, and so forth, there are many tasks that become possible or trivial wherever the characters are, as long as they have a signal.
Under Big Brother’s eye: The flip side is that it can be very difficult to evade tracking or surreptitious phone cloning, and having a phone confiscated or stolen can put a crimp in one’s plan.
Horror games should be designed to use loss of signal, surveillance, unexpected ringing, cryptic texts or calls, new suspicious apps, panicked calls from other characters, trusted but unreliable Wikipedia information, and so forth. You can really affect the pace with such tools.