Signal to Noise

By | May 26, 2009

Noxilite’s been running weekly RP nights in the Barrens for probably close to three years now (we go bi-weekly during the summer, so people can go to that place called outside).  Our turnout varies — some weeks we have a big circle of people, others it’s just a few of us.  Last night, being Memorial Day, the group was fairly small — as a matter of fact, I wasn’t present for it myself.  However, Grizz (usually the Nekkid Cow, but last evening the Powerful and Intelligent Wizard Morphumax) sent me a chatlog.

He commented, “We had a really small group last night, but it feels like the RP was even better than normal.”

Which got me to thinking.

Big group RP is a lot of fun.  You get to spend time with lots of your favorite people, and now and then get to meet new faces.  Just about anything can happen, since there are suddenly so many more participants in the RP.

But, it can also be overwhelming.

When you go to a party out here in meatspace, the room might be loud, and you might have to lean in close to hear what the people in your immediate vicinity are saying.  You might be asking your companions to repeat themselves a lot, but other conversations are reduced to background noise.  Chances are, you can’t hear what the people three tables over are talking about and they can’t hear you.

In WoW, anyone within a certain range can “hear” every single word that’s typed into /say.  Pack a whole bunch of people into one place — say, around a fire in The Barrens, or into the Pig ‘n’ Whistle, and your chat window is going to get very full, very fast.  Now add to that things going on in /guild, in other IC channels, any OOC channels you might be in, and any whispers you might get.  It’s very easy to miss something important.

So how do you manage it?

Most days, I have three separate chat windows (for the curious, I use the vanilla Blizzard UI): one for IC stuff, one for busy OOC channels, and one for whispers/less-active channels.  When I know there’s going to be a large gathering, I’ll move some of them around, so /say is in its own box, which gets expanded as tall and wide as I can make it.

After that, it’s kind of a matter of mental-filtering.  Every party, even in WoW, tends to see people breaking into small clusters.  I tend to skim what people in other small groups are saying, but make an effort to find the names of the people in my character’s immediate conversation in the chat window so I can at least keep up with them.  Sometimes, it makes it like any large gathering — you’re in mid-sentence when a snippet of nearby conversation draws your attention.  Circles shift, subjects change, hilarity and/or fisticuffs ensue.

Since the Pig is also his office, Tarquin will occasionally pull someone aside to a corner table to conduct business.  Using a combination of /party and emotes comes in handy here — it’s understood that whoever he’s talking to, they’re both keeping their voices pitched low, but others nearby can still see their reactions to what’s being said.

When the large-group RP is a little more structured — a story night, or a ceremony of some kind — another aspect to consider is how to keep the focus on the person currently in the spotlight.  When spectators start having a side-conversation, it can detract from the main action.  Emotes are a good start, ranging from /listen to more complex ones: /e taps her feet in time to the song; /e sniffles as the couple exchanges their vows.  Comments related to the action can work, too:  “My mother used to tell me this story when she tucked me in,”  “He must’ve spent hours polishing his armor for this.”

That doesn’t mean the other people will necessarily follow suit and settle down.  Davien has occasionally employed the “Hush, sweetling, Max is tellin’ us a story,” approach.  At a gathering in the Grizzly Hills, Yva told a chatty gnome she’d answer her questions after Chryste was done singing her song, then pointedly turned to listen to the singing warrior.

Does it always work?  No.  And that’s okay, too — every crowd has its random interjections.  As long as the side-conversations aren’t being used to grief/maliciously derail the RP, it’s up to you whether your characters react or not.

My favorite instance of actually participating in the side-chatter came during Fells’ trial.  The Riders were, (probably to the prosecution’s dismay), allowed into the courtroom.  We were told quite firmly that we weren’t to disrupt the trial.  But that many of the Black and Red in one place, with our friends taking the stand… there was bound to be commentary.

Thus, the peanut gallery raid was born.  Riders and friends of Riders who were present in the courtroom were invited, and any IC snark or outrage at the events went there.  It let us run our mouths a bit without a) getting kicked out or b) getting poor, murdering Fells in any further trouble.

So let’s hear it — how do you handle the chatspam that comes with large group RP?  Do you adjust chat windows?  What mods do you run that help manage it?  Other thoughts?

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