Technology for Writing Larps Collaboratively Online

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Sometimes you want to write a larp with other humans who are nowhere near your physical location.

I’ve previously posted about Larp Writing Software, but that was more of a roundup than an analysis of each tool. This post is a summary of tools I have used for working with others, had suggested to me specifically for online collaboration, or evaluated myself with remote collaboration in mind. 

If I missed something that you’ve used to write larps at a distance, drop me a comment below and I’ll add it. 

Brainstorming and Idea Management

There are many, many online tools for brainstorming, mind mapping, and managing large projects. In the past I’ve mostly used Google documents and spreadsheets in Google Drive, but those won’t let you do more than make lists or build your own spreadsheet tools. 

IdeaBoardz is the only free service I’ve found so far for making notecard / post-it walls collaboratively for brainstorming that doesn’t require a login. It can be accessed by url without any login for the board creator or editors. It doesn’t appear to have much in the way of export capabilities, but might be helpful for initial brainstorming of ideas that you later transcribe somewhere else. 

A friend suggested Trello to me for brainstorming and project management. It has a free version and offers relatively inexpensive paid plans. I haven’t tested this tool.

Collaborative Writing

Google Drive is the gold standard for concurrent online editing in real time smoothly and this is a killer feature when it comes to writing larps together. This is the primary reason that most of my games are written in Google Drive. 

Drive is free up to a relatively generous storage amount. Personally I have a paid Google account in the hopes that it will give them more reason to never kill Drive. But with Google you never know. Paid plans start at about $30 / year. Drive has complex sharing permissions, including the ability to share things by url with editors who are not logged into Google. 

Microsoft’s OneDrive allows for concurrent editing and has a web client for desktop machines. They only support the standard Microsoft file types (doc, Excel sheet, PowerPoint presentation, a “OneNote notebook”, some sort of form) and plain text documents. I haven’t used OneDrive to co-write a large project for several years, but some experiments with the help of a friend suggest that Microsoft’s native types have reasonable online editors that can handle multiple people at once. Editing text files requires explicit saving, so that won’t really work with multiple people concurrently. If you’re willing to use Microsoft’s native formats and their webpage this is a reasonable way to do collaborative writing and editing. I have not tested OneDrive’s app to see if it handles editing gracefully. 

OneDrive has a free version with several GB of storage. Paid plans start at about $2 / month. OneDrive has complex sharing permissions, including the ability to share things by url with people who aren’t logged into OneDrive. 

Dropbox has a local version that integrates with your file system, an online interface, and an app version for devices like tablets and phones. The file system version and the app do not handle concurrent editing gracefully. In the case of the file system version, your changes can stomp someone else’s and you will not be able to see each other’s work if you both have the file open at the same time (your file system and local editor software behaves as if the file is offline!). I find the app (iOS on an iPhone and iPad) nearly impossible to edit in, but maybe other app versions are be easier to use. The web page version allows you to edit one kind of document, word docs, using Microsoft’s “Word for web” (the same tool that OneDrive offers) and that handles concurrent editing gracefully. So if you’re ok with having .docx formatted sheets you could coordinate with other writers this way. 

Dropbox has a free version up to a few GB of saved documents, which is plenty to write multiple larps. Paid plans start at about $10 / month. Dropbox has security control to share viewing and editing of files, but sharing by url only allows for viewing, never editing. 

If everyone in your team is comfortable using source control like git, you can write a larp together that way. It wouldn’t be my first choice and I absolutely wouldn’t inflict this software on anyone who isn’t already comfortable with the tools involved. 

Both gitlab and github will let you have private repositories in their free plans if you’re concerned with your materials being publicly visible. 

Some online wikis can also handle editing concurrently (since they’re meant to be used by physically separated editors in the first place), but I’ve not tested the exact ones that are available online or for free. I haven’t worked on a larp via a wiki for many years. 

Many systems that can handle multiple editors (like source control or online wikis) don’t always handle collaborative editing gracefully. Often you can’t see other people’s work until they save it (check it in / push it / whatever) and different systems will have different “merging” behavior for handling the situation where two people are editing things in the same place at the same time. This can get frustrating and painful really fast. Make sure you know how you’ll need to use the tools to collaborate with co-writers before you commit to a more complex system. 

Talking to Your Co-writers

You’re going to want to talk to your co-writers. Some communications might be fine with email or text chat, but most people will want to have audio or video chat available at some point in the writing process. 

If you are working with a small team (5 or fewer writers) almost any audio or video chat program should serve your needs. If you want details on the systems I’ve looked at head over to my post about software for running larps online

The TLDR summary is: I would highly recommend Discord for text and voice chat and Zoom or Google Meet for video chat. I’ve been told that Discord has improved their video chat a lot since early 2020: so it may be more usable than it was when I last tried it. 

For anything other than the briefest, most casual chat you will probably need a full computer available rather than a phone or tablet. It’s difficult to take or look at notes and have a video conference on a phone. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up for audio or video chat: 

  • For audio communication:
    • Use headphones if possible. They cut down on noise and while most modern systems can avoid causing audio echoing, it will still happen sometimes (especially if your environment is noisy).
    • Try to find a quiet space. Close doors to block out other people or animals and avoid large echoing rooms if you can. Turn off loud fans or air filters if possible, since background white noise can make it a lot harder for you to be understood. 
  • For video communication:
    • Have reasonable lighting. Avoid bright backlighting or sitting in a dark room. Even lighting from the front will make you easier to see clearly. 
    • Put the video display on whatever part of your screen is nearest to your camera. This way when you are looking at the other people in the video chat it will look to them like you are looking at them, rather than randomly off into the void. 
    • Avoid distractions behind you. If your space isn’t conducive to focusing on you in your video, hang a temporary curtain or sit in front of a wall. Avoid having a TV or other moving screen in your background at all costs. (Artificial backgrounds can help as a last resort, but they are often distracting in their own ways, especially when they fail to green-screen around you correctly.)

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