Running a modern game has been far easier than I expected because of a number of modern tools. Most of these are digital, but convert quite well to my
archaic retro “index card” style of GMing. An exhaustive list would be near endless, but here are most of my go-to tools.
The modern online lifestyle puts an amazing amount of information at one’s fingertips. And since game prep generally involves the management of information, either through outright research or inspiration, it’s no surprise to find endless resources for a modern campaign.
Obviously, Google Maps is indispensible for determining how long it takes to get from Excelsior, WV to Oklahoma City, OK (about 18 hours, if you’re curious). But it can also be used to find the basic layout of an industrial park, a suburb, or a busy city center, and much more.
Google Street View makes for great visual aids, too. For instance, parts of Detroit make for an excellent post-zombpocalytic city. (Link)
You can even make a custom Google Map, and insert descriptions into an existing map. I initially did this for my 1980s monster hunter campaign. It’s a pretty cool effect, but the game really didn’t use it very often. A campaign in which geography really matters would definitely benefit from it.
One of the biggest advantages of the modern game is that the players already know the setting. We all are somewhat familiar with modern world’s history, cultures, countries, and technology, and how they all tie together. Of course, we all put our own spin and interpretation on things, but the modern game is generally based on the real world. Wikipedia is my go-to tool for learning about the real world. Where else could one learn about the decline of Japanese biker gangs, the legends and relics of the Knights Templar, and the hazards of modern Scuba Rebreathers?
A simple Google image search turns up all kinds of floor plans for modern games, from apartments to mansions, and from shopping malls to prisons. Many of them also show front and rear elevation views, so the players can see what it looks like from the street, or from the back alley.
The modern ‘connected’ lifestyle can enrich a game as well. We normally think of communication as a way to facilitate group communication between sessions, but here are a few ideas for using modern communications in-game.
Have you considered setting up an email account for a recurring NPC? (It might be stretching the Terms of Service, but how about a Facebook or Google+ account as well?) Send each player a slightly different version of an email, and watch the sparks fly. Or send information to just one… Just make sure you follow the proper laws and such, or at least don’t blame me if you don’t.
Chat, Text, Etc.
I’m certainly not the only GM who has used text messages in lieu of the ‘passed note’. Nor am I the only player who has used a chatroom to conspire against the GM (with permission, of course).
One character in my current game has an amulet from his dear departed mother, who warns him of things in-game. A quick text message makes for a private warning that the other players are unaware of. Her old-school Italian nature makes for some interesting (and guilt-laden) messages.
Don’t tell my players, but I’ve always wanted to use text to communicate the status of a distant ally, and give the team a choice of completing their mission or assisting their ally. “Alpha Team, this is Bravo Six. We are pinned down by multiple opponents with heavy weaponry, have taken extensive casualties, and require immediate assistance.”
A simple phone call from a distant NPC can contribute to a game. Or a Skype session might make for an interesting briefing. You could even record a video and use it to emulate a one-way Skype briefing that was horribly cut short.
Of course, the time period in which you set your campaign will determine what kinds of communication devices are available to the players. In the 1970s, cell phones were unheard-of, but in the 2010s, everyone has one, and most of them are smarter than their users. For what it’s worth, choosing the 1980s works for me. Cell phones are available, but unreliable at best.
I’ve only scratched the surface; the number of modern tools and information sources for a modern campaign is nearly limitless. Sound off in the comments if you can think of any others, or innovative ways in which to use them.