Adding Smartphones to your Game World

Wizard Using a Smartphone

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The basic conceit of John Bell‘s Necrocarserous is that a mysterious force is siphoning off the dead from other campaigns. Everyone in the setting  once lived in some other game world, then they died, and while they were on their way to their proper afterlife, they got snatched up by the Necrocarserous Progragm, had all of their memories erased, and were dropped into the world of Necrocarserous. There, these countless kidnapped dead people spend their afterlives serving as unwitting cogs in an unfathomable machine.

Because the world theoretically drew from every other game in existence, you had knights in full plate wielding long swords, living alongside soldiers in Kevlar with guns. In other words, the game was technologically anachronistic, which was a big influence on ORWA’s “Swords, Cyborgs, and Floppy Disks” style. One of the most notable bits of technology in the game were the various phone plans. NecroTel offered a few choices, but once you had a treasure haul or two under your belt, everyone just went for the best one: smart phones. They were friggin awesome, so obviously, I included them in ORWA.

So, how does adding smartphones to your game change it? The most obvious thing is that long-distance communication becomes trivial. In some ways this might be considered a bad thing; for example, splitting the party is much less of a risk if the two groups can stay in communication with one another. But, the benefits to trivializing communication far outweigh the drawbacks, in my experience. (Plus, it was always a pain trying to force players sitting at the same table not to talk to one another).

In Necrocarserous, the existence of phones meant that NPCs basically never left the game. If we met people we liked, we could call them later for information or advice. This fundamentally changed the way we approached relationships as players. NPCs stopped being transient game elements that came and went with each new adventure. Each new person we met was a potential potential ally. It gave us grounding in the game world.

In ORWA, where only a small subset of the population have phones, this effect is less pronounced, but none the less present. If there’s one thing I would change about ORWA, it’s that I would like phones to be more universal. Fortunately, my players have recently set out to bring phone service to the masses (though, the masses only get Nokia NGage phones. No fancy smartphones for them). But, even before my players set out to do this, I could see the greater level of connection the phones gave them to the NPCs who had phones. In particular their boss, The Hangman, became someone they regularly consulted. Sometimes they called to ask her questions about what she wanted them to do. Other times, they just sent her selfies of themselves having killed a big scary monster. It’s gratifying to see my players make my NPCs a greater part of their experience.

I should note somewhere in here that I don’t personally think phone damage or phone battery life are interesting problems for the players to be thinking about. In ORWA, phones are made of futuristic materials which do not easily break, and use cold-fusion batteries which will hold a charge for 1000 years before they need to be plugged in. You may want to be a bit more stingy about this kind of thing, and I could see that being interesting. For my purposes, though, it’s not part of the system.

In its basic form, long distance talking is the only thing phones can do. If players want their phone to be more versatile, they’ll need to make purchases from the Appstore.

Each app improves the phone by adding software, or by unlocking the phone’s own existing hardware. Each app also takes up a certain amount of memory, and each phone can fit a total of 50 memory worth of apps before it’s full, and can’t take any more. (Rare phones with more memory may exist, and could be provided as treasure).

Players may own as many apps as they want, but switching out the apps on your phone takes a Haven turn. That’s purely for game reasons, but in ORWA I guess you could say that download rates are shit in the post apocalypse.


Text Messaging (500cc, 1 Memory): Allows silent, more casual communication. As long as a character has one hand free, they can text as a free action.

Camera (300cc, 1 Memory): Unlocks the camera hardware built into your phone, which can take high quality photos and videos. Thanks to HyperRawr compression technology, photos and videos functionally take up no memory on the phone. You can have as many as you want. Camera can also be used for facetime, or even just to peek around corners.

Zoom (1000cc, 1 Memory): Unlocks the Zoom Lens built into your camera, allowing it to function as a telescope. The zoom on these futuristic cameras is powerful enough to read the text on a book up to a mile away, if there’s sufficient line-of-sight.

Facial Recognition (5,000cc, 5 Memory): With facial recognition software, the phone can be set to flag certain people based on a photograph, or a detailed list of features. The phone will notify the user if anyone is flagged within the camera’s field of view.

GIMP++ (20,000cc, 5 Memory): A successful Tech skill check allows photos and videos to be modified to believably depict pretty much anything the user wants, so long as the key elements of the photo area real. (You can’t show a person being dead on the ground unless you’ve got a photo of that person, and a photo of someone being dead on the ground. Etc.)

Infrared Camera (15,000cc, 5 Memory): Allows the camera to capture infrared light. This functionally allows characters to see in the dark, as they can hold up their phones and look at the screens while the camera is open. It doesn’t attract as much attention as illuminating the environment would–though the light from the screen will still cause a small penalty to stealth in some situations.

Dragon Warrior Monsters GO (Free, 1 Memory): An augmented reality game which depicts monsters in the real world, which you have to fight with your own arms and legs. If you defeat a monster, it becomes your pet. The game is all the rage among Internet Operatives, and they may be willing to trade rare monsters for services.

LiveJournalMini (Free, 1 Memory): A microblogging platform, where each post is restricted to a maximum length of 200 characters. It’s used actively by members of The Internet as a means of releasing random thoughts out into the ether. Can be a good way to socialize with other Internet members, if one was inclined to do so.

Immediagram (Free, 1 Memory): A place for sharing photos, or short videos.

Hulu+ (Free, 1 Memory): The best way to keep in touch with cool people who make and do cool things.

Fantasy Calvinball (Free, 1 Memory): A game where players build teams, selecting real Calvinball players, then competing with one another based on the game-to-game performance of the players they chose. Obviously, Calvinball hasn’t been played since the apocalypse, but an archive with full data from hundreds of seasons was discovered a few years ago, and an enterprising member of The Internet set up a script to lock off all the data, only spitting out individual game results periodically. It costs 500cc to buy in to the Internet’s pool.

Light (1000cc, 5 memory): Serves as a lantern, with no chance to go out.

Peepl (3,000cc 5 memory): A site where people review other people. For each NPC encountered, there’s a 4-in-6 chance that the app contains some useful information about them.

Mars-O-Pedia(500cc Per Use, 1 memory): Various skills in ORWA (Bushcraft, Technology, etc.) are sometimes used as knowledge checks. If the check fails, players may pay to consult Mars-O-Pedia, which has a 5-in-6 chance of having whatever information they’re looking for. Whether the checks succeeds of fails, the player looking must spend 1d6 – 1 exploration turns looking.

Encounter Maps (Free, 5 Memory): The designer of this app has secretly tagged thousands of people within the dome, who are always passively passing data about the locations of potentially dangerous creatures and situations. This allows the app to calculate safe(ish) paths through the dome. For the price of 500cc, the next 5 encounter checks the players roll will have a reduced chance of resulting in an encounter. (a 1-in-6, instead of the usual 2-in-6).

Megaphone (2,000cc, 5 Memory): Sounds directed into the phone’s microphone will be broadcast by the phone’s speaker at a louder volume. Can be set anywhere from x1, to x10.

Voice Modulator (500, 5 Memory): Sounds directed into the phone’s microphone will be broadcast by the phone’s speaker in a different voice. The phone also produces a sound inverted to user’s actual voice, effectively muffling them, so that the only sound which can be heard is the modulated one.

By default, the voice is a robotic, “Microsoft Sam” style voice. However, additional voices can be purchased for 1,000cc each. There is a wide selection of voices, including specific accents, and famous people.

Soundboards (1,000cc Each, 5 Memory Each): A soundboard is a collection of pre-recorded audio samples, which can be played quickly in any order. Some common packs might be Movie Quotes, Fight Sounds, or Animal Noises.

Waterproofing (10,000cc, 5 Memory): Unlocks the waterproofing features on your phone. The phone can now be operated normally while underwater.

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4 thoughts on “Adding Smartphones to your Game World”

  1. Totally awesome!

    Also, I noticed the archive is missing? I routinely go through your blog and I don’t want to have to manually scroll each post.

    1. Glad you liked it, Aura.

      The website has actually been having a lot of issues lately. I’m not sure what the cause is, but I’ve been putting out little fires all over the place for a few weeks now.

      Thanks for the heads up about the archive. I’ll see what I can do about it.

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