The Wave’s the Thing: Running a D&D Wave Game

The Wave’s the Thing: Running a D&D Wave Game

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In the last post I discussed what makes wave cool and really the thing you want for any text-based game that you want to run. Today I want to give you some tips in running your game that will help you fully exploit and maximize your use of the medium.

Starting a Game

How to get a game started?  Pretty easy.  There’s already a ton of gamers on wave, so the process is simple.  Find the public wave “An Index of Wave-borne RPGs” and announce your game.  After you do that, invite some people.  Encourage them to invite people. You may consider making your wave public so people can stumble into it.  The warning here is that wave has absolutely no access control.  I personally don’t think of it as a problem at this stage, but when wave goes live, you’ll definitely want to think twice before opening a wave up to the general populace.

In general though, treat a wave like a party.  Once you’ve got the “venue” set up, get people over and have them bring people.  Not everyone can play, but you’ll have a built in audience to your wave who you can involve in other ways.  Having an active audience allows you to call in for replacements of people who have likely followed along with your story and can quickly get up to speed.  It also lets you do som interesting audience participation.  More on that later.

Four Waves to Rule Them All

I talked about setting up a “venue”.  What does that entail?  Well, you want to make a folder for the game, and then you will create four waves and place them in the folder.  Keeping any and all of your games compartmentalized like this will preserve your sanity and make overall work a snap.

The four waves you want to create are:

  • an OOC (Out Of Character) wave –”Name of your Game OOC”. Here is where you can handle recruitment, character creation, and table talk for your game
  • a reference wave  –”Name of Your Game Reference” Here you can place more background on your world and story, any houserules you use…think of it as a “style guide” for your game.
  • The main IC (In-Character) wave –”Name of your Game” This is where the meat of your story is going to live.  All in-game posts go here.
  • Combat Wave –”Name of your Game Combats”.  If you are using mapboard images, I’d suggest keeping another wave to hold them all.  Just place the title of the fight and the map you are using in a wavelet for each fight, and refer to that for fights in the main wave.


Let’s get to the crunch.  Any 4e game needs  dice.  Wave allows you to insert gadgets and bots into your waves, and surprise, some intrepid geeks have already built some bots for you.  Personally, I don’t like how bots work in general on wave.  They’re slow.  I attribute this not to the bot writers themselves but to the platform itself.  Wave is sort of buggy, but that’s what beta/preview implies.

What I’m doing at the moment is using invisible castle and having players insert the link  into their posts.  It’s simple, clean and works well.

If you’re dying for a bot though…may I suggest ?  He’s a pretty cool little bot.


This is the elephant in the room, isn’t it?  For 4e in particular, where the game assumes a battlemat of some kind, you need to have something to use.  One of my buddies and players, Dan over at Save vs Geek, is working on an incredible gadget, Fighty.  Fighty will let you use Google Maps technology to make a “live” battlemap right in your wave.  We’ll be testing it out in at least one of the games we’re running, but until it is ready for public consumption, let’s assume the following options:

Gridless, pure narrative. I actually have something written up for this, but I cannot disseminate it to you quite yet.  Yes, I am annoying in that way, but please be patient.  You can certainly do this on your own though.  Just make sure the players are cool with it since you can  change the behavior of the rules dramtically. Certain powers can become very good and others, not so much. To keep confusion to a minimum concerning placement and positioning, use the napkin gadget that comes default with wave to draw quick diagrams. Until Fighty is ready for use, this is what I’ll likely be doing.

Numbered grids in Combat Waves. You could insert this into your main wave, but I suggest that you have a separate wave in which you keep all of your battlemaps. Numbers across, letters running down, and you’ve got something you can use.  If you put the map in your IC wave, you will have to keep scrolling up and down to move the combat along.  That is irritating.  If you have a seperate combat wave, you can have two waves up simultaneously (tip: Ctl-click on a wave to open multiples) and then you can track the positions on one wave while tracking the combat narrative in another wave.  Much easier and much less irritating.

At any rate, assume that after combat you are going to clean up all the mechanical “mess”, leaving only story behind.  Feel free to ask whatever is needed to run the combat because it’s easy to clear it out of the way.  No matter which method you use, you should have a narrative thread full of spells cast and swords clashed.  If you use action tags, it will be even easier.

Action Tags

There’s a lot more to post about how to maintain your game, but first I want to mention action tags.  This is a great way to reference mechanical, rules bit of your games in a way that’s easy to transfer into narrative.  Think of an action tag as  embedded “game talk”. Use an action tag by inserting the mechanic bit in a pair of square brackets like so: [Perception:26].

What does this do for you?  Well, it lets you turn that reference from game speak to narrative.  I used this example previously, but I’ll use again in its full context. In “Revenge of the Waves” we had the following:

Primus leaps astride the nearest giant and shifts back into his humanoid form. The warforged picks through the giant’s clothes with care, looking for any sign of anything strange or out of the ordinary. [Perception 26]

Which became:

Primus leaps astride the nearest giant and shifts back into his humanoid form. The warforged picks through the giant’s clothes with care, looking for any sign of anything strange or out of the ordinary. He sees some unusual markings along the neck of the leader, a strange glyph branded into the flesh. Primus also makes note of the scraps of metal plate adorning his shoulder and intended to be armor of some kind. It is the same brand of metal that the blade is made of.

There’s no need for a seperate post telling the player what they saw — just edit the post in-line!

Returning to combat, action tags are useful as well.

Khalil roars, then releases his frostbreath on the goblins [I'm hitting the goblins in b3, b4, and c4...roll 15,20, and 21 respectively, 10 damage].  He raises his spear and prepares for his next assault.

This becomes:

Khalil roars, then releases his frostbreath on the goblins. Two of the wretches freeze mid-warcry, while the last uses his comrades as shields.  The goblin snarls and brandishes his sword with renewed relish as Khalil raises his spear and prepares for his next assault.



Another tip to help you manage the chaos that is wave:  Color code your players text and your own.  Choose a (non-black) color for your DM text, and have each player choose a color for their character.  Whenever you are posting in the in-game wave, each participant uses that color.  Black is the default, non-game color so you can make your action tags black, or people in your audience can quickly comment.  When you go back for maintenance later, you can pretty much eradicate everything in black as soon as you see it.


This is the most important thing.  Your game is not going to look great and read well the first time through!  Set aside a time, whether it’s once a scene, once a day, or once a week, and edit out any non-story text.  You can also use this time to clean up grammar or spelling.  Snip snip.

Don’t give any thought to your OOC wave.  That is general gabber and is meant to be noisy.  Focus all your energy on keeping you IC wave nice and free of mechanics cruft.


Because a wave is non-linear, setting a posting schedule that works for everyone is much easier.  If someone gets busy and falls behind, you can always leave him in the background in a scene.  He can catch up and insert his posts later.

If you are a late-comer to a scene though, don’t make everything warp around what you’re doing.  It’s your job to fit what you are writing into what is already there.  You need to fit yourself into what everyone else already did, not change what happened entirely.

Since a wave can run like a chatroom as well with it’s live updates, consider scheduling times with the players to chat in realtime to resolve combats or handle dialogues.  That will keep the game moving at a pretty brisk pace.

Audience Participation

Two great things about having extra people that are not playing in your wave are:

  • You have possible replacements if a player no longer wants to participate.
  • You can illicit comments and votes on story decisions from the audience.

If you want to get crazy, you can let the audience decide an NPC’s reaction to the player’s plea for help, or what’s behind that rock.  The possibilities are endless.

Can I Has Waves?

Those are the tips I have for you now.  I’ll have more for sure.  Tomorrow, I will tell you how you can get a wave invite of your very own. Stay tuned!

Want to speak to me on wave?  quinn (dot) murphy (at) googlewave (dot) com.  I’m mostly harmless.

Special Thanks to the PCs in my “Revenge of the Waves” game, as a game without good players, err…sucks. You’ve kept it fun, and I expect more of the same.

Aaron Broder (Allgeektout)

Asmor (Encounter-a-Day)

Dan Clery (Save vs Geek)

Ethan Duty(At-Will )

Wyatt Salazar (Spirits of Eden)

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About the Author

A Jack of All Trades ,or if you prefer, an extreme example of multi-classing, Gamefiend, a.k.a Quinn Murphy has been discussing, playing and designing games straight out of the womb. He is the owner and Editor-in-Chief of this site in addition to being an aspiring game designer. As you would assume, he is a huge fan of 4e. By day he is a technologist. Follow gamefiend on Twitter