Gaming with Google Wave

The RPG blogosphere has been booming with buzz about Google Wave. While Google Wave has a lot of potential for online real-time or play-by-post role-playing games, best practices still need to be ironed out. Below are some guidelines and tips for using Wave as a medium for role-playing games. While not perfect or definitive, it's a starting point and is subject to changes as Wave continues to develop and as users learn more about it.

Setting up a Wave

When you create a new wave, you'll need to add other users to it before you can begin collaborating with them. Fortunately, Google Wave is smart enough to look at your Google Contacts and determine which of them has a Wave account. Those with Wave accounts will automatically appear in your Wave Contacts list.

Adding a user to a wave is as easy as dragging and dropping from your Wave Contacts list to the wave itself. Alternatively, you may also click the button at the top of a wave and click on any users in the pop-up panel to add them to the wave.

Anatomy of a Wave

There are a few different parts to a wave, and knowing the jargon before continuing with this article might help.

First, you have the wave. That' the entire threaded conversation from top to bottom. A wave includes several subparts:

  • Blips: Individual messages or documents that are sorted chronologically. Blips can be entered linearly or wedged between two existing blips, starting a wavelet.
  • Wavelet: One or more blips nested within a wave. Can be created between blips or by double-clicking a word in an existing blip and selecting "Reply" in the pop-up menu.
  • Extension: An embedded gadget that performs a particular function such as establishing a conference call with all participants, a whiteboard in a blip, or an interactive deck of cards.
  • Bot: A gadget that is added to a wave as a participant. The program typically "listens" for particular string of text as a command and replies with a particular action. A very popular bot among the RPG community has been the dice roller which interprets an expression and returns a random and/or calculated result.

Waves for Google Groups

Remember that concept of sharing with your Google Group? Well, here it is again. There's a hidden feature in Wave that not many know about.

To add a group to a wave, you must first add the Google Group email address to your Google Wave Contacts list. When you type in the address, Google Wave will tell you that it is not a Google Wave account, but you can ignore this and press Enter on your keyboard anyway. Once the Google Group address appears in your Contacts, simply add it to the appropriate wave. By adding a Google Group email address as a user in a wave, you can search for any such waves with "group:" followed by your Google Group's email address. Any Wave user searching for that query can find the wave, but only members of the group actually can edit the wave.

Managing a Campaign

It's tempting to run the entire campaign in a single wave so as to not have to worry about organizing your waves. However, this can create a lot more confusion in the end as waves can get rather lengthy and unwieldy and can take a long time to load.

Before creating any waves for your campaign, it's best to think about what you'd like to do in Google Wave. There are a number of concepts that can be exercised. The following are just a few examples:

  • Campaign Journal (in lieu of the Blogger-based journal)
  • Player's Guide
  • Character Creation Rules
  • Experience point tracker
  • Out-of-character Group Communication
  • In-game Notes (keep track of NPCs you meet, quests, etc.)
  • Initiative Wave (GM orders the players to track init and can have a private wavelet nested for himself for NPCs and monsters)
  • Ecounter/Scene Waves
  • Table of Contents (collect and organize your waves via links from a ToC Wave (see below))

Table of Contents Wave

First, you'll want to create a Wave that serves as a Table of Contents (ToC). One of the conveniences of Google Wave is that you can link one wave to another. The ToC wave will be your gateway to each component of your campaign.

To add a link to your ToC wave, simply drag and drop a wave from your Wave Inbox into an open blip on the ToC wave. This automatically creates a link titled after the wave's title. Feel free to format the entries in the ToC as headings, bulleted items, or whatever pleases you.

Encounter and Scene Waves

Each encounter or scene should be managed in its own wave. This will group together all of the actions, events, and dialogs pertaining to that encounter or scene, making it easier to find for future reference.

Remember to add a link for each encounter or scene wave to the Table of Contents wave.

Nesting Wavelets

Tip: If an OOC conversation seems like it might be a lengthy one, or if an in-game tangent is significantly shifting the scene into a new one, don't hesitate to open a new Wave. The easiest way to open a new wave while referencing the current scenario is to click on the menu for the related blip and select "Copy to a new wave." This creates a new wave with the current blip as the starting blip in that new wave. Remember to link to the new wave from the appropriate point in the originating wave for reference and to add the new wave to the ToC.

How many times have your in-game conversations or events gone off into tangents? By the time you're done with the tangent, you might have lost track of some things in the story. Fortunately, Google Wave actually facilitates your game as it allows you to nest wavelets inside of a wave, branching the dialog accordingly. Nesting these conversations and tangents helps to track the direction of the events and to find your way back to the main plot.

As mentioned earlier, there are two ways to reply to or nest wavelets:

  1. Double-click on a word in the blip to pull up a menu that give you two options: reply or edit. Clicking "Reply" will allow you to nest a wavelet immediately inside of that previous wavelet. Using this method of starting a wavelet allows you to collapse the wavelet when it is no longer needed, reducing the clutter in the wave.
  2. Click the space between two blips to indent the new blip, creating a wavelet to distinguish it as a branched conversation.

You can also use nesting to have out-of-character conversations that don't muddy the the game play conversation.

Private Waves and Wavelets

There are many scenarios in which a GM and a player or subgroup of players need to have a private conversation based on an event in the game. Private waves are your answer. Any participant in a wave can click on the menu in the upper-right corner of a blip and select "Private reply" The participant can then select other participants for that private wavelet. Conveniently, the private reply is nested and only visible to participants who are invited to it despite it being nested within a wave or wavelet that is visible to everyone else.

Opening Multiple Waves

A common desire in Google Wave is to open more than one wave at the same time. There are two ways of doing this. The first is to open one wave, minimize it, open another wave, and restore the first wave. This opens both waves, one stacked upon the other. If you minimize both waves, you can open a third. For fun, watch what happens when you minimize the Navigation, Contacts, and Inbox panels.

The second method of opening multiple waves is to simply Ctrl-Click on each wave.

If you take a look at your browser's address bar as you open and/or arrange multiple waves, you'll notice the address changes. If you copy and paste a link to that address in a blip, others can open the same waves with a single click. This allows you to provide an easy way to launch a game session or for a player to reply to a PbP game with all of the necessary waves open.

Mouse and Keyboard Shortcuts

Below is a list of handy mouse and keyboard shortcuts that will make your life easier when using Google Wave. most are copied from Google Wave's Help documentation, but some are hidden. (Note: Google refers to blips as messages).


  • Ctrl-Click: Opens a new wave without closing any opened waves.
  • Up/Down Arrows: Arrow keys allow you to navigate through messages in your account.
  • Home: Takes you to the first message in a wave.
  • End: Takes you to the last message in a wave.
  • Space: Takes you to the next unread message in a wave.
  • Left/Right Arrows: Switches focus between the compose window and the inbox.
  • Page Up/Page Down: Takes you to the next page within a panel.
  • Ctrl-Space: Marks all messages "read" when focus is on the Wave panel.


  • Enter: Reply to a message at the same level of indentation.
  • Shift-Enter: Reply to a message at the end of a wave. The new message will appear at the same indentation level, at the very end of the wave.
  • Ctrl-E: Edit message.

Text Editing and Formatting

  • Shift-Enter: Same function as 'Done' button -- signifies you are finished editing your addition to a wave.
  • Ctrl-B: Bolds/unbolds selected text.
  • Ctrl-I: Italicizes/unitalicizes selected text.
  • Ctrl-K: Adds a link.
  • Ctrl-[n]: Makes the current line a heading, where [n] = 1 through 4 for different sized headings.
  • Ctrl-5: Adds bullets.
  • Ctrl-6: Removes formatting from text.

Known Issues

There are some current, temporary limitations to Google Wave that might be hindrances to your game. You should be aware of these in the event that you have the need to deal with such situations.

  • You cannot remove a participant from a wave, although there is a greyed out option that will eventually be enabled.
  • You cannot delete a private wavelet.
  • Sometimes bots lag, resulting in delayed responses such as with dice rolling.

Those are the basics of best practices for Google Wave. As new ideas surface, I'll be sure to post a blog entry about them in a new post. In the meantime, wrangle up an invite to Google Wave from someone if you haven't gotten one already and start playing around with your own waves. If you com across any neat tricks or tips, post them in the comments below or in our Google Group for others.

Update: Provided instructions for adding a Google Group address to a wave.


  1. Nice article, with a few features I did not know about. I did not know about the Google Group wave that I plan to use very soon.

  2. Hmmm... I need to add some instructions to that part. Essentially, it will not find the Group email address as a valid wave user, but if you hit Enter anyway, it should work.

  3. I'm hoping to get a Wave game going soon. The biggest problem I see is the lack of moderator ability, as several others have pointed out. Still, I think it's a very exciting possibility, especially the ability to easily embed/link stuff, so multimedia gaming just got easier.

    I also wish they'd make the keyboard shortcuts the same as the shortcuts in Gmail/Google Reader. I'm so used to my "j" and my "k"...

  4. Regarding moderation, remember that anyone including the GM can edit a blip. If it starts to turn into an editing war, you have bigger issues.

  5. Thanks for posting this; I think it's a really solid, nuts-and-bolts post that should help a lot with the Google Wave learning curve. I just got my account today, and I'm still feeling my way through, mostly by reading through blog posts like yours and then experimenting with a kitchen sink wave. :)

    I particularly liked your thoughts on how to organize a campaign's waves and the nitty gritty about how to nest discussions, launch new waves, etc. Good stuff!

  6. Thanks, NukeHavoc.

    I have a few ideas for a follow-up article. Anything any of you would like to see covered?