A group I play with via IRC seems to have a serious problem keeping combat interesting: the medium inherently slows things down, descriptions of attacks and defenses don’t have the same excitement value without people shouting and playing up the events of the fight, and then people tend to just state their mechanical actions, out-of-character, and everyone else loses interest. That leads to a vicious cycle where people aren’t paying attention, so they have to be poked to get their attention, then they have to learn what’s going on, and their turn takes that much longer, so everyone else is that much less inclined to pay attention.
The usual suggestions for keeping turn-time down and everyone engaged don’t seem to work as well online. Part of the reason we play online is because we can’t completely devote the time; distractions are a part of our real lives. As such, it’s hard to implement strictly-limited turn times. And since there’s no visual aspects to the game, it’s harder to catch up at a glance.
Making sure everyone describes events in-character definitely helps, and I’s already recommended that my DM remind everyone to do that more often, but I’m not sure it will be enough.
Outside of combat, we do pretty well; dialogue keeps people more involved and we don’t have to “wait” if someone is quiet most of the time. But we don’t want to give up combat in our games; we enjoy playing heroes and villains who triumph against armed adversity. And it’s not necessarily speed that is a problem; I wouldn’t mind how long combat takes if that time were being spent describing it as awesome, instead of catching up and waiting for responses.
Does anyone have any ideas that can help mitigate some of the inherent problems with this medium?
Finally, I’ll note that while I’ve marked this system agnostic, I’m not really interested in alternate system recommendations: we have an ongoing Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 campaign that we neither want to give up nor want to rewrite in a different system. I don’t need 3.5-specific advice, but “play XYZ instead!” won’t help me either. Feel free to mention it if you feel it improves your answer, but I won’t be accepting an answer that doesn’t help with the game we’re currently running.
In the same vein, our game is going to stay text-chat-based; we won’t be using a virtual tabletop and we won’t be using Skype or other form of VOIP. These are due primarily to technical problems for some of my fellow players, as I understand things.