Seven Tips for Playing RPGs Online

The following article provides a fantastic look at the benefits, pitfalls, and resources for playing tabletop RPGs online, and is our first guest article written by Jaye Foster, the mind behind the Age of Legends Kickstarter. Also, the images are my fault. – neuronphaser

It is an increasing part of the RPG hobby to play online with strangers or friends. Using programs like Google Hangouts, Skype, Viber, WhatsApp or any of the ones on this list, we can game across time zones, continents or just the same house.

6d6 have gotten a lot of use out of this. As a group of writers and gamers scattered across the globe, it has been invaluable for meeting, think tanks and playtesting. Here are the lessons we’ve learnt.

Mechanical Concerns

Group Size

Technically, the internet can offer you an infinitely sized table, large enough to encompass tens of people. In practice, the number of players you can manage is slightly less than for a real piece of furniture. Why so? First, there’s the limits of the technology. Connections issues, lag and bandwidth problems all work to prevent the natural flow of conversation. Second, several important social cues aren’t always clear, leading to people talking over each other or sitting in silence waiting for someone else to speak.

Overcrowded

The bus heading to my FLGS to play at the three D&D Adventure League tables.

Media Sharing

Plugins like Roll20 allow for collectively viewed maps with moveable tokens and markers. With effort these can be incredibly rewarding. No more confusion over locations, no more guessing at combat distances. You can and should go further though. With just a few clicks you can send your players images, video, sound effects and music to enhance the setting and mood of your game. Beyond sending links there’s software life Google Drive, Dropbox, Pinterest, Flickr, SoundCloud and some of these.

Dice Rollers

Rolling physical dice is always more satisfying but if you’re gaming online, then digital dice can be more useful. For starters, if you’ve got hold of a decent plugin, it’ll have macros that’ll do the math for you, even dropping dice if you enter the commands properly. There’s also a confidence issue; online dice rollers publicly publish their results so both players and GM can be sure no one is fudging.

Super heroes rolling a natural 20

There’s always that one player with the over-sized dice that dent your table. Not online!

Social Issues

Human-to-human contact is complex enough when you’re in the same room.

Webcam

Being able to see someone’s face makes it much easier to gather those all important social cues. The others you’re gaming with can see if you want to speak and pick up on mannerisms and subtleties that might otherwise have been lost. On the other side of that, games experiencing heavy lag or individuals having troubles can turn off their webcams or place something over the camera lens to obscure the view and reduce processing issues.

Noise, Echo and Feedback

Maybe your office, lounge or shed has terrible acoustics. The best and quickest way to ensure that everyone else on the call doesn’t have to suffer the consequences are headphones. With these cunning devices the noises made by your computer will be only heard by you and won’t bounce around back to the microphone. Another good idea is to mute your microphone when you’re not talking. A lot of software uses the sound input to decide who to focus on; if there’s a lot of random background noise, it’ll either dizzyingly flick between cameras or settle on the wrong person.

Feedback image

Neil Patrick Harris would appreciate it if you turned your mic volume down.

#PING

Indicating you wish to speak when someone else is talking is tricky. Too much and you’ll be interrupting, whereas too little will leave you unnoticed. Text chat windows are a good answer. Simply type an agreed on phrase into the chat to signal you’ve something to say. Make it distinctive so it stands out. If it’s an online panel, you can make transitions between speakers smoother by adding context to the request. With this you go from endlessly repeating the phrase “and Y has something to say” to segues that introduce topics and keep the discussion going.

Distractions

Gaming tables are always covered in things that attract a gamer’s attention, be it mobile phones, rule books, food or shiny dice. Online games are even worse. With the entire internet at their command, player’s not paying attention is a common problem and without the ability to remove the distractions, very hard to police. The best a watchful GM can do is to pay attention to a player’s webcam. You’ll be able tell easily if they’re doing something else by what they’re looking at and how their eyes are moving.

Hopefully these tips will lead to you having a better online gaming experience.


 

Jaye Foster is a mechanical engineer in Hong Kong by day and a gamer the rest of the time.  Yes, even when he’s sleeping. You can find him on Google+ and more of his writing at 6d6RPG.com.  His first major project, Age of Legends is currently on Kickstarter and can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tregenza/age-of-legends-epic-adventures-small-rules-tableto.  His RPG backstory starts with Star War D20 and Aberrant and includes Cortex, Pathfinder and many indie games.

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He’s been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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