Maptools and Hangouts – My first online RPG session
I’m a little behind the times, which is surprising given that most of the guys from Skyland Games are very tech savvy, but I had never played a traditional tabletop RPG through the internet before last night. I was just a player in last night’s game, so I don’t have the true perspective of the preparations and what it takes to host and run a game (maybe the GM will chime in with his thoughts on the matter in a different post), but one thing I would certainly recommend before setting a date and time to run the game with all of your old gaming buddies from across the country is: do a dry run.
A few days before the scheduled game, get in contact with one of your players and verify that they can sign in to your game, see your maps, and be able to manipulate what you (the GM) want them to be able to manipulate on screen. We had very few technical glitches for the entire 5 hour session, and a lot of that was due to the GM testing things out with me beforehand.
Once the group has decided on the best software to run the game and chat (either typed, audio, or video), make sure you give your players a bit of notice if they need to download software (or incremental version of that software), establish a gmail account, or whatever will be required for the game. This will allow for everybody to get down to gaming, and not battle their computer. That is not the monster we wanted to defeat!
We used MapTool from RPtools for driving the maps and the mechanics. It’s nice and free, and a lot of dedicated RPGers have developed plug-ins for different game systems to automate a lot of different mechanics in game. For instance, we were playing Pathfinder, and the oracle wanted to know who would be included in her 30 ft. burst. Clicking the “Healing Burst” macro revealed the 30 ft. radius overlay and showed us exactly who all would be healed. Pretty awesome. The maps looked perfect since they were loaded in from a pathfinder society PDF, and movement was calculated in feet as you moved your token along the map. I imagine if you did this routinely, the setup work would become easier and easier. The actual gameplay itself was really fluid, and I felt may have moved faster than a traditional table.
We all used a Google+ Hangout for video chat. It does require a gmail account, but for most of us that isn’t a problem. It was fairly error free for all the players, and would have been OK for the GM had he not tried to open up a different web browser and HeroLab while he was hosting the game. We could all still hear him, but he couldn’t hear us. After closing a bunch of stuff and rejoining the hangout it all worked really smoothly and I would recommend it for chat during RPG sessions. I had heard it worked well from other RPG-bloggers, and that certainly seemed to be the case.
I still think the best experience overall is to get people together around a table and throw some dice, but if logistics and physical distance prevents that from happening on a regular basis, at least you can get your game on. Just make sure and try to work out as many of the kinks before hand, and you should have a smooth, enjoyable game across the country!