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Emerging from Darkness

June 28, 2022

When is it time to emerge from your cave and start playing in person?

Well, by now we’ve all been through it. Right when we started to think that we were going to get back in the saddle here at Skyland Games, the pandemic hit. And it persisted. And it persisted. In some ways, we had more time than we ever had before to write and reflect, and review ways to game more successfully online, but I’ll be damned if we just could not bring ourselves to do it.

Things were pretty dark. We all know that. Is it surprising to be unmotivated in all that? No. So please forgive us our long absence. We have slowly started to feel a little safer making our way out to game in person, and we’re currently running one online game and one in-person game for those who crave the in-person interaction and can handle the risk of possible infection, limited though it may be. We gathered in person as well at Free RPG Day which was this past weekend, all of us meeting at our FLGS The Wyvern’s Tale for some DCCRPG (you may be able to soon get a free PDF of Goodman Games’ offering Danger in the Air — click that for details). It was great to see things return to a semblance of normalcy from the before times.

It raises the question, when do you know you’re ready to return to in-person gaming? Here are some suggestions.

PARTY VOTE

Decide whether or not you’re going to require the vote to be unanimous, or majority rule. If you’re going with majority rule, you’ll want to discuss whether or not people voting against are going to honor the vote or have to abstain. If so, you might want to consider some of the other options below. But to run an anonymous poll among your friends is easy and can be accomplished with some free websites like Xoyondo. This can take the pressure off of some of your friends who might feel like they’re spoiling someone’s fun or pressuring others to do something their not ready to do.

STAY VIRTUAL AND CRY ABOUT IT

Until the virus is gone, which it looks like may be never, you can stay virtual. Yes, it may be a poor simulacrum, a shadow of real gaming, but you have to admit there are some advantages. You save gas money which as of this writing is hitting close to $5/gallon. You can use that huge catalog of virtual tokens you got from Forgotten Adventures, load up Roll20.net and start up DnDBeyond.com and you’re playing in minutes. And when you’re done, you can go upstairs and go right to sleep! You can still use all those great virtual resources you gathered during the pandemic, many of which are probably easier and faster than trying to unreliably do math in your head.

If there is one thing the pandemic did for us as gamers, it was making us figure out how to successfully game virtually. If you’re playing online, take the time to set it up right. We’ve never been fond of the in-app video chat with roll20, so we use a separate Discord server. It’s free, works fairly reliably, and accommodates good audio and passable video I’m told, though I’ve never used it that way.

I think video would probably enhance the online experience, but enough of us run these games on potatoes disguised as computers so we don’t push our luck.

It’s a good opportunity to get together with that old gaming group from college, or maybe hook up with some players that have moved away. And there is always the dark depths of various LFG pages you might wade into. Tread lightly.

HYBRID

I have recently accepted that some of our players may not ever want to play in person again. Also some players have moved away and are never coming back. Our player that moved to Canada really wants to stay in the game, or at least games that were going when he left. To accomplish this, I’ve actually found that it can be rewarding to have as many as are willing to play in-person get together in the same room, with a table mic for the distant player.

I recently required this rig to accomplish just that. Blue Yeti makes a powerful mic, this setup clamping to the table and hovering boom-style over the action so you don’t have to work your miniatures around it. If you couple that with a video table, the GM can use that to mark where players and monsters are and stream that same image to roll20, to which the player can log on and play.

I have a fairly serious setup. This may not be for everyone. But we played theater of the mind for decades! And failing that, a well positioned facetime shot or screen shot can get the same feats accomplished. There may be technical frustrations however, so get it set up before your players show if at all possible.

We did something like this during the pandemic lull of 2021 when a few of us were vaccinated and thought everything was fine, but others knew better. That mixed group was significantly more fun than just being straight virtual, where interrupting each other kept us from playing our characters and telling our jokes as timely as we would have liked. But hey, those days of virtual play were iron rations. They may not have been good, but they kept us alive, didn’t they?

In the end, do what you can to keep your people together. These guys might be more than just gaming buddies, they might be your Found Family, and no one wants to be left out. It didn’t occur to me how rushing back to the table might make some people feel left out until it was too late, and I regret not weighing it a little more before we sat back down. Best we can do now is accommodate those that need to play it safe, and hope we get to a point where we all can sit down at the table again and kill orcs in person, like the gods intended. Except Gruumsh, that still pisses him off.

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