Michael here with the latest Earthdawn blog. Remote gaming. I’m willing to bet that, if you’re reading this, you’ve at least considered doing some form of remote gaming over the past few months. I myself had my first experiences with Roll20 a couple of months ago, both as a player and a gamemaster. Though both had some minor technical issues, overall these were positive experiences for all involved. In this week’s blog, I wanted to share my impressions of remote gaming and give a few tidbits for those who may not be familiar with the platform.
I was a little hesitant to try remote gaming at first. I’m one of those people who prefers in person experiences to digital ones. However, after nearly every gaming convention this year was either cancelled entirely or moving to a digital format, I figured I’d give remote gaming a shot. A friend of mine contacted me about playing a rules-light RPGs using Roll20, so I decided to join in. We had to cancel our first attempt about an hour in due to internet issues at the host’s end. Not the best start, but we were able to reorganize a few days later and it went fairly well. Using Discord for audio, we were all able to hear each other and the Roll20 maps that were setup in advance worked seamlessly.
I ended up joining two other games this person was hosting, which ended up drawing about three to four players each time. The host made sure to do a beta test of the technology prior to the first game, but it still took a couple of tries before everything seemed to flow easily. A few audio glitches aside, the experience at the table for me was rather enjoyable. I do want to say that the host definitely spent a fair bit of time setting up the scenario maps for each game. These were one-off session she planned to repeat with other players in the future, so I will say that the experience may not have been as enjoyable if less setup effort was put in ahead of time. It really depends how dependent the game you’re playing is on having a visual map, but it was certainly a factor in the game I was playing in.
After seeing how the platform functions, I decided to host my regular gaming group of six for the next session of our Earthdawn campaign. Speaking as a GM, I have to say that there were some aspects of using Roll20 that I really liked. While it wasn’t a complete substitute for an in person experience, there are certain functions that a digital environment affords over a physical one. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the ability to show different screens to players who split up during an investigation. Maybe it was just the evil person that hides behind my screen, but I found having the players hear their friends get ambushed without being able see what was happening to be rather funny.
Feedback from my players on their experience was positive. We all agreed that roleplaying with voice-only didn’t have the same feel to it, so we will likely try to use cameras next time we meet. We found that Discord has integrated a video chat feature into it, which appeared to work fine for the 10 minutes we used it. Some of the other feedback I received was that a full four-hour game was a bit too much for a continuous experience. This is obviously a personal preference that will vary by group, but I wanted to mention this since I hadn’t thought to ask if people preferred a shorter digital experience when organizing my game.
I encourage everyone to try out a game over Roll20 if given the opportunity. I was skeptical at first and in no way see it as a long-term substitute for playing RPGs in person, but was surprised to discover it to be an enjoyable experience.
To those of you who may not be aware, there is an Earthdawn character sheet template available for free on Roll20. This sheet includes a number of built-in macros that will automatically roll the correct step for whatever talent/skill/attribute you input. I used it in the game I hosted for both PCs and NPCs, which did end up taking a bit of effort to setup. Thankfully, it is one of those things that gets faster the more times you do it and the final product can be reused/modified once complete. Using this tool allowed us to focus on the game and not on searching for dice or trying to type in the right dice for a particular step, so I suggest looking into this for anyone expecting to play in more than one game.
Until next time, thanks for reading.