Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 24, 2012
A gap I won't close

Having played both MMORPGs and pen & paper RPGs, it would be only obvious if I tried virtual tabletop RPGs. These are games that play with a Dungeon Master and standard D&D (or other systems) rules, but the players are each in their own home at their own computer. They talk via Skype, or Google+ hangout, or Teamspeak, or some similar voice or video chat program. And they use software like MapTools, or Fantasy Grounds, or WotC's Virtual Table to handle the maps and the characters and monsters fighting on it. Tipa from West Karana plays D&D that way, there is an Online Dungeon Master blog, and at first the whole thing looks as if it would offer the best of two very different worlds of role-playing.

But I don't think this is for me. Pen & paper roleplaying for me isn't just about the game. It is also about having a perfect excuse for hanging out with friends, eating junk food, drinking soda, and talking about lots of other things than just the game. Even if it is obviously harder to organize, I'd rather sit with them around a real table than chatting with them over a headset. I can see how a virtual tabletop campaign would be useful if I absolutely wanted to play with people living far away from me. But right now that isn't the case. So I'll rather stick to the two extremes of pen & paper on a real table and MMORPGs than going for the middle ground.
urgh... no dicerollingsounds? no bad air in the room? no stupid faces cause i realy did that? noone who orders some pizza with me? and this works?!
Honestly, if it's your only option for getting together with those friends that you spent 15+ years gaming with in each others houses and now you can't because you're scattered to the four corners of the world...yes, it's a fantastic option.

I've used Fantasy Grounds to run games and, for me and my friends, it's as close as we're going to get to the table-top experience.

We still chat and laugh using Vent/Skype and have a really great time.

Since my only other option would be to not play table-top games with my friends of 25+ years, yeah, I'll skip on the dice-rolling sounds and pizza.
The last three PnP Sessions we planned came and went without one dice being rolled, as we (the players and the gm) hadnĀ“t seen each other for some time, so we ordered pizza, had a beer and another one and another one and chatted the evening away.
We had a blast even without playing ;)
There are some gaps that technology just can't close. Part of being in any group, role-playing or otherwise, is the shared limbic resonance you get when in their company (Check out A General Theory of Love for more on that). The ability to read body language, micro-facial expressions, and hear distinct tonalities decreases drastically with every machine in the way, and each of those small things can make a major difference in how you run your game.

I have, however, run a few long-distance sessions. One was a Mage game with one player on a webcam. With only one, it was still a bit distracting, but we got through it and had a good time for the most part.

The second was a shadowrun session with two people on each end of the camera. That was much more difficult, and the technology wasn't helping, as their camera kept freezing their image; I could hear what they were saying, but they were sitting perfectly still. That session did not go as well.

Like Tanek says, when it's your only option, it gets the job done, but I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of avoiding it otherwise. It's truly not the same. It's like online classes; without being there with the student, a lot more can go wrong.

All that in a college dorm without a care in the world (except, of course, studying and exams) and I turn into that old codger ranting about the good ol' days.

In my day, we had to roll for initiative before walking uphill both ways in knee deep snow to fight orcs, and God forbid you don't make your saving throw!
There is definitely something lost in the translation to online gaming. Perhaps as sheepthediamond mentioned, it's some sort of physical proximity resonance.

However, I have found for long-distance friends, it is one of the better excuses to get together online to chat, play a game, and keep in touch. Probably half of every gaming session we have is wasted on random chat, teasing, etc; but that is why we do it.

The other thing that a VT can bring to the table is automation. With the right interface, I have found that automation can speed up play in many ways, even more than compensating for the slowdown due to online communication and distraction of talking online. I have found that it makes some parts of the game more enjoyable without having to shuffle through multiple papers/cards, argue about which modifiers we forgot to add five minutes ago, etc.
I totally understand about wanting to play in-person rather than online using a program like MapTool. However, I did want to point out that you COULD go the projector route for your maps, as I've done. Yes, it's a big one-time cost up front, but not THAT big - especially if you're going to have to buy a bunch of monster miniatures instead. And with the projected map, you never run out of space - you just keep scrolling.

It's worked great for me, personally. You still get the fun of hanging out with your friends in-person, but the convenience and "cool factor" of the technology, too.
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