Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
A glimpse at a different way to play

For me personally, sitting around a table with friends, soda, and junk food is an essential part of the pen & paper roleplaying experience. Rolling dice is fun! And if it wasn't supposed to be played with pen & paper, then why would it be called pen & paper roleplaying? But of course the main obstacle to playing a game like Dungeons & Dragons is getting a number of players together regularly. And thus there are various systems around with which you can play games like Dungeons & Dragons online, on a "virtual table", with virtual dice, virtual pens, and virtual paper. I just never did it, because fortunately I have a real life group. Nevertheless it is interesting to see how online playing works.

Starting from session 6 of the second series of Dungeons & Drogans, the group switched to a live stream with a video image of their Maptools online virtual table. Previously the "videos" in fact had only sound over a static picture. While the live stream is slower than the previously edited version, one can see the Maptools virtual table and how the game plays out on it. Through the questions and comments of the players, especially in the first sessions, you also learn how that program works, with a mix of automated functions and having to put in data by hand. Now I have a much better idea of how the game is played on a virtual table online.

I know that others play "pen & paper" games without a virtual table, via Google+ hangouts or similar applications. There I have a much less clear idea on how that is working, unless people are playing a "theater of the mind" kind of game without any miniatures and battlemap. For playing D&D 4E I guess you could have one webcam showing a real table with real miniatures on a map, but generally I find it easier if the players can move their own figurines.

Overall I find the concept interesting, as a hybrid between pen & paper and online roleplaying games, but don't really have any use for it at the moment. Many people I know over the internet live in different time zones, and even virtual tables don't resolve the problem that all players need to be there at the same time. It is something I would think about if for example I moved somewhere where I couldn't find a group.

We've been using MapTool for a few years now, it has been very useful for our group. Usually we put it on a 46" TV or use a projector so everybody can see the tactical situation, but leave it to one player to manage character movement rather than hook up six laptops.

Marking and tracking conditions (which are extremely prevalent at paragon tier and above - we often put 5 to 8 conditions on a foe) work much better than it did with miniatures. This has been a real time saver and it also helps that MapTool has unique names for each token as this cuts down on confusion when targeting.

The vision blocking layer and line of sight tools are also brilliant. We briefly went back to using a drawn battle map for two SLA sessions and it really highlighted the advantages MapTools offer as we desperately missed features.
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