Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Online Gaming with Mr. Insidious

Douglas Cole, author of Gaming Ballistic, has been trying to get the GURPS blogging community to talk about Virtual Table Top (VTT) roleplaying, and I figured I could at least share my $0.02.

My primary experience with VTT is the excellent Maptools by the folks over at It's a strong program with the capability to let you program in game mechanics to do nifty stuff. At the time, I was running D&D (4th Ed.), but if I were to go back, I'd gladly use Maptools if I could get my routing situation figured out. As it is currently, port forwarding doesn't work particularly well on my home network, which makes Maptools unusable.

I'm going to talk about gaming with a battlemat, map, VTT, board, or other media to help show positioning first, then talk about gaming over Skype, and then maybe get into VTT's specifically.

Pros of Using a Combat Map:
  • There's little question if you're one, two, or three yards away from someone. People's positions are less ambiguous and it saves a great deal of time clarifying positioning with people. How many enemies left can be answered without asking the GM.
  • Maps can be outright beautiful
  • Lots of chances for player expression depending on the media (be it minis, pogs, avatars, whatever)
  •  Maps can aid combat mechanics. Reach is the kind of thing that can be easily missed in GURPS by those not using a map of some kind.
  • It can reduce the workload on the GM to describe rooms, layouts, strangely twisting passages and the like
Cons of Using a Combat Map:
  • Can wreck immersion. This was my brother's primary complaint going from 2ed AD&D to D&D 4th Ed.
  • Can be distracting to players with short attention spans. I've encountered this GMing for a group that ranges from 10-14 years of age. Fidgeting with minis, moving pieces around when waiting for their turn in combat, fighting over who gets which generic miniature to portray their character...
  • Can serve as a crutch for newer players. I've also encountered this with the younger crowd, who don't want to hear "There's a guy five yards ahead of you and another guy 3 yards to the left of him." and would rather see it visually displayed.
  • It can detract from storytelling. Having the board sitting there with the remnants of the last battle strewn about while talking about a jaunt back into town certainly distracts me.
  • I absolutely suck at mapping. Anything hand-drawn is crappy, I end up using MS Paint for almost anything my players need a map for in Agency 17 (the most recent one is shown below with the name I saved it under after its creation).
"TownHallShittySketchIHateYouAllForMakingMeDrawYouAssholes.jpeg" - Yes I'm serious, that's its name
  •  To compensate for my terrible mapping, I've ended up relying a lot on either image libraries (especially back when I was using Maptools), or a paid program called Tiamat. Tiamat is pretty cool, but paying for tiles sucks.
  • Mapping takes time. Time I could be using to flesh out NPCs, organizations, plot, plans, or researching things like what the hell the National Intelligence Agency of Turkey is called. (I still have no clue, and I ran a 3-5 session long mission there.)
  • Maps are even worse in person, because it's much harder to prepare them ahead of time, especially if you're a fan of wet-erase markers on a vinyl mat like I am.
  • I also despise doing geological maps, cartography, and basically anything else associated with taking a layout of objects and putting them into visual form. I may just have Incompetence (Maps).
For Agency 17, I game online using Skype and nothing else. All in-character action takes place in the chat through text. We host a call so that me and the players can ask questions, chat, and generally enjoy each others' company during the session.
Pros of a Real-time Text Approach:
  •  Players don't have to suffer my horrible voice acting
  • Bad connections, audio, microphone issues and other technical malfunctions don't tend to mess with core interaction- the chat
  • Text is usually clear and unambiguous.
  • Strikes a middle ground between Play-By-Post/Play-By-Email (too slow for my tastes), and live tabletop (where I can't cop a bathroom break to look up blog posts about my preparations).
  • Continual log helps aid both GM and Players to remember events, names, and details.
  • You can grep a chatlog.
Cons of a Real-time Text Approach:
  • Players don't get to suffer my horrible voice acting
  • Can be slower than some players like (Agency 17 sessions frequently run between 3 and 6 hours.)
  • Bad for those with slow typing speeds (They tend to end up becoming wallflowers as their replies get buried under faster responses), or those who dislike lots of typing
  • Less chance for acting
  • Cheapens note-taking to a degree, makes the Eidetic Memory advantage slightly weaker (anyone can just check the chat log).
  • Anyone can grep the chatlog.
  • Makes hiding things more difficult
  • Makes hiding mistakes more difficult
  • Often leads to more retcons by me
My group doesn't game using video. The group dynamics aren't the kind of deal where I know everyone's full name and living location.

Last but not least, Pros and Cons of Online Gaming:
  • Play with people not limited to your geographical area (great for those living in say, Maine)
  • Much wider pool of available players
  • Digital revolution has greased the wheels of making sure everyone has the source materials (Buy GURPS products. They deserve your monetary compensation for awesomeness. Seriously)
  • Often easier to find players specifically interested in the game you want to run
  • Easy to find fresh blood
  • Finding an area to play isn't an issue (Although the Library I used during highschool missed our presence when we graduated and stopped going weekly)
  • Various VTTs are present and present nice tools to do stuff.
  • VTTs can aid in automation which is the biggest + to using them specifically.
  • NO GM screen needed.
  • Usually easier to look at source material or books as needed
  • Play naked or in your boxers/undies, if you want
  • Time zones. Seriously, fuck timezones.
  • Bribing the GM with food becomes problematic. Thankfully GURPS books and Steam Games can be sent and purchased online!
  • Internet issues can affect attendance and quality of play. This is especially true if using a VTT.
  • VTTs don't always play well with aging hardware, strange network setups, or parental settings (for the teens out there trying to game).
  • Hard or impossible to verify player rolls, making 'fudging' much easier
  • Players and GM are easily distracted (Hey, let's just open Reddit real quick while he's typing out that response...)
  • As easy as it is to lure in new players, many will fall through immediately, some will be crazy, and some won't be up to your standards.
  • No physical interaction is possible
 This has prompted a discussion among some of my players:
"Me: The fact that I got Egeman past you guys is my crowning achievement thus far"
"Virgil's Player: Only works once."
"Johnny's Player: Sly Bastard. Yeah, double checking ids from now on."
"Virgil's Player: Also, everyone knows IC that Virgil saw through that from the start"
"Johnny's Player: I saw that. Is that legit or was it just a joke?"

Hah. Only works once. Right. 


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