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Online Play Best Practices

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I have some experience gaming online with Google Hangouts and Roll20 and have had some mixed experiences. Sometimes it's technology failures or complications, but sometimes things just don't seem to vibe as well when playing with a virtual tabletop. However, I've heard of and watched (on YouTube) some great online play.

 

I was hoping that some people who have had success (either long-term or one-shots) with virtual tabletops or Skype/Hangouts could share what they find makes things easier and more comfortable during play, from both a player and a gamemaster's perspective.

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Hi, well let me tell you my tips and experience. I am only playing online since I can't find local groups. I played and GMed WFRP3 on maptool and FG2, and now EotE on Roll20. My tips are:

 

Logistic/Technology:

 

1) Request that everyone use a headset, and know how to use “push to talk” or “click to mute” buttons. No one likes to hear sound feedback and no one wants to hear what's happening around you. Also, never, ever, eat while playing and not muting yourself. This is all fun to munch and play at a table, but not online. Drink all you want though, it'll make for more interesting narrative interpretations ;)

 

2) VOIP software: If you use Roll20 and Hangout, you are obviously using Hangout/Google Talk. It works. Skype is better at echo cancellation and sound overall, but takes more internet resources. Skype and FG2 don’t work well together. Skype and Roll20 work better. I still find it is better for the GM not to initiate the Skype call, but I am playing/GMing using a 3G internet. I found Teamspeak to be the best in average in term of sound quality and bandwidth (Skype quality is better, but bandwidth use is greater).

 

3) Fix a day/time for your campaign, and stick to it either weekly, every two weeks, every three weeks, etc… Don’t shift the day/time around, it’s just confusing. People like their habits. I find that playing more often for 3h is better than playing less often for 6h. Plus, it's difficult to find players who can do 6h online, and it is exhausting for the GM. Personally, I found 3h weekly to be best for keeping the pace and the group going.

 

4) Cancellations: ask commitment from your players. Yes, life can take over, and a player may cancel. Then, ask at least to know a day in advance. In a group of 4 players, I am ok with 1 cancellation, but if 2 players cancel, the session is cancelled. I also allow a player 3 cancellations, after that, I have a discussion whether or not the player can commit. We are all mature and there are players out there who wants to play badly. Respect your GM and your fellow players time. Roll20 community is unfortunately not very respectful, players drop out of campaigns without even a word.

 

 

The Game:

 

1) Because you’re playing online, you cannot see your players (except if you use webcams, which, if the group has been playing for a long time, is a possibility). Thus, you cannot see their reactions. The pace of the game will be slightly slower, but it’s ok. Make sure to give every player your attention. Force yourself to ask each player “What do you do”? “What is your character doing/thinking/feeling”?

 

2) Use props: images, maps, sounds. Roll20 is great for that. Even if you aren’t in an encounter, use a background image to set the mood. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, even just images from the movies are fine. There is a lot of fan art out there that is really cool. I know EotE doesn’t use maps, but online, a map is useful, just to set the scene, and help the visual representation. Sounds and background musics are great too (if your bandwidth can take it). You can even use morphing software, such as MorphVox.

 

3) If you use maps, be prepared for more tactical scenes, and set yourself a range equivalence for your map (ex: 5 ft or 5 squares= short, etc…). However, don’t stick to it too closely. If a player wants to move 6 squares, that’s fine, remember EotE is very lax in term of ranges. As long as it makes sense narratively, let it be. 

 

3bis) Your maps don't have to be super cool. I sometimes draw them myself using whatever drawing ability the software gave me. It is simply to give the players a spatial representation of the scene. They can imagine the rest by what you are telling them. However, there are some awesome maps out there for Star Wars because of all what existed for Saga edition.

 

4) Use a dice roller online. Roll20 and Hangout have a great dice rolling app. Roll20 natively can let you use EotE dices if you are a mentor. At worse, you could use a 3rd party web-based roller, but then you and your players can’t see each other rolls. It isn’t a matter of trust, it’s a matter of fun. It’s fun to see everyone roll. It’s fun to see the despair rolled and hear everyone “ohhh”.

 

5) Try to keep everything organized within the software you use. I try to have as many of my NPCs stat blocks, PCs character sheets, etc within the software. It makes your life easier as a GM. I use a paper cheat sheet taped to my screen, or a PDF one (Macs are so great for playing online with their multiple virtual desktops). If you blank on a rule, don’t look in the book: at a table, maybe your players will be patient, but online, they will start reading a blog and their attention will shift away from the game. Just keep moving.

 

6) Even if you don’t use any voice changer software (I don’t), try to have fun with making up sounds. A few pew pew, a few grunts, a few whistles are fun. Not always obviously but sometimes it just breaks the ice.

 

I hope this help. I look forward to hear other thoughts as well. Online gaming can be very fun!

 

Cheers

Ceodryn

 

 

 

 

Edited by Ceodryn

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Ceodryn covered a lot of ground there; I've been running EotE with MapTool as long as it's been out, so I thought I'd throw in my $.02:

  • Centralize your information: Plenty of sites out there that let you set up campaign information (I use Obsidian Portal, but even something like a wiki will do). When everyone can see everyone else's characters, it avoids a lot of miscommunication; and having your house rules posted somewhere might save you from having to explain them 15 times.
  • VoIP: I wouldn't exactly call it a need... my group is pretty good about communicating through type. But if you can, separate your channels a bit. In the games I've attended where it's both chat and VoIP, in character goes into chat, out of character by VoIP. Keeps things organized and easy to read.
  • Maps & visual aids: I'm going to echo Coedryn for emphasis; maps and visuals are your friends, especially in story driven games. They spawn ideas. If I have even an inkling that a combat might break out in a scene, i try to map it. If I can't map it, I find a pretty picture. No exceptions.
Edited by Jshock

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Hi, well let me tell you my tips and experience. I am only playing online since I can't find local groups. I played and GMed WFRP3 on maptool and FG2, and now EotE on Roll20. My tips are:

 

Logistic/Technology:

 

1) Request that everyone use a headset, and know how to use “push to talk” or “click to mute” buttons. No one likes to hear sound feedback and no one wants to hear what's happening around you. Also, never, ever, eat while playing and not muting yourself. This is all fun to munch and play at a table, but not online. Drink all you want though, it'll make for more interesting narrative interpretations ;)

 

2) VOIP software: If you use Roll20 and Hangout, you are obviously using Hangout/Google Talk. It works. Skype is better at echo cancellation and sound overall, but takes more internet resources. Skype and FG2 don’t work well together. Skype and Roll20 work better. I still find it is better for the GM not to initiate the Skype call, but I am playing/GMing using a 3G internet. I found Teamspeak to be the best in average in term of sound quality and bandwidth (Skype quality is better, but bandwidth use is greater).

 

3) Fix a day/time for your campaign, and stick to it either weekly, every two weeks, every three weeks, etc… Don’t shift the day/time around, it’s just confusing. People like their habits. I find that playing more often for 3h is better than playing less often for 6h. Plus, it's difficult to find players who can do 6h online, and it is exhausting for the GM. Personally, I found 3h weekly to be best for keeping the pace and the group going.

 

4) Cancellations: ask commitment from your players. Yes, life can take over, and a player may cancel. Then, ask at least to know a day in advance. In a group of 4 players, I am ok with 1 cancellation, but if 2 players cancel, the session is cancelled. I also allow a player 3 cancellations, after that, I have a discussion whether or not the player can commit. We are all mature and there are players out there who wants to play badly. Respect your GM and your fellow players time. Roll20 community is unfortunately not very respectful, players drop out of campaigns without even a word.

 

 

The Game:

 

1) Because you’re playing online, you cannot see your players (except if you use webcams, which, if the group has been playing for a long time, is a possibility). Thus, you cannot see their reactions. The pace of the game will be slightly slower, but it’s ok. Make sure to give every player your attention. Force yourself to ask each player “What do you do”? “What is your character doing/thinking/feeling”?

 

2) Use props: images, maps, sounds. Roll20 is great for that. Even if you aren’t in an encounter, use a background image to set the mood. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, even just images from the movies are fine. There is a lot of fan art out there that is really cool. I know EotE doesn’t use maps, but online, a map is useful, just to set the scene, and help the visual representation. Sounds and background musics are great too (if your bandwidth can take it). You can even use morphing software, such as MorphVox.

 

3) If you use maps, be prepared for more tactical scenes, and set yourself a range equivalence for your map (ex: 5 ft or 5 squares= short, etc…). However, don’t stick to it too closely. If a player wants to move 6 squares, that’s fine, remember EotE is very lax in term of ranges. As long as it makes sense narratively, let it be. 

 

3bis) Your maps don't have to be super cool. I sometimes draw them myself using whatever drawing ability the software gave me. It is simply to give the players a spatial representation of the scene. They can imagine the rest by what you are telling them. However, there are some awesome maps out there for Star Wars because of all what existed for Saga edition.

 

4) Use a dice roller online. Roll20 and Hangout have a great dice rolling app. Roll20 natively can let you use EotE dices if you are a mentor. At worse, you could use a 3rd party web-based roller, but then you and your players can’t see each other rolls. It isn’t a matter of trust, it’s a matter of fun. It’s fun to see everyone roll. It’s fun to see the despair rolled and hear everyone “ohhh”.

 

5) Try to keep everything organized within the software you use. I try to have as many of my NPCs stat blocks, PCs character sheets, etc within the software. It makes your life easier as a GM. I use a paper cheat sheet taped to my screen, or a PDF one (Macs are so great for playing online with their multiple virtual desktops). If you blank on a rule, don’t look in the book: at a table, maybe your players will be patient, but online, they will start reading a blog and their attention will shift away from the game. Just keep moving.

 

6) Even if you don’t use any voice changer software (I don’t), try to have fun with making up sounds. A few pew pew, a few grunts, a few whistles are fun. Not always obviously but sometimes it just breaks the ice.

 

I hope this help. I look forward to hear other thoughts as well. Online gaming can be very fun!

 

Cheers

Ceodryn

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a roll20 mentor account.  How do i customize the dice.

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I prefer playing online via chat compared to voice, for a variety of reasons. Some people are not comfortable playing over voice, or are awkward and feel self-conscious in ways they are not when they are typing. Also chat logs are incredibly helpful in rehashing the last session or remembering some tidbit that may not have seemed relevant at the time but became relevant later.

 

Skype has a great chat log function and for dice rolls I prefer the roller at Orokos.com - you have to create an account but it logs rolls, which can help prevent cheating, and does an automatic sum of Sux/Adv/Triumph after the roll, as well as outputting html code in case you need to paste the roll to a forum. People in my group have found other web rollers or applications that they like.

 

I like roll20 for maps much better than MapTools because roll20 is much more stable and doesn't require someone to act as the server. However the built-in dice app in roll20 doesn't have Edge dice coding as far as I know, and I refuse to consult a conversion chart of d10-result-to-special-dice-result for every roll. Nope. But roll20 is absolutely great for maps. I just find maps to be unnecessary in this narrative-distance range-band type of system, versus measuring meters as I had to do in Deathwatch.

Edited by Kshatriya

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Furthermore, there is another software that can be used to run online games: Fantasy Grounds 2. A ruleset has recently be created to work for EotE:

 

http://www.fantasygrounds.com/forums/showthread.php?20055-Star-Wars-Edge-of-the-Empire-FG-3-0

 

FG2 is not free, but it allows to have PC, NPC, maps, dices, etc within your campaign environment and all under the control of the GM. It also includes macro for rolling dices directly from skills etc.

 

I haven't used it for EotE but I used to use FG2 a lot for WFRP3.

 

Cheers

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I'll resonate the advice of voice. Having voice is absolutely vital to the success and immersion of a live online game. If you are playing by chat, it's hard to stay focused and you cover almost nothing over the course of the session. With voice, my rule of thumb is that you cover about . table hours for every 4 hours of play. With chat, that goes down to 1. To those who complain about being uncomfortable over voice, I would honestly tell them to grow up. As a GM, you are doing these players no favors in life by allowing them to play over chat. Public speaking skills are a necessity in both life and gaming, and if someone is too self conscious to speak up, they simply aren't going to like this hobby. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but that's the way it is. Sure it can be a little off putting to play with new people, but that goes away pretty quick. Everything is gained when playing with voice, and everything is lost when players refuse to do so.

I'd also like to add the mention about no video. Non verbal communication is huge, and lacking video really impacts immersion. I won't say that everyone needs to have video, because there are technical limitations there. Rather, there are things you can do to address this. I find that big, detailed, drawn out scene descriptions are hard to follow. I always seem to miss part of what was said as well as all of the non verbal components. I'm a visual kinesthetic learner, and missing this much info just causes me to check out whenever a GM starts going on about things. When describing scenes, I would refer to a map ("you see this here," complete with the Roll20 circle click), and maybe go around and address each player with something that they see. I might also have a quick Q&A period where players can ask questions about a scene before anything happens, or break up the description over time.

While I agree that having something visual really helps, I've found that playing with maps and token can really slow things down. It adds a huge amount of prep for the GM, you now have to deal with user permissions, scales, and a whole slew of other problems. Roll20 can also do some dumb things with initiative, and tracking that and other game effects on sight can add even more on top of that. Keep it simply, because it gets complicated really quick.

Likewise, I would honestly bypass journals for character sheets. Again, all it adds is complexity and prep work that gains you almost nothing.

On the other hand, consider making a journal handout for Destiny of playing through Roll20. Hangout has a tracker at the top, but Roll20 doesn't really have a way to track Destiny in a way that everyone can see. I played in two games last week, one with a handout and one where the GM tracked it. Guess how often we used Destiny in the other game.

When using an on site roller (and you should), learn how to read it. Specifically, learn how to read triumphs and despairs. Most rollers I've seen seem to generate an extra success since it can be canceled out. So if you roll and only have a triumph left, you might not have succeeded. I noticed that Roll20 may not be reporting despairs properly and may not be generating an extra failure. Keep this in mind, because the roller you use might not be reporting the math properly.

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