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  1. #1

    What are you top tips for running and playing games online?

    Hi Everyone,

    I imagine quite a few of us started running games online because of the pandemic. After almost 40 years running games in person, I've really taken to running and, unusually for me, playing games online.

    Many of the skills and techniques are common between online and offline play, but playing remotely brings its own opportunities and challenges.

    I wondered what tips you have for getting the most out of online play?

    Cheers, Hywel

  2. #2
    I'll start with a few:

    1) You can make compelling adventures with high production value quickly by stitching together third-party resources. Previously, I'd rely on a quick sketch on a bit of spare paper and the "group dynamic" at the table to convey things like mood and setting. It's much harder to generate by voice/video chat (which is why we want/need VTTs in the first place). I sometimes used to grab a map or an auto-generated dungeon for tabletop play, but for VTT stuff it really helps to stitch together a bunch of them and start dragging and dropping to make encounters etc.

    2) Showing stuff to players is much more integrated to the VTT experience than the tabletop experience. Everyone can get an optimal view of the map rather than having to lean over and peer past the dice boxes and coke bottles. So IMO the payoff of a beautifully rendered map-as-painting-of-the-scene vs. an old-school blue floorplan is significantly higher for online play.

    3) Ditto, go to town on your handouts. For tabletop play it is surely nice to have a fake-aged handwritten note to pass around the table, but in the absence of the group immersion online, it REALLY helps to have that as a handout rather than reading it aloud. Doing it just as a story item to hand out is already a big step up, particularly if you are using a nice skin for FG- it's one of my complaints about Roll20 that it's hard to make it feel like you're immersed in the handouts unless you produce then as graphics. Letting people look back at the handouts without GM intervention is great, multiple people can be reading the dozens of clues in a Masks of Nyarlathotep game simultaneously.

    4) OMG Googling for images and showing them as scene setters I used to use audiovisual stuff a lot more in my younger days for tabletop play, I often had a slide projector and screen set up, and took loads of my own photos specifically for RPG use. That's come roaring back, but one can now supplement one's own photos with the infinity of google search. You can find apposite scene-setters for almost anything and anyone with very little effort. Use it!

    5) My GM prep is based on Return of the Lazy DM by Sly Flourish. That all still works online, but I would add a critical step. Make yourself a note or story before each session and drag-and-drop all the links to relevant NPCs, maps, story elements, etc. that you think you are going to need. Not only does that put the links at your fingertips, but it gives you a scratch pad place during the session to note down new NPC names, stuff you didn't expect, etc.. I also find preparing that page helps me load everything into my brain before the session.

    What are your top tips?

  3. #3
    Make your players manage their voice quality. Have them use headsets (cheap ones work just fine) and make them use push to talk. One crappy sound setup can ruin the game session for everyone.

  4. #4
    Absolutely, spoofer. Push-to-talk definitely improves the game.

    What voice/video conferencing do people prefer? Most of the pay-to-play games I'm in use Discord. I like the way you can set it up with channels for things like in-character between game chat, and out-of-character stuff separately.

    I'd add that as a top tip - especially with FG, give the players a place to congregate and confer and hang out outside of game night. Not all will want to participate, but the games I'm in where people are doing that it feels much more like the games are the high points but you also get to chat around the camp-fire, which is lovely.
    Last edited by HywelPhillips; July 2nd, 2020 at 10:44.

  5. #5
    damned's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Blog Entries
    If you set your game time for 8.30pm on Wednesday. Play the game at 8.30pm on Wednesday even if only 2 players can make it. Everyone is so busy these days and those two players (and you) have cleared time and committed to it so give them game. Even if its a side adventure, a one shot, something different. The other players will hopefully also commit more whole heartedly when they know that everyone else has done so already.

  6. #6
    LordEntrails's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2015
    -7 UTC
    Blog Entries
    #2 is so true. Wish I had been able to comprehend it that way. With the 'recent' return of WotC products to OSR style maps, I really don't think they saw this aspect and how Dyson's maps would be received by the virtual gamers. Having started in '70s I get the nostalgia, but full color maps can be so much more that any emotional reminiscing is not worth it.

    Two other posts that you might want to check out (not the same perspective or info, but related) are;

    Problems? See; How to Report Issues, Bugs & Problems
    On Licensing & Distributing Community Content
    Community Contributions: Gemstones, 5E Quick Ref Decal, Adventure Module Creation, Dungeon Trinkets, Balance Disturbed, Dungeon Room Descriptions
    Note, I am not a SmiteWorks employee or representative, I'm just a user like you.

  7. #7
    Trenloe's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Colorado, USA
    Whole heartedly agree with making good show 'em props. I also use a lot of background music/ambience to set the scene through the communication app. If done right, this adds such a great dimension to the game. I do this for face-to-face games too.
    Private Messages: My inbox is forever filling up with PMs. Please don't send me PMs unless they are actually private/personal messages. General FG questions should be asked in the forums - don't be afraid, the FG community don't bite and you're giving everyone the chance to respond and learn!

  8. #8
    I've found another top tip, very simple but:

    7) Keep going around the table and asking everyone in turn what they do, or inviting them to give their character's contribution to the conversation. "Joe, what does Pixi think about that?". Maybe keep the initiative order going out of combat to remind you.

    In my experience, some players have more lag than others. Not just physical connection/computer lag bit also how long they wait to make sure no-one is talking before they start to talk. This happens in tabletop play but it is much harder for the GM to pick up on from body language etc. playing virtually.

    You can't catch someone's eye to non-verbally invite them to speak in the same way online.

    Get into a routine to make sure everyone is able to participate at the level they want to. Don't force them - some people do prefer to hang back and listen and that's OK. But I've had a couple of games where my "default wait time" was almost exactly the same as another player's and we often collided, starting to talk at the same time many times through the evening. I tried to fix it myself by counting to ten before starting to talk in addition to what I felt was my default wait time, but then I sometimes found things had moved on before I'd had a chance to contribute.

    The GM keeping the round-the-table dynamic going out of combat really helped stop that happening.

    I'm sure there are more social tips to do with the lack of body language and eye contact online - that's the main one I've found so far. What are your experiences?
    Last edited by HywelPhillips; July 6th, 2020 at 22:04.

  9. #9
    Mine is definitely one that is harder to achieve much of the time, but if possible, pays off in extreme ways for online groups:

    8) Keep going. Players will drop out, stuff will happen, but if you keep even one player (as damned said) and keep playing and recruiting, your game will go for years. At this point in my games, it's been so long that people feel comfortable taking a week off for RL reasons, they know they game will be there for them when they return. Many people get frustrated at player turnout and give up - don't.
    Games Running:
    WePF Second Darkness (Pathfinder 1e)
    Raven's Purge - Saturdays (Forbidden Lands)
    SavageWorlds Sci-Fi Sundays (SWADE)
    Savage Worlds Gameday Thursdays (SWADE)

  10. #10
    Biggest tip "Don't Panic", It's good enough for the Guide, it's good enough for me.

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