Two weeks ago, on the Zoom call for my Forbidden Lands game, we did a quick check of who was vaccinated and when, and realized that we would all be fully vaccinated (including the 2 weeks post shot), for our next session. So, I asked if everyone was comfortable returning our game to being in-person, and we all agreed. At the end of the session, it started to occur to me that there were things that we would need to do, to transition back to a face-to-face game. That got me thinking, that perhaps we need a checklist for how to go back. So here we go…

Face to Face Gaming Is Back

According to the CDC (note- this could change over time, but is true in May of 2021), fully vaccinated people can gather indoors without masks. So, if you and your gaming group have completed your vaccinations, the CDC says you can break out your battlemats, minis, and dice, and get together. That is a sweeping statement, but there are caveats, and if you are immunocompromised, or in other high-risk groups that cannot get vaccinated, you will need to further review the CDC guidelines and talk to your doctor. 

Much like safety in your games, you should have a safety discussion among your group to see if everyone is comfortable going back to face-to-face games, with or without masks, etc. It is important to remember that each person’s response to the pandemic is personal, and their response to the gradual lifting of guidelines is also going to be personal. Have that discussion. 

For my group, we have all been vaccinated, and for most of us, we have been pretty locked down, with the exception of one of our group who is a healthcare worker who has a moderate level of risk, that we were all comfortable with. We all agreed that we would be good with a return to face-to-face gaming, without masks. 

Your Return To Face To Face Checklist

For the rest of the article I am going to assume that during the pandemic, you moved to a virtual tabletop solution like Roll20. If you just stopped playing, then some of this advice may not be applicable. Use what you can.

I am going to also assume that you are going back face-to-face and not running your VTT at the table. Some people are going to take that hybrid approach. Again, use what you can from below.

At the point you are ready to return to face-to-face gaming, you are going to need to do a few things to transition out of your VTT. 

Transfer Characters Out of the VTT

Your players will need to move their characters from the VTT and back onto a medium they can use at the table. Here are a few ways that can be done:

  • Update your old character sheet from before the pandemic.
  • Transfer the character to a new character sheet.
  • Print out the character sheet from the VTT.
  • Access the VTT character sheet from a tablet or other device. 

Transfer Other Assets out of the VTT

If you put notes, rumors, legends, etc. into the VTT, then you will also need to be able to get them out or access them in-game. In my Forbidden Lands game, there are a number of legends that would have been PDF handouts to the players. In Roll20 I put them in as handouts. I will likely need to print them out and give them to the players in some kind of folder. 

Update Campaign Artifacts

Depending on the game you were running, you might have other artifacts that were once used at the table that were digitally converted, that once again need to be updated to use at the table. Perhaps your game had resource sheets, relationship maps, a map of the known world, etc. If you did not keep the physical versions of those updated before the pandemic, they will now need to be updated before you return to the table.

Again in my Forbidden Lands game, there is a physical campaign map that you mark any hex that you have successfully traveled through so that you do not have to make a future pathfinder check when you go through that hex again. At the start of the pandemic, I made a digital copy of the map and loaded it into Roll20, and then for the next 15 months updated every hex that was explored on the digital copy only. Now I need to go back to the physical copy and mark all those hexes so that it is current. 

Find Physical Components For Your Game

VTTs often have dice, cards, tokens, and other components for your game, eliminating the need to open up your dice pouch to run the game online. It is now time to find all those components and make sure you not only know where they are, but that they get packed in your bag, or moved to your table. 

For Forbidden Lands, I have custom dice and cards for the game. I kept rolling my dice even though we were playing virtually, but the cards are up on a shelf and need to get back into my GMing kit. 

Find Your GMing Supplies

Along those lines, have you seen the rest of your GMing supplies, since the pandemic started? This is a good time to inventory and update your GMing Kit. If you are GM who travels to a game, do you have your bag packed? Do you remember what goes into your GMing bag? 

It has also been a year, you may have changed games, your style may have changed, etc. This is a good time to take your GMing kit out and give it an overhaul. Perhaps you don’t need tokens for that game you don’t run anymore, or perhaps you need to add tokens because of the new game you just started.

Review Your Mise-en-Place

If you have been running via VTT for the past year, you should take some time to consider how to arrange your tablespace again. Chefs use the French phrase mise-en-place to talk about how one arranges their workspace, and many years ago I talked about it here. If you have not sat down at the table in over a year, switched games, etc, you may not know how you want to arrange that space. Now is a good time to take out your materials and take a look at how you want to set them up. 

For me, one of the hardest things I have to adjust to going back to face-to-face is the lack of screens. For my VTT game, I run it with two 24” monitors and in that, I have the VTT, Zoom, my game notes, PDFs of the rules, and a browser with several other resources we have in Google Sheets. I now have to figure out how to arrange all that in a physical space, and with my iPad as the only screen I will have at the table. 

Update Your Social Contract

The world has changed, and while it’s nice to go back to something pre-pandemic, it is naïve to treat it like nothing has changed.

For many of us, we have not been in contact with people in over a year. It is worth having a discussion about how to people again when you return. Are people comfortable with hugging? Do people want a little more space around the table? What about in the future, if someone has a cold? Do you want to have people wear masks or do you switch to a virtual instance for that session? The world has changed, and while it’s nice to go back to something pre-pandemic, it is naïve to treat it like nothing has changed. 

My group will be having this discussion. For sure, we have all agreed that hugging is totally happening. But we do need to talk about what to do if someone is or has just been sick. In the past, I know we have had people show up to games that have been getting or recovering from colds. I don’t think I am fine with that, without masks, and that is a discussion we, as a group, are going to have. 

Back To the Table

The pandemic did teach me how to improve my online play, and that is something that I will also continue to do so that I can game with my friends who are not local to me. That will be one of my silver linings from surviving the pandemic.

That said, I am beyond thrilled about the idea of going back to the table and playing face-to-face again. I am a pretty old gamer and started gaming around a table, and gaming for me will always be its most natural face-to-face. I am looking forward to this coming session, where we will gather around the table, roll dice, and share in each other’s company.

How about you? Is your game group returning to in-person gaming? Have you had to start converting your VTT game back to the table? Are there parts of the VTT you want to keep? 

How was your first face-to-face game? 

ALSO: Post your table selfies as you return to the table! If you are on Twitter, feel free to tag, me (@dnaphil) or Gnome Stew (@gnomestew) and use the hashtag #tableselfie.