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Online Play and Table Control

Woman bites pencil while looking at computer

She must be playing Call of Catthulhu.

One of the most exciting things the internet has given us (in my opinion) is the ability to play role playing games with geographically distant folks. Playing online solves a number of problems—having trouble meeting like minded gamers in your area? Don’t have child care? Really want to play with your friends in New York, Illinois, and Canada? Ice storm? No problem! The internet is here—with streaming video, handy mapping systems, and dice rolling plugins—to save us! But GMing online comes with some extra challenges that are amplified from playing at an in person table. How can you mitigate these to make playing online the best experience you can?

Some quick definitions

Firstly, so that we’re clear, by playing online I mean you are playing via Google hangouts, Skype, Roll20, etc., and not at a physical table. Specifically, you’re all remote from each other—playing with one or two people remote and other people local presents its own set of challenges, which I have not personally found an effective solution for. (If you have one let me know in the comments!)

Secondly, table control is the ability of the GM to socially keep the table on track or bring it back to order after breaks etc. Table control in person looks like this:

So What’s Different?

 And of course, there are always audio and video glitches, blurs, freezing, and the most fun part where you all turn into Autobots or Decepticons. 
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Online, you are responsible for the same things, but you are going to face some different challenges. Online, especially depending on the video quality, it can be much harder to read nonverbal cues. It’s a lot easier to talk over each other, both due to the slight delay in audio, and because it’s easy to say things that would fall to the background at a table but that get picked up by a mic at full volume. It’s also tricky with a max volume of whatever output your players are using because you don’t have a way to raise your voice over everyone else’s to be heard if you need to get things back on track. And of course, there are always audio and video glitches, blurs, freezing, and the most fun part where you all turn into Autobots or Decepticons.

There’s no way to completely eliminate these issues, but there are some practices you can use to mitigate them as much as possible.

Having the internet gives us so many new options for playing RPGs in situations where we’ve previously been limited, but it definitely has its own challenges. Do you play games online? What are your best recommendations for keeping things going smoothly despite the lack of physical proximity?

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1 Comment To "Online Play and Table Control"

#1 Comment By Travis Engles On February 5, 2018 @ 6:42 am

I would say that muting people, for any reason, is the worst thing you can do in an online game. Mostly because, as a DM, you have enough to deal with, and forgetting to unmute somebody can cause that player to feel left out (because they are). I never mute any players, instead, I’ll make them aware that they should either use Push to Talk or mute themselves. As well as handling the spotlight, I almost always have my ears open to everybody, and being that everybody is as loud as everybody else, you really have to look out for the shy players who speak up because they can be quickly shut down, what I’ll do, if I hear that shy player is calm everybody down and wait for the shy player to say something because it’s hard (even at a table) for a player who is shy to want to do something, so when they speak, I tend to pull full attention to them to make them feel incorporated. As well, video isn’t needed, you can usually tell if a person is disinterested or not wholly paying attention because you’ll get the, “What happened?” and, “Sorry, I wasn’t listening.” and the overall quietness of that player, sometimes they’re quiet, other times they might’ve passed out at their desk due to a long day at work, or what have you. So, video tends to be very optional in my game, so, therefore, pretty much nobody uses it.

Everything else I agree with. 🙂

#2 Pingback By Sporadic Saturday Sweetness: 2018-02-10 ← Ravenous Role Playing On February 11, 2018 @ 12:02 am

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