Is this going to be more work? If you are considering running an online game for the first time you may be asking yourself this question. The purpose of this article is to try to answer it, and perhaps put your mind at ease. We’ll look at the work involved before, during, and between sessions. In the big picture, it’s not really more work, just different work. Let’s take a look.
BEFORE A SESSION
Most of the work for online games has to be done beforehand. It’s very difficult to just “wing it” or run a pickup game online. You’ll have to choose your Virtual Tabletop (VTT), recruit players, and help them get started with your game. You’ll also have to compile your maps, tokens, and character sheets. Then they have to be uploaded so you are ready to go at the start of the session. You have to be organized, but that’s true for face-to-face games as well.
However, you will save some time compared to traditional sessions. For example, there’s no need to size, print, glue or laminate maps. Simply draw and scan one, or find one online, and upload it. You don’t need to collect, paint, or rummage through your minis either. Use any paint program to make whatever you need. There is a free token maker, Token Tool which can also save you some time.
On the muggle side of things, you’ll eliminate your travel time altogether. You can play in your jammies, and there’s no need to straighten up the house. No snack runs needed except for yourself. Online gaming can be a big time-saver for busy adults.
DURING THE SESSION
Virtual Tabletops make some things easier during play. They often let you keep track of hit points and conditions right on the tokens. This really streamlines your work during combat. If you forgot a token, or need an unexpected NPC, you can usually find one in no time at all. (I needed a rowboat recently and had one within seconds). Unless you are videoconferencing, your players will never know if you are scrambling behind the scenes. Your reputation as a genius GM is secure.
To reduce bean counting, allow your players to edit their own character sheets and keep track of their own hit points and conditions. This takes some of the burden from your shoulders. That time will be better spent planning NPC tactics and characterizations.
Online games save you time between sessions as well. If you end in the middle of a battle, simply close your browser and go about your life. Everything will still be there next time. Try that on your dining room table. Also, you can even put notes right on the screen like “Players go first next time.”
If a player advances or levels up, simply adjust the online character sheet. There’s no need to print out a new copy or worry about whether you brought the right version of a particular character. You can also use the time between sessions to have players double check their character sheets or to deal with rules questions. That way you don’t have to take time to do that at the next session.
Most of the work for an online session needs to be done beforehand. Online GM’s need to be organized and prepared, otherwise they are in for a stressful session. However, the computer eases some of the workload throughout the rest of the process. If you are good about preparing for face-to-face sessions, the online process won’t be burdensome, just different.
How about you? How do you prepare for your online sessions? How do you manage the workload? Let us know below.
(And even though I said you don’t have to clean your house, well, try to avoid squalor. Just sayin’.)
How much time it takes me to locate a token or a piece of terrain from the moment I think “I’d like to put a wagon/grass patch/sand patch/orc here” is really what helps me or drives me crazy.
I also find them to be slower because I can’t use my eyes or body language to indicate things like when I say what are you doing, I can’t look at one player I’ve gotta say their name and without knowing their voices.
I’ve fallen prey to the image-seeking problem myself too.
Interesting second point too, not sure if they play slower or about the same for me. I suspect it is harder for parties to reach a group decision since they can’t all see one another.
My experience hasn’t been that it plays that much slower, but I will be paying attention to it over the next few sessions. Thanks for reading.
How’s the learning curve for VTTs? I find myself moving and transitioning my current tabletop session to a virtual session. I’m an astute computer machine user, but I realize not everyone at my table is.
I’ve played around with Fantasy Grounds a little (though Roll20 is cheaper). I don’t feel like the learning curve for session prep is too bad, but getting familiar enough to use the functionality to full advantage during a session looks a bit more daunting. It would be harder on a GM than it would be on players.
Thanks, that’s good information
Glad to help.
I played tabletop rpg’s face to face for years. From the age of about 10 to 16 I played AD&D religiously. Near the end of high school and throughout college, I just couldn’t find people who shared my interest and life got in the way. I picked up RPG’s again around the age of 30 and resumed my addiction. I would travel 50 miles a week just to get to the nearest large town in order to participate in weekly games for about 3 years. Finally, I discovered http://www.roll20.net and haven’t looked back since.
It’s a system agnostic virtual tabletop that runs entirely in the browser. There’s nothing to install and it supports voice and other impressive features (dynamic lighting and lines of sight etc…) I currently run a Rise of the Runelords game on Friday nights and I absolutely love it. I don’t need to invest in an army of miniatures, I don’t have to worry about physically hosting my players at my home, I don’t have to gather provisions and I can run my games in my boxers.
Living in rural small town America, it’s my only option anymore and it has kept a cherished hobby alive for me. I heartily recommend trying Roll20. It is an amazing platform. I actually prefer VTT gaming now. I sometimes wonder how I did it without the VTT.
This is really good to hear. I have some reservations given my often-unsuccessful attempts to integrate tech at the table. I’m certainly planning to use roll20, even pay a premium for it, since it has all the fiddly bits of my current RPG infatuation.
Roll20 is GREAT. Also, odds are some of the other players have used it before. This helps a lot with the learning curve as the others often remind me how to do things if I forget.
Without a VTT, I wouldn’t be playing much at all. In fact, I have a game at 7, someone else is DMing, so I actually get to PLAY.
Thanks to everyone for the great replies.
Another vote for roll20, that’s telling. I know my players now haven’t used it but all are computer guys so I expect there will be few difficulties.
Interesting bit to think about… Hello, fellow gnomes! I really like my core group of tabletop players whom I meet in person. But, I’m the only one who’s willing to GM (for now, anyway ;D). With all the sagacious gnomes running around offering advice about the importance of balance as a GM and Player, I know I should join other gaming groups if I can to gain further perspective (plus, it’s just fun).
I had never considered playing or managing a game via online media until very recently while watching a youtube video of a google plus hangout game session. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it all worked out and how entertaining the role-playing was. (If you’re interested, these videos are on the aFistfulofDice and BeaBetterGameMaster channels)
This, in turn, led me to The Tabletop RPG One Shot Group on facebook, which is a friendly community of players and GMs who like to game. I recommend checking them out if you’re having trouble finding players or a GM to host a game. While I haven’t actually joined an online game yet, I plan to do so as soon as I get the hardware. 🙂
For those that are interested, here’s the URL for how to get started with the group: http://www.rpgjuce.com/tutorial/
Happy gaming, all!
I’ve recently had the epiphany that this online stuff might be the way to go, since it has seemed so problematic for my local group to meet on a regular basis. You can’t have gaming potlucks on the internet, but maybe that can be considered to be a side benefit for the waistline. 🙂