So you’ve finally decided to take the plunge: you’re going to GM your first online session. Â Maybe you’re a little nervous, concerned about getting all the details right. Â This article will give you some guidelines to help you make that first session start smoothly.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- A virtual tabletop – The virtual tabletop (VT) allows you and your players to interact. Â You can load maps, background images, and tokens. Â I use roll20.net, but there are a number of other free (or free trial) ones out there. Â A quick search will get you a number of listings. Â Most are browser-based, which is great for a first session. Â However, some require both the GM and the players to download the program onto their machines. Â Another option is a free, online whiteboard like Twiddla. Â You can upload maps and tokens, and the site is very easy to use. Â We used it for over a year before switching to a VT.
- Audio – Some VT’s have their own audio functions, but you may want to go with Skype or Google Hangouts. Â Odds are that many of your potential players will already have accounts with one or both of these.
- A Headset With Microphone – Don’t rely on the built-in microphone on your computer or webcam. Â They generally pick up too much background noise. Â Even a cheap headset is a much better option. I got mine for ten bucks at a discount store and have used it for three years.
PREPPING FOR THE SESSION
- A Map – Keep your map simple: no more than 5 rooms or encounters. Â A first session is not the time to plan a megadungeon or galaxy spanning campaign. Â Use a map that the players can reasonably explore in the time allotted.
- Tokens – You’ll need tokens for your PC’s, NPC’s, and monsters. Â Tokentool is an excellent resource, or you can find many available online. Â Also, any graphics program will let you take an image and make a square or circular token. Â For some programs, holding down the shift key will let you select a perfect square or circle from an image. Â Also, if you use circular tokens, save them as .png files and you won’t get a white or black square background when you load them to your VT.
- Session Notes – Again, keep it simple and be sure that your players will be able to meet some objective by the end of the session. Â You may need to omit an encounter or two if you’re running up against the clock. Â Speaking of the clock, I recommend a 2-3 hour session. Â Trying to run a 4-5 hour session is exhausting and may not work for most people’s schedules.Â Â Often people playing online are trying to game while managing the rest of their adult lives.
- Pregens – Use pregenerated characters for the first session. Â Rolling up stats online is death. Â Pregens let you get playing almost right away, and you can always tweak or change characters ifÂ it turns into a campaign. Â Plus you can reuse the stats any time you start a new campaign or run a con game. Â Many VT’s let you post the character sheets, or you can put them on a blog or free website. Â You might even email them to the players.
- Load Your Stuff – If possible, upload your images well before the session time. Â Some VT’s allow you to place tokens on a hidden or “GM-only” layer. Â You might even be able to type in hit points or other statsÂ right with the token. Â You can set up the entire session at your convenience.
FINDING AND PREPPING PLAYERS
- Places to look – Meetup, social media, and online forums are great places to look for players. Â This is especially true if the forums are geared toward your intended game. Â As always, consider your online privacy.Â Â Don’t post your email address if you can contact interested players through the website’s own means. Â Don’t forget friends and family as potential players. Â I’ve had good luck with folks who have broughtÂ someone along to later games.
- Things to communicate – Be sure players know what they’ll need to play, the length of the session, and where they can find the character sheets. Â You’ll also need to provide them with any audio or campaign links they need.
- Get back to them in a timely manner – As much as possible, be prompt in your replies. Â Don’t keep people waiting or get back to them a half-hour before the session. Â You want to project the image that you are professional and enthusiastic about your game. Â They are more likely to show up, and maybe they’ll want to come back.
The good news is that once you are playing online for a while, things get easier. Â You’ll know how to use your VT’s features easily, and will figure out the best way for you to prep your sessions. Â Online gaming provides a good way to get more gaming into your life, and helps you develop your skills as a GM even when you can’t meet face-to-face.
How about your thoughts? Â What did I forget in this checklist?Â Let us know below (I won’t mind).