Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How I Role: Gaming Online

I have another life, a life that isn't filled with magic, but has lots of adventure. A life where I venture out into the wild unknowns and work with my allies to bring forth a great energy from the bowels of the earth. It's kinda weird explaining that I have "another" life to role-players, usually the explanations like that are the other way around. (Not that I'd EVER explain Role-Playing as "another life" that's just creepy.)

In plainer terms I work out in the Canadian oilfields most of the time and as you can imagine, being out in the mountains 200 miles from nowhere for a month at a time makes it pretty hard to keep a regular game scheduled. But I've been at this for nearly a decade and I'm proud to say that my gaming has hardly missed a stride.

The wonders of technology - my beloved macbook, a cellular modem, and a cell booster - have allowed me to take my gaming to a new medium and I've been at it long enough that I can honestly say; when it comes to gaming on the internet my shit is tight!

It must have been a bit surreal when I contacted one of the RPG Bloggers over the internet and asked him if he wanted to play in one of my games out of the blue. Even to the most net-savvy gaming vets, the idea of gaming online doesn't hold up to the traditional method and the idea of gaming over the net still strikes most as decidedly "experimental". Something few long-time acquaintances in the blogosphere might take a stab-at to see if it might work, rather than something a relatively new online acquaintance would just offer out of the blue. Regrettably I think schepticsim won-out and he graciously declined my offer, but I'm a persistent stalker so I won't give up. He will be mine oh-yes!

Creepy internet stalking aside, to me online gaming is the norm, not the exception. The tools of my trade are honed to a fine edge, the method of choice: text-based chat over Skype, using a web-page die roller that has a running log of the rolls it makes for everyone to see so to keep us honest. Many might think that text-based IM chatting would be slow, and it is, but that's the only drawback. The benefits of IM chatting over skype are numerous and easily make up for the ponderous speed:

• Skype lets you make rooms with any number of players and allows you to make as many as you want so side rooms are simple, allowing an out-of character room, private discussions, a main room for everyone and a side room for just a few to all be going on at once.

•Skype keeps your history forever!!! Even if you're not online. Game rooms don't vanish at the end of the game either so one game room can span multiple games. If a player misses a session the history will refresh it's self for that player the next time another member of that room is online at the same time as him. Search functions will let you look back at any point in a game as far back as it ever existed. Can't remember the name of that elven innkeeper you encountered 3 years ago? Looking back through the history will find it.

•Skype doesn't limit post size. You can post huge pre-written descriptions of the new kingdom the players entered and the client doesn't balk at all. Got a pesky rules lawyer that won't shut up? Copy the rule out of the book and post it in an out of character room to shut him up. (Rules-lawyers: attempt this on your GM's at your own risk.)

•Skype has FANTASTIC file transfer capabilities. It rarely ever drops a transfer, even if one party has a crappy dialup connection that cuts out often. Skype will simply wait until the connection comes up again and continue transferring the file. Great for sharing game data or passing character sheets.

•I generally use the IM client because out in the mountains my connection can be sketchy and some of my players have similar problems, but if you have a good connection and a microphone on your computer there's no reason why you can't supplement your IM role-playing with some VoIP when the situation requires.

These features allow for a much more fluid gaming environment then most are likely used-to. The history saving and asides, and the fact that the rooms don't go away allow players to casually role-play outside of set game sessions, and the fact that the GM can look over the history later can keep him in the loop. This allows players to get further into character than would be comfortable in a more traditional game because they don't have to use up valuable quest time chatting about how they prefer their steak done. They can carry out in-game romances in private, allowing the GM to capitalize on the dramatic tension by having villains threaten the ones they love. And most of all it keeps the player clearly separate from the character he's playing allowing for much greater immersion.

My games over Skype are supplemented with excel character sheets, online group drawing for tactical maps, I edit blueprints with photoshop, and have been known to put together little setting booklets on PDF for when my players enter a new city. I'm available off hours if a player has a question or wants to do the occasional side quest, and quite honestly I type more eloquently than I speak. So when I say; "my shit is tight" I mean for you to be impressed because somewhere between the massive modern MMO's and the archaic PBEM's of yesteryear is what I do, and it is a sublime place indeed.


  1. Sounds like you might enjoy the Twitter experiment I'm conducting.

  2. I myself game alot online as well. I'd rather game with the folks I like than the folks nearby sometimes (sometimes they are the same thing).

    I'd suggest you check out maptool and the site RPGtonight, both excellent free resources.