Many of us no longer have time or opportunity to get together for a regular face to face game. People move away to remote locations, work schedules conflict, family or other personal matters get in the way but the modern gamer has, through the magic of the internet, options.
PBEM/PBP: Games can be played by email (pbem) or played by post (pbp) on a message board. While this format is somewhat popular and well-known, they tend to be extremely slow and better suited to more narrative gameplay that relies less on dice. The big pro of PBEM/PBP is convenience. You can check your email or message board when it’s convenient for you and make your posts at that time.
Chat Rooms/Instant Messaging/IRC: A step up from PBEM, chat rooms, playing through instant messaging (such as AOL Instant Messenger or MSN Messenger) and Internet Relay Chat (or IRC) take place in real time. There are even some dice “bots” or plug ins you can take advantage of to handle dice rolling. Graphically, they’re not very attractive, and the dice bots/plugins can be rather simplistic and might not meet your needs.
This brings us to….
Virtual Table Tops: These are programs designed with the gamer in mind, their purpose is to do exactly what we’re discussing: allow groups to get together when real life, scheduling and/or geography gets in the way. They tend to combine the best assets of an instant messenger/irc setup with the ability to show maps and use miniatures and to handle even complex dice rolls. Some even allow the coding of macros or even their own scripting language. There are VTTs that have a cost as well as ones that are free. Here are my thoughts on a few. Plus, with VTTs, you can find a group pretty much any day of the week, and for any time or any timeframe.
- WebRPG: This was the first VTT that I tried. I think they’ve gone the way of the dodo, and the interface was not all that attractive, clunky and it ran slowly. But it was free, and it was one of the first VTTs out there.
- OpenRPG: OpenRPG is still pretty active, and it handles maps and “miniatures” just fine. You can get some pretty complex dice rolls going, and it can handle a wide variety of different RPGs. You connect to various servers, including a few more-or-less persistent servers so that nobody in your group has to be hosting the game, into a lobby where you can then create or join various rooms. This makes the app great for pick up games or gaming with complete strangers on the fly. However, connections tend to be less than stable with OpenRPG, and my group had enough problems connecting or staying connected that we started looking for something else. Also, I found it somewhat annoying that you had to install Python and wxPython just to install OpenRPG. OpenRPG is free.
- MapTool: MapTool is similar to OpenRPG, but is more stable and has richer feathers. It’s written in Java so it’s accessible to any OS that can run Java, you don’t have to actually install anything (just download the .zip, drop it into it’s own folder and run the app from there) and has a very rich macro scripting language. It does tend to bog down with very heavy macro use (generally with “frameworks” which are massive macro libraries that can handle tons of information from your favorite system; there are at least two rather large and popular frameworks for D&D 4e). Some builds had problems with stability and occasionally they’ll come out with a build that breaks macros, but the latest build is very stable. It is our tool of choice. Throw in voice chat via something like Ventrilo, Skype or Teamspeak and it’s the closest you can get to being face to face without actually being face to face. And, if you need to whip up a map on the fly, you have the ability to draw maps right in the app itself. Oh, and it’s free as well. MapTool and OpenRPG are both “system agnostic,” meaning you can technically run any system you want in them. I’ve run D&D 4e, D&D 3.5e, World of Darkness, Shadowrun 4e, Call of Cthulu and 7th Sea in MapTool without a hitch (once you figure out how to script the dice rolling macros, or just trust your players to not cheat). Unlike OpenRPG, there is no “lobby” for meeting up with other players; you would need some other way to set up when you are going to game, and one player would have to host the game (generally the GM, but that’s not a necessity) and campaign file and allow the players to connect in to that computer, and there are some problems with connecting (usually it has to do with NAT), but even that can be overcome, usually with a little file called Hamachi.
There are a few other VTTs out there, but I haven’t tried them. Kloogewerks, Fantasy Grounds II and Battlegrounds just to name three additional ones. They range from free to pretty expensive; some even have a month-to-month subscription cost. They also tend to run the gamut of polish and features. Some are system agnostic, others are system specific.
So, as you can see, distance is no longer an issue for the dedicated gaming group. Personally, my group is spread out all over the country, from coast to coast, and we still meet weekly.
[tags]Role Playing Games,role playing game,roleplaying,role playing,rpg,rpgs,virtual tabletops,gaming online[/tags]