Sunday, March 29, 2020

Day 9: First round of Pen&Paper RPG online

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive.

I am part of a group that plays a pen&paper RPG together for 30+ years. We decided to not let small issues like the current Corona epidemic to come between us and our hobby. At the same time we want to keep the social distance. So we called for technology to the rescue.

Luckily it has much improved (a small understatement) since we started playing together in 1988. That not only applies to the rule set (we started with Version 2, Version 5 is current) but also to the tools available to us. But there is a downside as well: we play Midgard, a system that is practically non-existent outside our own country. The total pool of players is rather small. The limited market does not attract many companies or coders to solve our problems.

One hobby project (MOAM) allows us to manage the character sheets online on a shared platform. A D&D player may smile about it, but for our community this tools is unique and a huge improvement. But it only supports the newest (Version 5) rule set. This was the biggest hurdle on the way to an online round. Once you played 20 years with Version 3 as we did, you become hesitant to jump two version ahead at once. In order to soften the blow, we decided not to migrate our current campaign at once but start with new characters in a new campaign. That way we can experiment without breaking things.

Audio and video conferencing was done through Discord. For me as a PC gamer, it was easy. I had all the tools in place. But some of us faced quite a challenge to get Microphone and Camera working. Due to professional experiences with new users, we scheduled several technology checks to prepare the session. It took me a while to remember that Windows 10 has privacy setting that prevent apps from using Camera and Microphone. Also Discord contained some challenges, but this page was a huge help (hint: Legacy Mode). The quality of the technical equipment and Internet connection varies as the virus did not ask for an appointment and supply is currently limited. But we got everyone online and that counts.

One huge deficit is the unavailability of a proper CoIP (Chili over IP) implementation that would allow me to serve food. All players complained about the service downgrade in that regard.

Online sessions require also more discipline while the chaotic talks were always a huge part of the fun. We still have to find the optimal balance here between intelligibility and spontaneity.

Preparing the session is more labor intensive. This is partially due to the deficit of MOAM which does not a proper monster database (though I can user other players characters as NPC) and also does not provide a lot of assets. But I will not complain as it is much better than everything we had before. The more work intensive setup is partially compensated by the fact that we decided to hold small sessions (goal: 2h, max: 3h) at first.

Overall the session was fun and we decided to go on next week. I will report.

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