I have been asked on more than one occasion about the resources out there for the uninitiated online RPG gamer so, this essay will highlight some of the many resources that I have used over the last few years. I will make every effort to highlight the good and bad, the gorgeous and the ugly. In the end, I hope it will all be very useful information for anyone wanting to expand their gaming horizons. So, without further ado, let’s begin with a few definitions that will help as we move further into this essay.
Play by Post (PbP)– Games conducted on message board or some other text-based website
Play by Forum (PbF) – Same a Play by Post, just a different name
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) – Games played via audio/video conferencing software
Virtual Table Top (VTT) – Internet application that allows GMs to use maps, tokens and much more.
Play by Post (PbP):
Play by Post and Play by Forum games, hereafter called PbF games, are a completely different experience than VoIP or face to face gaming. Games are played 100% via text-based interactions between the GM and players. There are advantages and disadvantages to PbF games and you need to understand what you are getting into. PbF is a form of gaming that is often times better suited to those that have a busy work or home schedule or demanding obligations. The advantage of PbF games is it allows for, both the players and the GM, to take time to respond, usually in a more in-depth and descriptive way. The disadvantage to PbF games is the length of time it takes to play a game. This can be frustrating for both GMs and players alike. It can and many times does lead to a game being ended prematurely. Knowing that the game will player considerably slower that a traditional game is important.
One last thing to consider with PbF games is that each GM will typically set a posting requirement. For example, “must be able to post every day” or “post 3-5 times a week minimum”. You have to understand this before taking a seat in a PbF game. Be able to meet or exceed the posting requirement for any game you join, but don’t get frustrated or give up if you’re exceeding the requirement and others are only meeting the minimum requirement. Everyone approaches PbF games with a different frame of reference and sense of urgency.
I have played many PbF games in the past and some have been great gaming experiences while others were not so enjoyable. Every game experience will be different so, try it out and see if it is for you.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP):
Voice over Internet Protocol, hereafter, VoIP, provide gamers with an experience as close to real-time face to face gaming than any other form of online gaming. VoIP gaming takes advantage of modern-day technology such as audio and/or video conferencing software. VoIP software includes the popular; G+ Hangouts, Skype, and Team Speak just to name a few.
The most often cited advantage to VoIP gaming is that it allows gamers to play in real-time. Other advantages include more accessibility to gamers worldwide, access to games you are interested in but unlikely to be able to play in your local area and even the ability to attend virtual RPG conventions. VoIP gaming is quickly becoming the preferred method of modern day gaming on the internet for many gamers.
There are virtual tabletops (discussed later) that help to replicate the face to face experience even further. Despite the possibilities with VoIP gaming, there are obvious disadvantages that are often seen as barriers to entry. First, those gamers that are technophobes or lack tech savvy find the interface intimidating. This causes some to just avoid VoIP gaming altogether. There are many that find the experience not very personable and leaves them feel cold and disconnected even when utilizes video cameras. These are the two primary issues many have, but I would argue that these “issues” can be overcome so long you approach VoIP gaming with an open mind and a willingness to learn.
The advantages of VoIP gaming often outweigh the barriers that many perceive. VoIP gaming is many times the only way gamers like myself can play such a wide and diverse array of games and play with gamers from all corners of the globe. Hands down, VoIP gaming is the best platform for those that want to try to replicate the face to face gaming experience.
Play by Post Resources:
There’s numerous website that host play by post games. These are the most frequently used (that I am aware of).
RPG Geek – Each game entry in the database has a Play by Post discussion category.
Myth Weaver – A website dedicated to Play by Post games.
Roleplay Online – The oldest play by post website.
There are a myriad of supplemental sites that PbF games take advantage of, like dice rollers.
Random.org – Will generate a variety of dice rolls and random numbers. Very versatile.
Invisible Castle – Another popular dice roller.
MapTool – For creating usable PbF maps.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Resources:
There are many great resources for VoIP gaming, many are self-contained software packages or websites.
G+ Hangouts – Google’s hangouts allow for both audio and/or video communications. There are built-in features that can help play games that do not require a VTT. For example, there are two built-in dice rollers. One is for standard dice (Dice Stream) and the other is built for the new generation of Star Wars games with their funky dice. Hangouts are fully integrated with most of Google’s other products like Google Docs. Lastly, Roll20 (mentioned below) has an integrated app to be used within the hangout. Hangouts can be recorded, but there are other requirements for this and that is outside the scope of this essay.
Skype – Skype allows for both audio and video communications as well, but it is not customizable in the way that G+ Hangouts are. It is strictly a communication tool, nothing more.
TeamSpeak – Primarily an audio communication platform. Typically used by online video gamers who do not need to see anything but the video game they are playing. I have not used TeamSpeak so, I would encourage you to check it out. I do know that some VoIP gamers prefer TeamSpeak over the others.
Where to Connect with other VoIP Gamers:
Where to connect with other VoIP gamers is almost always one of the first questions I am asked. I respond with the following sites.
RPG Geek – There is a VoIP community for connecting with other gamers.
G+ RPG Hangouts – Dedicated Hangout group for RPG fans.
G+ Tabletop Roleplaying – VoIP gaming is part of the conversation here.
G+ Roll20 Player Network – Fans of Roll20 can connect here.
Most RPG systems will have A G+ or Facebook community where you can also connect with other VoIP gamers. Don’t be afraid to hit these social media communities and groups. They are great place to look for VoIP gamers.
Roll20 – Web-based with no special software required – Free or subscription based
Roll20 is newer, but a very popular virtual tabletop application. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost it is free and accessible to everyone because it is web-based and requires no software. Users need only create a free account. Second, the interface can be used with G+ Hangouts (mentioned above) for audio/video communications. Roll20 has its own audio/video interface built into as well for those that do not want to use external communication programs.
Roll20 has a variety of built-in functions for both the player and the Gamemaster, but it does have some limitations that could frustrate GMs. For example, while you can import beautiful maps you can’t create maps in Roll20. So long as you can import the maps you need you can add dynamic lighting (paid feature); you can set a light source (lantern) on a token and as it moves the light moves too. It has a built-in die roller which hates me, but you may have better results. There are built-in character sheets for many of today’s most popular RPGs and so much more.
The long and the short, Roll20 is free and has some very useable features. Paid subscriptions get you just a few additional features, but it also helps to support the future development of the software.
Fantasy Grounds – Client/server-based. Requires special software – GM must buy license
Fantasy grounds is considered the creme de la creme of virtual tabletops by many! It can be fully customized for a specific game or campaign or even play style. The drawback is that it is not free and the costs are rather high. You do get what you pay for though. I have never had the chance to actually play or run a game using Fantasy grounds so, I would encourage everyone to visit the site and take their virtual tour and see if it is for you.
Hardware Requirements for VoIP Games:
Ok, so we have talked about PbF and VoIP gaming and if you couldn’t tell my preference is VoIP gaming for the reasons I mentioned above. Now that we know what it’s all about its time to look at the hardware needed to play VoIP games. The technology needed to play is very low-key and inexpensive. Chances are you have most of what you need right now.
- High speed internet connection
- Headphones w/ built-in microphone
- Video camera (optional)
See, I told you the equipment requirements were low-key and that you likely already had them. I want to address the individual components.
High-speed internet – the higher the speed, the better! If you are going to take advantage of a video camera you video feed will be much smoother. If you are playing with audio only, speed is not as important, but still important enough to be a factor. I recommend being hard-wired instead of using wi-fi. The connection and speed will be more consistent and reliable during the game.
Headphones w/ microphone – headphones are important so as not to cause an echo by sound being picked up by the microphone coming out of your speakers. Inline microphones help to create a more pleasant and richer vocal sound. Think about radio DJs or sports announcers. They wear headphones and speak into high quality stand alone microphones, but many times they have boom microphones on their headphones. Same situation here.
Video camera – Cameras are optional, but hey do add to the experience and I highly encourage you to use one if possible. It helps to see who you are playing with. Especially if you are the GM, reading body language like you would at the table is am important aspect of the gaming experience.
Avoid the frustration of local gaming if you can’t find games to play and never be forced to play something you’d rather not play, just to get some play time in. The world is at your fingertips, but you need to take advantage of what’s there! Expand your gaming horizons and make new friends and play new games! With several additional ways to play games you should be able to find something to your liking.
Don’t let the technical requirements keep you from trying with PbF or VoIP gaming. I am confident that once you try branching out you’ll get into some great games and meet some great folks from all over the world. Remember, you are only limited by your lack of willingness to try something new. Please feel free to take advantage of the Boxcar Nation G+ community if you have questions related to either PbF or VoIP gaming. We are there to help make your transition smooth and to help expand your gaming horizons!