Everything I Learned about Online Sessions

My Pathfinder session last night, despite a few initial glitches, went fabulously!  While I will not call it a resounding success as far as good sessions go, it provided a necessary learning experience for how to construct an online session/campaign.  My staple Saturday game has given me a glimpse of the process as a player, but this solitary session has been much more valuable in crafting my own philosophy about online gaming.

The Virtual Tabletop is Almost Required

I qualify this heading with “almost” because I could see several games working well without the virtual tabletop, particularly those that de-emphasize grids and maps, as well as those that establish more fluid combat scenes.  However, in Pathfinder and other systems that require a visual aid to enhance the combat experience, it is important to carry the tabletop over to the virtual environment.  Last night, Roll20 provided the perfect degree of virtual immersion into the combat in two major ways, the first of which being visualization.  My players could visualize the battlefield just as well as an actual physical map and were able to move through that combat effectively given the lack of an immediate presence at the table.  Secondly, the level of immersion greatly increase for each of my players.  In my Saturday game, when we use a map, it is not as seamless, for the GM must point a webcam at a separate battlemat, which heightens the feeling of disconnection and distance from the combat.  I could not figure out why, but when we began a combat last night, it occurred to me:  my players were able to move their own pieces around the map rather than rely on me to do it.  This allowed them to connect more strongly with the events of the battle and allowed us to complete it relatively quickly.

Pacing is Key

Not only is pacing so much different in a virtual session, but also maintaining that pacing is much more challenging.  The initial agenda for the evening involved wrapping up a coronation ceremony to install one of the PCs as ruler of a fledgling nation, which required sub-scenes of dealing with major NPCs and solidifying trade agreements and deals.  This portion of session was so difficult to pace because the lack of physical presence at the table often led to players becoming disengaged.  This disengagement often manifested in a lot of interruptions and disruptions in conversation between all parties.  While we were able to establish the pacing more effectively in the combat scenes, the social scenes required much more thought for staging and pacing than I initially allotted.

Interactive Play-Aids

The most intriguing development to come out of the evening was the level of engagement from PCs surrounding the tabletop and the maps stored on Roll20.  For me, the fact that they had complete control over their own tokens (with the exception of my roommate who was allowing to do the interaction for him) made them much more enthusiastic about what their characters were doing in the scene.  They explained their actions, but also moved their token around much fluidly (i.e. without prompting) to complement the verbal script of the game.

Looking Ahead

I am looking forward to pushing the envelop a bit more by GM more online sessions.  By getting more and more practice with the art of virtual GMing, I feel that I can improve my abilities both in an online setting and a good old-fashioned table.  Here’s to hoping that my ambitions will not be lost in the interface.


Coming Back into the Thick of It, but Still Full of it.

I had hoped to post this entry on January 1st, but as luck would have it, I spent the better part of a month putting it off.  Now that I have a few moments to post, I think that it is time to put this puppy into high gear…but not today.

Today, I might be embarking on my first foray into an online session run through Roll20.  Given that it is the third (or fourth, if you are being technical) major snow event, my usual local players are all stranded at home, watching their kids, and/or hiding from the encroaching cold.  Because of this, I am taking this bold step forward, and with any luck, we will be doing our first session with a fully integrated virtual tabletop.

If we close early, I will have a follow-up post on the results, as well as my impressions of the sessions.

World Building 2013 – All Roads Lead to…TSR?

I have been using some of my free time to pencil in some ideas for a bout of world building.  The old pink binder of my first homebrew world (Codename:  Lanotia) has resurfaced, both literally and metaphorically, so I feel that it is time to see what I can do.  Yet, the task seems monumental and paralytic, for all roads to something new and innovative lead back to previously published material.  Here is a glimpse of some of the roads that I have been down thus far:

Track 1

  • “I have taken a lot of Latin…*Bing* Roman-themed, with a testament to political, technological, and philosophical greatness housed within a decaying empire.” 
  • “Wait, this seems familiar…” [Looks over at Arcanis]
  • “Dammit!”

Track 2

  • “Hmmm…Why is Dune in my queue of things to watch?”  
  • “…Desert Campaign World FTW…”
  • [Sad Face] “I’ll guess I can call it Dark Qadim.”

Track 3

  • “Hmmm…Martin doesn’t have the quintessential rights to dark, gritty fantasy, right?  I can do that.”
  • “First off, let’s use this nifty software to build some banners.”
  • [20 minutes later]  “It has a lion on it…”

I am starting to wonder what new ground is out there to explore with a fantasy, let alone a tabletop setting.  With science fiction, the possibilities seem boundless and fruitful for exploration, yet with fantasy, the capacity for endless combination exists, but somehow it feels difficult 1) to escape the sacred cows (i.e. elves, dwarves, and halflings; unbeatable magic; that damn starting tavern, etc.) and 2) to chart out unexplored terrain that has not been licensed (and likely Starbucks-ed).  What is truly left to explore and what is truly new? It seems that new wave mainstream and indie games that are breaking new ground tend to focus on the mechanics rather than the setting, though I must say that the concepts behind Greg Stolze’s Reign do make me feel giddy.  Perhaps a good moment of world building must start with a crowd-sourced question:  When it comes to fantasy after a resurgence of fantasy in all forms of media, where do we go from here?

Day 1 of January 2013 – A Plan of Gaming Action

Well, as per usual every year, I make a lot of commitments that I cannot keep, and this blog has been one of them.  However, a new year has dawned, and with it, so does a new day for this endeavor.  I am not going to spend of lot of time outlining everything that I will be doing over the next few weeks, but rather give an indication of my first project:  a look back on the most influential tabletop games that have occurred since I began gaming consistently in late 2003.  It is important to note that I am not necessarily looking at flawless games, but rather games that gave me pause, caused me to reconsider, and transformed my outlook on gaming.  I hope that they make for interesting reading, and I hope you stay tuned to read.

An Update on Gaming, Marvel Edition

It has been awhile, but only due to the rigors of academia and academic avoidance.  However, this journey back to blogging is not without its excitement, for I have initiated what I hope to be an incredible gaming event:  Marvel Heroic Roleplaying during the Marvel Civil War.  I am not going to venture into an in-depth discussion during this post since I am still ironing out the details for the campaign world, but my first impressions are quite promising.  Borrowing from a custom character creation system from another website, my players and I have created our own little setting within the setting and populated it with some rather interesting characters (4 PCs and 1 GMPC).  As I said, I am still finalizing the details, but I hope to use this blog to discuss the trajectory of the story and give some thoughts about a much more narrative-driven experience than we are usually up for playing.

Be prepared some character specs, scene development, and system musing over the next few weeks!  Cheers until then.

Worldbuilding Chronicles Part I: My Date with Catastrophe Jane/Joe

Ninth Doctor and Rose in Doctor Who “The End of the World”

After spending a significant amount of time playing Civilization V this Labor Day weekend, I got the bug to start worldbuilding again.  My own world has remained dormant for several years now and it seemed time to return to the project.  The notes were scattered around, and while reviewing what survived several primary computer jumps, the history (or lack thereof) jumped off the page, and my mind centered on a question that has been bugging me for several years now during my numerous excursions through fantasy RPG land:

Why do most major fantasy roleplaying settings, as well as numerous homebrew settings, incorporate a major catastrophe, one which caused such massive destruction that it threw the world into a lengthy dark age?

Many fantasy RPGs (Pathfinder and Earthdawn are my personal favorites.) contain this idea of a significant event that eliminates the trajectory of the setting and represents some type of rebirth to an age where the game begins.  This framework is quite common and is becoming more ingrained in both commercial and homebrew settings.  My own setting contained a massive plague that had wiped out most of the world’s population (which is nothing like King’s The Stand) and where civilization was just clawing back to a state of normalcy.  I have encountered many variations of this framework over the years, but it seems to be defined by these stages:

  1. Colossal Catastrophe – An event of global proportions ruins the world’s current development.  This event comes in the form of a crashing celestial body (in both senses of the word “celestial”); a global meteorological event, possibly an ice age; a massive plague or illness, usually indiscriminate of fantasy race; or a magical event, often one that restricts or inhibits the ability to practice magic.
  2. The Loss of All History Prior to the Catastrophe – The history becomes either lost, buried, or guarded by some sentinel being or fantasy race.
  3. A Gaming World that Starts Numerous Centuries after this Catastrophe – The default game setting takes place at a time far removed from the catastrophe, and much of the default exposition and geopolitical systems account for only a small portion of the time being the catastrophe and the default time.

I am not going to take a critical stance on this trope, as it can be useful in fleshing out a fantasy world, particularly homebrew settings that require an extensive amount of bottom-to-top construction.  My question is what aspects of setting generation and worldbuilding prompt the use of this trope.  Why does it feel like a natural, often expected, convention to use when crafting ye old Republic of Old/Middle English Place Name?  More to the point, has it become a required element that must be present to address the audience’s expectation or assist in the suspension of disbelief necessary to engage with a fantasy setting.  I have some thoughts, but I would like to hear other opinions on the matter.