The Game Session
With a small group of decent role-players lined up we all connected and started playing.
Roll20 has some nice features, one of which is the addition of background adventure music controlled by the GM. I have always felt that one of the roles of being a GM is in setting the session mood and atmosphere. With the background music (and sound effects) that you can control I thought this would be a great feature, and it is, however, for a first session, there's quite a lot to manage on a VTT. By the time you've switched to a different scene, got all the player's tokens moved over and positioned, got your notes ready, the background music falls a bit down the priority list. I think with more practice and experience running a Roll20 VTT session, managing the music would become easier, but initially, it's one extra thing to have your hands on.
We gathered together via voice only chat using Skype. I've never been a huge Skype fan as I have always found it glitchy but I thought that not using the video portion would improve it's functionality. Well, it didn't. More than a couple of times we lost one player here and there and they had to reconnect. And at the end of the session - the wrap-up, I lost all Skype connectivity. Which made it a real hassle to get back on with everyone just for planning next session and 'see ya laters'. It took longer to get everything connected again than it did to 'wrap things up', one of the things that annoy be about technology in general.
Why I didn't go with Google Hangouts? I guess I was worried about computer performance but with all the Skype issues I had over a three hour session - which wasn't too many - but it intrupts game-play as we 'look' around for a missing player, I'll probably go with Google Hangouts in the next session and see how that goes.
The Gameplay Itself
Sitting around a table you have faces to interact with. A face to face conversation or storytelling is a bit more enveloping and interactive than over the interwebs. It took me a while to get use to just talking into 'space' even though players were floating within that space. It was a bit tricky placing a disembodied voice with a PC or token. I had a couple of nice distinct voices to separate but I constantly had to ask who was talking for which PC.
Again, talking into space took awhile to get use to but play moved along. The screen did become, at least for me, the hub of what I connected with, something to keep my eyes occupied while we chatted and played. Getting over that, the gameplay progressed as any other face to face session might.
The game mechanics within the Roll 20 VTT itself worked flawlessly. Dice rolling was a snap, along with keeping track of hit points, which was linked between the tokens and the player's character sheets. Combat moved quickly with the system as well.
|The lower basements as explored by the players.|
For example, players would point to items they saw on the map and asked what they were and examine and explore the environment that way. They were using the dungeon dressings that I placed on the map page as what they actually saw and relied less on my descriptions. It caught me off guard a bit but it's something worth noting. With some of the points I made about map-making in my previous posts, and how the more detailed maps would pull the game out of a players imagination and focus it onto the computer screen seemed to hold true. The more detailed map played in this virtual table top changed an important element of the game. I'm not going to judge it as bad or good, just different. And I think I would adapt my GMing style a bit to accommodate that change. If I were to continue playing with these detailed maps, I would be sure they are way more accurate knowing they were to be used by the players more as a way to interact with the environment in the game session.
Overall, I have to say that the VTT gaming experience was pretty good. It's different than a face to face session, without a doubt. It does present different challenges running a session. Adding a layer of technology can make a GM's job that much more complicated, but with some practice some of that can get ironed out.
I was surprised by how the players interacted with the maps and what they saw on the VTT screen and that brings up the biggest point - would one pursue that direction of controlling the VTT experience by letting the players explore more of what they see and less of what they hear from you as GM or strip all that away and use the VTT more of a blank slate to project your imagination onto? I think the VTT can work either way. There would be a lot less prep time if you just used the drawing tools to draw maps on the screen on the fly as needed and NOT use the VTT as the be-all end-all environment with which to play. Use it as a blank table. It would be just as easy to play the sessions in a full detailed mapped out environment, though slightly different than what one might be use to. The differences are subtle but they are there.
I do know that if I were to run an ongoing campaign, especially sandbox style, I would not spend all my free time preparing for a session by creating detailed maps and populating those maps ahead of time to be imported into a VTT system and used as a what you see is what you get game-board. Free-form sessions usually never work like that. I would go with the former method of stripping down the VTT game play area, leaving it open to be used only when needed, much of how my table-top sessions usually run - pulling the minis out only when needed.
I'll probably finish the game as I had intended and created, as a fully detailed game play map but I would like to try the VTT in a more stripped down version that I'm more use to. Roll 20 VTT should easily adapt to those different styles and anything in between. Me, I'll just keep rolling with it until I find that perfect sweet-spot on the Virtual TableTop.
Read part 1 and part 2