Would you play Dungeons and Dragons, or other tabletop games with friends that live far away? It is possible, but requires effort. Here are a number of ideas and technologies that will help you along the way.
My private D&D group is separate by a significant distance. If I were to host a game, some of my players would have to drive two hours in one direction. Normally, we meet in a compromised location that is about one hour from everyone, but even that is difficult. As we age, and life gets in the way, it will only become harder when we all start having kids.
At my friendly local game shop (FLGS), I gamed with a player who was almost completely blind. From this experience, I realized that you don’t need miniatures, maps, or even dice to play. The imagery conjured from eloquent descriptions of the fantasy world is all that one needs to play. This idea hearkens back to the very origins of dungeons and dragons. It is, ultimately, the root of all roleplaying games.
I was recently reminded of the power of description when I began watching the RPG themed mini-series “GOLD“. In the show, the actors play a game called “Goblins and Gold”, which is similar to Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, etc. Except in the show, Goblins and Gold is a professional sport (like Starcraft is in Korea). If you watch a few episodes, you’ll hear some lovely, dramatic, and powerful game master descriptions of the fantasy world.
The Big Storm
We schedule our private games weeks in advance due to travel requirements and busy schedules. Just prior to one of our games, there was a snowstorm, and one of my players was unable to attend. Reflecting back on the blind player, and having listened in on many a conference call in the corporate world, I thought, “Why not just call in?” And that’s what we did.
I knew what the encounters were going to be, so I scanned in sketches of the maps, edited out my DM notes, and assembled pictures of the monsters. I zipped up a tidy package of files and emailed them to the stranded player. He called in, and we had him on speakerphone for several hours. At certain times, I instructed him to open specific files, and he was able to listen to my descriptions of what was going on. It worked out pretty well, but I don’t think this method can accommodate more than one remote player.
Skype & Webcam D&D
At our next session, a different player was unable to attend due to childcare responsibilities. However, he was available at a certain time in the evening after putting his baby to bed. Just in case there were problems with the audio or video feeds, I prepared the same kinds of files as I had for the speakerphone DnD method, but fortunately they weren’t needed.
After a few minutes of technical difficulty, he was able to see and hear us, and we could see and hear him. Due to the position and quality of the camera, however, it was difficult for him to see the battle board, so listening to my descriptions was still critical. At times it was hard for him to listen because too many people were talking at once, but all in all it worked out pretty well.
Even though I trust him, it was also nice that we could see his dice rolls on camera. Especially when he rolled a 20 at an important juncture. Although this method was an improvement, it is difficult to accommodate more than one player this way.
In the search for better ways to accommodate remote dungeons and dragons play, one of my players recommended RPG Tools. These tools are free, and they can take remote play to a whole new level. These tools do require the game master to invest a lot more time up front to build elements into the system. I’ve heard it is possible to run games “on the fly” with these tools once you become proficient enough, but I have my doubts. Nonetheless, this tool set opens the door for some incredible combinations of technology.
Advanced Remote Play
If you have a technically savvy game master or players, more advanced options may be feasible. Here are a few demonstrations of high-tech D&D solutions:
- http://yfrog.com/1qgyhwj and http://yfrog.com/e7r5oj
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n94E3IeBquY and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXsFNPO_gUM
A dream of the Future
Will Wizards of the Coast ever embrace the idea of remote Dungeons and Dragons play? Certainly Dungeons and Dragons Online is a small step in this direction, but as an MMO with a preset game world, it is not a means by which players and game masters are free to explore their own fantasy universe.
I dream of elegant software that will seamlessly connect players across the globe. Software that empowers game masters to develop worlds so easily that they may run games with little or no preparation. If the DM isn’t feeling creative, or doesn’t have time to prepare, simply load a preset module into the system and run it. But of course, the DM would be given options to run the module as is, or modify it the fly as well.
I dream of public play accounts with certified remote game masters, meaningful player history, player rankings/scoring, and more formal competitions. A full-blown RPG battlenet. I dream of a technological revolution. As silly as it might sound– an age of virtual tabletop gaming… (not to be confused with video games).
Do you think these dreams will ever become a reality? Have you tried any of these high-tech gaming setups? What methods do you use to accommodate remote play?