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Online RPG gaming

So as is my nature I started a blog to focus my writing and managed to burn myself out in a week with an over aggressive schedule.

My brains defence for this was to wander to other interests and projects, although always leaving a thread back to where I began.

So whilst Alicia has been keeping things running I've been talking to a group of my friends and we have arranged an on-line, RPG group to start this week.

I helped start a gaming group several years ago which I nicknamed The Ely Cabal; which was also the name of the campaign I ran using Trail of Cthulhu.

This is the usual sort of group, meeting up at someone's house. We started fortnightly and through the years we've gone weekly, changed days several times and several people have left and others have joined. Our default venue has changed due to parental responsibilities, work responsibilities, logistics and other reasons as well.

One of our members has found weekly a bit too intense with his personal life at the moment so we have reverted to fortnightly for the Ely Cabal.

At the same time as this, another friend from another part of my life has been sucked into the hobby of roleplaying by the brilliant Geek & Sundry show Critical Role.

So we a spare night in my gaming schedule and someone else interested, I thought I'd see what we could do. The biggest problem is that my friend has no car and lives about 5 hours walk away.

I had mentioned remote gaming to the regular, in person, group several times; usually when someone left. There has always been a fair bit of resistance. Part of which I can understand, the social aspect of just being with friends, sometimes shared snacks and avoiding the complications of bringing gadgets to the table.

However it doesn't solve the problem that one group member can't attend now and there's other people who can't make it.

Two previous group members who left lived the same place as the new gamer. Again, they didn't drive and the train journeys, late at night became a drain, financially and physically.

So after discussing with the regular group, I reached out to our alumni. Two guys who dropped out are keen to get back gaming. The new guy is up for joining as well.

Somewhere along the line I realised an old friend of mine who had moved to Nottingham may be interested. So I invited her along and again she's signed up.

So whilst the regular group enjoy the table top socialising, I've now got a second group who due to geography would never be able to play by meeting up on a fortnightly schedule.

A couple of the regular group may join us. That's a wait and see kind of thing.

So we are looking at trialling two online, video based systems on our first evening.

For pure chat, we are going for Appear.in which is a simple to set up video chat room system. It's really simple to get started which is a huge boost to get people in and gaming and not setting up accounts, fighting with firewalls and other stuff.

There's a number of fun things I've been able to try with this, you can enter a chat room multiple times so bringing in multiple video feeds (with several webcams). You can also screen share so I have actually had my own video feed, maps on a shared desktop and a second webcam as a "dice cam" pointing at the table.

Appear.in uses WebRTC which is built into newer browsers (Chrome and Firefox) so doesn't take much to get started. I've already chatted to a few of the group in our room and identified a few things.

It seems Firefox does not have noise cancellation in its' WebRTC implementation so when I was talking with someone using Firefox, I was hearing myself seconds later.

Whilst talking Alicia and the kids were streaming a movie and playing a game. That meant a few slow downs. This was just with two of us. Hopefully it'll be better in the evening.

But how it copes with 6-8 occupants in the room we'll have to see.

For a bit more crunch, we're also going to be trying Roll20.net in "anger."

I've tried to use Roll20 a few times before but with the regular group never keen, I've never had anyone to try it with.

Two of us briefly played around in it and we did get a few problems with the cameras. This meant refreshing the page a few times. Some of that was due to have Appear.in open and the browser keeping the webcam in use there.

Roll20 has a lot more features, almost to the point of it being overwhelming. So whilst I'm confident I can work with it, I'm concerned with how my player get on with it but mostly the amount of preparation it may need.

For a really good game, it's difficult to just search for a monster or battlemap, drop it on the table and start fighting. You need to make sure the encounter is balanced and interesting.

Sourcing maps that omit hazards may constrain you to what is available. Rather than a fight in a poultry house, it could be just a tavern, a warehouse or some docks. Again.

Playing with orc figures, again will get boring because you can't find goblins, kobolds or lizard men counters. You can end with with a mismatch between some aspects being really good but then having to remember or suspend disbelief to account for pretty counters.

Again though, we shall see how it goes.

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