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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dice and Distance: Bridging the Gap


What? I thought the picture was apropos. Anywho. It's been a while since I've actually gamed in person, but I've had my share of experiences trying to fill the same gap through long-distance gaming. The results are decidedly mixed, but there's a lot to be learned from it, and a lot of options out there. I'm gonna go through, and hopefully make it less confusing to deal with, because there's a lot of options out there.

Post and Play!
Play-by-post games were actually what got me into RP, sorta. I played freeform, in a sorta-not-quite game based loosely on post-LOTR canon. Very loosely. But that's a story for another day. In play-by-post games, players and the GM use an online forum to conduct play. This is the most basic type of long-distance RP for many people.

Benefits: Play-by-post lends itself readily to longer, more descriptive roleplaying, because everyone operates on a different schedule. You're not bogging down the game by writing up a lengthy description for your actions, and you can afford to write like you're writing a novel, with subtle characterization and vivid description. In addition, because there's no need for play to be real-time, it lets you be more flexible with scheduling, because there's no need to coordinate players. You also have an instant archive of the game's history.

Drawbacks: Play-by-post requires a lot of investment, because it's much harder to play off of the energy of the others, which is key. I'll be returning to this point again and again, but the more separation between the players, the harder it is for them to generate that almost-magical momentum. PbP games are in great danger of stalling. I've seen it happen. Also, if the game incorporates turn-based mechanics, there can be a great danger of lag while everyone waits for the person-whose-turn-it-is to post.

Chatting Up the Kobolds
I've also done some RP via group chat, using Skype as a client. There's a lot of people who do RP over IRC, too. You post character actions, dialogue, etc. in chat, and there's generally OOC chatter too (but I like siphoning it off into another chat).

Benefits: The RP here is a lot more in-the-moment and more fast-moving, action-based stuff, compared to PbP. You no longer have the "waiting for their turn" problem, at least not as much, and there's a bit more ability for players to key off of one another and build session momentum. And, like in PbP, you can read archives of the game via chatlogs.

Drawbacks: You have to schedule, like in a real-life game. Plus, because there's no face-to-face connection, momentum can still be hard to generate, particularly if you're used to face-to-face gaming. You're in for a world of frustration. You also pretty much have to sacrifice some of that slower-paced character building and description to keep the game moving along.

Bananaphone?
I have run one game over telephone, which is an oddball but included for completeness' sake. It was a learning experience, and it had its own benefits as well.

Benefits: It's very easy to slip into this from a face-to-face mindset, and it runs similarly to an in-person game. It's great to have players pitching in vocally, and it's a truly real-time RP technique. (Chat isn't totally real-time, it has what can sometimes be a critical delay where players aren't responding.) It's also great to convey a lot of things that don't slip through in text.

Drawbacks: Not gonna lie, that was one of the hardest things I've tried to run. With everyone on a conference call, I had a hard time figuring out how all the action was flying, because I had nothing visual to connect it with, though that's possibly just a personal thing. It also requires scheduling like in-person games, and there's no solid way to archive a session.

In Summary
So, that's a brief survey of various long-distance methods. I didn't quite count webcam gaming, because of how close it is to in-person gaming...and I didn't want the article to get too long. What I really think is important, though, is that players and GM understand the limitations and benefits of their chosen medium. Games play differently if they're in-person, play-by-post, or over chat. That's not a bad thing. I believe that you can play any game over any medium, if you're clever enough. The key lies in fully understanding how the medium influences the game.

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