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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ogre in the Playground
    Lonely Tylenol's Avatar

    Join Date
    May 2011

    Default Running a Group in Person -and- Online (at the Same Time)?

    GM'S NOTE: My players absolutely CAN view this thread; in fact, I encourage them to do so, as this affects all of them.


    Hello all,

    I'm currently running a long-running (8 months and counting) D&D 3.5/P E6 group on my humble little island of Kauai, HI. It's a large group (we just turned it up to eleven, with others still expressing interest), but it's gotten smaller: two of my group have just moved to another island for college. One of the two has said she is not playing any games while she is in university, but the other is still very interested in playing--so much so that she wants to Skype in on days that I am running my usual game, and perhaps even do solo or small-group adventures on her island when I'm there for my own classes (which is once a month).

    She's been an absolute blast to have in my game--she's graciously hosted for most of the campaign (and the games will still be run at her place, with her cousin hosting), she's on-task at the table, and she's one of the few players I've ever played with who wrote not only what is typically expected of a character (backstory, basics, etc), but extra, seemingly trivial details that lend personality to the character (such as her character having a lifelong dream of seeing the ocean--which has no bearing on the general workings of the campaign, per se, but gives the character driving motivations other than the standard adventuring tropes). I'm moved that she not only wants to play when I fly over, but also when I run my normal games.

    There's only one problem: I have absolutely no way how I'm going to make this work. My table is pretty low-tech; I use a dry-erase board for my battle maps (and I draw them on the fly; I seldom, if ever, prepare actual maps in advance, since plans change often) and we don't really have an alternative set up (no large-screen TV or featureless white walls to project a digital map upon). I discourage computer use, as I have had players early in the campaign who just played MMOs or listened to music until the interesting parts (their turn in combat) came up, and were completely lost when it did. (Also, about half the group doesn't have laptops.) I'm not really sure how to give her a visual of the table without depriving someone else of the same. That said, I'm not unfamiliar with games played with Maptools and projectors (one time, we played with a flat-screen monitor laid flat on a table, with battle maps projected onto the screen as a literal surface for our pieces. Was pretty awesome).

    There is also the issue of communication: while I know I would be able to communicate with her via Skype as far as player-to-DM input is concerned, although I know pacing of the game will be affected at least a little bit (I'm the kind of person who can't walk and chew bubble gum at the same time, so I have no illusions about this being any easier), but I don't know how I am going to handle communication between players; I would rather not be an intermediary between two (or more) players, because that breaks pace even more and something always gets lost in translation.

    I know simply dropping the player from the regular sessions would be the expedient option, but this group hasn't left anybody behind before, and I'd like to not start now, if possible.

    Have any of you done this sort of thing before? If so, how did you swing it? Even if you haven't, does anybody out there have tips and helpful pointers to make this work? If tech needs to be brought in, of what type and scale, and what programs and such have worked the best for players out there?
    5e: Expanded Inspiration Uses

    Spoiler: 3.5/P Stuff. Warning: OLD

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Pixie in the Playground

    Join Date
    Jun 2011

    Default Re: Running a Group in Person -and- Online (at the Same Time)?

    I encountered exactly this situation just last year, when my group split up because everyone was going off to college. 4 of us were going to the same college, but 2 of the others still wanted to play but wouldn't even be close enough by to realistically be able to visit for a weekend. So instead, we used skype.

    And we took a very low tech approach as well. We just started a video chat with the people on the other end (on two different computers since we didn't want to pay for 3-way video chat) and tried to keep the computer pointed in the direction of the action. When it came time for combat, we'd just point the webcam at the board on which the miniatures were, which didn't actually cause the game to slow down that much after a turn or two when the person on the other end didn't have to keep asking what things he couldn't see well were.

    I think the biggest issue of playing like this is that it's easy to forget the person is there. Several times in non combat situations when that person's input was not required, if we got to talking loudly or intensely, we would easily drown out the voice of the person talking over skype, who had no real way to get our attention. So make sure you're conscientious about keeping the other person involved.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Orc in the Playground
    Join Date
    May 2012

    Default Re: Running a Group in Person -and- Online (at the Same Time)?

    The last time we tried to do that it was nearly impossible to keep perspective with a webcam. I was going to volunteer for it later but I was going to suggest we make a copy of the game board on Roll20 and keep track of the game that way.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Pixie in the Playground
    Join Date
    Aug 2012

    Default Re: Running a Group in Person -and- Online (at the Same Time)?

    Hey guys. As the displaced maiden in question, I figured I'd throw in my $.02:

    I'd be happy to try a skype-in next Saturday, if only to see how it goes. I'll keep the time free regardless. I figure if we can rig up a bar stool or something in my usual spot to put the computer on your end on, I'll be able to see, hear, and be heard fine. If the noise level gets too high, I'll type out what I need to say. It should work until we find a better solution, at least.

    Long-term, I'll probably be there for as many sessions as you'll have me for (what else am I to do on Saturdays?) so we'll have to work out something that can be set up and taken down quickly and without complications. If you put the board up on an easel behind you or something, that might work, but you'd be turning around constantly...

    That's what I've got so far, I guess. Any more ideas on your end?

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Titan in the Playground
    Join Date
    Dec 2008

    Default Re: Running a Group in Person -and- Online (at the Same Time)?

    Well my campaign group that I've played with for years is splitting up and the same as you we're gonna try and keep it together and we've been fairly successful all summer with the one guy who's missing skyping in.

    Here's how we do it. Get a laptop, Skype, and a webcam. Have the missing girl skype in and blast the speaker on the laptop so she can be heard around the group. On our group we are a much smaller group of friends so if our guy needs to talk in private to someone they just text message each other.

    Now for image, issues you have a dry erase board? Angle the webcam at the board when combat or whatever else she needs to see gets started, and draw it as normal. Hopefully the players at your table can look around a laptop so it shouldn't disrupt them too much and she should be able to see.

    The rest is just having her call out what her character is doing. Now, what works for my group is that we have a battle map and legos (already set up as straight walls) so the different walls and locations are color coordinated by the lego walls so our guy just says he "wants to head toward the red house" or "take cover behind green wall" and we move his figure accordingly. I think you can do the same thing with multi-colored markers for your board.

    Hope that helps.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Pixie in the Playground
    Join Date
    Aug 2012

    Default Re: Running a Group in Person -and- Online (at the Same Time)?

    Dienekes - that does help. We use various d4 and minis at the moment, and draw the walls in on the board. I suppose Tylenol could easily color-code the walls as necessary, but I'm pretty good at direction given a North, so I'll be able to move about regardless. My character (Rose) isn't much of a 'running about and gallivanting' type in any case, usually it'll be something like "I head for the (spot of cover) and attempt to stay hidden while casting until otherwise noted, or a threat appears."

    Tylenol - I assume you'll continue with the passive checks and such, of course, but if you'd like to give me my results over the skype link instead of aloud, that might work better as I'll be able to copy them down and act accordingly regardless of the ambient noise. I think that'll streamline and remove some mishaps (24 diamonds, anyone?).

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Halfling in the Playground
    Join Date
    Jul 2010

    Default Re: Running a Group in Person -and- Online (at the Same Time)?

    As a bit of encouragement, I can say I have had this exact same issue with the group I DM for, and bringing the missing player via a Skype "virtual presence" has been a non-catastrophic solution.

    We're lucky enough to have a spare laptop that can be dedicated to Skyping, so we just stick that on the table, point the camera at the whiteboard on the table, and crank up the volume. Basically exactly what Dienekes said. External speakers might be a good idea in case the laptop ones don't cut it. Also, having a spare stack of books or milk crate or something to elevate the laptop can help provide a better view of the map.

    A couple of general pointers:
    -While this provides the Skyper with a passable view of the battle map, obviously it isn't perfect. It sometimes helps to throw in a quick description or a list of tactical options to orient them when their turn rolls around. ("You have enough move to flank the ogre ahead of you and attack, but you'd need a tumble check to avoid an AoO, alternately you're close enough to charge the one behind you.")
    -Good webcams help. With cheap ones, the background noise and feedback gets super obnoxious, and you'll find that people have to repeat themselves often. Since we upgraded, this really hasn't been a problem. Players across the table from the laptop might have to speak up a little bit so the Skyper can hear, but it's no big deal.
    -The first time you try it out, you might want to set up early so you have some time to trouble shoot. Having everyone sitting around for 90 minutes while you try to solve technical problems isn't so fun. Once you get the system figured out,
    -In my group, we don't do a lot of secretive player-to-player dealings, so it never really came up, but I guess that could be an issue if your other PCs aren't using laptops. Short of letting them use laptops, smartphones, or texting, I'm not sure how well that'd work out.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Dwarf in the Playground

    Join Date
    May 2012
    London, UK

    Default Re: Running a Group in Person -and- Online (at the Same Time)?

    In the group where I play we do this somewhat often: one of the players would miss about 1/3 of the sessions otherwise, so he skypes; I've also skyped in 3 or 4 occasions where I was travelling and I didn't want to miss the game . We've been doing this for a few years and tried some variants. So here's my experience:

    I can't imagine a way that doing this might be negative (i.e., worse than not having the player at all). The worst I have seen happening is that it's just as bad, but not worse. So by all means try it.

    The worst cases I've lived is when the person playing remotely has remote distractions, which makes you lose the player (but not worse of him being locally distracted, and perhaps better because he's not distracting other players). And also when audio is not working correctly and sound is clippy (the player can cover this issue to some extent with text chat, but he'll miss the GM and the rest of the group who won't be able to type back). If you do this regularly sooner or later you'll have a call drop for a long time.

    So here's some advice on the technical front to prevent/mitigate the problems above.

    • Someone already told you this: test everything in advance (specially the first time, but a few mins before each session, probably while the group is settling in and getting ready to play
    • The remote player should get a decent headset (nothing too fancy, just not the cheapest one). That will help her hearing better (while covering environment noise, no matter how little she thinks there is at her place), and microphones in headset will pick better her voice without catching environment/computer fan noise.
    • The computer at the gaming table should have good speakers; many laptops have some distortion or low volume, and you want the remote player's voice to be heard loudly and clearly.
    • A lot of laptop microphones are no good for catching the sound in a whole room. Try it, and get an external one if possible.
    • If you get the chance, find a place without much environment noise to play (If you play near a busy street, look for the room farthest to the street). One tends to ignore all that noise but over skype it gets messy.
    • I don't think this covers you because there'll be only one computer, but jic: don't put more than one computer in the same room on the call. you'll get a lot of echoes and feedback loops.
    • The remote player should go video off. You won't look at the screen anyway if you're on a meeting with people making real eye-contact, and it improves audio quality

    Besides the generic teleconferencing advice above, here are also some specific gaming tips:

    • The remote player should keep her character sheet online, and updated (we use mythweavers). Print it if aren't sitting in the computer while playing. You can then check her stats without needing to ask.
    • If the remote player agrees, you can make some rolls for her to avoid he going back and forth, specially for reactive stuff (spot checks in D&D for example) where she can't or wont decide to apply a bonus/spell/whatever. What these are depends a lot on the system and what roll-modifying abilities her character has. Agree this with her before-hand
    • Also agree what will happens if you lose the call at an important point (typically middle of a battle). Eventually it will happen. Our GM usually retreats the character (as he usually does when some of us misses the session) if he wasn't very directly involved (example: giving support or shooting from range), or takes over. This is mostly GM territory but you should agree, again, before-hand.
    • If takeover is an option, an advice to the player is not dictating just her character actions ("move to this position, make special attack X"), but also her general intentions so a taken over character can act closer to her wishes (example: "I'm trying to deal as much damage as possible, even at the expense of my defenses, while trying to keep myself between the bad guy and the squishy archer").
    • Find an online dice roller, there are lots. Try to find one that lets the roller label each roll with some text("12 initiative", "35 fire damage"), to avoid confusions regarding what is each number when a lot of dice rolls start being made (were those 2 attacks in a row or attack and damage?)
    • Regarding the grid, we use roll20 (and most of us at the table have laptops), so I can't help you much here if you don't want laptops (and I understand why, I GM that way too). Perhaps using roll20 you and having a second laptop at the center of the table also connected to roll20 as you prublic grid?

    With all this, the drawbacks should be minor. There'll be more misunderstandings/misinterpretations between you and the remote player (both of you should keep an open mind about it). Also group discussions will be harder; and the experience for the remote player will be a bit duller (but still fun, in my experience). The gaming style for the remote player needs to change a bit. But these are minor compared to be able to have fun with your friends

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