VT Tips

In my previous post I talked about VTs. Having used them with several different groups in the last few years, both as game master and player, I have learned a few things about the pitfalls and strengths of VTs. In this post I want to share some of that experience.

Distractions kill your games. Watching youtube, chatting online, having the TV on in the background and so on will all zap the focus of the participants and pretty soon you will have a group of zombies with response time lag and diminished involvement. Distracted players will react – often with a delay – but will rarely contribute and this makes the game boring. Make it clear that everyone is responsible for contributing to the energy and content of the game. The game master is not there to entertain the players and the players must bring their own energy and ideas to the game if it is to be any fun.

Keep a strict schedule. Organising people online is often a challenge. Advertise the game well in advance. In the beginning it is a good idea to remind everyone of connection details and times on the day of the game. Make sure you have a clear start and end time for the session. This makes it easier for everyone to schedule uninterrupted game time. If someone is repeatedly late then start the game without them. It is not fair on the punctual participants to have to wait and tardiness can become infectious if you allow it to fester.

Establish protocols. Online communication is always subject to potential interruptions and you need to agree on how to handle reconnecting. Everyone should know that if the connection is lost or the session crashes then it will be brought back on-line as quickly as possible. Everyone should try to reconnect and if someone fails to connect then keep trying at intervals.

Have an alternate means of communication. When unable to connect through the VT it is important to be able to communicate through alternate means, such as e-mail or on a group forum. If you have a mailing list then communication is easy, otherwise you might want to create a group in your mailing program that includes all the other players. Alternatively, you might use a forum and have either a thread for each session or a specific thread for communicating when you cannot connect. Ideally, for those times when someone loses Internet connection, you will also want to exchange telephone numbers. I assume here that you are all good friends and know each other. If you are playing with people you’ve only met online you might want to be cautious and not hand out your e-mail or telephone number before you’ve gotten to know them properly.

Voice chat. One thing which VTs do not yet have inbuilt is a voice chat server. While some see this as a missing feature others think it better to use one of the many very good and free voice services separately. This can be a another great channel of communication using something like mumble, ventrillo, team-speak or skype. This allows communication to continue even when the VT is not running and can speed up the game significantly – especially if not everyone is a fast typer. Voice chat can become distracting if there is too much chatter, so keep the focus on the game and limit other banter like you would at the gaming table. With faster broadband speeds, bigger monitors and a lot of great HD web cameras now on the market video communication is also increasingly becoming an option. This will bring its own advantages and challenges.

Keep the pace going. This is closely related to the distractions mentioned above. A slow pace can make players restless and it is far too easy for bored participants to start checking their emails, or browse their favourite forums and blogs. Again though the players are also responsible for keeping the pace going at a speed they are comfortable with. The players are not there to be entertained, but to participate and make the game their own.

Keep everyone involved. Some people are better at hugging the spotlight. This has always been true in roleplaying games, VT or not. In VTs fast typers might dominate more hesitant typers if you’re not using voice chat. Make sure you prompt everyone for their actions and opinions.

Conventions. Agree on conventions for in-character and out-of-character dialogue. Fantasy Grounds allows you to switch mode which makes it very clear when you are speaking as your character, when you are describing actions and when you are talking out-of-character. If you are using voice chat you might consider it as always out-of-character and typed dialogue as in-character, or you could do it the other way around. The conventions are meant to help make it clear when you are speaking and acting as your character, and when you have something to say as a player.

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