As life has its various twists and turns, it sometimes occurs that the DM of your regular face to face game has to change their circumstances. In my case, I’ve found myself with a fantastic opportunity to pursue my developing writing career further – but it requires me to go to another country to really fulfill it. Naturally this raises an important question: What happens to my current face to face games? As I’ve mentioned before, I currently run a Shadowrun game, two Trail of Cthulhu games (one will be changing to Star Wars soon) and a Night’s Black Agents game. Most of these are biweekly or take over my “Roleplay Sunday” when it occurs, but that isn’t going to be possible to do face to face when I’m in another country.
So what approaches are there for a GM on the move?
Obviously the best answer, if I want to continue with these games, is playing online. Online roleplaying is actually not a new concept to me, because I successfully ran two 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons games online for around 3 and a bit years. These games had every bit as much drama, interesting interpersonal developments (between NPCs and players) and dice doing whacky things as a face to face game. On the other hand, there is something really great about a face to face game, most notably in how it encouraged me to get out and about regularly. Plus it’s great to be able to hang out with people you know before and after the game session, such as getting lunch/dinner and so on.
Roleplaying online does have some issues and problems however, which aren’t shared by a face to face game. For one thing, because they are done on a computer and players are at their homes (typically) distractions are easier to come by. People have every now and again, needed to leave their computer for long periods with nobody noticing. Often this can only be discovered (frustratingly) until I’m typing “Something exciting is happening!!! What do you do!!!” and get “….” in response. Then several awkward minutes pass as nobody is sure if there is some lag, they’ve outright disappeared or something else has happened (often being kicked from the server is a big one). Mystery disappearances, distracted players and getting players to notice you’re talking to them are much harder to deal with in online environments.
Of course the above issues are hardly insurmountable problems and one very good way of fixing most of them, is to use a Skype/Mumble or similar chat service. This means you can verbally communicate with players, which makes it easier to get their attention “in real life” to respond. Additionally, some of the different virtual tabletop (VTT) programs or sites have ways of nudging/alerting players they are needed. For example, maptools allowed me to ping a player if they had something going on, like their turn and using voice communication made things fairly easy.
Right now after my move, I’m intending to migrate my games to the online VTT platform Roll 20. I’ve not actually used this before, but it seems to have a good suite of tools, is easy to use and most importantly, avoids some connection headaches I’ve experienced in the past. On the other hand, I may also go back and use the macro based maptools. Maptools is not convenient or easy to use, but it’s a powerful tool that lets you do almost anything – as long as you’re willing to put in the effort in programming. It does also have a disadvantage, at least when I was using it, of needing to mess with router settings to open ports etc.
Either way, moving away doesn’t have to be the end of my games and an online environment for roleplaying, while different, is worth exploring. Sadly not everyone I play with has decided they would like to migrate online, which is entirely understandable in fact! But for those that are continuing, just online from this point, I am sure they will continue enjoying playing in my games. Equally I hope those of you who visit the guild, will continue to enjoy my players various shenanigans immortalized in the various play reports! You or your DM moving away doesn’t have to be the end of the game anymore, especially with how effective and fairly easy it is move a game online!