So. Like everyone and their grandmother, I’ve been running games online ever since the social distancing thing started. There are awesome technical articles on how to do that, but I feel like I’ve got something of a routine down. So I’m sharing in hopes someone could benefit from this or if someone has pointers I could use. I use voice chat on Discord without a virtual tabletop, so no roll20 tips here.
I wrote a companion piece to this about running my campaign games over video conferencing.
- I do the prep I would normally do for a one-shot game. This depends a lot on the game, as it normally does.
- In addition, I try to find a Character Keeper to use or if none are available, make one myself. Character keepers have become a favourite option for keeping track of the characters.
- If I use ready-made characters, I spell out any special rules the characters have in the Keeper in full.
- Make or download a cheat sheet for the rules the players will be needing.
- I eat a proper meal before the game (I fail at this so often, but I try…)
Start of the session
My game start procedure goes as follows, in order:
- Systems check. Make sure everyone can hear and speak properly. Go through Discord basics with people who are not used to the system: Use the Discord App instead of the web interface. If you can, use a headset to minimise the echo. Switch to Push-to-talk if it is at all possible for you. Remember that you can adjust each person’s volume individually by right-clicking their name in the chat. Ask if anyone have any technical questions. Or if they have tips you have missed.
- Introductions. Ask the people at minimum: How they would like to be addressed off-game, how much experience they have with online gaming and if they are familiar with the system. Basic ice-breaking and get everyone talking from the get-go. Make notes.
- Give a CATS introduction to the game: Explain as an elevator pitch what the basic Concept is with the game and the scenario. Explain the Aim of the session to the players — it is very different if we’re trying to figure out who the player characters are from if we’re trying to solve a murder, or pull off a daring heist. Talk about if the Tone of the game is serious, silly, scary, sad or solemn, or whatever it is you want, to get everyone on the same page. And last, if you know there are going to be some Subject matter you think might need to be said out loud that you’ve planned for the game, like alcoholism or drowning, mention that at the get-go, so the players won’t get blindsided. Ask if anyone has any questions after every part.
- The safety tool talk. I use Open Door Policy in my games. For Discord, I try to encourage people to say on the text chat channel if they leave so we’re not wondering where the person disappeared to. Then I go through the X card practices. X card, especially in Finnish circles, has a few different variants people are using, so specifying how it is used is important. My method to X’ing something is writing a lot of XXXXXXX on the text chat or saying X out loud in the chat. And last, after we’ve gotten into the mood of safety, I have the Lines/Veils discussion with me starting with my own Lines and Veils, being as honest as possible. I write down the Lines and Veils to the chat so everyone can see it, or on the character keeper if there is a good place for it there. And remind that the list isn’t final. With each tool introduced, I also ask beforehand if it is familiar to the players or not. Ask if the tools are clear or if the players have questions.
- The practicalities talk: Tell that the plan is to take breaks once an hour. Normally 5 minute breaks and the third break should be a 10 minute long one. Remind players to drink water and use the breaks to stretch if they’re sitting down while playing. Remind people not eat while their mic is on. Tell people to use the text chat to tell what their character is doing if it won’t affect the scene (“George looks alert while this is happening.”). Ask if there are questions about the practicalities or if someone has more tips or ideas.
- Explain the system on the bare minimum level and say that you’ll explain it in more detail when more details is needed. Share the cheat sheet with the players.
During the game
- Make sure everyone has an opportunity to act and react to things by telling who you’re expecting to talk. At the table people find the spots to talk more easily, but with voice-only, giving turns and directing the people becomes more essential.
- Write down NPC and place names in the chat.
- Explain system as you go along. There is no need to explain all the rules if you don’t use all the rules.
- Keep an eye on the clock. When there is a break, go through the break procedure. What time you expect the players to return. Make sure they refill their drink. If they have questions, ask them in the text chat and you’ll answer them when you get back from the break.
- During breaks, evaluate how much time you’ve spent and how much time you have left. Cut content appropriately. Doing things online takes longer than it does offline, so you’ll end up doing this. Start from the first break and do this consistently during every break.
After the game
- Remember to thank everyone.
- Ask how people felt about the game.
- Ask what was their favourite thing about the session.
- Ask if they have tips for future runs.
- Debrief the game in general, especially if some topics rise from the questions.
- Thank everyone again. If you have specific thanks, give them.
I probably forgot something, but will update this when I remember.