So, this is a companion piece to my earlier article on my checklist for running oneshot games over Discord with voice only connection. This is more rambling than that, so if you’re looking for something tight, go there first.
I am slowly settling in to using Google Meet as the platform for my home long running campaigns, but basically you can use any other video conferencing software with this. Google just happens to be my suite of programs, so Meet comes as a natural extension from that.
I run my home campaigns to my friends. I love to see their faces while we play. When running one-shots, I sort of prefer limited anonymity.
- Preparation to the campaign session in the online setting is pretty much the same as it is for the face-to-face sessions. I rummage the internet for photos, maps and such. I either earmark pre-made characters I’m planning to use or create sheets for them that the players can view during the session. I do this face-to-face and I do this for the online medium. The big difference is that I share things on a Google Drive document so that everyone can edit and see what’s going on, instead of building layouts in InDesign.
- For campaign play, I convert the character sheets to an electronic format and make sure they’re updated to current situation of the characters. I use Obsidian Portal for our Werewolf and Google Drive for our Fate Battletech games.
- For the video stuff, I am a total nerd, so I pre-build a CamTwist setting for my view so I can use two inputs on my Mac. One for me and a Picture-in-Picture for my dice tower. More about this later.
- For soundtracks, timing them is a pain online, so easier to go with an optional generic soundtrack than trying to make sure everyone is listening to the exact same beat as you. It will fail most of the time anyways because of lag.
- I eat a proper meal before the game (Still failing at this a lot)
Start of the session
My game start procedure goes as follows, in order:
- Systems check. If this is the first session of moving the campaign online, give at least 30 minutes for all the technical issues to solve. Make sure everyone can hear and speak properly. If they have the option, people should connect directly to the net via ethernet instead of wifi for less lag. Remind people that Meet runs best on Chrome or the Meet app. Instruct everyone to use a headset to minimise the echo and allow background music. Remind people to mute your microphone when you’re not speaking. Everyone should download Google Meet Grid View plugin to see the player group when play begins. Ask if anyone have any technical questions. Or if they have tips you have missed.
- Basic “how are you doings”. This can be done while doing the system check, if people are jumping in and out. Remember that this is not only a performance, but also a social situation to escape the social distancing going on.
- The safety tool talk. I use Open Door Policy in my games and with online play, reminding people of that is necessary. If you need to go, go. Let the rest know through text chat if you can. Then I go through the practices we’ve agreed on for other safety tools and how they translate to the online environment. My Werewolf groups use X card and some of them use the O card. X:ing and O:ing in online environment is hard, but the video makes it a bit easier with X being an arms-crossed sign in front of the camera, while O being the “O.K.” hand sign done with fingers. We also have a well defined Lines/Veils set for the groups, so we go through those and adjust them as necessary. I write down the Lines and Veils to the chat so everyone can see it. And remind that the list isn’t final that it can be adjusted during play if needed. Then ask if the tools are clear or if the players have questions.
- The practicalities talk: Because the biggest momentum killer is people talking over each other and then spending a long while saying “no, you go first” “oh, you started, it should be you”, explain the finger queue technique and thumbs up encouragement methods (more of these in a bit). 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.”) and as a tool to talk the general off-game chit chat. If the game has social media policies, remind that they’re still in effect and that it might be a different thing to take a screenshot of everyone’s faces than a photo of the game table with dice and character sheets. Ask if there are questions about the practicalities or if someone has more tips or ideas.
- Remind the players of what the game is about. Just a brief reminder of what we’re playing. What the tone is. What we’re aiming for. What the genre is. Etc.
- Recap what happened the last time. I’ve found the best procedure is go round the players, asking for one or two details from each player before moving on to the next. When the big things about the last session have been said, switch to “can someone come up with something more we’ve missed?” The “something more” is a good place to practice the finger queue method. Only tell the players things they’ve forgotten once people run out of things to say. Players will actually get into the mood of the story with recapping what happened, so you don’t need to take the spotlight here.
- Move to the actual game. Share the soundtrack if you have one, and let everyone put it on the background if they want to. This is why headsets are important. The music will be in their ears only, and everyone can set it up the way they like. Spotify is nice, if everyone has the paid subscription without ads. There are tools to sync this experience, but I’ve not really bothered yet.
Finger queue and thumbs up
There eternal issue with speaker turns in online tabletop gaming is “who talks next”. Video solves this wonderfully with something I learned from Alfacon, the “finger queue” technique. If you want to say something, raise one finger on camera. If someone already has a finger up, raise two, marking you’re second in queue to speak. If third, raise 3 fingers, etc. It is clear who is the next person to speak just by looking at the screen. And when it is your turn, lower your finger, and the rest adjust their numbers accordingly (so two fingers turn into one). It is simple and effective.
The second thing is using thumbs up to agree with what is said. Saying “I agree” will cause two people to talk simultaneously, causing a halt of “what did you say?” “Oh, just that I agree.”. So raise your thumb on camera, just like if you were pushing like on Facebook or clapping on Medium. The video really helps with this.
During the game
- Make sure everyone has an opportunity to act and react to things by telling who you’re expecting to talk. Keep an eye on the finger queue. If the system supports some form of turn order, follow that to give all players an opportunity to act.
- Write down NPC and place names. I use a Google Slides document with my Fate game where I paste pre-made slides from another document when they become relevant. Revealing new NPCs, places, aspects etc. to the players. With Werewolf, I use chat to write down the names of things.
- Streamline the system if possible and choose how you’re rolling the dice. As I mentioned before, I have a two camera setup: My laptop’s camera on my face, and a Picture-in-Picture pointing at the dice results. I roll all the dice in these games. Even it removes the players the tactile feel of dice-rolling, it feels more like the real thing than a dice bot. The other option is to let every player roll dice and just tell the results. I trust my home campaign players enough to tell me what they rolled.
- Keep an eye on the clock. When there is a break, go through the break procedure. Tell what time you expect the players to return. Make sure they refill their drink. If they have questions, direct them to 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, which means what would be the place you’re stopping play for the day. In campaign play this is more about making sure everyone at the table gets to play as much in each session, than making sure you get all the content in.
After the game
- Remember to thank everyone.
- Ask how people felt about the game.
- Ask what was their favourite thing about the session and what they want for the future sessions (this is known as Stars and Wishes procedure).
- Debrief the game in general, especially if some topics rise from the questions.
- Thank everyone again. If you have specific thanks, give them.
- If you have time, have a chat about how’s life etc. It’s a social situation after all.
(the photos in this article are from pexels.com)