I’ve been gaming for a very long time, I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was 9 years old. My older brother and I used to sit on his bedroom floor and raid dungeons until he was old enough to start running campaigns and he found some friends to join us. Back then it was just the 6 of us in our basement for, sometimes, days on end. Skip forward a (ahem) few years and things have changed enormously. Now I find myself alone in my basement plugged in to my computer in a campaign with people from all over the world. My current party has a Dungeon Master in Israel, an Elven Fighter from Germany, a Dragonborn Monk from England, a Half-Orc Barbarian in Denmark, a Human Assassin in the U.S., and myself – the Lizardfolk Druid from Canada. Our exploits are posted online for the world to see.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know but the rapid growth of communication technology has made it possible to connect gamers in a global community and makes it possible for everyone else with an internet connection to watch in awe of our amazing gaming prowess. While this is awesome (!!) it requires a slight shift in perspective; when I first started gaming online for an audience there was a bit of a learning curve and nobody I could lean on for guidance so here you go, a little bit of advice from one nerd to another.
1. It’s not just about your group of friends anymore
The most important thing to know and remember is that when you start gaming online for an audience is that some people, maybe lots of people, are going to watch. It used to be that what happened in the dungeon stayed in the dungeon… not anymore, keep that in mind.
Speed, bandwidth – do I need to say anything else? If you don’t have the capacity to video chat smoothly, while checking online resources, and possibly streaming music, not only will you have a miserable experience, but so will the other players.
One screen can be enough but who doesn’t want two or three! When your DM is throwing monsters at you and you need to check the rule book for your next turn, toggling between the video chat/mapping software and your character sheet or an online reference can take you away from the action. If you can have multiple screens running or multiple computers, do it.
Don’t be afraid to do some things old school. I keep my spell book and a copy of the rules at hand because I know where certain things are by feel. Some DM’s allow you to use a paper character sheet and roll actual dice, while others want everything done online. Personally, I’m a little reluctant to trust in randomization software when I have a perfectly good set of dice, but the technology is here now and we just have to get used to it. We use Roll20 as our platform and I can attest to the randomness of their dice rolls. It doesn’t feel them same pressing a button, and it’s not as fast when you need to roll something weird but it is posted for everyone to see and believe me it feels the same when the software spits out a '1' when your druid-turned-crocodile is trying to pull the boat of party members away from the Duergar death trap.
Use a good headset / mic and:
3. Be Considerate
This isn’t to say that you're rude, what I mean is that you need to consider a few new things:
4. Story Telling
Sometimes when you're playing online the DM will use battle maps and tokens that can be manipulated to improve combat situations, but not all do. Even if maps and tokens are used there is very little “visual” happening on the screen, except for your lovely faces (sometimes), so it is up to us to make the story interesting for our viewers. Don’t be afraid to weave drama and comedy into the story, the DM can’t be the only one doing this and it makes things much easier for the DM if the players are contributing too. Ultimately any role playing is collaborative story-telling and a good group of players will take individual ownership of their responsibility in the story and try to make it a story worth listening to. A note on comedy and drama: you're going to be acting for a global audience, try to avoid cultural stereotypes, clichés, and anything else that might not be understood by someone from another continent. I thought the joke about the moose and maple syrup was hilarious* but the half-orc just stared at me like I just stole his favourite axe. (*Editor's Note: As a fellow Canadian, I can certainly attest that the one about the moose and the maple syrup is a national treasure, eh? - VP Quinn)
5. Interesting Characters / Development
Similar to my points above about story-telling, your characters are key to making an online gaming session worth watching or listening to. While I love the standard characters, we’ve seen them a million times and we know how they will react to a given situation. Build up an interesting character with wants and needs, fears and loves – this is what will engage viewers and keep them coming back. A good back story is essential for this; how do you get in to the mind of a character without a past? How do you develop a character who has no motivators? In a game session with limited - or no - maps, minis, or movement (you can’t really step away from the camera) you need to provide the DM, other players, and viewers with a rich, 3-dimensional character or you risk a yawn fest. What makes online role playing engaging is wondering what the characters will they do next and why.
6. Know your character and the rules that support it
I can’t state this enough. It’s important in face-to-face gaming, but it’s even more important when your online. In my experience gaming sessions online are short, you have to allow for a number of time zones and schedules and often players have other obligations which is why they are choosing online gaming as a means to get their fix. Further, you need to consider the viewers, even if it’s not something that motivates you the DM and some of the other players want people to watch them and want them to like it. So take the time between sessions to level, go through your feats, spells, and racial abilities and know them, at least well enough to avoid lengthy delays. When it’s not your turn you should be paying attention to the other players, NPCs, and bad guys, how else will you weave an epic story together, however if you have to look something up, do it while the other players are taking their turn not when it comes to you.
I hope this helps you kick down the door to online role playing and takes away some of the nervousness that you might have of performing for a global audience. It’s not that bad, once you get in to the story, everything else just fades away.
Bryan E. Sali
A.K.A. Skeeish im Madshek, Dark Wanderer of the 5 Tribes, keeper of the eggs, and Initiate of Semuanya.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.