Yesterday I played my very first game of Dungeons and Dragons through the Internet. I am happy to say that it was a success!
I played with some fellow members of the online gaming community Shacknews. When figuring out how we were going to play we investigated several different possibilities for a “virtual tabletop” solution. Essentially we needed something that simulates the playing surface you would use if you were playing in person. This means it needs to allow players to roll dice, move tokens around a map, and share information like character sheets. In the end it came down to two choices: Fantasy Grounds II or MapTool. While FG2 is a much more polished looking tool, we decided on MapTool mainly because it is free. To use FG2 we would have needed to have every player buy a license which was more money than most were willing to put in to what was essentially still an experiment.
We discovered Veggiesama’s Framework, which is a complex set of macros and scripts that brings 4e support to MapTool. It’s rather daunting to set up, but not very much moreso than MapTool itself. I figured it would be worth the learning curve if it helped facilitate speed of play. We also decided on Ventrilo for voice chat.
Our official start time was 7pm, although I connected with one of the players an hour early so we could start making sure everything was set up and working. We didn’t actually start the game until about 8:15 due to needing to set up the rest of the players in Veg’s Framework. Once we did start, however, the gameplay was surprisingly smooth! We hit a lot of little snags, but I estimate that it was no more than the number of snags a bunch of first-time players would hit when playing in person. By the end of the night (11pm) we managed to completely finish the first encounter, which was the very best I had hoped for.
While organizing this game and getting ready to run it, I had constantly been thinking about all of the disadvantages of not being in person and how we could best overcome those problems. Even the best voice chat is more awkward than talking in person. What I had not anticipated was the advantages that playing online would bring. Using MapTool I was able to draw the map of the dungeon in advance. MapTool has a topology system where I can define what areas of the map should block vision, and then the areas are only revealed to the players as they explore the dungeon. Doing this in person is awkward and you’re pretty much bound by the need to reveal entire rooms in one go. But when playing in MapTool, you get the advantage of the players only being able to see what their characters can actually see. Here are a few screenshots:
The third image illustrates my favorite part about the whole thing: Vision is on a per-player basis, meaning that the halfling I have selected (on the right) actually can’t see his fourth party member because that member is back in the first room around the corner. At one point in our session one of the doors slammed shut on its own and monsters started attacking on one side of the door. The players that were on the other side of the door completely lost vision to the other room, so they couldn’t see exactly what was going on. I think this element has the potential to really create some cool suspense in our game.