Take the 2-minute tour ×
Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

A member of our group has moved to Dallas and we're involving them in the game using Skype. The rest of us are sitting around a table. We have one laptop being used to show the player, and usually one or two other guys have a laptop and/or smartphone they're using to take notes. We use a battlemat from time to time and a whiteboard for names, initiatives, and diagrams. What can we do to make this work better (not step on the remote player and have that player able to see/understand/etc what's going on)? Tools, techniques, best practices?

There is a previous question, What tools or strategies have you found useful when not all players can be in the same physical space?, that is largely useless to me because the majority of the tips there require everyone to be online (or for you to have some big projector setup). I am not interested in virtual tabletops, because the whole group is there in person and most don't have computers. I want ways to plug the one remote guy into our real game, not plug us all into a computer game.

We're not likely to spend thousands of dollars on projectors or whatnot, but small buys like "a second webcam" or "a remote mike" are a possibility. Heck, we have skype on one or two of the phones, we could plug them into the same call I reckon. Anyway, what have people done successfully for this use case?

Edit: Our solution we've been using for a while now is Skype on a dedicated laptop with integral webcam at the end of the table with a high quality standalone mike (Blue Snowball). We take pictures of the GM's whiteboard with cellphone cameras and send those along to the remote member; we also sometimes use a corkboard.me to share detailed text/pics. We have a Dropbox where everyone keeps their character sheets, the session summaries, and a spreadsheet where we enter treasure found - the remote guy actually does the summary and can refer tot he other stuff quickly. Not painless but works OK.

Edit 2: A year later we're still doing this. We added on an external webcam to point at the battle mat, but we can't show both it and the normal table cam at the same time - that and the continued quality issues with Skype are causing us to think about Google Hangouts.

share|improve this question
add comment

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

We arrived at this situation from the other direction (everyone used laptops, one remotely) but I hope our solution may prove helpful even though it does involve a virtual table.

After the DM found a 19" monitor for 99 bucks he set up his laptop with the monitor in a dual monitor setup.

We used Maptool with Skype,

  • The DM ran the session on his laptop screen
  • He ran a generic player session displayed on the monitor screen
  • The remote player connected to the Maptool session as usual.

The rest of us were able to put away our laptops and focus as a group on the one monitor when needed. We went back and forth as to whether having a dedicated person drive the player moves locally was best or passing around the keyboard/mouse.

This was with D&D 3.x, which is a pretty heavyweight game in terms of tactical movement so I imagine it would work well with most any game where precise positioning is less important.

The time to prepare and setup encounters can vary widely. It is quite easy to get sucked into creating the "perfect" map and spend hours and hours tweaking things. If that sort of thing appeals to you, great! However, I had to learn to cut some corner.

  1. Use Maptool to create the maps. Using another program to create the maps and then importing them means you have to learn to use two programs and work with them both. The basic maptool drawing support is pretty good.
  2. For encounters that don't need a specific layout of terrain use tiling. There are many free images you can import to maptool. Set it for tiling and you have a large assortment of different outdoor areas just be moving the displayed area a bit.
  3. There are many adventures fully converted to Maptool. Download and use their maps even if you don't want to use the module. Some of the user contributed content on the Maptool forums is of very high quality.
share|improve this answer
add comment

I've been doing this successfully for some months now with our group, over various games. We were initially using iTabletop for our remote players, but the voice proved unreliable, so we've switched to using Google Hangouts. Even Teamspeak will work fine at a pinch.

Firstly, some issues of GMing style:

  • Don't make heavy use of map-based combat unless you need to. We've had great success running D&D4 (using iTabletop or hangouts plus Roll20), but it's always going to be a fraction slower than in person. That's OK where the game mechanics are so heavily integrated into the maps - but in your case they're not. WoD doesn't rely on a detailed shared map - so don't make one when you don't have to. Aim for a more narrative-based combat style, as you would when GMing FATE or Feng Shui. Frame your descriptions like a horror movie, not like a wargame.

  • This extends to a more general theme: don't require game-crunch information unnecessarily. It slows you down. At the player level - don't try to keep track of the players' willpower / blood / etc.; that's their job. Preserve only the information you actually need - health levels, and I'm not convinced you even need that.

  • Similarly, don't transmit game-crunch information if you don't need to. (The characters aren't aware of opponent's health levels, so why do the players need to be? Your description should make it clear if they're injured, and that's all that matters.) Concentrate on providing a clear verbal description of the scene, so that everyone has a clear common picture of their surroundings.

  • Keep a local index card of key stats you might need for each PC, so you don't have to ask. (This is useful generally, anyway.) For WoD1 that's physical stats, generation, disciplines, Alertness, Dodge, and other such key traits.

  • No matter how good the camera you'll never keep it adjusted to focus on all of map, table and dice. Don't try; sound is more important. GM as you would with a partially-sighted player - work around the limitations of remote players, instead of pretending they're in the same position as the local ones.

A few administrative notes:

  • Get a webcam/mic that's sensitive and not too focussed. You want to leave the laptop in position at the table such that it can pick up everybody's chat, not just the GM. We've had good results with comparatively cheap Logitech mics.

  • For that reason, sound check before you start - make sure that every remote player can hear every local one, and the GM. We've had no trouble finding a laptop position that allows this, but you don't want to have to halt play to deal with it.

  • If you know your major locations in advance, sketch it in a google doc or roll20 map to share at the same time you make the pencil sketch for your notes.

  • If using map sharing tools of any kind, make sure you have tokens pre-created for all PCs, major NPCs, and expected enemies.

  • If you're using a die-rolling tool - and why wouldn't you? - make sure all your remote players know how to use it for all the types of roll they're likely to need.

MrJinPengyou's answer has some excellent advice about sound quality and table habits, so I won't repeat it here.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I don't think vampire games uses a grid, so maptool might not be the best solution, but... whichever the computer program you feel confortable with for sending positioning to your remote player is I think a second screen plugged to your laptop showing to the local players the same map is worth giving a try.

Maptools can be opened in a server window and a client window (dragged into the second screen), I've once used that at my table as an experiment and it worked quite well. We were playing D&D and fog of war, light sources and the like were a nice thing. Since I don't have a flat screen at the place where we usually game we only gave it one try and I haven't an extended knowledge of problems but... for your specific problem it looks like the best solution to me.

share|improve this answer
    
I wish we had a second screen, or television or something. We only have the laptop. We don't use a grid usually, but an approximate map (when needed). –  Flamma Jun 8 '13 at 11:59
    
Nobody in your group can bring a flat screen from his computer? –  Zachiel Jun 8 '13 at 14:54
add comment

Get a webcam positioned to point at the game table from any angle you find ideal. I had one with a long cable it hung on the top of the table from the fan once and it was awesome. My first attempts were with my Playstation Eye (with drivers) because I didn't want to pay for a very good webcam but if you guys are gonna play like this often, it's worth the money. Your ideal angle might be to show every player with you as well or the combat grid for combat focused game.

If the microphone is in the middle of every player it should capture the sound equally among every players assuming every players speak at the same volume (which is never the case). My advice would be to position the microphone slightly closer to the GM because his voice is usually slightly more important to a remote person (sorry other players).

Also, make some rules about noisy food and habits. No chip bags (use a bowl instead), sudden yelling and clapping your hands. These are really hard for the remote player(s) because sometime you'll adjust your sound level so you can hear the GM whispering and all you can hear is Bob eating chips in the other corner.

Also consider every possible noise source around the table. Record 10 min of pure "silence" and listen the recording. Usually you'll notice a buzz or some sort of continuous sound. It's usually because of the type of lighting you have or some ventilation system (computer, fridge other). If you can't shut those down, find a way to suppress them as it is really annoying over long period of time online.

All of the above makes it really simple for the local players (almost no difference) and will be interesting for the normal players. If at any point you need the remote player to see your face for some reason (explaining a gesture or anything), you can have multiple webcam and simple switch from which one you capture video.

Just remember that the remote player becomes the lowest denominator. It's like having a deaf player at your table surrounded by hearing players. You would have to adapt how you play to accommodate him (in that case using sign language while you're talking).

Also to make sure you can get his attention easily, make sure you can hear him even if others are talking. In a social encounter players might get intense and if the remote player is talking but nobody can hear him over the local players it excludes him from the game. Make sure he's still there from time to time and he can still hear you well and everything should be almost as normal for everyone.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for your long answer. We use the PS3 move camera, that I thinks it's a decent camera and environmental microphone. But the player still doesn't see well the map, the dices and such. I think it's a Skype problem. –  Flamma Jun 8 '13 at 11:56
1  
Maybe. Try Hangout. I found the streaming quality of the video feed to be slightly better. –  MrJinPengyou Jun 8 '13 at 11:59
    
Additions: many webcams have tripod mounts. small tripods can be cheap. This can give the remote player the same angle as the local players. Remote players should get a good headset. Local audio is important, too, but remote audio is essential. We game like this and I use brightly colored paper "minis" instead of metal or plastic minis. It is much easier to distinguish what's going on with the brightly colored paper. –  TREE Jun 9 '13 at 0:36
    
+1 for all the technique hints. We have a lot of tech but I don't think our table protocols are all that courteous to the remote player - lots of ambient noise. –  mxyzplk Jun 9 '13 at 13:35
add comment

Our table has had to remote in one player every so often, and our setup is pretty simple - all you need is a webcam (preferably at each end, but only really necessary at the "game" side), a set of speakers, and your choice of software (we usually use either Google Chat or Skype).

Webcam points at the remote user, and at the map/board at the table. The rest of the table can see the remote player (which gives the "telepresence"), and the remote player can see what's going on. (Nominate a player to handle moving the camera around if needed.

Beyond that, presuming you trust the player to roll his own dice, you're golden. (If he didn't bring dice or there are trust issues, you get someone at the table to roll for you.)

Things to watch for: - a spotty connection can make this very annoying - it's easy to lose what's going on if you lose voice for a few seconds. - you want a decent webcam for the table (or a nice long USB cable so they can fly you around). - I find that it works best for ranged characters (where positioning doesn't have to be as precise) more than melee/tanks (where you really need to know what's going on). - Nominate someone at the table (probably Camera Guy) to handle the details of moving. For instance, I'll say "OK, I want a shot at (monster)", but let the local guy put me in the specific spot. (Again, because even with a good camera it can be hard to see all the detail.)

All in all, it's the next-best thing to actually being there.

share|improve this answer
    
Exactly what we're doing, though I guess we have two problems - one, when multiple people are talking the audio garbles, and two, we're using a webcam built into the laptop so it's hard to maneuver it around to show the battlemat. I reckon a wireless/long wire cam would help. –  mxyzplk Feb 18 '11 at 19:02
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.