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My good friends and I live a good ways apart from each other (8 hour drive). About a year ago couple of them came out to visit and I ran a few sessions of a Star Wars RPG for them. They went home but still wanted to play, so I moved the campaign online using Discord and Roll20. Eventually one player had to stop due to his work schedule and feeling burned out with RPGs (he was playing in three to four games a week while working night shifts). The rest of the campaign fell apart from there.

I recently approached him about playing again and he was averse to the idea. He said that playing online did not have the same feel as playing in person. He felt that we did not play off each other's actions or interact as well doing only voice. He said he would rather wait until we moved back to the same area to play again in person.

This has been kind of hard for me as I want to keep playing with and running games for my good friends. It will be a few years before I am able to move back.

How can I interest him in playing online again? Or should I just give up and try to start a game without him?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you disagree with his opinions on online gaming, or are you thinking "online is better than nothing"? \$\endgroup\$ – Blake Steel Jul 5 '18 at 19:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do think playing online is different than playing in person, but there are good things about both. I guess I did not notice any problems with what he pointed out as reasons for not wanting to play online. \$\endgroup\$ – arMedBeta Jul 5 '18 at 19:42
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This boils down to a conflict of preference

Normally, I feel like "conflict of preference" sounds to contentious and presumptuous, but from what you're describing... I think it's the best way to describe it. You find preference in playing no matter what the circumstances. Your friend has clearly tried both ways and has burned himself out in doing so and overextending. It is the combination of factors that sounds like it is influencing his decision the most. As a result, there's a bad taste in his mouth from playing online due to the fact it inherently feels different than playing in person. I know this all sounds obvious, so let me skip ahead a little.

Your friend played both ways and burned himself out. Because he was overextending himself, his mind likely associated the method that felt different to him as being "bad different". As a result, he will be averse to the idea no matter what you say or do. He has a set paradigm that won't change until he chooses to make the attempt again on his own. Maybe you can convince him to play online with you guys, but if you do and it's not from his own eagerness, you can expect his experience with the game to be a bad one no matter how good you may think it is going. Each bad roll will compound and feel worse online than at a table because he already dislikes the idea of playing that way. If his character dies, you can expect exasperation and/or embitterment.

Essentially, the question you should be asking is this:

How do I find a middle ground?

To be honest, I don't know what to say to answer this new question. It's something you'll have to work out with him, ultimately. But I can offer some ideas.

  1. He says Voice isn't the same in person, so what about you suggest doing it as a video call instead of a voice call? Sure, it's still different, but it's more of a step between what you are doing and what he wants.
  2. He doesn't like the feel of playing online, so what about (if you do #1) letting players choose to use their dice (on camera) or the in-game dice roller? Sure, you can still weigh your dice, but just keep an eye out in case anyone is getting suspicious rolls when rolling physically.
  3. Make an agreement to do monthly one-shots by alternating between online games and in-person games. You don't have to have people drive out every time and have a game at a physical table, but you can probably convince your friend to be involved in infrequent online games especially if you also do physical games as well. To reduce the drive time, you can find a location that lies halfway between you and your friends. Good places to look into are game shops (especially ones that host TCG/CCG tournaments), comic shops, public/national parks, or public rest stops (depending on the laws in your area).

    (See here for a list of rules regarding parking time for rest stops organized by US state. Use this list as a general guide, but be sure to double check the information with your state before making plans.)

    Even if you only manage to do an in-person game once every couple months, with an online game in the between-months, by choosing a location where everyone, yourself included, has to drive out to for the game, it shows you're just as willing to put in work for it as you expect them to be. Sure, you and your friends will still have to drive around 4 hours in this case, but those who participate should see it as a give-and-take and it can work as a good show of investment. If people can't make it to the games, it's nothing personal; not everyone can do 2 one-way 4 hour drives, even if it is only once every two months. But who knows, it may show to have other benefits for you and your friendships.

Anyhow, like most interpersonal issues, the solution boils down to 3 steps:

  1. Sit Down.
  2. Talk.
  3. Compromise.

You won't be able to make everyone happy, and if he doesn't want to play online no matter what concessions you're willing to make... that's fine. Respect his choice, because ultimately these are games and should be fun for everyone. If he cannot find amusement in playing online, you're only going to be torturing him by trying to make him join the sessions without trying to resolve his issues to some small degree first. Obviously, you can't fix every problem. Sometimes, you have to cut players loose no matter how much you may want to keep them around. No matter what, though, if you really want him involved in your games, you should first try to make the format more appealing so that he isn't immediately turned off to the idea.

Put simply, if you were in his shoes, what would you want your DM and friend to do?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If my answer makes little sense, please inform me thus, this way I may resolve the issue. This answer went through about 4 drafts and may suffer from some artifacting as a result. I already edited out one issue, but there may be more I didn't catch. I'm a bit out of practice, so I hope this answer was helpful to at least one person out there, even if not the OP. \$\endgroup\$ – Sora Tamashii Jul 12 '18 at 10:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Holy crap, this was accepted as the best answer?! I don't get how, but thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Sora Tamashii Aug 23 '18 at 17:48
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If he really doesn't want to play online, you should respect that.

That said, my experiences with online play have been mostly positive and were just as fun as 'in-person-campaigns'.

He said that playing online did not have the same feel as playing in person. He felt that we did not play off each other's actions or interact as well doing only voice.

Playing online definitely feels different than playing in person so if that is his main gripe with online play there's not that much you can do about it.

I can think of two reasons why players might not roleplay as well online as they would in person:

  1. Some players might not be willing as to roleplay in front of a screen as in person.
  2. Maybe your players are having a hard time focussing on the game and are tabbed out and not paying attention.

In my experience, roleplaying without actually seeing the person you're talking to can feel a bit weird in the beginning, it gets better with time though. I like using the session zero to practice in character discussions and general roleplay with my players. Prepare some scenarios that they can play through and get acquainted with the feeling of not seeing the reaction of their interlocutor 1.

If your players are not focussing on the campaign, lay down some ground rules before the campaign starts. No tabbing out, no watching videos etc.. If your players are serious about the campaign this shouldn't be too much to ask.


1 Do you use that word in English? It's the only translation I could find, sorry!

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's not a commonly used word in the US, but honestly, I can't find a synonym I like better. "Other player" is probably what I'd use, but Interlocutor is a good fit. \$\endgroup\$ – Longspeak Jul 6 '18 at 0:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ "of the other person" might be more normal, but interlocutor is better. It's a rare word, but doesn't sound out of place. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Jul 6 '18 at 0:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Longspeak, fectin Thanks a bunch! In German we would use 'Gegenüber' which roughly translates to 'The one opposite of you'. It seemed weird to me that there was no other word in English for the person you're talking to. \$\endgroup\$ – Sinth Jul 6 '18 at 0:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sinth: If you're not sure, you could always just stick with "the person they're talking to"! No need to find a single rare word when you can use a phrase with the same meaning that's more easily understood. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 6 '18 at 1:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did notice that a lot of my players were tabbed out when we first started. I tried to address that once I realized it was a problem. I do think if we try to play online again, I'll put more effort into a solid session zero to give a bit of practice with role playing. Could you clarify what kind of scenarios you prepare to help your players get acquainted with online roleplaying? Maybe give an example? \$\endgroup\$ – arMedBeta Jul 10 '18 at 1:59
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I currently play in a play-by-post campaign (I know not exactly Roll20) and in a face-to-face tabletop game. In my experience they are two different subtypes of Table-top RPG. If you run the same campaign online and face-to-face you will inevitably get two different experiences.

As in 90% of times when questions about the social part of TTRPGs come up you have to talk to him. Probably he expected the same kind of game as when you actually sat together. I would advice you to ask if he is ready for a different kind of RPG experience. If he says no then I would continue without him. Some people only want to play face-to-face and that's completely okay. Then there is no need to drag him along if he doesn't want to.

If he says yes or he is unsure I would present him the thing that online RPGs actually can do better than face-to-face. In my opinion that is:

  • More downtime = more time to think about your actions: So the bug is a feature. Whilst the others think you can more carefully plan your actions. Or if you succeed in avoiding an enemy attack you can phrase it out in more epical words. The slower pace can be a feature.
  • More intense RP: In F2F RP you often resort to "my character does this", "my character responds in an angry way"... Online you have a better opportunity to flesh your character out. It is easier to write what your character thinks, why he does this or that. While he may be kind to a fellow player a dark voice inside his head tries to command him to sacrifice him to Xulutov the dark prince. Whilst the players know that, the characters don't, thus creating tension in your players.

You can do this things in F2F but online RP encourages it more. I think as a GM it is a bit more difficult as you need to pay more attention to keep the story moving. Also the players need to pay attention to the pace and must not be shy to push forward if they feel that the game is trotting along.

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