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Other questions have done a good job of outlining where to find online players and some of the tools available for ongoing virtual games (Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, etc). Many of those tools have a cost associated with them and a large time commitment to configure a custom, homebrew game.

Occasionally, circumstances prevent us from gathering in the way we prefer. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is a good example. During those times, finding ways to continue to play together, even if in a non-standard, non-permanent way, is important.

In this question, I'm interested to know what DMs and their players are using to temporarily convert their normal pen and paper, in person gatherings into a system that works with a remote group. I'm not looking for specific software recommendations, though a good answer may include one. Instead, I'm primary interested in the high-level strategy being used to continue roleplaying while not in the same room together.

I'm specifically interested in answers that address the following common concerns with this type of conversion:

  1. Temporary - Appropriate for short term game play, not running an entire campaign
  2. Roleplaying - Support for high quality, low delay communication
  3. Content - Handling custom content including maps, handouts, items, etc
  4. Combat - Handling combat positioning, distances, and area effects normally done on a battle mat
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    \$\begingroup\$ I realize this question is very similar to others already asked. I still think it's valid and subtly different from the other questions I've found given current events. I'd love feedback on how to make it more site-appropriate, if possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Avilyn Mar 20 at 17:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question isn't intended to be about software, though a valid answer may suggest the use of software. Perhaps I can make that more clear in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Avilyn Mar 20 at 18:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unless this starts to attract bad answers it should be fine. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Mar 20 at 19:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot more of a poll than shopping, I'd say. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 20 at 19:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like the core question is "what are the advantages and disadvantages of various online platforms for a group intending to go back to in person, non-digital play as quickly as possible." The factors for the evaluation might be (speculating for examples) the players being uninterested in dumping their paper, pencils, books, and dice for digital versions; wanting the lowest possible learning curve; having a minimal long-term financial investment; serviceably replicating normal minis and battlemaps, and being able switch in and out of using the digital format as seamlessly as possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Mar 21 at 1:00
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I recently ran a game in this format with good success. I opted out of using some of the fancier tools like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds. Those also seem like fantastic tools, but also require financial investment (to unlock all the features) and a lot of extra setup to use. Here's how we set it up instead:

Video and Audio: We used Zoom to connect all the players with video and audio. We chose Zoom simply because one of the players had a paid subscription. Any audio/video solution would work pretty much the same way.

DM Video Setup: I used two computers - one with video pointed at me, the other on a small stand pointed down at the Battle Mat. Players were then able to see both me (for roleplaying) and the map (for combat). I'm sure a single computer would also have worked fine here, just moving the camera to view the battle mat during combat, and repositioning it to the DM for roleplaying encounters.

Handout Sharing: All of my handouts are stored digitally - loot cards, magic items, letters, etc. When the players would discover something or loot a room, I would pull up the appropriate handout on my screen and share the screen. I encouraged players to either screenshot, take a picture, or copy down the information. I was also prepared to share secret information by emailing or texting individual directly.

Notes:

The handout sharing technique worked well for me with everything being digital. I think it would have worked just as well if the content was physical, either by taking a picture and sharing it or by just holding whatever it was in front of the camera for the players.

Audio (and hence roleplaying) was less effective than in person. We did notice people interrupting each other and everyone stopping. This just took a bit of adaptation for the group for us to get into the swing of communicating digitally instead of in person.

Conclusion:

This seemed like a good balance for transitioning to a temporary virtual game. I was able to do my preparation in exactly the same way I was used to (by typing up information on my computer, printing my own notes, etc), but with only a little extra table setup work to facilitate placement of computers. I would definitely use this technique again in the future, though an in-person game is still better for my group.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How do you handle private communications between DM and a player? \$\endgroup\$ – Kieran Mullen Mar 23 at 17:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have that buried in the Handout Sharing section. Basically sending a email (with a document attached) or sending a text message depending on if it's a private handout or just something I want to say to the player. \$\endgroup\$ – Avilyn Mar 23 at 20:55
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What you need is to write down what you are willing to forgo.

No map? No video?

It's inversely proportional to the bells and whistles you can entertain your players with the time commitment you dedicate to learn your tools.

If you only use Discord you can send files for handouts in the chat itself. Skype as well. Google drive can be thrown in the mix, upload the map they have just found.

Even on discord you can use bots for rolling dice, or get a gentlemen agreement on rolling dice on good faith.

I have been GMing a campaign on Roll 20 and been playing on another with Roll20 and Discord. After testing both, I'm sure the barebones would be some Voice chat + Google Drive.

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