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This question already has an answer here:

A member of our group moved cross-country, and we'd like to include him in some of our games.

Is it feasible to play a game with some players at the table and another online? If so, how do I, as the GM, ensure everyone feels fully included and can see everything they need to see?

Or is it just easier to move the game to online-only, so everyone is interacting digitally?

Unless there is a particular feature that makes this sort of hybrid party more doable, I can refer to the many good discussions here and on other sites about roleplaying online and different software solutions. I'm more interested in pitfalls to avoid, story telling techniques, and the overall feasibility.

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marked as duplicate by doppelgreener, Oblivious Sage, BESW, Tritium21, Wibbs May 12 '15 at 7:33

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ [Related] Tools/techniques for optimal tabletop gaming with one remote user \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 11 '15 at 21:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you specify which games you're concerned with? As a person experienced in being the player who's on Skype (often with a friend), there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution - each game has its own needs. In D&D 4e, you need to make sure they can see the table or take an online version. In Fate, seeing the table is kinda useless and there's better alternatives. For Cthulhu Dark, all you need is face-to-face Skype chat, there isn't a table. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 12 '15 at 0:21
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We've played a game with a single member abroad a few months ago, and it was, well, workable.

A webcam set to view the entire group

This one allows the distant user to see the other people at the table, which is critical for the social aspect. (Even if you're using an online tool, consider using cameras to support it. I've played without and it costs a lot of the fun). Make sure it's set up to show the entire group and rotate everyone's seats so that looking towards the camera is a somewhat default position. One of the key issues is that it's unnatural to look into the camera with people present and you might make the absentee feel left out unless people sort of automatically watch into the camera occasionally. It's also somewhat important that anyone can address the absentee.

Also make sure that the DM is in such a position that he's closest to the audio-output so that he can hear the absentee talking clearest as he'll take orders for him and will probably interact the most. It also ensures that the absentee can hear the game descriptions properly. Consider putting the mic in front of the DM as well.

A second (small) webcam focussed on the play-area

This one would show the board, we'd roll the dice here and important information was displayed there. (Consider putting things like iniative order on an index card, written in permanent marker, if the image quality is good enough) This allowed the absentee player to see what was going on in a seperate screen and gave him the option to switch between them. We used Skype with a 3-way call to allow two streams, and then muted one of the accounts completely. A tablet or smartphone in a standard probably works best here, unless you happen to have a remote webcam and two computers available.

Assign a single player to manage the board and take orders for the absentee player so that he knows who to address during his turn. This player also rolled for the player, although you can just as easily have him roll and announce if you trust him (our absentee didn't have any dice).

Considerations

Make sure the internet connection is strong and stable. Maintaining a 3-way Skype call with high quality video is pretty hard on many connections, especially shared ones. Shut down any unneccesary programs and don't rely on youtube for background audio or anything.

And try to keep the missing player involved. As someone who works in a distributed office I know how easy it is to forget that there's other members of the team working, even with a video stream open. It's harder than it sounds.

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While I have not done a mixed online/face to face game, I HAVE done both all online, all face to face games, AND done business meetings with most people in person and 1-2 people remote. So I'll combine what I know from that and give you some general advice:

Video Logistics

Find something that works for everyone who is going to be remote and is easy and reliable. This is highly dependent on everyone's hardware, network connection, etc. For work, we've used Apple Facetime because everyone involved happened to have iPads or iPhones and it was very easy to use. For my gaming online, I often use Google Hangouts which have been more stable than Skype.

HOWEVER, expect any of these things to change every few months with updates, so do make sure to test your options ahead of time or face losing 30-45 minutes on disconnections, resets, driver installations or whatever, and potentially each time you play. These issues can be on your side, or your players' sides, so try to test it earlier in the day before you play, and if you can have your remote players test their side, it helps.

Rolling dice in person is quicker

This is just a fact. You can always roll dice with your hands faster than you will be able to get to the dice rolling window, click the number of dice to roll, roll the dice, etc. So I would either have the face to face players roll dice for the remote players or have their cameras set up to see them roll dice or just take their word for it. It's a small thing but it saves time.

Keep as much info off your screen as possible

If you can print it out, or have it available on another device, do it. Books, character sheets, etc. anything you might have to reference, not having to go through various windows and scroll, scroll, scroll for what you're looking for saves time. This is also true of your remote players as well. Some things you may want on screen - like a map, but stuff like character sheets, rules, etc? Try to have them off the screen to save time.

Habitual Multitasking

This is the fact that when people play online, often they will be doing something else or tempted to do something else while playing - check email, read websites, etc.

This is just because we're accustomed to using the computer this way so it's not like your players are trying to be distracted - you're basically working against their habitual training of how to use a computer 99% of the time anyway. For this reason, for my online games, I typically kept it to 2 hours or less. You might be able to go longer, but you want to give breaks and understand your remote players might NEED to check email, etc. even while playing.

Online Game Apps

So far, the only thing which I've seen consistently work is basic dice rollers and screen titles for video chat (which are also helpful - you can label player's names if the group is new, and character names as well).

Everything else has always been a crap shoot - "Oh, it works for everyone BUT ONE player in the group - he can't see the map..." "Oh, all the maps loaded right except this one, it's upside down? What the hell." "Why is it I can see your cards but you can't see your own cards?"

If you're going to use any of these, test them out ahead, and also be prepared to have an alternative option if it decides to stop working, randomly, for no apparent reason.

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I was in a group with one remote player for a little over two years, and have also taken part in multiple long-term online-only campaigns using various tabletops.

I don't really disagree with anything Dorian said, but I'm posting this to elaborate on how we did it, and explain my experience with the tools we used.

Please note up front -- if you are playing a game that has no need of a map or a grid, but which rather relies on theatre of the mind, Skype (or your preferred voice chat client) is pretty much all you need, but that should be fairly obvious, so I suspect, given that you're asking, that that's not the case.

So, if you are using a map/grid, shift the map to be online, but keep as many players local as you can

The specific software you use isn't too important. Our remote player happened to be a developer highly involved in the maptools framework community, so we used maptools for the tabletop, and ventrillo for voice.

As time went on, we shifted more and more onto the maptools framework. Character tokens, complete with power macros, which rolled dice and automatically damaged and applied the correct status icons to the correct targets. This made the experience seamless between the local and remote players, but isn't strictly necessary, and regardless of which platform you do it on, this level of automation requires a lot of coding (both up-front and any time a character levels up, dies, retrains, or gains new items), so is not necessarily ideal for all groups.

To keep the experience as tangible and social as possible, the local players gathered in the living room of the DM, with maptools running on his large TV, and the players passing around a wireless mouse based on initiative order. The DM was simultaneously logged in from a laptop, which he used to control the monsters, maps, and adjudicate status effects.

I have also participated in online campaigns that use skype and teamspeak in conjunction with Maptools, Roll20, FantasyGrounds, and the defunct 4e online table. Maptools remains my favored tabletop software, due to how extensible it is once you learn its scripting language. I don't think that there's a noticeable enough difference in the quality level of the voice chat options for it to matter whatsoever, but clarity is absolutely important, lest the remote player/s feel left out.

If you use a power based system on a macro-based online tabletop, it is pretty important that players have updated, printed out copies of their character sheets, or at least some form of their full power cards handy and accessible. Especially as characters level up, the number of power options becomes fairly overwhelming, and the specifics of how an effect triggers, or its range, or duration are easily forgotten. It's usually possible to click edit on the macros to see the full text in pseudo-code, but it's much easier to look at your character sheet and try and make decisions about what to use before your turn.

Finally, if you use a power macro-based online tabletop, I highly recommend that at least the DM make a point of becoming highly proficient in the scripting native to that tabletop's macros. Even if you allow each player to be responsible for their own character's macros, some players macros will inevitably be better than others -- and formatting their output in a standardized fashion is more conducive to quick understanding of what's happening than having them be all over the place.

The level of automation that these online tabletops are designed for is overkill for many of the simpler systems - but the ability to keep a segmented repository of easily shareable maps, images, and sound effects can still be useful, and if your system uses dice rolls, the ability to remotely computerize them ensures that the remote player is not tempted to cheat.

Feel free to comment with any follow-up questions and I will edit them into place.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There's no indication the querent is playing D&D or a game with a map. (Notice they're also using the term GM, not DM.) I've asked for clarification on the question and voted to close as unclear, for the record. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 12 '15 at 0:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question has the system-agnostic tag, and as such I consciously avoided assuming that they're playing D&D. Maptools, fantasygrounds, and roll20 (and even, surprisingly, the 4e online table) are(/were) all relatively system neutral. Even for a map/grid-less game, the ability to share a world map, or a photo of a swamp hag, or to play a sound clip of a roaring dragon are all useful tools in keeping a remote player engaged. \$\endgroup\$ – webbcode May 12 '15 at 3:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but your answer nevertheless focuses on that type of game that if I were playing, say, Fate or Cthulhu Dark or Roll for Shoes, none of this here happens to be particularly useful. (I mean, it's awesome for some games, if they happen to use the features you're describing how to share.) So despite the fact this is tagged [system-agnostic], the solutions aren't, really. Hence my close vote. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 12 '15 at 3:47
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While there are likely many solutions to this, many of which might even be a mix of the two below, I feel these two are the most straightforward ways of addressing this without some sort of specialized setup. At least until we get Virtual Reality up to Sci-Fi levels lol.

Webcams are your friend.

One of the first solutions to come to mind would be the liberal use of webcams. With good enough audio it shouldn't be a problem at all. There are two major ways to approach this depending on the level of trust in your group and how everyone feels. One would be for the DM at the table (or one of the other players) to roll the dice for the person, webcam showing the table well enough that the player doesn't feel left out of course. The other would be for the player himself to roll dice, with his webcam pointed at the dice when he rolls or something. Moving the figure would have to be done at the DM's side though, and would likely be best left up to the other players.

Everyone use Roll20.

Or some similar online tabletop. Instead of relying on physical dice everyone could use that and just have a webcam call for the player who moved away. This would allow the main group to still meet in person without leaving the other out. Note, you do not need to use Roll20's (or whichever online tabletop's) diceroller for those at the table, but having a virtual tabletop removes some of the complications when working with gaming over cyberspace. It lets everyone view the board easily, and doesn't inconvenience anyone when incorporating the distant player's turn.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you done these things? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil May 11 '15 at 20:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ My group used the webcam method 8 years ago and it worked quite well. Microphones have improved significantly in recent years so clear audio shouldn't be as difficult as it used to be but as GM you'll have to be aware that you will have to ensure people don't talk over one another even more than usual. We did have the issue though that the person who was camming in was a little left out at moments and felt somewhat excluded, Nowdays my group uses teamspeak and Fantasy Grounds while we do get distracted at times it makes it much easier to pass secret plots and messages to one another. \$\endgroup\$ – Dancing Kobold May 11 '15 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer I've worked with both, and personally I prefer the Roll20/Online Tabletop method. The issue with the first method is it tends to have some issues with players wanting to roll/move their own stuff and with trust issues within certain groups. Some players, while great players and awesome people, just do not want their character to die/lose an important roll lol \$\endgroup\$ – Dorian May 11 '15 at 21:04
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I am currently doing this as the "player who moved away" playing in a weekly game with friends who still meet up at the old venue.

The good news is that is it very workable. However, the limitations I have faced are not visual, but sound-based. And that's even though we play with exploration and combat on a shared map (D&D 5E currently).

Invest in a good separate microphone and speakers for the shared table. If you can afford it an omni-directional mic as used for business tele-conferencing. Audio is more important than visuals for being involved, and being able to hear everyone and be heard clearly is key. In fact we usually start the sessions with video on to say hello, but because home bandwidth is limited we usually switch to audio only when playing for better quality.

For visuals we do use an online tool - Roll20 - that one has built-in chat and dice rolling, which stops us requiring several different tools - but that's pretty much standard. I can recommend it as working for us, but don't know the others well enough to make a comparison. If you are new to these tools, don't under-estimate the time and effort it will take everyone involved to get used to them. For my group it helped that we're all quite technical and enjoyed playing with and learning the new tools.

It has been extra work for the DM, who would normally draw maps ad-hoc at the table on paper. Now he has to source digital maps and spend time setting up maps and icons on the computer. I am grateful that he makes the extra effort to keep me involved in the sessions. There is a nice side-effect to all this as well - the computer remembers all the details of game state between sessions, so we can pause mid-game without any extra effort of noting down where all the tokens are, which room we are in etc.

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