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Monday, September 19, 2016

Real vs. Virtual Fantasy Role Playing...wait...what?

Playing TTRPG's at the actual table is really great.  For some folks it's the only way to play.  The social interaction, snacks, rolling dice that make noise when they hit the table are just a few of the great reasons to enjoy playing live and in person.  I just quickly snapped the picture above during a session last week, and the spread in this shot is a pretty normal view from behind my GM screen.  I snack, I drink, I make notes, I roll dice, I use mechanical pencils...

We use minis, which I love.  I know alot of folks are not big fans, preferring instead to go 100% 'theater of the mind', a phrase I could have lived very happily without BTW.  We use em a bit for combat, just to get a feel for where the enemies are in relation to the PC's.  I'm not a collector or painter, but that's yet another reason to really like and possibly prefer playing at the table.

I love a live gaming session, but for many years it just wasn't in the cards for me.  Back in 2007-08 My son was small, I was busy with work and just couldn't find the time or space to host or go play in a regular game.  It's a commitment (except for 1-off sessions, which honestly don't appeal to me.  Part of the joy in this sort of game I derive from the ongoing sessions, from the campaign), and I was in no position to commit.

Along came Virtual Tabletops (VTT's) at about this time, and I started investigating.  My friend and gaming buddy of many years who lived many states away began this journey with me.  At first, we found a game that utilized Maptool, but the learning curve was high and the community was less that helpful or welcoming.  We managed to join a group, played a few sessions, and then after some brief discussion we bagged it.  This was not for us.

There weren't too many options at this point, so we flipped over to Fantasy Grounds and decided (after some research) to pull the trigger and each buy a Full License (at that time there was only Full or Player is structured differently now).  Via the community we managed to find a few players to join us (amazingly, we have managed to stick together since then, though other players have come and gone), and soon we had a regular Sunday night group going.  We shot for a 3 hour session (more or less) and it was great!  We decided on the Castles & Crusades ruleset, it being the best option for us old school guys wanting to recapture that 1e feel.  The community was/is great, and while there was still a learning curve, it was a relatively quick learn.

Finally back to a regular gaming schedule, I settled in.  Honestly, I didn't even try to find a game IRL, because FG was meeting all of my gaming needs.

Fast forward to 2015. My life is a bit restructured (as lives often are) and I found myself with a bit of time, and a small amount of freedom in which I could possibly rejoin those folks at the table.  With the help of a group I secured some players, and we have a regular Labyrinth Lord game going.  Sunday is game day all around...I GM in the afternoon and am a player in an FG campaign in the evening.

Each manner of play has its positives and negatives.  With my IRL group, I get to see and feel the emotional state of the table.  Maybe that sounds weird, but there is definitely a table 'vibe' that cannot be recaptured over the internet using a VTT.  When things are going very well, or even better, horribly awry, it's palpable.  I had forgotten that feeling, and am glad it's back (and am grateful to the folks who play with me...they are a great group of folks).  Sure, I have to set up, have books, dice, etc ready, and wear clothes when folks come over to play.  

I don't need to wear clothes when I play Fantasy Grounds (though I usually do).  I don't have to look presentable at all.  There is no set up beyond firing up the computer and connecting.  Easy-Peasy.  All visual representations are handled by the software, and we happen to use Skype for voice, though many folks like Teamspeak, and others use Hangouts so they can see each other.  I can still snack, but I'm limited to what I have in the house vs. what folks might bring to share, but it's a small concession.  It can be difficult to find steady, reliable online players...that, if anything, has been my primary complaint.  My core group (myself and 2-3 other guys) have been mostly steady, but adding to the group has been all but impossible for long-term play.  That could be because of the ruleset, or maybe that we play FG and not roll20...not sure.

If you've been out of the gaming loop, or find yourself pressed for time, I'd definitely suggest a VTT.  Roll20 is getting alot of play these days, and Fantasy Grounds has great support, especially for D&D5e if that's your thing.  If you can get to a regular IRL game, awesome, but if not then don't be too quick to discount online play.

Ultimately, and to conclude, I think that it's all about the folks you play with.  The method or means of play is what it is, but people make the game.  


  1. Wow, that's is the first time I have ever seen a comment about the Maptool community that wasn't entirely positive. Sorry you didn't have a good experience. We are normally stella. Will try harder next time :(

    1. To be fair, that was 8 years ago. Perhaps the software AND the community have gotten better...but since turning to FG and having made that inveatment of time and money i havent looked back. I'm certainly open to another try...

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