My favorite kind of social event is a good role-playing session with friends, when we’re sitting around a messy table cluttered with books, maps, papers and dice, littered with snack wrappers and empty coffee mugs. But this idyllic kind of gatherings have become increasingly hard for me to arrange: as we grow up, schedules become harder to coordinate, friends move to different cities, school and work get in the way. But this doesn’t mean we have to hang the dice bag and wait for the perfect role-playing conditions to return. There are plenty of resources online that we can use to keep the dice rolling.
In fact, my very first incursion into role-playing was a long winded campaign held via online forum. As a 15-year-old new Tolkien fan, I was super eager to find other nerds to share my passion with, and I found them at an MSN group populated with fans from everywhere in the Spanish-speaking world. The role-playing forum section had been founded by a local guy whom I still consider the best Game Master (GM) I’ve had the pleasure to know. He ran a beautiful campaign of Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP), and showed all his players —a merry band of newbies— the basic ropes of role-playing.
In case you’re new to role-playing via forum, here is a summary of how it worked: Much like in tabletop role-playing, the GM would narrate a situation and the participants would, in their own time, answer with their characters’ actions or reactions. My favorite thing about this system was that most players would take time to compose their answers, trying their best to use their own narrative skills to the fullest. Situations were described in detail, and so were the characters’ actions, feelings and interactions. Ways of expressing oneself would become part of a character’s personality, and after some months the whole cast of characters had become tri-dimensional in a way that in-person role-playing rarely achieves. When you can see the person playing in front of you, it can become difficult to separate the character from the player; when all you can see are words, your imagination is able to take over.
But the forum campaign ended, and I wasn’t just going to let it go. Some of us who lived in the same city started meeting up in person, including our GM, plus some of my friends from school. I became the Game Master myself some months later, when he, for reasons unknown, decided to pass on the rulebook and ride into the sunset. At that point I had a nice group of local players and a good grasp on the system; we never played remotely again.
As usual, times change: nowadays my local friends are increasingly unavailable for sessions and, to be honest, so am I. On a brighter note, over the last year I’ve made the most fantastic group of friends online, all of whom live in North America. We’ve been thinking about playing a remote campaign for a while, and it looks like we might be starting it soon!
But MSN groups are defunct, and were probably never that good a platform to begin with. It was time for me to start looking into resources for remote roleplaying that are more modern and convenient, like Roll20 (read Missy’s article about Roll20’s recent release of D&D licensed content). I also took this opportunity to ask my fellow WWAC writers what their favorite resources are, and why they like role-playing remotely.
Here are their answers!
Which sites or online resources do you use for remote tabletop roleplaying?
Al Rosenberg: Okay, so I’m really interested in this question because I’ve struggled to find a good answer myself. Roll20 is an awesome resource for many things, but as someone who is still making my way into role-playing games, I want to just be able to step into a campaign as a noob. Two years ago (or about that long ago), I played an email correspondence game called Tower of Callisto. It was FABULOUS. So that led me to Play by Email.
Wendy Browne: Tabletop role-playing is very new to me, and I’ve heard the stories, so it’s unlikely that I’d make efforts to find a random group to play with. Scratch that. I’m always about the stranger danger in group roleplaying modes, so my first step will always be to grab my trusted group of friends and drag them into whatever new thing I’ve found, or let them drag me in. This is how I learned about Roll20 and Myth-Weavers. Prior to that, long, long ago, my friend ran a play-by-email RPG (we actually played by email) that we later took to a private group on LiveJournal.
Melissa Brinks: I actually have never done remote tabletop role-playing before! I’ve played around with Roll20 to help stay organized for in-person games, but I haven’t actually used it because I prefer not to have laptops on the table if I can avoid it. It seems like a useful tool but I’m just not sure introducing another way of keeping track of things is a good idea when the game itself can be complicated enough.
Why do you like them?
Al Rosenberg: I prefer remote role-playing because it is an easy way to allow myself to get into the spirit of that kind of gaming without feeling self-conscious. It’s also easier on my hectic schedule.
Wendy: In general, these particular resources solve the simple problem of distance that exists between my friends and me. Specifically, we’re playing Dungeons & Dragons on Roll20, and while we don’t use the more professional maps for our games, the character sheet and dice roll functions have helped me understand this method of gaming much better. Myth-Weavers is more of a forum-based storytelling platform, or at least, that’s all my other D&D group really uses it for. There are probably more options available in that system, but I have not explored them. The neat and tidy entries for each of our characters and the events that occur in this campaign are great for posterity, but behind the scenes, we have massive email trails, usually involving amusing and sometimes inappropriate GIFs, as we hash out our ideas and try to convince our GM to let us get away with crazy shit. If I had to choose, I’d say Myth-Weavers is my favourite format because we get to make full use of our writing skills to create a true narrative. Roll20 is a great vehicle for gaming, though. The difference is that my Roll20 group is less formal during our campaigns and spend a lot of time being silly. We do accomplish things though. Sort of. And I record them in our gaming blog for posterity.
Finally, here are some extra online resources, useful for both your remote and in-person games:
- Free D&D basic rulebooks
- Dice rolling simulator
- Dungeon generator
- Role Playing Game Vocabulary on Wikipedia (I needed this, since I first learned role-playing vocabulary in my mother tongue, and who knows, some of you might find it useful as well.)
Do you have any awesome (or terrible) experiences with remote role-playing you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments!
Read the rest of the Roles to Play series.
Soco is a translator, writer and editor from Buenos Aires, Argentina who works in mobile games. She’s also a long-time tabletop roleplayer, a self-taught witch, and the mom of the tiniest, fluffiest mop of a dog. Follow @SocoCinconegui on twitter for pics of said dog and lots of game industry retweets.
Forgot to add: remote role-playing means pants are optional. Very important detail. *nods sagely*