Tabletop RPGs on the Internet

A photograph of twelve sided diceSo over the last few months, I’ve been using VoIP to join in tabletop RPG sessions with friends around the world. With players in Bahrain, Thailand, NYC and San Diego, we’ve been running play sessions nearly every alternate Thursday for few months now. Now, this is probably old news to some of you meatspace gamers out there in my microscopic audience but I’ve always been very behind the curve on a lot of things–bear with me. To me this is a revelation. It essentially solves the problem in many long running plot threads in tabletop RPGs when long time players and friends move away. When this happened, usually the GM was forces to swap out characters and change plots around to fill the voids.

Now, thanks the power of  the Internet, this is not as necessary as it once was. As high speed connections to the Internet have spread throughout the world, and VoIP tools like Skype, Teamspeak, Mumble, Linphone, KPhone, Ekiga and others, players from around the world can teleconference their game sessions, often with video, over the Internet. Our group uses Skype (Which doesn’t really make me happy as a Linux-head because it’s closed source and uses proprietary communications standards.) basically everyone has it now and it’s pretty easy for non-technicians to use. We’ve managed to get surprisingly reliable audio and video teleconferences going with four wide locations around the world.

For dice rolling, we rely on trust or the random number service of Rolz Online Dice Roller but I’m sure there a zillions of other dice rolling sites out there too.

But there is one nut we’ve yet to crack open: shared tactical maps of battles and territory. So far we’ve had to rely on GM decisions, trust or player memory to know where all the characters are in a physics intensive situations like combat or chases. This has worked out pretty well for us so far, mostly because we have a fairly simple set of combat rules and our GMs have been very good at keeping track of things. But I’d like to do this a little better. Especially if I’m going to restart my compaign again, now that I’ve got players scattered all over the cosmos. It would be nice to have a shared, virtual workspace for teleconferencing that was specialized for tabletop RPGs.

And there is. There is software called “Virtual Tabletops” designed just for this purpose. I’ve been doing research to what’s best for our needs. I’ve been considering our requirements, ideally it should rules system neutral, work on a variety of computing platforms (Since we have Apple, Microsoft and Linux machines in the mix.) but with lots of features and flexibility so it can be tuned for specific rules systems. It should also be free, because we’re cheap bastards!

So I found a source that compares the virtual tabletops, obscure as it is. I’ve been doing research, and it seems, that MapTools is probably the best out there. I’ve downloaded it and started to play with it on my copious spare time. Hopefully we’ll be able use this stuff in future sessions. And I’d like some comments on this, if possible.

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One Response to Tabletop RPGs on the Internet

  1. now if you could only get your dsl sorted out…

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