Online Play Tools

edited March 2007 in Story Games
OK, so I'm approving somebody for GameChef membership, when I look below and see an add for

There seem to now be many of these. Doing a search, I find this comparison site:

Yeah, there are enough of these things that there's a comparison site for them. I'm sure there are probably others that didn't make it on the list (isn't the one somebody here's coming up with not on the list?).

Anyhow, from any personal experience with their use, or even from just looking at the details on the page above, do you think that any of these would be good for playing Story Games? I play online using IRC, and it seems to work fine for me. But, then, I've never really tried using something like this. One thing that I know wouldn't matter a lot to me is the miniatures support. In fact, other than, say, video conferencing, I find most of the visual side of these things to be sorta pointless. I'm not against maps and visuals, but I do fine without them for the most part at the moment.

If that's true, am I better off going with Skype or something, if all I want is audio conferencing? Or are there features that I'm overlooking that would be useful for play of, say Hero Quest? To use a practical example.



  • Mike,

    A good addition to VoIP chat is, a free, web-based whiteboard. My online friends and I use it for scribbling maps and other SIS-type stuff. Also makes a good place to stick character portraits, handouts, etc. You can even assign different roles to users, so you could give drawing privileges to just the GM, for instance. The advantage over fantasygrounds, OpenRPG, and similar products is that there's no installation or server setup (just use the web browser of your choice) and it doesn't have a lot extraneous features cluttering up the shared space.
  • I haven't used it myself, but I know a friend who is gaming via Skype and is using Gametable, a "remote RPG whiteboarding client" developed by Andy Weir of Casey & Andy fame.
  • Skype 3.0 includes a whiteboard plugin now.
  • So can I take it that you guys are saying that this sort of online tool just isn't important at all for Story Game play online, if I'm not into relying on visuals? Do I even need the whiteboard? If I don't, is there anything from these apps that I might need? Or are they useless?

    Just to add, we also use a Wiki for character sheets. So we have a spot for those. They don't update real time or anything, but that's not been a real need in play. Just have to have them available for reference, and the wiki works fine for that.

    Fred has played, so he'd know... is there any problem with the wiki for things like that?

    I've created exactly one map for play in four years, and I posted that to the wiki as well, with annotation below the JPEG I used. So my need for visual aids seems covered. Or, Fred (or anyone who's played my game online), do I need more of that stuff?

    I'm willing to entertain the notion that I could be using more visual features for these games, if anyone has a suggestion. Put another way, what would you use a whiteboard for in your play?

    I find the notion of an aid designed to enhance play attractive. I want to need something like this. I just can't figure out why I do need it.

  • Posted By: Mike HolmesPut another way, what would you use a whiteboard for in your play?
    If I were playing Polaris over Skype, I'd use a whiteboard for the character sheet -- and if that were the case, I would like a whiteboard that allowed each individual used to orient it to their desire, as if looking at it from different sides of a table.

    If I were playing Spirit of the Century in the same manner, I might use that space for listing aspects of a scene, NPCs, or even new temporary aspects the PCs have, so everyone knows what can be tagged. In the same manner, open note-taking like that would be useful in many games.

    I used to make handouts for my games, like when I ran GURPS Black Ops or Spycraft I would make OpOrds & dossiers. While I could easily just email Word docs to my players, maybe there would be some merit in them marking up these documents on the whiteboard and collaborating with each other.

    But I do all my current gaming face-to-face right now, so this is all just hypothetical.
  • I used Skype for a game of HeroQuest, were it was all made up as we went along and it went fine without any visual aids or the such like. Burning Wheel worked ok as well.

    I've found though that Skype is a bit hit and miss, it seems to work for some people but not for others.
    And if you''ve got friends who run Linux the client was a bit flakey.

    We were in the process of trying Gizmo ( out.
  • Mike, how about giving us an actual play report in which you were playing online and something seemed vaguely wrong or painful?
  • Here's what I want: the ability to roll polyhedral dice onto these whiteboards and then move them around. Ditto for cards. Do any of these handle such a thing?
  • edited March 2007
    Mr. Sugarbaker has caught the crux of the problem which is that the play I experience on IRC is blissfully excellent. I have no complaints at all, Mike. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I think I might be a better GM at the rate of chat than I am face-to-face. There's something about getting to think about the words you're typing that makes the quality of output higher. I simply can't extemporize verbally as well as I can produce text. So the downside of typing (the speed of interaction) is offset by the quality increase.

    In other words, it seems to me that I've already found my ultimate medium. So maybe I'm tilting at windmills here. But before I played chat, I wouldn't have thought I'd be so successful with it. So, looking at a cool virtual tabletop app, I have to wonder if there isn't something even better out there. Again, I want to need something about these apps... I just don't know if I actually do, or, if I do, why it is that I need them. That's what I'm trying to discover.

    At this point we haven't gotten anybody who has used one to report on it's efficacy in play. The most I get is that VOIP seems to work alright, but not great, and it has the visual tools available too, just in case I ever would need them.

    Which means that so far, my fears are being confirmed. That these apps really only serve the interests of the dungeon crawl miniatures D&D set. And that nothing is actually superior to what I'm using.

    Which is far from a tragedy, I'll have to be satisfied with "just" excellent play experience. But, you know, I'm always looking for better.

    I'm very tempted to set up a game with something like one of the free clients above just to see if we can't make something out of the features in play. But the inertia is the organization involved in setting this up. Without at least an inkling that there's something advantageous to try, I'm not sure I can get over that hump.

    I'm not the sort who believes that if it ain't broke, that it can't be improved. But I am pragmatic about it. Good play comes first, experimenting comes second.

    What I was kinda hoping I'd see is somebody come on and say, "Hey, I use OpenRPG weekly for my game, and this is what I use feature X for, which really enhances my play of My Life With Master." But I'm willing to accept that it might not be forthcoming. Just trying to explore the possibility.

    So far, the closest to that has been Ryan's idea for Polaris. Interestingly, I don't know whether any of the applications mentioned could do what he needs. I rather doubt it, in fact.

    Josh, somebody recently built an app to do just what you're talking about in a browser. Can't recall who, or where it was, but I'm surprised you didn't hear about it? Or did you, and it's not quite what you're looking for? Can anybody link us to that app?

  • Mike, are you thinking of Graham's dice roller program? It's really nifty, but doesn't include a chat function, so it needs to be paired with something else for play.
  • Thanks, Jamey, that was it. More for Josh than for me. Still doesn't help him with his cards, issue, but some of those game tables should handle that element fine (though, you're right, this means having multiple apps going at once, etc). What Josh needs is Graham's thingie embedded into one of those table spaces.

  • Fantasy Grounds has a nice dice roller that is visual, it lets you pick up the dice and "roll" them as a practice roll or "on the table" which published the result for the group. It is quite satisfying. However, I find the map tool in Fantasy Grounds to be rather limited and while the engine has some flexibility, at its heart, this is a D&D tabletop.

    I've run a couple Skype games with mixed success. We tried Teampspeak which had serious lag issues. I know Ventrilo is pretty good, but I find the voice quality more consistent with Skype. I also prefer Skype for recording (see below). Plus, Skype has an easy add-on sound file program that you can use to play wav files through the conversations (I've used it for "battle sounds", it was neat).

    In the first Skype Game I ran (which died due to scheduling), we tried Gametable, RPTools and Screenmonkey. We settled on Screenmonkey because all we needed was the demo to play and I found it easier to load new maps and manage access for the players, plus only the GM needs to download the program and everyone else can use a web browser. This allowed Mac users to play with PC users and Linux could play, too, if we'd had any Linux players. We tried out the chat die roller in all of the apps and decided it was more fun to hear actual dice rolling. I trusted my players, so they each rolled their own dice and gave me the results via text chat to try and parse out the RP from the mech.

    This was a d20 game and while scheduling is the official reason for the game ending, I think one problem with the game was the feeling that we always needed some kind of map, something we could all share visually. Having a map pushed me into running more combats and cut out the character development time. I've found that online tabletop games are usually a much shorter session than live tabletop. So, combat was the majority of each session and combat isn't my strongest suit.

    The second try is my ongoing 7th Sea game with a different group. I am using for any whiteboarding. It has a simple interface good for showing pictures and drawing quick little maps. I purposefully chose a limited whiteboard to keep me from falling into the same trap as the d20 game. Again, we use physical dice and call out results. I would prefer that we utilize text chat for the dice results, but that isb't feasible at the time for one of the players (she's often holding a one year old child in her lap while playing), so I'm not pushing it. The 7th Sea game is going well three sessions in. I purchased a program called Pamela to record the game sessions. The players aren't comfy with an AP posting of the sessions, but I find it very useful to review the sessions to find missed opportunities, remember character voices and look for flags I missed while trying to keep the pace moving during the session.

    The original d20 group may not be completely dead. We're currently discussing a new way to virtual tabletop. Since all the players are in another state (my home state) whilst I am not, they will gather at a table and set up a monitor while I do an impression of Max Headroom with a webcam. They will also have a cam showing them. I hope to get this going soon and have high expectations. I once played in a D&D game where the DMs brother played in this fashion and after the first few minutes of oddness, it soon became a grand old time. We've settled on Inspectres once we get together to try this, I'm quite excited.

    Another tool I am looking to use is to incorporate music in the game. I am working on setting up a WinAmp Shoutcast server to netcast background music for the game. Music has always been an important aspect of the gaming experience for me and I look forward to the inclusion of this sensory tool.

  • The original d20 group may not be completely dead. We're currently discussing a new way to virtual tabletop. Since all the players are in another state (my home state) whilst I am not, they will gather at a table and set up a monitor while I do an impression of Max Headroom with a webcam. They will also have a cam showing them. I hope to get this going soon and have high expectations. I once played in a D&D game where the DMs brother played in this fashion and after the first few minutes of oddness, it soon became a grand old time. We've settled on Inspectres once we get together to try this, I'm quite excited.
    I immediately think of Paranoia.....

    Seriously, that's both hilarious and awesome all at once. I must know how this goes. AP report!
  • There may not be ways to improve on IRC (for some - a lot of people report that video in iChat took their online gaming to new heights), but I bet there are plenty of ways to make it more accessible without destroying its essence.
  • I was talking about developing an online tabletop app specifically for our kind of games - so supporting various dice, multiple card packs, passing notes etc., and having a built-in chat app, all logged to a single log for later playtest analysis or sharing of AP.

    Then JasonP came along with Caxino and I thought, whew, I don't need to.

    I'm not sure how far he's got with it.
  • Meserach/Thomas,

    I will give an AP report and may go one or two better. I plan on audio recording the session and if the players are comfy, I will find somewhere to post it. Plus, if I can figure out how, I might even record the video, but that one I'm not too sure about. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Ya know, the webcam is giving me some interesting ideas. Maybe if those guys are ever playing some Spycraft, I could pop in as a guest NPC.... "Your mission if you choose to accept it..." or I could be in a sci-fi game as a captain of a ship sending a distress signal.... oh the wonders.... mwahahaha.
  • While I'm very interested to try out projects like Caxino, I'm far from convinced that attempting to simulate the tabletop is the best way to go with online play. Like in this thread, I'm of the opinion that online play has unique features and advantages over and above tabletop, and we should be looking at maintaining or heightening those while doing our best to compensate for the disadvantages, rather than just trying to shift things back to tabletops.

    True, these games we play were nearly all designed to be played over a table, and there's merit in trying to maintain the original milieu... but I think the attempt to re-create the tabletop in the virtual space is always going to seem liek second best, when online play could be so much more.
  • The "more" that I was interested in was primarily an automatically produced AP log and automatic IC/OOC separation, which were two of the main things mentioned in the other thread you reference.

    Part of my motivation here is that I live a long way away from anyone else on this forum (unless there are Auckland lurkers who haven't made themselves known), so online play is about my only option. And I have a couple of games, designed for tabletop play, that I'd like to playtest.
  • Tom, I really don't know any other way to approach the problems I'm facing with cards and such online. So, I just went with building a tabletop. :)

    Mike, Caxino has made a lot of progress. I wouldn't say that it'll be functional next week (since I've been inspired and working on RPGs for a bit), but I will say that quite soon I'll be sending out the first invitation for testing actual function.
  • Mike RM, thanks for bringing up Caxino. That was, in fact, one of the ones that got me thinking about this. Jason, looking forward to seeing it in action.

    Tom, I agree with you in that I'm not 100% certain that I want to get away from some of the features of chat play. Like I have to admit that it's nice to be able to walk away from the computer for a minute while somebody is typing, and deal with some quick household task or get a snack or something. There are benefits to the asynchronicity (is that a word?). With Voice (and/or video), I'm back to being stuck in the chair again.

    More importantly, however, as I've said, I find the lack of immediate pressure to produce something to be freeing. Often in FTF play I'll say "Hold on just a minute" close my eyes, and try to think up what's happening next. So those delays are inevitable anyhow. Basically I can be creative at the speed of IRC, but not nearly so well at FTF speeds.

    Without video, I can play in a bathrobe if I want to be comfortable...

    I'm sure there are other considerations as well. For those who have tried, what are the problems with webcam/voice play? How is it not just like sitting at a table with the others? The video jerkiness? If it's just like FTF play, that's hard to argue against. Does this sort of play have advantages as some seem to imply? I mean, if I'm with folks, I can play music or even sound effects from the computer in the room. Is that better with everyone on a monitor? Is the automatic sharing an advantage? How does playing this way "come alive?"

    Mike (Sugarbaker), what do you envision in terms of accessibility?

    Rich, many thanks for you giving us a view into all of your practical experience. That's great stuff. Looking forward to the recordings.

  • Mike - something a bit more like Campfire is what I have in mind.
  • Interesting. I wonder if their free account has enough of the neccessary features to play...

  • Hi Mike,

    I've recently wrapped a round of playtesting Black Cadillacs using Vassal. It's completely customizable, which was great for me -- I needed a Bridge deck as well as dice, so it worked well.

    The flip-side of "completely customizable" is that you have to put in the sweat equity to build a plugin for the program to run your game (essentially, build the objects that you'll need). I'm not even close to being a programmer, but I found it quite easy and intuitive. On top of that, there's a great online support community -- you usually have your answer within 24 hours.

  • edited March 2007
    In the same style of functionalities as Vassal, I've used CyberBoard in the past to supplement online games. It worked well and the boards we created usually looked very neat.
  • Things I would want from an online gameing/chatapp : prominent methods of signalling that:

    * I'm typing.
    * I'm done narrating and you can go now.
    * No-one else say anythign until I'm done.

  • Don't forget:

    * I want to talk, someone give me a turn
    * I'm happy just listening for now
  • I game exclusively on IRC, and like Mike I find it extremely satisfactory. The blandness of the interface is itself a boon--no distractions, no fiddly bits to keep track of. I also have no use for maps and miniatures, so IRC gaming keeps me happy.

    What extra features I need I tend to write myself, as mIRC has a fairly robust scripting engine. I've created a dice roller and combat phase manager for 7th Sea, a dice roller for Fudge dice (plus a feature for bonus and penalty dice in TSoY), and another for Dogs in the Vineyard. Also a trump card script and fanmail/budget tracker for PtA, and a 1001 Nights script for keeping track of dice.

    It's very convenient because there are no fiddly bits to bother with anymore--the script stores the information, such as the list of dice results in Dogs or what phase you're on in 7th Sea, to be called and updated with a simple text command. With the Fudge dice script you only have to specify the starting point (such as Adept) and it computes the end point (such as Great (3)) automatically. The same with bonus and penalty dice. All this automation adds up to less bookkeeping and less distractions, making for a more immersive experience.

    I definitely second Meserach in saying that online play is more than a poor substitute for tabletop, but a different medium with different possibilities.
  • We need more games designed to exploit online play's strengths.
  • Eldir,

    I am running a 7th Sea game and would like to check out the tools you've created if you are willing to share.
  • edited March 2007
    Posted By: orklordEldir,

    I am running a 7th Sea game and would like to check out the tools you've created if you are willing to share.
    Sure. It's an .ini file that you can load to your remote scripting window in mIRC. It's what I call the "dummy user" method of using scripted tools, with the advantage that you don't need control of an IRC server and the disadvantage that the script's actually working in different computing environments is uncertain. Kind of on a "plug-and-pray" basis.

    Here's the link where I've uploaded the script file and explained how it works. *keeps fingers crossed*
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