Monday, June 1, 2009

Okay, Now the Real Break from Reality

Okay, in talking about Laarde, I forgot to talk about what I really started that post to talk about...

My involuntary switch from tabletop to online play.

I'd migrated my Star Wars game to online when I moved to Ottawa, since my players were all back in the Toronto area, and I think that went fairly well. We played via IRC (Internet Relay Chat). We would all sit down at our computers on Sunday night and log in with mIRC (the specific program we used). I started a specific locked chat room for us, which everyone would connect to, and then I would open up a supplementary window for each player so that I can private chat with them if needed. There were a few problems maintaining the connection for all the players, but when everyone could be on, it went really well.

I even ran one adventure where they flew down into the atmosphere of a planet that had suffered a total global nuclear war. They were searching for why they had detected an Imperial signal from the planet's surface. They had trouble with their engines as the approached the signal, so they landed while they could still fly, and put on environmental suits to continue on. As they continued, their communications began to break up, and I was able to factilitate that really well with the IRC system. I told them to type what they wanted to say in the private chat window, and then I would relay it to the others, as they heard it, with all the breaks and static. I thought it was pretty fun, and they learned to keep their messages short to get them through (or to put their helmets together and yell). They eventually wound up underground (someone fell through a weak point in the street pavement, I believe) and that helped with their communications, so I didn't torture them with it for too long. Still, that would have been very difficult to do in a tabletop environment. Online play made it very easy.

The play-by-post games I've been in have had mixed reviews. They went fairly well as long as people posted in a timely fashion, but there were some games that dragged on because people wouldn't post. The D&D 3.5e Dragonlance game I ran was an example of that. I was following the published adventure modules, converted from 1st edition to 3rd edition, and there are 12 or 13 playable modules.

After three years of play, we had only gotten to the middle of the second module. Three YEARS. It really hit home then. We had tried it a few times where we played similar to how I'd run the Star Wars IRC game. I got everyone together online at the same time, and established a Posting Initiative, so that we wouldn't have everyone talking over one another. Each person posted, in turn, and if you didn't have anything to add to the conversation, you would just post your character shuffling their feet, or picking their fingernails, or staring off into oblivion. Whatever, just to discharge your turn. Then, when combat came up, we'd roll initiative normally for that, and play through the fight, then switch back to the posting initiative. After the two or three sessions we played like this, each time I went back and compared how many posts we got through, and compared it to how many we'd gone through just before the session. On average, in one night, we went through three months worth of posting. Amazing.

At this point, I told everyone playing, if we can't switch to playing like we did in those sessions, I'm just going to end the game. It's taking far too long. There were at least 10 modules after that, and so it would take 20-30 years to finish the campaign. Noone could commit to it, so I stopped the game there.

Oh, I forgot another character... I'll have to go back to the Gaming-ology post and add her in. I played a 1st edition D&D Half-elf Cleric/MagicUser named Shandara in an game. The plot was that we were all captured by Drow Elves and escaped and were trying to make it back to the surface. Sort of a reverse of the Descent into the Depths module. The DM even called the game Ascent from the Depths. That was a fun game, and Shandara was a pretty good character, and became quite useful to the group. I have to say that I enjoyed that game.

I was playing another Rpol game at the same time. This was the one I played Warren Livingstone in. It was an Against the Giants game, so we were playing through the G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and G3: Halls of the Fire Giant King modules. I'd paged through these in my younger years, but we'd never played through them. Warren had a similar story to Shandara, with regards to being captured and escaping... he'd gone up against the giants years ago, and was captured by them. He'd been passed along to the three giant leaders, for them to torture, get whatever info they could out of him, and then he was passed on to the drow for the same. He survived for several years this way, and then was brought back to the Hill Giant Chief so that he could have the honor of killing Warren. This is when the group the DM was playing raided the place and freed him. He joined up afterwards and assisted in destroying the Hill Giants and the Frost Giants. We didn't make it to the Fire Giants before the play-speed waned and eventually ground to a halt. It was fun while it lasted though.

Basically, what it came down to was time. I don't mind taking my time with a game. I actually honestly like the extra time to post exposition and descriptions, and I find it easier to remember little details of play that I want to put in, as opposed to playing in person.

However, there are limits. When there are days between posts, and you have to nudge people over PM or email to get them to continue, especially when you notice that they're online on the site, but still aren't posting... well, that's about the time when you give up.

So, the main point of this... I had some fun with the online games, and in some cases, I was able to do things that I couldn't do at the table, but for the most part, the online games were just disappointing. The games all ended prematurely, for one reason or another, so there was never any closure for the characters.

I'm currently running one online game, playing the group through a 4th edition D&D conversion of the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, and what comes after. I intend to at least keep the game going long enough to finish what comes after Danger at Dunwater, but if the group is still interested after that, I will continue on. So far, it's been fun. The greatest hurdle we've had is the conversion from Castles&Crusades to 4eD&D. Everyone seems to be enjoying the new system, or at least they're not complaining to me. Let's hope we can keep it going. :)

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