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Advice on on-line gaming for a complete novice

So after nineteen years with the same group (and gaming FtF since 1979), I am considering trying gaming on-line. The local game community here is drying up since the last FLGS closed.

I have used VTT at my table for years (MapTools). I have high-speed Internet access.

I've looked at Roll 20 and Fantasy Grounds, but I'm not sure which is the better choice. The cost isn't an issue.

I've never done Zoom or Skype or similar programs.

I've starting watching gaming sessions on YouTube, but without any practical background I'm not able to evaluate the technical aspects involved.

Anyone have advice or input?
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
At the very basic level (assuming you are OK with theatre of the mind) all you need is Zoom or something similar. Otherwise it’s exactly like in person.

It sounds like you know how VTTs generally work. Roll20 v FG is largely a matter of preference. I hear Roll20 is a little easier to use, but I haven’t really tried FG.
 

Yora

Legend
Roll20 is easy because it's free and works in the browser. So it's very accessible.
It does have a voice chat feature, but everyone I know does that through discord instead.

I find that it works best for games with simple rules that don't require a lot of dice rolling and tracking of things in addition to hit points. Fancier stuff can be made to work, but that's all additional work to set up.

Even more so than with table games, smaller groups work best. More than 6 people at the same time gets too crowded for everyone to fully participate.
 

There's also Foundry VTT which is relatively, just over 12 months old, but is community supported with about 150 game systems up and running. One time fee and you local host or there are several companies providing hosting services if you are technically unable to host off your home PC. Loads of people decamping from Roll20 turn up there as well as refugees from other VTT's.
 

There's also Foundry VTT which is relatively, just over 12 months old, but is community supported with about 150 game systems up and running. One time fee and you local host or there are several companies providing hosting services if you are technically unable to host off your home PC. Loads of people decamping from Roll20 turn up there as well as refugees from other VTT's.
The bold part is where you stopped speaking English.

Also, why is Roll20 losing people?
 

payn

Hero
The bold part is where you stopped speaking English.

Also, why is Roll20 losing people?
I'll try my best to answer, but roll20 has an instance of your games where anybody can log in whenever via their browser. Foundry is hosted locally on your own PC (out the box). That means folks can only log in when you have Foundry up and live on your PC, unless you find a site to host it.

I dont know if Roll20 is losing people, but folks are enjoying Foundry a lot. Its mostly preference, but to me roll20 feels like windows 95 and Foundry feels like Windows XP. They do the same things, mostly, but Foundry has a few more bells and whistles and looks aesthetically much better, imo.
 

Mallus

Legend
My experiences are limited to 2 pandemic campaigns: an old-fashioned dungeon crawl-heavy game using Labyrinth Lord over Roll20 and a story-focused, theater-of-the-mind game using simplified 3.5e over Zoom (so no virtual tabletop, just the occasional iPad screen held up to the camera).

Both are going well. Both would suck if we swapped platforms. We don't take advantage of many of Roll20's tools, but just the basic, revealable map and tokens are really helpful.
 

Interesting information. Would I need a headset, or a microphone, or any other hardware, and if so, a suggestion of make & model would be appreciated.
 

payn

Hero
Interesting information. Would I need a headset, or a microphone, or any other hardware, and if so, a suggestion of make & model would be appreciated.
I currently live alone so I just use my PC speakers and on board microphone. Though there are tons of headsets out there in pretty affordable prices. Also, lots of expensive sets that have features like bluetooth wireless and high quality sound if you feel you need such.

Cheap set

Expensive Set
 


Mallus

Legend
Would I need a headset, or a microphone, or any other hardware, and if so, a suggestion of make & model would be appreciated.
I play both games using a pair of regular headphones and my laptop's built-in mic. Works fine. The DM for the LL game just uses his laptop. The main problem we had was occasional audio issues w/Roll20.

The DM for the 3.5e game has a fancier setup. His whole family plays, and they tried to duplicate the experience of playing in their living room. He mounted a webcam next to the TV, facing the couch and placed mic in the center of room (which works well until the dog sits on it). So the effect is as if you're sitting across from them in their family room. Just like the group all did when they first bought the house, pre-kids, 20+ years ago. I gotta say I really appreciated that extra effort back during the heights of the lockdowns.
 
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I have been playing exclusively on Skype and discord for years now. I love it. But I think it works best with the following approach:

-Use theater of the mind. This isn't for everyone, but it really does make an online session feel much more like an in person session. I find online table top platforms and software, at least for me, tends to really reinforce the feeling that you are playing online and not in person. If you do theater of the mind, it isn't really that different from playing in person

-Update everything all the time to avoid technical issues. This is I think the biggest hurdle to online gaming: the technical issues that can arise. Try to find something that works best for everyone. I have had very little trouble on discord. Skype has become increasingly buggy IMO.

-Honor system and rolling your own dice will produce a more in person feel. So do that if you can. If you can't try to find a dice roller that won't slow things down. Honestly though we've been on the honor system for a while and its worked great. One solution is to just tilt the camera onto the rolls if you before they are made if you are worried about cheating

-Some people will take online games less seriously than in person games so when you first start expect you might start with 6 people and end up with 4 by the end of the campaign.

-Don't go crazy with handouts and things that take too much time to show everyone on the screen. If you do have any handouts or maps or whatever, try to set that up as far in advance as you can (like having emails drafted and ready to go at the push of a button) so you aren't slowing down the game. Slowing down to do stuff like that really is what kills online games because people just start looking at Facebook

-Speaking of facebook: try to get people to refrain from checking emails and social media during play. Even if they are just waiting for their turn. This is a little difficult to do, but just have a conservation about it if you feel it is sinking the game
 


payn

Hero
Excellent input all around. I'm thinking that at this point, try as a player, then move up to GM later.
That is how I did it. I made a mock campaign and system that I never ran, but simply used to understand the interface. Its a great way to get into VTT.
 

dbm

Adventurer
We have been gaming online since the pandemic started, so coming up to a year and a half of twice weekly sessions. The main question I would ask is: what systems do you want to run / play? The major platforms have some element of rules support to varying degrees, and this helps take some of the load and frees up head-space for dealing with the VTT platform itself.

We settled on Fantasy Grounds as it has great support for both D&D and Savage Worlds which are the two systems we play regularly.

What would you be running?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Interesting information. Would I need a headset, or a microphone, or any other hardware, and if so, a suggestion of make & model would be appreciated.

Need? Most laptops have a built in microphone and speakers, so you can manage without. Most desktop machiens don't have them built in, so you might need a solution then.

For starting out, you don't have to lay out a lot of money. The Hyper X Cloud Stinger is a good, comfortable, affordable headset - folks wil try to sell you on $100+ things - this one costs $35 on Amazon or at Best Buy.


In addition... Most of the virtual tabletop software being mentioned is... complicated. There's a big learning curve associated with most systems, with their dynamic lighting and fog of war features and map layers and all.

If you trust your players, such that you don't need them to manage their character sheeting in the VTT, you can go with something really simple, like Owlbear Rodeo to manage a map and counters.


There are more online chat solutions than you can shake a stick at. All of them basically work. Their performance for any particular user probably has more to do with local conditions than it does with the program. Pick one, try it, if you don't like it try another.
 

ninjayeti

Adventurer
If you are looking at finding an online group (rather than just porting your existing group to a VTT) FG or Roll20 are going to be your best bet, as they have the biggest communities to tap into.

Roll20 has the bigger user base, but because it is "freemium" it tends (as a gross generalization) to skew a bit younger and flakier. FG has fewer games running but the community is good and Fantasy Grounds College is a great resource to help new players get started. If you haven't already I'd recommend checking out the LFG pages on forums of both to get a sense what is available.

In my opinion FG has a steeper learning curve, but is easier to use once you have the hang of it. Ultimately, it is Coke vs. Pepsi - I like FG better, but mostly play Roll20 because that is what my main group uses. Both are intuitive enough that you can learn "on the fly" with an experienced group.

The biggest thing to bear in mind is that finding a group online is a bit like online dating - you can't expect that your first "match" is going to be your soul mate. You may have some false starts and mediocre experiences, but in my experience if you are patient you can find a group that is a good fit.
 

payn

Hero
The biggest thing to bear in mind is that finding a group online is a bit like online dating - you can't expect that your first "match" is going to be your soul mate. You may have some false starts and mediocre experiences, but in my experience if you are patient you can find a group that is a good fit.
Yeap, this. I wanted to give PF2 a shot and nobody I know wants to play it. I found a group actually through EN world here but half the group came from roll20 ads. We had 2-3 people drop in short order for various reasons. Folks jump in and out with little care and some even ghost. Be prepared for that.
 


tommybahama

Adventurer
Roll20 seems to have the easiest search engine for finding open games imo. Another resource would be StartPlaying. Most of the games are paid but I have seen a few free ones. Discord is also a good place to find games. There is one for WFRP (Ratcatcher, irrc) and many for D&D.

I would not use the laptop's built in microphone and speakers. Get a wireless headset. You can go pee without missing the action. Just mute your mic before you go!
 

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