Has online play changed your DM style?

Nevvur

Explorer
Until about a year after 5e launched, all my RPG experience was at real life tables. After that point, I played almost exclusively on Roll20. I've been reflecting a lot lately, and I recognize my approach to DMing has changed in that time. This thread isn't specific to Roll20 or 5e, but answers relating to those systems are of greatest interest to me.

The question is per the title. Please remark on ANY aspect of the game. I'll revisit with personal examples later, just want to put the question out real quick, but I'll offer this for now. I've become very selective about who I let into my groups. I have an enormous pool of players to choose from, and the luxury to choose who I play with.
 

Bynw

The Oyarsa of IRC
My gaming has been online since the late 1990s. Initially and still via IRC, Roll20, and forums as both a player and GM.

As a GM, I don't think my actual style has changed from the days of face 2 face gaming. I still will run a game at conventions that way and with a home group every now and again.

Online gaming has enabled me to get a wide pool of players. The entire world is open to you. As long as someone can meet the time frame for a game over IRC, Roll20, or some other kind of real time gaming. With a forum and possibly Discord you could run a game without it needing to be in real time. Just post and wait which even gives a wider pool of players.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I'll revisit with personal examples later, just want to put the question out real quick, but I'll offer this for now. I've become very selective about who I let into my groups. I have an enormous pool of players to choose from, and the luxury to choose who I play with.
Yep, online play allows for putting together the best possible gaming groups. What I do is run one-shots for people on Roll20 (less than I used to), then select the best players among those groups and invite them to my player pool.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
I'll revisit with personal examples later, just want to put the question out real quick, but I'll offer this for now. I've become very selective about who I let into my groups. I have an enormous pool of players to choose from, and the luxury to choose who I play with.
This was the big one for me. When I was still DMing on Roll20, I had applicants answer all sorts of questions about their gaming experience and their playstyle. Basically I wanted a cover letter that would help me understand what the player was all about and whether they gelled with other members of the group. (The people who would overlook these questions and drop one-line applications into the LFG were never invited. Surprisingly, there were a lot of people like that on Roll20.)

A few times, I (and established members of my group) would interview people over Discord. If we were going to be gaming with these people week after week, then we wanted to make sure that they fit in.

Yeah, we took our D&D seriously. But it was a useful experience in many ways. For example, I feel a lot more comfortable serving on things like hiring committees and even applying to jobs after being a DM and sifting through countless player applications. The experiences are not all that different.
 

Nevvur

Explorer
Yep, online play allows for putting together the best possible gaming groups. What I do is run one-shots for people on Roll20 (less than I used to), then select the best players among those groups and invite them to my player pool.
Ever feel like you've overused or abused that 'privilege'? Refined your selections to the point of pure self-service and lost track of what other plays might want in a game? Wonder if you've let brilliant players slip through your net?
 
I do play-by-post and that is definitely very different from usual Pen&Paper:

- I invest around 1-2 hours into every single post I make, updating maps, researching stuff, updating inventory and character tables, I might even edit it multiple times to make dialogues sound better and stuff; it's probably 100+ times the DM work per ingame turn, but also allows you for much more accurate information and less mistakes

- I let my players roll directly without me asking them to, because it saves me time if I know the result of certain actions before preparing my post (of course it can still be that the result doesn't even make a difference)

- I have to check rules and abilities quite frequently; in real life play, if I don't understand why a player can do something, I can just ask and get an answer directly, but asking in play-by-post usually means a full day delay, so instead, I often go and actually research all the abilties my player has to see if his action is actually valid

- I track status and inventory myself (as I need to check validity of rules, I need to know the character stats, so instead of my players keeping their character sheets up to date, I have it all in excel sheets)

- If I'm completely overworked, I might actually give certain tasks over to my players, like if they ask me if they can still carry some heavy object, rather than me starting to calculate it, I'll go "It weights x pounds, why don't you go and check?", that's quite uncommon for me as I'm more the type that likes to keep control over everything

- For players it means they try to post if/else conditions to save time, so rather than getting one action the player wants to do you will process sentences like "If I can see X, then I'll do A. Otherwise, I'll do B."; though that doesn't really have a big impact on my DMing style
 
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Rabbitbait

Explorer
Yes, absolutely. I no longer spend huge amounts of time drawing shoddy imitations of maps on dry-erase boards. I now have beautiful maps that are revealed as I need and each player can only see what their character would see.

Other than that, all my changes in style are related to becoming a better DM generally and now using pre-written modules rather than homebrew. Sadly, I think the pre-written modules are much better than my homebrew.
 

digitalelf

Explorer
The biggest change is that I am not able to use physical handouts... For example, drawing "treasure maps" in charcoal on "duck-cloth" to represent canvas/sail cloth, or hand-written letters on real parchment, etc.
 

Hussar

Legend
Ever feel like you've overused or abused that 'privilege'? Refined your selections to the point of pure self-service and lost track of what other plays might want in a game? Wonder if you've let brilliant players slip through your net?
Nope. Not at all.

Bit of background. I started playing on VTT in 2003 with OpenRPG. Dark ages man, dark ages. :D When I first started, I treated the table like I was playing at an FLGS, just put up an ad and take whoever came. I was super nice about things and would bend over backwards to be accommodating.

Then, over time. This changed. I noticed that many online players didn't seem to treat the game as a priority. I'd get players showing up fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes late, no notice, no email. Or, not even show up at all. Then I had the players who would come in, spend all sorts of time creating a character, get everything just right, only to vanish into the aether the next week. On and on and on. So, my recruitment signs started to change. They went from something along the lines of come one come all, to "Look, I'm running THIS kind of game. The game starts at THIS time on THIS day. We are not interested in players who (shopping list of things). Miss three sessions without prior notice and you're uninvited."

Funny thing was, the nastier I got, the more people wanted into the games. :/

But, over the years, I finally whittled down the group to a great bunch. I've got a group of six players now and this is my longest running group (almost ten years now, with three of us bordering on 20).

I have no interest anymore in being accomodating to other people's playstyles. I don't have to be. Why should I change how I want to play to play with some stranger? Bugger that. I'd much rather sit at a table of like minded individuals. So much more fun.
 

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
I realise this is a bit of a tangent to the thread topic, but would you care to elaborate on this.
I'm not bookbarbarian, but I experienced the same thing.

Many moons ago, I recorded several sessions, edited them, stuck them on Youtube, that sort of thing (those videos are now gone, but more "recent" play can be found if you go looking for Rat's Workshop). And as I watched them, I noticed the things that I wasted time on that weren't actually valuable in actual play. Things like detailed religions, deep histories, etc. that, while fun for me to create, nobody seemed to care about.

Other things I wasted my time on: figuring out the nuances of the VTT I was using (at that time Roll20). Even going as far as pausing game-time to get it right. They disengaged big time if I paused the action to figure out how to use an API script. Big time.

Conversely, I saw the things that players were engaging with: plot, battles, etc.

What it boiled down to, and I'm generalizing here, is that Players wanna play. For the most part, they don't give two spits for all that deep stuff unless it directly relates to the adventure.

Plus, I learned that I have a very nasally voice. Heh.
 

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
I'd get players showing up fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes late, ...
I was doing this, except that I was an hour late each time. It took one of the players asking what my time zone was. After I told him, he politely let me know that I had the time differences wrong by one hour.

I thanked him and the group profusely for correcting me. Apologized a LOT for screwing up their game time and then dropped out of the group as I knew I'd never be able to make it on time reliably.

@WookieeChan , if you're listening, I still feel shitty about messing up the group. I owe you a beer or soda or something if we ever meet in person.
 

Sadras

Explorer
I started playing on VTT in 2003 with OpenRPG. Dark ages man, dark ages. :D When I first started, I treated the table like I was playing at an FLGS, just put up an ad and take whoever came. I was super nice about things and would bend over backwards to be accommodating.

Then, over time. This changed. I noticed that many online players didn't seem to treat the game as a priority. I'd get players showing up fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes late, no notice, no email. Or, not even show up at all. Then I had the players who would come in, spend all sorts of time creating a character, get everything just right, only to vanish into the aether the next week. On and on and on. So, my recruitment signs started to change. They went from something along the lines of come one come all, to "Look, I'm running THIS kind of game. The game starts at THIS time on THIS day. We are not interested in players who (shopping list of things). Miss three sessions without prior notice and you're uninvited."

Funny thing was, the nastier I got, the more people wanted into the games. :/

But, over the years, I finally whittled down the group to a great bunch. I've got a group of six players now and this is my longest running group (almost ten years now, with three of us bordering on 20).
@Hussar just out of curiosity - as I understand it you're a Canadian living and rpging online in Japan with I'm guessing people back home and perhaps other parts of the world. How big is the rpging community in Japan? Is the language barrier an issue for forming an in-person game there?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Ever feel like you've overused or abused that 'privilege'? Refined your selections to the point of pure self-service and lost track of what other plays might want in a game? Wonder if you've let brilliant players slip through your net?
It's possible, but I would say what makes a "brilliant player" is actually just someone who is a responsible adult with a good sense of humor capable of having a meaningful conversation with other people. That's fairly easy to judge via a one-shot. I'm not really selecting for people who have particular D&D preferences per se. D&D 5e is what it is and I run the game as advertised by the game itself with campaigns changing up every 6 months to 1 year, the themes and focuses based on player input.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yes, absolutely. I no longer spend huge amounts of time drawing shoddy imitations of maps on dry-erase boards. I now have beautiful maps that are revealed as I need and each player can only see what their character would see.
Heck yeah. I'm pretty sure Gabriel Pickard (one of the Roll20 map sellers) is naming a wing of his house for me given how many of his map packs I buy. Plus I have the entire internet's worth of art I can download and make into tokens, handouts, and evocative splash pages. I take pride in how good my games look in addition to how smoothly they play.

My opinion is that if you're not taking full advantage of the visual elements of online play, you're squandering the full potential of the medium.
 

jmucchiello

Adventurer
I play-by-post more and I find it has given me the bad habit of not planning more than 10 minutes into the future. Because checking a door for trap could take a whole week in real time, it is unnecessary to plan for "filling up a 4 hour session"-worth of material. While I know what the major NPCs are up to and stuff like that well into the future. The current location of the party, I only know precisely what's around them within the next in-game 10 minutes. Developing more is just a waste of time.

Now, when something happens, it'll take me 30-60 minutes to write a detailed post or update a map for them going forward. But the concept of planning is totally different in PbP.
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
Online play means I use more maps. And though not directly related to online play, I do less world building preparation than I used to. Not because of time, but because of player engagement. Players don;t engage with detailed historical mythologies or intricate NPC backstories. They engage with visuals, interesting items, plots and challenges. So that's where I put my prep time.
This was the big one for me. When I was still DMing on Roll20, I had applicants answer all sorts of questions about their gaming experience and their playstyle. Basically I wanted a cover letter ...
I get this. But I also see the downside of it. Basically you're asking people to write a bunch of stuff that will never be used other than as a screening tool. It takes you time, it takes them time, and you only get to use it for screening.

I'm totally for screening players, I do it myself. But what I do is run one-shots during online cons and take notes about the players. Those that show up on time, are engaged, etc, those are the ones I take notes on and when I start a campaign I seek out and ask if they want to play. Not only is doing it this way fun for me, because we are playing a one-shot rather than reading and sifting through applications, it also serves the community because it helps support a con or event. And about half of these players are new or returning to RPGs, so it helps them get back into it as well.
The biggest change is that I am not able to use physical handouts... For example, drawing "treasure maps" in charcoal on "duck-cloth" to represent canvas/sail cloth, or hand-written letters on real parchment, etc.
I use more handouts online, they just aren't physical. It's easy to make a parchment type look and use it as a handout. For example;
HD5-UM1.jpg
Sure, the players can't feel it, but they can see it and understand what they need (the map, the material it is made on, that it's burnt, worn, and hand drawn, etc). Not the same, but works well enough.

Its really easy to do, their is a tutorial I put together on the Cartographer's Guild on making that map and ones like it.
Conversely, I saw the things that players were engaging with: plot, battles, etc.

What it boiled down to, and I'm generalizing here, is that Players wanna play. For the most part, they don't give two spits for all that deep stuff unless it directly relates to the adventure.
Yep, agree. Over the years (not really related to online play) I too have come to the same conclusion. The elaborate world history, the myths and legends I created for my world, all of that the players never really cared about.
My opinion is that if you're not taking full advantage of the visual elements of online play, you're squandering the full potential of the medium.
Agreed on this. Online using maps are so easy and so valuable that I get annoyed at TotM play (as a player). There are millions of great maps out their, their are several free mapping tools that do just fine, and their are others if you want to get a near professional look that are quick (I use Campaign Cartographer).
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
I play-by-post more and I find it has given me the bad habit of not planning more than 10 minutes into the future. Because checking a door for trap could take a whole week in real time, it is unnecessary to plan for "filling up a 4 hour session"-worth of material. ...

Now, when something happens, it'll take me 30-60 minutes to write a detailed post or update a map for them going forward. But the concept of planning is totally different in PbP.
I don't think of it as a bad habit. It's a different medium.

I did the same thing when I ran PbP. I had my detailed world and occurring events, and after the initial plot, everything that happened to the characters was in response to what the characters did. I had nothing pre-planned. It was a great experience, but very different than a playing in real-time event (in person or online).
 

digitalelf

Explorer
I use more handouts online, they just aren't physical. It's easy to make a parchment type look and use it as a handout...

Sure, the players can't feel it, but they can see it and understand what they need (the map, the material it is made on, that it's burnt, worn, and hand drawn, etc). Not the same, but works well enough.
I absolutely continue to use handouts... Using appropriate backgrounds (parchment, sail-cloth, wood, stone, etc.) as needed.

I was just saying that my style of DMing only changed in that my handouts are now electronic, rather than physical. ;)
 

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