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VTT Impact on GMing Skills

Retreater

Legend
Like many GMs, I've been running mostly on VTT for over a year now. I'm actually running more frequently online than I ever did in person (because it's easy to find games, convenient to get together, etc). But I am starting to consider how my style online is different in person, and which GMing muscles will need retraining.
For example, I tend to improvise less online. I have battlemaps at the ready, encounters already laid out. I don't want the players bored as I prepare an encounter, looking at a blank computer screen and disengaging from the game.
I have used more official modules. They're easier to setup when they're already on a VTT. Or even if they're not on the VTT, at least I'm not putting all the content on a VTT AND writing an adventure.
We are sticking with rules lite systems. Nobody in our group wants to learn a new system while not in person.
Character sheets are automated with the dice math already done. We don't even roll dice anymore.
I don't narrate areas as often. The map does most of the work. Players can ignore most of the description when they can see the placement of doors, hallways, and monsters on a grid.
My character voices and expressions are limited online. People seem to have difficulty understanding me using voice chat, so doing strange voices, whispers, screams, are just out of the question. Facial expressions and gestures are lost without a camera (and sometimes people aren't watching you even if you use a camera).
What are skills are you putting aside these days? What are some suggestions about retraining them?
 

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Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
I find I improvise more, but I have a pretty beefy setup for my game. I have loaded around 400+ maps all organized in sections, thousands of tokens, a huge set of audio fx, music, ambiance... this way as I improv my sandbox game, I have almost anything I might need. Also I find I do voices better, as I am a bit less shy. I also never use the exact map as what is there, I tell the players its more of an outline, and I mention any differences. I also find I can share images of NPCs on a map screen as a NPC index, with a small description so at any time players can be reminded of what is happening. When I use 5E modules like Phandelver, I think the extra maps and tables that are pre-done save time in prep, more time for the game.

As far as the math, good riddance lol. We switched from 5E to Cypher so it is more basic rolls, no math almost due to system.
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
Nothing has changed from in person. I use two screens. One to see the virtual battle map and the other screen to see the players expressions. We use Googlemeet and the white board.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
It’s pretty similar, but I still use hardcopy notes even when running on a VTT. The primary difference is in setting up the maps. I put more effort into them for the VTT than I would if they were just sketches in my notes.
 

MarkB

Legend
I prefer pre-written modules, but when I've had to improvise I've found it surprisingly doable. I run with two screens, one for Roll20 and the other for several tabs of D&D Beyond, and it's pretty easy to bring up a set of monster stats if I need to improvise an encounter, running the rolls to the VTT using Beyond20. I have a small set of generic battlemaps, but I've even used the drawing tools to improvise a basic encounter layout when necessary. Generally I can get something simple set up in not much longer than it takes me to narrate the scene and the players to roll initiative.
 

payn

Hero
I used to draw out my maps as GM on a dry erase battle mat. Since covid hit Ive switched to theater of the mind for now. We have been doing a lot less combats and a lot more role playing which actually suits my tastes. I am missing some nice crunchy tactical combat at times tho.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
A lot of people like highly detailed maps for VTTs (see all the negative comments about Dyson maps in recent WotC adventures). But I personally like my mapt to be abstracted. It should show the amount of space, walls, doors, etc. But I'm happy leaving the dungeon dressing to my descriptions and the players' imaginations.

Improvisation is about the same with the caveat that the VTT you choose can affect how sandboxy you can be. Some VTTs are not very useful if you don't prep the maps. I highly recommend a VTT that allows you to quickly search and select from a large library of maps and tokens and makes it easy to open and drop tokens on them quickly. Also, manual Fog of War reveal is a must.

TableTool and Fantasy Grounds are both great for this.

Foundry, which is my preferred VTT, is okay. You can't search recursively through lots of subfolders, so it is actually better to dump all your maps in one directory, all your tokens in another directly, etc. Also, Foundry does not offer manual FOW out of the bag, but the SimpleFog modlule provides this functionality.
 

I'm going to second what @MNblockhead said about using a vtt that let's you keep a bunch of organized maps o. It, bonus points if you can just download them and pick out relevant ones with a little preplanning. I was using arkenforge and a tvbox for a year or two before covid for in person play with great results. You can draw ayes away from the pretty map to lock ears onto your words but describing things different at times. "There's a worktable clottered with $whatever along this wall where the bookcases are" "over here in the corner is a trio of fancy looking vases" etc. As long as you sprinkle in differences occasionally it helps.

It's also a lot easier in person vtt than online e because you are still there across the table even if you swapped the battle mat & gm screen for a TV & laptop
 

Like many GMs, I've been running mostly on VTT for over a year now. I'm actually running more frequently online than I ever did in person (because it's easy to find games, convenient to get together, etc). But I am starting to consider how my style online is different in person, and which GMing muscles will need retraining.
It's a little different, For me, it's not new; I've been running a group remotely for 5 years+.
I find I improvise more, but I have a pretty beefy setup for my game.
I improv less onlinne. Mostly because it's too hard to tell when I've overstepped as a GM, and thus sticking to prep I've multiple changes to go, "Nawp, that'll trigger Fred"

I also tend to go TOTM with them whenever possible.
 

pemerton

Legend
The main thing I've found GMing online is that I need to maintain up-to-date soft copies of PC sheets. (Normally the players make notes in pencil and I keep all the sheets in my game folder between sessions.)

The systems I GM don't generally need maps or other visual/written aids. In one Prince Valiant session the PCs used a moderately sophisticated tactical set-up with their warband, and Zoom whiteboard was fine for sketching that out.
 

MarkB

Legend
I used to draw out my maps as GM on a dry erase battle mat. Since covid hit Ive switched to theater of the mind for now. We have been doing a lot less combats and a lot more role playing which actually suits my tastes. I am missing some nice crunchy tactical combat at times tho.
I actually went the other direction. The campaign I was running before COVID hit, I ran almost all combats in pure TotM, but these days I'm likely to at least rough-out a physical representation of some kind on VTT that players can move their tokens around on.
 

payn

Hero
I actually went the other direction. The campaign I was running before COVID hit, I ran almost all combats in pure TotM, but these days I'm likely to at least rough-out a physical representation of some kind on VTT that players can move their tokens around on.
Part of it is I don't have the time or am too lazy to fully learn VTTs. Which is a little funny because I built my own spreadsheet to track combats for my Traveller game. Combine that with the online map and power point game journal I created I basically made my own VTT. I dont know, for some reason I find the learning resources to be really lacking or simply convoluted for teaching even the basic features of VTTs.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'm using Zoom and a shared-edit Google Draw page for images and battlemaps. Because I improv a lot and only homebrew, I prep a lot in the area around but slightly outside what I think they will be doing, so I have ideas for NPC, events, and encounters that I can populate at a moments notice. With the computer it's faster to do that then with my physical books because I can look up stat blocks online for many things.

While playing online I find that I use more images, so I also have a bunch more of those prepped and organized that I can pull up to show the players, and then shrink down to token size for the battlemap.

I also have a number of extra maps with grids - there are plenty of cheap patreons out there with great battle maps in addition to what people release for free. So it's more constrained than just sketching on my chessex battlemap with wet erase, but not by too much and it's quicker to deploy and often as more interesting/varied terrain then I would do for an improv otherwise. (Set piece battles are separate, those I have everything ready to go and will often feature more elaborate terrain.)

Zoom has very good audio/visual including good with multiple people speaking at once. I have no problem with voices, and play with multiple players and DMs who use them. I have one game on Discord with a boosted server for better sound and that's not bad though not quite the same. Also many of whom I game with do things like players using PC portraits as backgrounds, and DMs using appropriate ambient scenery as backgrounds. We did have a player use FaceRig for one session to replace their face with an animated one, but that was limited success and we didn't repeat.

As a side note, I am also running an in-person game for my kids and their cousins, who are in our COVID circle. So I am keeping those skills sharp and have a reference for what the difference are. I find I need to emote like I'm on stage to consistently get emotions across on Zoom, while I can be more subtle in person.

BTW, I do play with a DM who uses Roll20 (and Zoom). Seems like it has some nice toys, plus it rolls online (we use physical dice and trust), but nary a session goes by where there's not a technical issue with someone's token, or the initiative tracker, or with him thinking we can see things we can't and that messing stuff up. It's a learning curve thing, I expect we'll get past it.
 
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loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff
The only difference I feel between running games online vs IRL is necessity of putting on pants.

Otherwise, I don't use maps anyway, and when I do I can draw them pretty fast, thanks to my handy wacom.

When I first started running games online, forever ago, I've found that I need to put more thoughts into descriptions, as no one can see my mimic and hand gestures and whatever.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Like many GMs, I've been running mostly on VTT for over a year now. I'm actually running more frequently online than I ever did in person (because it's easy to find games, convenient to get together, etc). But I am starting to consider how my style online is different in person, and which GMing muscles will need retraining.
For example, I tend to improvise less online. I have battlemaps at the ready, encounters already laid out. I don't want the players bored as I prepare an encounter, looking at a blank computer screen and disengaging from the game.
I have used more official modules. They're easier to setup when they're already on a VTT. Or even if they're not on the VTT, at least I'm not putting all the content on a VTT AND writing an adventure.
We are sticking with rules lite systems. Nobody in our group wants to learn a new system while not in person.
Character sheets are automated with the dice math already done. We don't even roll dice anymore.
I don't narrate areas as often. The map does most of the work. Players can ignore most of the description when they can see the placement of doors, hallways, and monsters on a grid.
My character voices and expressions are limited online. People seem to have difficulty understanding me using voice chat, so doing strange voices, whispers, screams, are just out of the question. Facial expressions and gestures are lost without a camera (and sometimes people aren't watching you even if you use a camera).
What are skills are you putting aside these days? What are some suggestions about retraining them?
I don't really find I've set aside any skills with online play, but then I've been doing it since around 2011 (no video ever), so it's pretty much second nature to me now. Prep does go up in general compared to some table games; however, this needn't really be so. A good evocative picture can be used as a splash page in some scenes and challenges rather than a detailed map or the like and that's easy enough to find, upload, and present. Then the DM can improvise while the players have something to look at.

Even with detailed maps though, I think the DM really does need to make an effort to stick to the play loop (DM describes environment, players describe what they want to do, DM narrates the result of the adventurers' actions), effectively putting what's in the environment "on the record." And hopefully what is on the map matches what the DM is saying so there is no confusion. I think a DM does the game a disservice when they get sloppy about the play loop.

Spotlight management can be something to watch out for as well, particularly if you're not using video. It's important to spread it around so that nobody feels left out. Combats make this easy with initiative, but other scenes can see some players contribute less unless the DM is calling on them with some regularity.

Otherwise, the VTT is a great asset, so much so that I use them at in-person games too. Just the speed of the dice macros and rolltables saves so much time as compared to rolling dice, doing math, and cross-referencing tables - time that we can spend enjoying more content per session. Beautifully rendered maps and art (including character and monster tokens) replace hand-drawn maps and figurines, meaning I don't have any cleanup after the game or storage issues. I also buy a fair amount of music online so that I can tailor make some great soundtracks for each of my games. Dynamic lighting means players see what their characters see, too, which is neat.

Otherwise, play loop and spotlight management are the main things to keep and eye on in my view (but then that goes for a table game, too).
 
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embee

Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
I've now been running VTT since October now and, honestly, I'm quite happy with it.

Yes, I need to avoid the crutch of relying too much on the map at the expense of proper descriptions. But, my weekly game is fairly sacrosanct. Having it be a 3 hour session after the kids go to bed with the knowledge that I am still around for emergencies is kind of a big deal for her. And the regularity gives everyone something to look forward to each week.

If I were to do in-person, really the most I could do would be monthly for 4 hours. After that, I'm shirking my family duties.

Also, I wouldn't be able to have my sibling game otherwise. We're in DC, Albany, Richmond, and Fredericksburg. So in-person won't work.

I do need to keep a bank of random encounters and one shots at the ready just in case because whipping something up IRL is hard and most of the players have really come to like having that battlemap.
 

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