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Tips for Remote RPG Gaming Using Google+ Hangouts

July 19th, 2012 by Fitz, Travel Gear & Tips, 0 Comments

crystal skull with dice

It’s a wonderful age to be a traveller thanks in large part to the internet. Locations can be discovered, advice can be read, and deal on plane tickets can be gleaned all from your laptop. But perhaps the greatest technological trick is the way is can keep you meaningfully linked with friends and family even at great distances. Case in point: telegaming – role playing games (RPGs) held via teleconference.

Back in my college days I played RPGs obsessively. It was mostly Dungeons & Dragons but also Runequest, Champions, Fantasy Hero, and a slew of others. I had a cadre of friends I played with and we had some very fine times indeed. Now, many years later, I’d been wanted to resurrect a simple gaming session but living in multiple locations and planning some travel in the near future stymied me on how to proceed. Unlike poker or other games, RPGs requires a steady group that can regularly meet over a period of months. Travel and distance used to make this impossible but now there’s a solution: telegaming.

Telegaming is using teleconferencing solutions to hold a gaming session. There’re a variety of free solutions out there but a popular one is the Hangouts feature in Google’s social networking site Google+. It’s free and it works surprisingly well. I held my first session last night and came away very pleased with the results. Here’s how it works:

  • Gather a group of players (I’d recommend no more than 6 total including the game master (GM)). Each player must have:
    • A reasonable modern computer (ENIAC & Windows 3.1 owners need not apply)
    • High speed internet access
    • A Web cam with microphone
    • A Google+ account
    • Also recommended but not required is a headset
  • Have everyone signup for a free Google+ account and familiarize themselves with how the Hangouts features work.
  • Pick a time and have everyone get online.
  • Have one person (probably the GM) start a hangout and invite everyone else in.
  • Have at it!

I tried my first session last night and was really pleased with the results. gaming with folks from across the country we had a very enjoyable setting that seemed not unlike the true ’round the table experience. There are, however, pronounced difference from gaming in person that require a bit of adjustment so I’ve gathered together a few tips for would be telegamers:

Tips for Telegaming

  • Have a setup meeting – before you have a real gaming night hold a simple meet and greet Hangout to test everyone’s computers and connections. This will give folks time to make any adjustments they need before the real game night.
  • Be punctual – Being late to a teleconference is very different than being late in person. In person folks can mill about, go get coffee, etc. In a teleconference EVERYONE is sitting there staring awkwardly at each other. Waiting on people to arrive seems eternal. To avoid this everyone really needs to be on time or send notification they can’t make the session before it begins.
  • Learn to speak in turns – You’ll get use to this one quickly but at first it can be a bit disconcerting that you can’t just talk over other people.
  • Don’t try and run everything from your computer - My biggest mistake last night was trying to use my computer to field notes AND conduct the Hangout. With a really large monitor this might have worked but on a laptop is meant a tangled mess of windows that didn’t allow me to see the other players as much. I recommend printing stuff out.
  • Have a plan for dropouts - Even with reliable high speed internet the Hangout connection can get glitchy at times or players can get bounced right out of the system. Don’t panic and have a preset plan for what will happen. We found out last night that even if the person who started the Hangout (which was me) gets bounced offline the Hangout keeps going. My trouble was I couldn’t figure how to get back in! Assign two players beforehand as “inviters” who’s job it is to invite anyone bounced out back into the Hangout. One can be the prime inviter and the second one as a backup incase the first person is the one bounced.
  • Buy a headset – Though not required these can really screen out ambient noise, clarify other players speech, and prevent feedback.

Moving forward I’d like to try using my iPhone and a bluetooth headset to do the Hangout (a feature Google just enabled) and experiment with Tabletop Forge, a third party extension for Hangouts that allow easy dice rolling, map sharing, and a host of other RPG-specific features. I’ll report back as I try them on how they work.