Playing at the tabletop during and after pandemic

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So, I've been working on a series/ campaign to play with friends when the pandemic is over, but I now think that tabletop play will never really be the same. The people I played with now is a community of folks who talk about playing, but we don't seem to get it together. This isn't only due to fear of illness, but also due to the upheaval in lifestyle the pandemic has produced e.g. interrupting habits, greater fatigue.

I'm not a fan of Zoom etc., but I guess it is now necessary to consider what will replace the kitchen (or other room) for play, and what to do when seeking other people to play with, and other new challenges. I'd like to hear how have people dealt with this, or suggestions, or just commiseration whatever.

Best, BC

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    I only play one of my four current campaigns in person. During the worst of the covid problem this year and last, I used Zoom to replace being together. It has some limitations which we worked around. Now we are mostly together again, with one or two Zooming if necessary. I have actually added a couple people to this game, one an old pal returning, one completely new, since the winter started. One of my other online games stopped after a player died suddenly, when we were at a natural stopping point. That group started up a new campaign with a couple new people within a couple weeks.

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    We switched to online sometime after the pandemic started and since then we added one player. At first we were using Google Hangouts and I used my phone as a dummy, aimed down at my notepad, to share maps and roll dice.

    When Hangouts folded, we switched to an app called Play Role, which is in beta trial and you can get a free account ( soon to change I think). It has an integrated diceroller and you can upload and share ‘asserts’ (pics and maps). You can also mark up the maps with pen tools, and upload ‘tokens’ to place on the naps and move around.

    However, some people are having connectivity issues (ironically, the guy who works for Rogers is worst off) so we’re going to be changing platform when this campaign ends in the new year. The new platform might be Forge - can’t remember.

    There are quite a few other platforms to choose from. I saw a thread on this not too long ago at The Tavern and can look it up if you like.

    Although gaming online is more convenient for everyone and makes it possible for the guy in Grafton to attend, it hasn’t really improved attendance much, as people are still always coming up with reasons to postpone the session a week. On the other hand, my brother has been attending remotely from Brockville and Montreal on occasion, so it has helped with attendance a little.
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    @clash_bowley Yeah we have been hoping to get a few sessions in over the Xmas break, but here in Quebec the situation has rapidly changed and this holiday-time has been effectively cancelled. How long are your sessions? We would play for a few hours (afternoon), but on the screen - I already spend a lot of time on my computer, so another afternoon is not really play.

    What I like about the tabletop is that there is all kinds of side activity that occurs (extraneous chat), and the play feels more, I don't know, organic. Mediation through the internet means that the session is pretty much solely focused on the game, which combined with the sessions being shorter, and the players having a lot less capacity to pipe in, makes session more of a task-oriented experience to me. Looking at the platforms, I see the mechanics seeming to be better and better handled, but the social aspect is correspondingly much more about results than presence with others ... Anyone else noticing this?

    @Apocryphal I looked up the thread on the Tavern - thanks for that. Forge means Arkenforge? How does changing the platform affect connectivity? I would assume your ISP is the issue, not the server/client you are using? How long are your sessions?

    Best, BC

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    edited December 2021

    We play (in-person + Zoom) for 3 hours, and there is a lot of extraneous chatter, which is half of the reason playing is fun! Our totally internet based games are 6+ - 7 hours is not unusual - hours (the 2 games over IRC) or 3 hours (the game over Discord). All are text based, and far more game focused. They also are a lot deeper than the in-person play.

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    Actually I was confusing it with Foundry.
    There’s also Fantasy Grounds, and some people use Discord for online gaming.

    But as it turns out the platform we’re going to use is Roll20. Lawrence tells me “ It’s easy to use, is a lot better for displaying maps and assets than Play Role, and both its video and audio are more stable. Dice rolling is easy: you can use a dice rolling tool, or you can type in the dice you want to roll: /roll 1d960 - and it will randomize a d960 for you.

    It’s not the prettiest interface around, but it’s free, intuitive, and easy to use.”

    I can report further once we start.

    We definitely have banter in our online games, and side comments can be made via public chat, so they operate a bit like footnotes.

    Our sessions are currently from 7:30 to about 10:30, every second Thursday night. That’s about an hour shorter than our in person sessions used to be.
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    @clash_bowley said:
    All are text based, and far more game focused. They also are a lot deeper than the in-person play.

    Aaah, IRC - good old days. Would you describe it as being like play by email, but quicker?

    @Apocryphal said:
    We definitely have banter in our online games, and side comments can be made via public chat, so they operate a bit like footnotes.

    Our sessions are currently from 7:30 to about 10:30, every second Thursday night. That’s about an hour shorter than our in person sessions used to be.

    Ok I haven't ever hosted any of these platforms. I guess I need to learn them. Definitely would like an update when you get going about the learning curve to using the platform.

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    edited December 2021

    @BarnerCobblewood said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    All are text based, and far more game focused. They also are a lot deeper than the in-person play.

    Aaah, IRC - good old days. Would you describe it as being like play by email, but quicker?

    Not really. Not just quicker - it is as instantaneous as voice if the player is not away from the keyboard. There are also side channels for one-on-one communication, if needed. Also, every PBEM or PBP game I have ever been involved in quickly fizzled and wimped out after a big flashy start. One of my IRC games has been going on for 20 years. The players seem to be willing to invest far more than with a PBEM game.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    How long are your sessions? We would play for a few hours (afternoon), but on the screen - I already spend a lot of time on my computer, so another afternoon is not really play.

    This echoes experiences I have heard from people offering psychotherapy via zoom (not that that is directly related to gaming :) ) - therapists seem to find that the experience is significantly more tiring than working in person, as a) you have to work that much harder to get nuance out of it, and b) it's much easier for a person to kind of zone out when online as opposed to in front of you.

    And it certainly affects what else you want to use zoom for - there's a local Grasmere-based book club which has met via zoom for well over a year now. It gives quite a different dynamic to the meetings (I suspect, largely because of the way zoom and similar software try to disentangle more than one person speaking at once), and also anyone who has been using zoom or much of the day working really struggles with changing into casual mode for another hour or two.

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    My local weekly club went to online games in early 2020. The club set up a Discord group. Games have continued, some using Discord, some Roll20, some with some other method of communication. There has been a variety of virtual tabletops used. I've tended not to use them, instead using a combination of Discord, Google Sheets based character keepers, and Playingcards.io for cards when needed.

    Over the summer, most groups went back to in-person gaming in the community hall we use (I didn't, mainly because the GM didn't want the long commute if people where happy online). In the last few weeks, in-person play has continued but now with a mask requirements. A few weeks ago, I anticipated the current situation and pitched my game as being online only.

    For context, the club plays games in 8-week blocks with different games pitched each block. Some campaigns span multiple blocks, some don't,

    Online play isn't as good as in-person, for all the reasons outlined above. But it's better than no gaming, so I'm grateful for it.

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    Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful replies.

    @clash_bowley said:
    Not really. Not just quicker - it is as instantaneous as voice if the player is not away from the keyboard. There are also side channels for one-on-one communication, if needed. Also, every PBEM or PBP game I have ever been involved in quickly fizzled and wimped out after a big flashy start. One of my IRC games has been going on for 20 years. The players seem to be willing to invest far more than with a PBEM game.

    That's pretty clear. And I like text for imagination.

    @RichardAbbott said:
    And it certainly affects what else you want to use zoom for - there's a local Grasmere-based book club which has met via zoom for well over a year now. It gives quite a different dynamic to the meetings (I suspect, largely because of the way zoom and similar software try to disentangle more than one person speaking at once), and also anyone who has been using zoom or much of the day working really struggles with changing into casual mode for another hour or two.

    I think this is my source of my gut reaction to ZOOM - it really does a terrible job of overlapping voices (not suggesting that it's an easy technical challenge), and so for me there seem to be fewer moments for the group to have a shared excitement. It's really designed for serial monologue-ing.

    @NeilNjae said:
    Online play isn't as good as in-person, for all the reasons outlined above. But it's better than no gaming, so I'm grateful for it.

    I'm not suggesting that I'm simply against using internet media for gaming, or that I'm not grateful for the opportunity it seems to offer. It's more that I find that as tools computers, and the software I am looking at, are much more about explicit control than implicit community, so I am wondering how we can adapt them when we want more than that. One of the things I like about playing is how we all get interested in each other's decisions, and then get into the dice-rolling for results. I haven't felt that in the admittedly few games I've played on-line. There's something about the physics and physicality / tactility of it that matters to me.

    My takeaway so far is that I should look for a platform that will deliver a common map / token interface to all connected, and ideally let people move their own markers, has a clear and easy to read IRC type chat interface with multiple channels. WiIl think a bit more about the dice-rolling.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I think this is my source of my gut reaction to ZOOM - it really does a terrible job of overlapping voices (not suggesting that it's an easy technical challenge), and so for me there seem to be fewer moments for the group to have a shared excitement. It's really designed for serial monologue-ing.

    This is true of all audio interfaces I have used. Zoom works best when one group is either physically together and zooming in or alone zooming in, and the rest are not. the two audios are much more natural that way. with multiple separate audios running over each other things get weird quickly. One of the reasons we stick to text for the whole gang coming in separately.

    My takeaway so far is that I should look for a platform that will deliver a common map / token interface to all connected, and ideally let people move their own markers, has a clear and easy to read IRC type chat interface with multiple channels. WiIl think a bit more about the dice-rolling.

    Discord has some good tools for text use. I prefer it to IRC, actually. It's free to use as well, though you get some nice things if you pay - I never have so don't know what they are. It probably interfaces with virtual tabletops or even has one. I have no idea, not needing such things.

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    Saw this this morning: Can't imagine it would have been the same if they were all watching online.

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    Oh, definitely! My son's masters thesis was on disassociation when interacting through technology. It's a real thing, but text seems to be somewhat different - possibly because we have used text to communicate for thousands of years, and our culture has adapted to it. It's not the same as being there, but it's not dissociated either.

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    @clash_bowley said:
    Oh, definitely! My son's masters thesis was on disassociation when interacting through technology. It's a real thing, but text seems to be somewhat different - possibly because we have used text to communicate for thousands of years, and our culture has adapted to it. It's not the same as being there, but it's not dissociated either.

    Yeah your comments about IRC were enlightening. I realised that my introduction to RPG was about the kind of reading I was doing, not just reading. When I read my first language I don't see the words, or even the book, instead I just 'see' the meaning. But it's not like that for me in my other languages, reading is really a kind of decoding that induces disassociation from the immediate into the mediate. I think it's like that for many people - they can read well, they understand correctly (sometimes better than me) but it's not the same kind of immediated experience of someone else's mind. And I think there are fewer people who can read immediately than there were say 40 years ago. Certainly there are many more things for young people to do that don't involve reading. Likewise, for me communication through computers does not produce an immediated experience of other folks minds, and I wonder if they can. If you're going through a computer, why not play elder scrolls which uses a text interface for discussion?

    Of course, reading only appears to be immediate experience of other's minds - they are transformed by the medium. I suspect however the transformation is substantially different to the transformation produced through digital media.

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