Monday, March 5, 2012

Dwimmermount on Google+

Last Friday, I participated in my first-ever session of Google+ gaming. Tavis Allison convinced me to give it a whirl, which resulted in a three-hour session on the first level of Dwimmermount with him, Zak S, and Ryan Browning as players. Tavis resumed playing Locfir, the elf magic-user he played in my ill-fated play-by-post game from 2009, while Ryan played a human magic-user named Burgoth and Zak played a fighting man called Pigfoot. Locfir employed a hireling he picked up in Muntburg. Said hireling had a name but it was quickly forgotten and we referred to him throughout simply as "Locfir's man." For this session, we simply used straight Labyrinth Lord rules rather than using all the little house rules I normally use in my home campaign.

Over the course of the three hours, the players explored maybe a quarter of the first level of the dungeon, encountering mostly empty rooms with weird stuff in it, along with the occasional group of orcs and some giant centipedes. I felt a little bad about this, because, since I really wanted to wow the players with the mystery and majesty of my megadungeon and instead they spent a lot of time poking around dusty rooms filled with stuff that made no sense to them. Of course, that's by design. When I began the creation of Dwimmermount back in 2008, I explicitly did so according to the guidelines in Volume III of OD&D, which means lots of rooms devoid of monsters or obvious treasures. Now, I hope that even these "empty" rooms are nevertheless intriguing to players, but one never can tell. And, since this was my first time using Google+ (or playing with any of these people), I wasn't sure how well it'd be received.

By all reports, though, the session went well. Poor Burgoth died in the closing minutes of the session, when he stepped out from behind cover to cast sleep on some orc archers. He got skewered by their arrows, making him the first casualty of Dwimmermount's online existence. I intend to make Google+ sessions a weekly occurrence, though I still haven't worked out all the details of scheduling or deciding how many people can participate (let alone who they will be). If you're someone with a lot of experience with online play, feel free to offer advice and suggestions in the comments below. Neophyte at this that I am, I could certainly use any and all suggestions you have to offer.

37 comments:

  1. FWIW, I'd love to at least follow/watch a session in silence prior to running the demo at garycon.

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    1. Let's try to make that happen! I justified giving myself an obviously much-coveted spot in this game by saying I needed the experience to run the games at the Brooklyn Strategist, and that goes double for you because I had already been a player in the PbP post. (James, "ill-fated" doesn't apply - PbP games are as shortlived as DCCRPG characters, yours generated a lot of enjoyment and insight on its trip through the funnel!)

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  2. That's good news. Glad you have made it over to gaming in our pocket universe and nice to hear that you might make it a regular thing. I don't think you'll be disappointed, there's a lot of energy going into the mini-boom on G+.

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  3. While I don't know if I would say I have a LOT of experience, I've been tooling around on ConstantCon for a bit, and I think that Jeff Rients' strategy of compiling a list of potential players and then selecting a random party of 4 at each session seems to work well. Especially for a game that lots of people would probably be interested in playing, as I assume will be the case here.

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    1. Yeah, do this. And run it in some timeslot I can play in. :)

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  4. Here's a list of tips I've learned over the couple dozen OD&D sessions I've run:

    * Get the tech figured out before the game
    * 6 Players + DM seems to be the max for G+ to function properly with full cameras and audio
    * If some's mike it picking up feedback, it's the guy where can't hear the feedback's mike
    * Use http://www.twiddla.com/ - it's awesome
    * Don't worry too much if someone get's booted by G+ for one unexpected reason, but remember to invite them back

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  5. Replies
    1. Seriously considered doing this as a backer reward in order to handle scarcity and scheduling. What do others think?

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    2. What contribution level qualifies?

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    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    4. Honestly, I think selling play access for something other than charity would feel really contrary to the DIY spirit of Constantcon and FLAILSNAILs.

      But that's just my personal opinion, there is no executive committee and others may feel very differently (though there was a recent G+ conversation spanning 300 comments were the atmosphere on the whole tilted pretty heavily against "pay to play" as a concept).

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  6. * Twiddla for whiteboarding (they will give you a free account if you're gaming)
    * Google spreadsheets for PC roster, diary (the only way I
    can track game time)
    * Keep the sessions to 2-3 hours
    * Have players mute when not talking

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    1. I'd love to crowdsource a spreadsheet to handle a roster everyone could fill in to say "here are the dates and times when I am available for Dwimmermount gaming" and "I'm interested in just playing with James, or playing with anyone, or running a session" and "here's my G+ handle" and "just in case this is the town I'm in if you're nearby I do/don't want to game in person." Slots in any one game are finite but it'd be great to let the potentially infinite interest in playing self-organize different sessions any time of the day or night.

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    2. Google spreadsheets are shareable. It is easy even to put forms in front. If you want to discuss this project a bit more, email me at joe.johnston@gmail.com.

      And if google docs won't work, there are other options.

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    3. If this goes anywhere, please add me to announcement list.

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  7. In terms of advice on running a game, I would say there is a current capacity problem in that the players way out number the GMs for the popular games (a good kind of problem). I've found that running more than 4-5 players a session can be a real bother and if you couple that with the large interested pool coming up with a system on who's in the play group becomes a priority.

    Personally I like a little continuity in the play group balanced with new blood now and again so I basically did this:
    1. Created an "inner pool" of nine players that I both enjoy and knew would be consistently interested in showing up for a weekly game (and it helps to have a certain day and time scheduled).

    2. Each week I put out an announcement on G+. Depending on my mood I allot 3-5 seats to the inner pool and 0-2 to new players. I then draw out of the hat the names of each and announce them.

    3. Any inner pool player that wanted in but didn't get picked gets automatic seating at the next session. (This means I tend to be picking a lot fewer names than step two seems to suggest.)

    The system has worked pretty well so far. I end up with a core of consistent players with enough new blood to keep it fresh. And it pretty much cuts down on flakiness (previously I had a lot of no shows when I just had a longish waiting list that I would randomly dice for).

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    1. The desire to have an illustrator-in-residence (because it's awesome when game art reflects actual play) and an Adept+ backer (because Autarch's experience suggests that you can get game art that really speaks to fans by having them help choose its subjects) be part of each session will tend to lead to an "inner pool" so I'm glad it's a good idea for other reasons. I like the idea of James choosing other people for the inner pool that he knows he'll enjoy playing with- that'd make it more enjoyable for me as a participant as well.

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  8. I'm really interested in this topic. I have run games over text chat with a die roller, but that was long ago and I'd like to do something similar.

    How did you handle die rolls? Did you use some online die roller, honor system, or something else?

    I like the suggestion of Twiddla, that looks easy to use. I've looked at some of the free virtual game table apps, but sorting them out seemed to be too daunting for me to get into right now.

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    1. Twiddla can handle die rolls. All you have to do is enter "d6" (or whatever number you want) into the chat window. But mostly we use an honor system.

      There is a second whiteboard that I like better Dabbleboard. The accounts are free and you can save the map between sessions.

      Both Twiddla and Dabbleboard helpfully have graph paper overlays.

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    2. Having used Dabbleboard a few times, I have to disagree with you here. It is clunky and limited. Since it treats each figure drawn as a separate object, it is extremely tricky to draw maps. It also lacks the dice functionality, which I greatly appreciate.

      Play around with both beforehand, James, and you'll soon determine which you prefer.

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  9. http://www.dragonsfordinner.com/google-hangout-battle-grid/

    this looks interesting, its in beta now

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  10. Twiddla is ok especially if you are fine with the "flowchart" style of mapping.

    You can get on there yourself and mess with with it so you can draw your own.

    If you are interested in trying it out, here's a short tutorial I whipped up for G+ gamers:

    http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2011/08/another-useful-toy-for-playing-on-line.html

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    1. Does Twiddla save maps? I'd love to see the one we generated to add to the layers of hints players can glean from session summaries and player-made maps.

      Less univerally relevant tips for G+ gamers:
      - Zak is a dab hand at killing things with ventriloquism. Locfir recommends having his PCs in your party.
      - Locfir's Man had an awesome name and profession Zak whipped up in impressively no time at all using Vornheim but Locfir refused to use it because he is an elven racist. I was hoping the human PCs in the party would keep track of this poor candlemaker's individuality but no such luck.

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    2. I map like my 1 year old son, so twiddla is fine. Twiddle does save maps (I've posted some on my blog).

      There are things about the drawing interface that still bug me, but over all, it works well enough for my players.

      There is a graph paper mode, but that's too limiting for me.

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  11. My suggestions for G+ Gaming.
    Aside from scheduling and availability of players,
    I'd suggest using some of the current online tools to manage the actual game - I'm using Obsidian Portal for one of my games - www.obsidianportal.com (my game is http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaign/expedition-to-the-razor-cliff/wikis/main-page)
    This can have th character roster and henchmen, in game notes from the players, places for the GM to list treasure, easily accessible to everyone playing.

    I know of two programmers who are working on virtual tabletops for G+ There's Dragons for Dinners (https://plus.google.com/u/0/109168817752832780219/posts) by Charles Jaimet. I've tested this app twice, and it makes a real difference to playing the game. He's hoping to release it into the wild after bit more beta testing. It includes a dice roller, maps, player icons, chat, plus integrated google stuff like the video chat and sound.
    The other is Tabletop Forge (https://plus.google.com/u/0/110771920494591644897/posts) I haven't tested it yet, but it offers some of the same functionality as Dragons for Dinner.

    Also, as one of the survivors of the play by post game, i'd be interested in venturing back into Dwimmermount, and will be paying attention when/if info is forthcoming.

    my g+ btw is https://plus.google.com/u/0/116967487448793199128/posts

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  12. I've been using google+ for Barrowmaze for the last 4 sessions-ish and it has gone very well. Twiddla is handy but not optimal. I'm hoping either of the examples above provides a better option.

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  13. Just as a note for anyone interested, Tabletop Forge is in development at the moment (extended tabletop for G+ hangouts).

    https://plus.google.com/110771920494591644897/posts

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  14. i LOVE "lots of rooms devoid of monsters or obvious treasures", and im not being sarcastic

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  15. I ran an Eclipse Phase campaign for about a year via Skype and GoogleDocs. Here follow seven Lessons Learned.

    1) Have patience.
    Technical difficulties come and go. Schedules will vary according to the season, local holidays, time zones, etc. Sometimes you must tolerate background noise such a spouse watching television or a loud child. Have patience.

    2) Trust your players.
    Roll dice on the honor system. Other methods just require too much overhead to deserve the effort.

    3) Keep everything on-line.
    Use Google Docs or some work-alike to keep everything on-line: character sheets, play calendars, session notes, character lists, maps, etc. Share them with broad permissions. Encourage players to update and contribute outside the game sessions. You can update logistics tracking away from the table, so to speak.

    4) Make video optional.
    Video eats bandwidth. Having a screen full of talking heads doesn't necessarily add to the game. Do you really want to know that one player, while awaiting his or her turn, left the table to fold laundry or change a diaper? Or even more likely, the cat that decided to point its tail at the camera won't delight anyone.
    Avoid the distraction and play audio-only.

    5) Record the audio.
    (Probably easier in Skype than in Google+)
    Nothing proved more helpful to me as a GM than recording the audio stream for later review. Get the permission of everyone involved before you push the button. Provide copies to each person who asks. Try very hard to get separate speakers on separate tracks.

    6) Use a headset.
    Even a cheap headset works better than anything but a high-quality microphone or webcam. Built-in microphones usually don't deserve the trial.

    7) Have patience.
    Repeated on purpose.

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  16. Rewritten and no doubt improved after the first attempt vanished
    ---
    I ran a year-long Eclipse Phase campaign via Skype and Google
    Docs. Here follow the lessons learned.

    1) Have patience.
    Technical problems come and go. Scheduling conflicts vary by
    season. Family members make un-mutable background noise. Cats will sit on keyboards. Players will take off-line vacations. Emulate Job.

    2) Video proved more distracting than helpful.
    Not every player will have a high-speed fiber line. Video eats
    bandwidth. A screen full of talking heads helps less than you think. Voice tone communicates boredom or puzzlement as well as
    facial expressions. Background events such as a player folding the laundry or changing a diaper can happen simultaneously with play only if the other players don't get distracted by the sight. Seriously--do you want to require players to hire a babysitter for the sake of your game, or would you rather make it possible for a player to just hold their infant at the table?

    3) Keep everything on-line and shared.
    Character sheets, maps, session notes, game-time calendars,
    real-world calendars, dramatis personae, places visited, all of it belongs on-line. Share the notes as widely as possible--including character sheets. Everyone can update a list of places visited or people met with their own impressions. If done in character, this document turns into a prop for later play.

    4) Record the audio of each session as a memory-aid.
    Get everyone's permission first and establish a method to share the results. Try to record each speaker on a separate track. This might prove technically easier for Skype than for Google+. Recording can establish who said what when, what player has what clues, etc. They also entertain listeners during long commutes.

    5) Reserve game sessions for actual play.
    - Troubleshoot technical difficulties in advance.
    - Handle overhead out of play time.
    Rules questions, in-game logistics, etc., all of it can happen "away from the table" via chat, email, or in the commmon
    documents' change logs. Keep session time for actual play.

    6) Play session length trades off with scheduling and with pace.
    - Short game sessions ease scheduling, but retard game pace.
    If you play weekly for ninety minutes, you have a good chance of finding a common window in everyone's schedule. You also have about (90/N) minutes for each of N players, including the GM. Parallel plot lines or individual attention will further slow pacing.
    - Long game sessions speed game pace, but prove hard to schedule.
    If you play weekly for one hundred & eighty minutes, you have
    twice as much time per player as in the previous example. You also have to find a larger common block of time among all schedules. Good luck.

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    Replies
    1. Jay,

      Have you tried recording your gaming sessions with Audacity? It is a free open source program that I've used to record audio from the Internet. Here's a link: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

      It would record the sound that comes out of your speakers, (or headphones), just fine and the audio quality is good. You can export the audio files to different formats, like .mp3, .wave & .oog

      I'm not sure if you could record separate speakers on different tracks, but then I wasn't aware Skype had that capability.

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    2. Of course, I meant, .ogg format, not .oog. ~Z

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    3. Yeah, I considered doing exactly that. I used Audacity when I did a Delta Green fiction podcast some years ago, and I know the program fairly well. I used it to post-process the raw audio into something with consistent levels and less feedback.

      IIRC, I used a program called MP3 Skype recorder (?) to create the Skype session recordings, which I think Ross Payton of Role-Playing Public Radio recommended it. It played fairly nicely with Skype on Windows. This meant I didn't have to any Linux-side device hacking to make it work, and that reduced the pain-in-the-neck count for the task.

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    4. Two more points occur to me.

      7) Set up a script to prepare your computer for play. I.e., run it immediately on log-in instead of your usual start-up. It should open all the relevant web sites and documents, stop all irrelevant programs, and arrange all tabs in the right windows on the right workspaces. Don't do this by hand, and run it before the session starts. Get help writing the script if you need it, and err on the side of doing less. Include only what you know you will need.

      8) Use Google Earth if it has imagery or overlays for the period and area of your game's setting. Do not let your players use G.E. unless their characters have access to something in-setting that's comparable. As a GM, you can easily describe what they see from G.E., but your game will slow down if you as the GM must ask the players what they look at in G.E..

      Exception--in Eclipse Phase, one PC built a simulated space that recreated the Paris Opera House. We all used G.E. and Google Images to understand what the PC had built in virtual reality. In the same game, we discussed a cross-country route in-character using Google Mars for trip planning. In both cases, the player did a great deal to create the game world.

      G.E. also works just fine for fantasy wildernesses. Just pick a part of Earth with matching terrain, placemark it, and never tell the players that their characters hiked through the Schwarzenwald, not Mirkwood.

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  17. For scheduling I use Doodle.com at work.

    I've not used this, but it might also be useful;
    http://www.diigo.com/

    Finally, Dropbox.com is great and you can share folders with different dropbox accounts.

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  18. Sorry, a late reply, I've been in the hospital with our new baby daughter :)

    So, I've been playing in P&P's Google+ games. Here's a quick summary:

    1. Dice rolls. We roll real dice and trust each other to not cheat. (I feel that this has been working great.) Some people have used the dice roller in Twiddla if they are lacking dice for that session.

    2. Mapping. We use Twiddla. To "save maps", just take a screenshot at the end of the game, crop out the Twiddla window leaving the bare map, and load that in as an image on a fresh whiteboard at the start of the next game. That has been working terrifically for us.

    3. Recording sessions. Sometimes someone will be motivated to write a summary and post it to the KnKA members-only thread for the game. There is usually always a recording made however.

    Video - http://vimeo.com/album/1747378 hosted on Vimeo since you can upload <= 500 MB videos using the free account.
    Just audio - http://dl.dropbox.com/u/46445073/giants.xml. I write the pod-feed by hand.
    Recording method - http://plankhead.com/blog/2252/how-to-record-a-google-hangout-on-mac-os-x-for-free-with-free-software + my own flow for editing/getting it below 500MB.

    4. Who plays. We have a core party who plays every week. We often postpone if 2 or more players can't make it. If one player can't make it we just press on (character sheets often available in a dropbox share).

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  19. A couple of posters have mentioned recording the sessions - at least the audio. It's a tricky business and requires practice. If you try it for the first time with an important game you will mess it up! :)

    For Google+ audio you will need a method to record both mic + system sound, perhaps looping both through a software mixer (e.g. as per the "how to record a Google+ Hangout" link I provided in my previous post, if you were using OS X).

    If that doesn't sink in, and you try recording it anyhow, and you only get your voice, or you don't get your voice but you get the other voices, the above explanation is the reason! :)

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