Tuesday, August 2, 2011

So ... Google+

Yeah, I'm pretty tired of hearing about it, too, truth be told. To date, I haven't found it much more interesting than Facebook -- except that Google+ has this neat little "Start a Hangout" button that is tempting me to try to run an online game, maybe weekly or biweekly. The problem, of course, is that I've never run an online game like this before. I did try to run a play-by-post game a couple of years ago and I found the pace of it simultaneously too slow and too fast at the same time, because not all the participants posted with the same regularity or to the same extent. Doing something using video would be quite different, I think. I hope that it'd be more like real face-to-face play, but, again, I have no experience one way or the other.

For that reason, I'm looking for some short, straightforward advice on the matter. How difficult would it be for a complete neophyte and mild technophobe to use the Hangout feature of Google+ to run, say, an online Dwimmermount or Tékumel campaign? Likewise, is this something people are even interested in? I'll be absolutely honest here: I consider online games to be, at best, poor substitutes for meeting with friends in one's home every week. However, I'm also rather keen to give this a whirl, since I've seen a number of people speak well of it. I figure there's nothing to lose in testing it out for myself, but, as I said, I have zero experience with this sort of gaming and so welcome advice and insights from those who've successfully done this in the past.



  1. I've only played a few Play by Post games and the pacing was awful. I've played via IRC and VTT with Skype and found that the game's pacing is on par with face-to-face games only if the GM spends much time inputting all the text, pictures and maps in advance or doesn't use much in the visual department.

  2. Extremely easy, assuming you possess both webcam and mic.

    I know for a fact I'm interested. Willing to bet a dozen others will raise their hands in not too long a time, as well...

  3. I believe Chris Kutalik is running a G+ EPT game sometime over the next day or two. I'm going to try to get in on it. It'll be my first attempt with G+'s hangout feature. I *did* play a game with Raggi and Zak over Skype once and that worked out splendidly. The pacing issues found with PbP are nonexistent. Sometimes outside distractions can get in the way, but it wasn't too big of a deal. I'm excited about the possibility.

  4. Yes, definitely interested in one of your games here as well. Dwimmermount or Tekumel would be awesome.

    I agree that pacing is almost as good with video chat as a face-to-face game.

  5. ANd for the record, I'd be interested in playing Dwimmermount. I've heard too much about it not to!

  6. Zak has a lot of info on the google+ thing. Jeff Rients ran a game the other day on it, and it looks like many others are giving it a whirl as well. Basically when using the video thing, it's best to have no more than 5 people at a time on there otherwise it starts slowing things down for everyone, especially if someone doesn't have a good connection. I haven't tried it myself, mind you. Just what I've been reading on google+ and the blogs from those who have tried it. I'm sure you'd have no problem getting people into a Dwimmermount game.

  7. I would be real careful tying your blog acct to G+...so far not to many problems starting up, but if you try to close it down...well...read for yourself:


    At least use a different Gmail acct.

  8. I've been playing with skype voice chat for well over a year. It is pretty much the same as face to face. I don't imagine that there is much difference playing with Google+. We usually play for two and half hours, but I've gone as many as four with no trouble. If you are thinking about a regular time with a larger group, I suggest setting things up so players can occasionally miss a play session without disrupting the scheduling of the game; otherwise, scheduling conflicts will give you grief.

  9. Here's Tavis over at the Mule enthusing about running a game of ACK via Hangout:


  10. I'd definitely play Dwimmermount online with you, depending on how far apart our time zones are. I, too, am curious about how G+ does for gaming.

  11. I went from knowing nothing about Google+ and no prior experience with Facebook to running two very fun sessions with very little trouble (other than trying to cram too many people into the 1st session). Get an account, mess around with it a little. Arrange for someone to be online at such and such a time to try out inviting them to a Hangout. You can totally do it.

  12. I, for one, would be very interested in playing a game on google+.

    The idea of playing with strangers in strange places is fascinating. I wonder if there are any regional variations in style, and if they would show up in such situations. I've played Call of Cthulhu at conventions and never noticed any, but my D&D playing has been restricted to a rather circumscribed group with a pretty pristine genealogy.

  13. The one thing to figure out is dice rolling. As far as I know, G+ doesn't offer any dice bots (yet?) so you're left to either:

    - have the DM roll all the dice
    - get everyone to use some other online dice thing
    - or just trust everybody to make their own rolls

  14. Here's what you do (speaking as an intermittent technophobe myself who was really hoping G+ would just go away 2 weeks ago):

    -get a G+ account

    -hit the "start a hangout button"

    -get 4 friends to do it with you NOT in a game, just to talk for fifteen minutes while you make dinner or something. You can rustle them up on the phone.

    -see if there are any technical issues that make you want to pull your hair out or not. see if it feels right.

    -Either you'll be convinced or you won't. It's not for everybody and some people's connections just hate Google +.

    I had the idea to start all this nonsense after doing just that. I was talking to friends in Montreal, Oakland, New York and LA simultaneously and just went...Ok, there's no reason I couldn't play D&D like this.

    Like I said: either you'll like it or you won't, but just try it in a no-stress environment. If you do like it and then want all the tips we've scraped together on how to optimize a G+ game over the past week, I am planning on posting the full G+ tips/FAQ/DM-sign-up sheet every wednesday over on DNDWPS.

  15. If youre dungeon crawling, make everyone be the mapper, not just one person. Or even just send everyone the map with perhaps doors, traps missing

  16. Count me in on joining a Google+ game if you run one. I've played online using skype, teamspeak, and fantasygrounds. No reason in the world this Google+ won't work, either.

  17. I just played today on Google + and the session went well. Goblins, and small children were slain, our thief could not move silently to save his life but was a crack shot with a crossbow - sort of. The heroic, some say foolish, elf took an arrow in the chest to protect his compatriots. A secret door was found, slimy things struck fear in the souls of men and laughs and smiles were had by all.

    I urge you to give it a test run, I think you may be pleasantly surprised.

    Moreover, I would truly enjoy running in your Dwimmermount or OMG Tekumel campaign. I picked up the Gamescience and Swords and Glory books at the Complete Strategist 15 years ago and have yet to find a group to play.

    BTW just thinking about it has me off to buy the Tsolyani primer.

    My one small Tekumel claim to fame is that I had the distinct privilege to speak with Professor Barker twice at his home, over the phone, many years ago. What a kind man to listen to the blatherings of a Tekumel neonewb.

    I am Yetisamurai at gmail dot com, if you ever are inclined to invite me to a google + game.

  18. I'd like to see an RPG rule system, or set of house rules, designed specifically for video chat.

    It's a different medium than a face-to-face meeting, and I think the rules could be tweaked to streamline play. Verbal exchanges are slower and it's harder to tell who has the floor, but everyone's in front of a computer so arithmetic and information management is easier.

  19. Well first off Google+ is still in Beta so you will need to get an invite from someone already on. You can't just sign up on your own.

  20. I like the energy that Zak has been channeling into his vision of a "Constantcon" on Google+. If enough people get on board, I think this could reach critical mass and revolutionize the hobby. It could be a virtual resurrection of the good ole days when high school gamers gathered during lunch break to play casual pick-up role-playing sessions. Something like Google+ has the potential to get us close to this freewheeling gaming space, which strikes me as much more Old School than the biweekly scheduled meetups that most adult gamers are constrained to. I can see a Google+ Constantcon warping us to a virtual space not unlike Arneson's fast-and-loose 1970's Blackmoor campaign where Dave was reportedly co-ordinating a hundred player characters at the same time in six dungeons with different DM's.

    Go for it James! I'd jump in!

  21. Huh. this just deleted my comment, thanks to google wanting me to create a blogger account, even though i was signing in with a google account.

    Anyway, I don't think it would take much more effort than a face to face campaign, as long as you did most of your prep work into word processing software already. Just cut and paste relevant text while talking about, going around to people like at a table for responses, it would probably satisfy more of the face to face itch than a play by post game.

    I'd be willing to give it a try to see how it goes.

    (off to search for James, on G+)

  22. I'm still coming to grips with it myself. If I didn't run a website that needed plenty of social media presence, I probably wouldn't be bothering with it until more of my friends got involved :-p

    I hadn't thought of using Hangout to run a game though. Might consider that...

  23. Hi James. Perhaps, for those of use lucky enough to get a Dwimmermount "primer" at OSRcon, it'll be an opportunity to continue the adventure online via G+. That'll give you a bit of time to fiddle around with it, and also get the intro to world/system out of the way, leaving it open just for straight gaming.
    I think such a venue would work particularly well with a rules-light system, less rolling, and more "rulings" to maintain narrative and flow. Call of Cthulhu would work particularly well, for example. From what I've read of Dwimmermount, it should work well, with the only concern being mapping.

  24. I've tried playing games online with various setups. By far the least painless has been Maptool + Skype. Both are free and multiplatform. Some sort of live voice chat is a must to keep everyone focused and properly support table talk. Maptool meanwhile is the only thing out there that (after a slight period of adjustment to the interface) gives you versatile and verbose as you need it dice rolling functions, and as many separate map files as you need, all with easy support for tossing on an adjustable grid (square or hex), drawing stuff on the fly, slapping down scanned in maps and minis, and if you want it, fog of war.

    My group generally goes with pre-drawn maps covered in fog, and either scanned monster manual images or rough equivalents from old videogames as monster minis to speed things along. If you have players draw their own maps, you're even better off really. Blank page with a grid, mapper grabs the pencil tool, describe away.

  25. Why not be a player in a couple games first using G+ to get a feel for it? If you find it agreeable, take the DM plunge.

  26. I've been using Skype for online play for years, someone convince me why Google+ is better.

  27. @badmike

    the multiperson video function's free.

    that's all. otherwise it's the same.

  28. Ok, I tried to consolidate all the answers to all the G+ questions I've heard so far here:


  29. It is easy as pie. I've run a few games as a test, and there was no problems. You can have up to 10 playing. If you do this, I want in. :)

  30. as I see it, the challenge is dealing with even greater variance in player commitment. my solution would be to conceive of the game sessions as self-contained expeditions from Muntberg (and back, by the end of the session) with a changing roster of PCs.

  31. We've done one session already on Google+ hangout and it worked well enough. The video feed simply replaces the equivalent of the chat window found in most other virtual tabletops.*

    It helps to run a map client/server and dice client as well (such as the free maptool or one of the many commercial map clients), rather than just relying on the video windows. RPG Virtual Tabletops has a reasonable discussion of most of the various clients that are currently available.

    [Although one thing I found irritating was a lack of counters that are viewed from above, as most virtual counters show a front view, and I find that rather disconcerting when the map board is viewed from above. Then again a digital camera and set of miniatures helps cure that problem. Still I can't wait until someone designs a 3D virtual tabletop with orthographic display; unfortunately the graphics artists capable of doing that are busy working on the next computer RPG.]

    Of course this doesn't help one joining in a game when one is on the other side of the planet. =8(

    [* Although since we were all veterans of the MUD/MUSH era of the early internet we cope quite well with text-based interaction in real-time anyway.]

  32. Well my prediction is that you will get a game or two off the ground, extoll the virtues of gaming in this fashion for a bit, have the games peter out, and never go back.

    RPGs were meant to be played around a table with friends (you know people you actually know and like). If you want to game on a computer with (near) strangers there are plenty of CRPGs out there that do it better.

    I think in general that if you don't have a face to face group of friends to roll dice with it's time to move on from the hobby. Good luck!

  33. James, a word about Fantasy Grounds and Maptool and all those: you do require a bit of technical know how to get them off the ground and running. Even fairly simple things like infrno can be an obstacle if you have someone in the group who does not have basic computer literacy (they are out there). Tech issues can suck all the fun out of the whole thing in minutes. Keep things simple at first.

    Anyway, good luck.

  34. @cibet

    What do we get if you're wrong?

    And of course, who in the hell suggested you can't have a tabletop group just because you play on-line too? That makes no sense.

  35. I would be aboard, but unfortunately Google+ has the whole "Real Names" policy.

  36. @Zak S:
    "who in the hell suggested you can't have a tabletop group just because you play on-line too"

    Just you, in your post, maybe that's why it makes no sense to you? Most strawmen don't.

    However, I'm pretty sure the vast majority of online and PBP players don't have a regular tabletop group. After all if your in person group were available and meeting your gaming needs why bother with online?

    Even so, I still believe these kooky RPGs we play are meant for people playing face to face. That's why it's such a small community that plays them. If this industry had to rely on PBP and virtual games wholly, it would not exist at all, we'd be left with WoW. Even 4E with its DDI still really only works face to face, players just need laptops as well.

  37. RPGs were "meant" for some orthodox form of use? I had no idea.

    Also, I have a face to face and an online group. Both "work" fine.

  38. For those of us who are not all that keen on yet another google thing, I think skype works just fine.

    So, it's the video for all that g+ gives you? Sounds like there should be some free video conferencing program out there that could do it. Not that I know of any...

  39. @ Andreas. I agree that Skype works just fine. In fact, I'm of the apparently unique opinion that voice only is better than video chat. I find all the little boxes of jerky video heads a bit distracting, really. However, I think the Google+ interface may alleviate this to a degree.

  40. @cibet

    These kooky RPGs we play were meant as addenda to wargame systems hardly anyone plays anymore. They've changed.

    As for:

    "if your in person group were available and meeting your gaming needs why bother with online?"

    Oh so many reasons:

    -If you are the only one in your group who GMs, you can GM with your home game and be a player 5 times a week on line

    -If a member of your longstanding group moves or goes on a trip, you can keep your regular game together

    -If there is a game you want to play in addition to your local one but can't find players for that specific game, you can start that up (several people on G+ are just now getting to play their first Petal Throne game due to G+)

    -If you want to playtest an idea with several different groups (Tavis allison's doing that now)

    -If you want to play with an online pal who you know from blogs or forums is a likeminded individual but have never got to play with them for logistical reasons

    -If you are temporarily not home yourself

    -If you have a job where you can be online while you work you can play at work (guilty)

    I would never suggest online gaming should or will replace face-to-face play but just as gameblogs are a fun and interesting supplement to actually playing games, online games are, too.

  41. I have now run two games in G+. One was Swords and Wizardry and the other was the DCC beta. I am by no means a technophobe, but I am a novice at Facebook and Gmail. I’ve never used Skype for more than voice. I’ve used a webcam maybe three times in my life. I currently run two face to face games and play in two. I have heavily flirted with several different online tabletop simulators, but never actually ran anything with any of them.

    G+ games rock. I haven’t been this excited about playing since I was a kid. Yesterday was my first game, and I was pretty apprehensive and nervous about it. I’ve never run S&W before, so I was a little slow there, but the game itself was just about as good as face to face. I had four players and tried to have five, but G+ didn’t like it. Four players plus GM is definitely the limit right now. We used the honor system for die rolling and I held pictures up to the camera. We had a time limit of two hours, which is good. My second game went for 3.5 hours and I was tired of sitting and craning my neck afterword (but the game was a total blast and we completed the adventure). It’s a very simple interface, and you can pick it up quick. I had three players in the first game that had some experience with G+ (including Zak), and that definitely helped me out a bit. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and we all agreed to play again next week.

    Zak really needs to get credit for setting up Constantcon and maintaining the calendar. I feel that is what has truly allowed us to tap the potential of G+. I got up this morning to take my dogs for a walk and was all juiced about how well the game worked out. When I got home, I decided to run another game. I hopped on Zak’s site at 10:00 and posted the DCC beta game for 11:30. I had two players ready to roll and several more that expressed interest but couldn’t make the time. It was that quick and easy. When is the last time you were able to throw a game together that quickly? Everyone had such a good time we ignored the two hour time limit to finish the adventure.

    I highly recommend giving it a try. It has truly changed gaming for me.

  42. I was going to make at least three of the points that Zak brought up in his explanation before I read that response.

    At least three of them apply to me. I have a group that meets twice a week and if I could find the time I would love to get my mitts on some G+ games.

  43. I have taken a few stabs at trying to understand Google+ and might be into hopping into or running a game at some point to see how it goes. It does seem like a great medium to game in, brainstorm ideas, etc.

  44. @ancientvaults:

    G+ is surprisingly simple in terms of overall interface. When I started using it, I was actually surprised because I almost expected more. But I think the simplicity of presentation is one of its strengths.

  45. @Zak;

    Thanks for the info and the answer/info page. I think I'll stick to Skype for right now but Google+ looks like something that is going to bring in the masses.

  46. Say James, thanks for at least the acknowledgement that you started up a PbP game and then dropped it two weeks later with so much as a "I'm outta here, bitches!"

    I wasn't sad about the end of that cluster eff nor was mad about it (I even have used my alchoholic character "Thursty" as a henchman in some of my OD&D games after that). It was the fact you seemed to dump out of it without a word to us that seemed very weird. Weeks later people where still posting here and there (echoing voice) "Hello? Hello?" for weeks after.

  47. i have to agree in regard to pacing probs w/ pbp, but if you can develop the patience for it, it can be worth it (esp. if it's yr only current option) - i've been running a game off of a private blog (using the comments) now for over a year (1.5 weeks gametime!) - and it's been fun (even better now w/ better mobile technology, ipad etc.) - a few days ago, the players actually entered the Ruined Monastery (your Fight On 1 entry)...