Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Blood Money - Session One

So last night was the first episode of the new Roll20 western game, Blood Money. We had a good time overall, but not without some bumps.

First impressions:
  • The most common complaint about online gaming is correct: things move very slowly. I prepared what I thought was a very modest adventure -- an overland map, plus four more detailed "scenes" where the players have a chance to take down their bounty. It took us more than an hour to play through one of those short scenes. On the GM side, this may actually be a plus, because it takes a little longer to set up something like this where you have to build maps, etc. On the down side, if you don't like tactical combat, this drags it out even more. Some of the time factor is unfamiliarity on all of our parts, both with the interface and with the rules / expectations of play on the players part. I think it will improve with time.
  • The other common complaint about online games is that it's difficult to get people to commit. That also seems to be true. I have six players, and two of them didn't show for this session. That actually worked out fine, because even four players is a lot in this interface, with everyone learning the system. It may be a reality of playing in this format that you're going to have to work in "episodic" mode where characters drop in and out. 
  • Technical issues are a real pain in the bollocks, especially when you're just trying to get going. We agreed to a slightly later start, last night, which was fine - but technical glitches slowed down getting everyone up and functional just as we were about to start. This may have something to do with the amount of traffic on the site, or on Google Hangouts, I'm not sure. The lesson here may be "start early", so that you can iron out those problems and get on with the gaming.
  • I realized that I'd been doing something dumb myself all evening, and hadn't flipped a toggle which makes all of your characters' skills appear at the bottom of the screen as buttons - easy to press and keep track of. It is a pain in the butt to flip back and forth with the various digital character sheets, which could be better. 

Some positive stuff:

  • Notwithstanding the technical issues, we actually did have fun with the session. The audio chat makes the kind of table talk that makes roleplaying memorable quite easy. When people spoke in character, it really was quite effective - because without the other player's face behind that voice, you felt a very direct connection to the character. 
  • The GM-side tools that allow the GM to control what the players see on the game screen are really nifty. The ability to "pull" the players' view to a particular point on a map and to be able to place tokens on a map layer the players can't see -- so that you can "pop them in" at an appropriate moment -- was cool. There was at least one audible gasp when a token appeared somewhere unexpected. 
  • It's very slick to have the computer manage all the die-rolling parts of the mechanics. Having the ability to click one button and have all of your various rolls finished and tallied immediately is fabulous, especially in a system like Savage Worlds where there can be a lot of re-rolling. I worried that it wouldn't feel the same as dice, but it's actually way better to roll dice in the chat window than to use the 3D dice -- they are, as I'd been told, nifty but slow to animate. 

Some things for next time:

  • I forgot to try out the streaming music during the game last night. During the playtest, people found it was disruptive and hard to hear, but it might still work as a quiet background note. Or sound effects might pep up combat a bit.
  • I need to work on providing more in-character play, to develop the HTHD side of the game experience, but I'm taking a "baby steps" approach overall. Once the scene management stuff has fallen into place, I can work more on experimenting with presenting compelling scenes, music, that kind of "polish" and depth that moves a game from the realm of the acceptable and entertaining to the memorable and challenging. 
More to come!

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