Monday, 22 April 2013

Online Playsets

I've written here in the past about my ongoing experiments with online play via Google Hangouts. My first game relied heavily on the Roll20 engine, which handled all the rules so that I could run my Savage Worlds western game Blood Money. After that, I've been experimenting with running looser, rules light games that operate using GH itself and a dice-rolling app called Bones. Generally, I've been pleased with the results.

As a general rule, it's worked out better and better the less rules interface is involved. Online games in general tend to be slower -- not necessarily worse, but they amplify a lot of issues that you find at the table. I am moving toward lighter and lighter rules to support play as I continue, and the results have been better with this approach.

Today I thought I'd quickly show off some of the tools I've been using to run those games.

This is the "game board" I made up for the online Fiasco games I've run. Fiasco works really quite well online, I have to say -- probably because there are very few rules involved. The Screenshare app and occasional rolls using Bones are all that's required.

You can probably notice that I've included big, colourful "name cards" for each player (easy to see even on a small screen) and the most important rules from the rulebook are right there on the screen. There are also black and white dice tokens that can be moved to player "cards" as they are distributed during play.

I'm running a Cortex Plus hack of Ghostbusters as the sequel game to Blood Money. This board mostly tracks the plot point economy, who's the acting player (the little Slimer shows whose turn it is), and has a big green card for me to add any scene details in play.

Although Cortex Plus works the way I intended it too, for the most part, and the players enjoyed it, I think I miscalculated using such a dice-heavy game for this. I would have been better served using something lighter like Teenagers from Outer Space.

I'm about to run the second session of a Cthulhu Dark game tonight -- Graham Walmsley's rules-lighter Lovecraftian RPG which squeezes a lot of awesome into 1.5 pages. This is the "board" I made for that game, mostly to track Sanity points (which I'm using neat little Elder Signs for).

CD is probably the perfect expression of a ruleset for online play, short of simply playing freeform. We had a very good first experience with this one, and I can see it working well for tabletop play as well. Although Graham Walmsley says in the rules it was intended for play using pre-written adventures, and indeed it would be a great way to dive into an adventure quickly without needing to make up characters, I think it could work well for more shared-narrative experiences as well.

The game contains a brilliant mechanic where anyone at the table can "contest" a player roll, suggesting that the outcome of that roll could turn out badly for them and describing exactly what awful thing would happen if it does go pear-shaped. Then the person who suggested this alternative outcome gets to roll against the acting player (it could just be the GM, and indeed that's the way I've been running it, but I think it would also be fun if the players jumped in and added their own ghoulish glosses to the fun) and if they roll higher, the action comes out as they devilishly described.

Now that'sa spicy meat-a-ball!

I can imagine scenarios where there is no GM at all, only a group of like-minded players setting off together into to explore dark vistas.


  1. Hi Bill, my name is Bert and i was wondering if you could give me some help with the Roll20 website? i just stumble upon your post here and it really interests me into setting up a Cthulhu Dice with my custom rules i play with friends, would really appreciate any feedback, never messed around with this stuff before, figured if you could help give me a little nudge with this program id be able to get a pretty grasp on it, thanks again and appreciate it :D hope to hear from you soon kind sir! :D

    1. Sure, Robert -- I'm far from an expert but I can help you with any of the things I've used on the site. Are you talking about using Cthulhu Dark or Cthulhu Dice (i.e. the Steve Jackson game with, er, dice)? If it's the latter, I think you could get a party game like that to work on Roll20 just fine -- I would use the option to create a custom card deck. That would let you put in custom card faces for each of the symbols on the 12-sided game die, then just make the deck infinite. I've put in custom "player facing" sides on my custom card decks that make them look pretty spiffy -- should be easy enough to make a Cthulhu themed "face". The tokens are easy enough -- you could make little Elder Signs like the ones I used above. Let me know if you have questions. I can maybe point you to the right answers.

  2. is there a way i could post a link to my thing so you can see it first hand so far? i got some tokens for sanity of Cthulhu probably gonna switch them to the elder signs like you did, got the cards made, i think they i got it so they just add cards back into the deck once i flip one, not sure if its taking them out and leaving them out until all 12 are chosen


  4. Doesn't look like that works. We would both have to be on at the same time, I think, and then you could send me the link as though I were a player.

  5. are you usually on at a specific time each day or are you just on random at times?

  6. Fairly randomly. If you set a specific time in the afternoon EST, I could probably do that.

  7. i'm on fairly random too, could i possible add you to my gmail and maybe they have a messenger feature like yahoomail or something where if i see you on i could just instantly contact you?