Long Distance Gaming
This past week, my Shadowrun group had to do something we all hated; we had to tell one of our players that it would not be possible to join us. Sound cruel? Well, it felt cruel. One of our players joins us via Skype every week, and this week we encountered serious problems with our internet connection. Specifically, we did not have an internet connection. Many things were tried, but in the end, we just were not able to come up with a solution that worked, so one of our players was forced (not by her own will) to sit that session out. This came as a serious blow considering just how close that campaign is coming to its epic conclusion and how well defined and beloved her character has become. Every Shadowrun team needs their ex-simstar, ork summoner/healer watching their back. Alas, this could not be so. Long distance gaming has a plethora of issues associated with it, but having the possibility of it opens up great new worlds for gamer interaction and connectivity.
Playing a tabletop game via an online medium, either via a service like Skype or roll20.net, was something I would have never considered only a few years ago. Sure, people did it, but that seemed to take a lot away from the experience of having everyone sitting around a game table, telling stories, and rolling dice together. Now, having had to choose between that closeness with my fellow players or being able to include some of my friends who no longer live within reasonable driving distance, I gladly choose the latter. As long as the technology cooperates, she is still able to join us in a fashion much similar to when she could actually sit at the table with us. It is not the same, as there are many more factors involved that must be considered such as background noise, position of the camera, internet access (the largest failing we run into, gaming somewhere that lacks reliable internet service) and others. When it works, it works great. When it does not, then we find ourselves placed in the uncomfortable position as detailed above.
Now, when it comes to playing a tabletop online, I am not really a fan of using the online tabletop as presented by roll20.net. Sure, it would likely work great if you were able to familiarize yourself with its layout, but for someone who runs games in a more free-form fashion like me, it adds little but clutter. If your Gamemastering style involves fully fleshing out each and every encounter beforehand, then it would likely serve you greatly, but I have always found that the more I plan, the less of it I use. This is why I find just using a video-call service like Skype to be more advantageous. For those groups who regularly use roll20.net and find it worthwhile, I’m happy for you. Despite it not really working for me, I am glad that such a service exists for those who can and are able to make use of it.
The greatest drawback of long distance gaming is the reliance on technology, especially when said technology has proven itself very lacking in reliability. If you are considering going this route, or find yourselves left with no other option, just be aware of the drawbacks of it.
And to my friend who suffered from this most recent episode, I am sorry that it happened. We all love gaming with you and hope that this will never happen again.
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