Yesterday Jade bought a new car that’s riddled with more gadgets than the Batmobile, and considering that neither of us have bought a new vehicle since 2001 there was a bit of a learning curve. While we were toying with her hands free telephone system, the fancy radio, and trying to figure out how to use the ejector seats we started discussing how much technology has changed over the years. As Jade has been around longer than I have the steady march of progress has been far more pronounced for her than it has for me. She can actually remember when computers were so large that they filled entire rooms and a time before the VCR for example.
Of course our favorite hobby hasn’t managed to avoid the scorching gaze of Technology either. From across a wasteland of abandoned iPods, obsolete cellphones, and carelessly scratched compact discs Technology’s gaze is fixed upon tabletop gaming. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up for debate.
I tried to use my laptop in the first few games I GMed but I found the experience to be a bit too cumbersome for my liking. I would find myself looking at the screen of my computer rather than the players, and I think keeping good eye contact is essential to running a campaign. Being able to play a bit of background music at key moments throughout the game gave me a nice bit of atmosphere that I think I needed for those first few games. It helped me set the scene while I was still learning how to describe things to players with the right amount of detail.
After my initial forays into tabletop gaming I was faced with the age old dilemma of not being able to find enough players to run a campaign. I turned to the internet and discovered the play by post style of gaming on a couple of internet forums. The anonymity and abundance of potential players allowed me to experiment and try out a few systems that I might never have felt comfortable running with a group of players sitting around the table staring at me. As the Acquisitions Incorporated podcasts had introduced me to the world of tabletop RPGs I turned to the Penny Arcade forum and set out to discover what sort of games could be running using this new medium. As a result I’ve met some wonderful players, been introduced to great systems, and enjoyed countless hours both playing in and running campaigns.
My Mutants and Masterminds campaign “The Rising Cost of Justice” let me bring a city filled with clashing heroes and villains out of my imagination and into a world all its own. However running my first Star Wars Saga campaign “Dark Times” set just after the end of the Clone Wars was without a doubt one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. Most of the credit goes to the players who took to their characters fantastically well, and they helped me get a handle on what it really takes to run a campaign. Being introduced to the Dresden Files RPG through a campaign named “Bloody Kansas” made me a big fan of the Fate system and it let me play a wizard which is always something to be applauded. When my computer suddenly died and I was left with no way to continue those campaigns it was heartbreaking. I missed the players and games I had been a part every bit as much as I would have if they had been coming over to my house once a week.
Play by posting also introduced me to a program known as Maptools which I used to make many of the maps I used for my online campaigns. Maptools and the similar Tokentools applications are both free and available online to anyone who wants to give them a shot. Maptools can take some time to learn to use though and I did find myself getting frustrated with it more than once.
Ever since I discovered Obsidian Portal I’ve had to fight the urge to upgrade my account to one of the paid ones on a regular basis. The website allows GMs to create a custom page for up to two of their campaigns for free while inviting the players of their choice to become active members of the page. Players can create their own character’s and make content of their own imagining with the right access. It’s a great way for a gaming group to work together to create something that they can show off to others. Sure, you’re parents might never be able to tell the difference between a d10 and a d12, but they can still read along in your campaign journal and follow your creative exploits.
Over the years one thing I’ve come to dislike though, both as a player and a GM, is the use of cellhpones at the gaming table. I know some people are really fond of using apps and online applications to makes their rolls rather than using actual dice but I think it is just too much of a distraction.People seem to be incapable of setting down their phones once they’ve picked them up. Nothing irritates me more than seeing someone playing a game on their cellphone while I’m trying to run a game.
A friend who took part inf my “Dark Times” pbp actually started running one of his own and invited me to take part. He decided to take a different approach to the map issue that arises in games that take place online by using a new website called Roll20. The website allows players to meet in real time online, create simple maps using artwork and images provided by the site, and to update those maps instantly. I still haven’t figured out how to use it as well as he does so there is a bit of a learning curve, but I think if you’re willing to invest some time and energy into learning how to use Roll20 it can be a great tool for your campaigns.
Quite recently I ran a introductory game of Dungeons and Dragons over Skype for my friend Sebastian and a group of people he wanted to introduce to the game. The experience was interesting, and it presented me with a few challenges as the GM that I haven’t had to deal with in the past. I’m used to being able to see and hear all of my players and that just wasn’t the case in that game. They were all gathered around a single laptop so everyone wasn’t in the frame and voices were sometimes drowned out. I also had to angle my camera so they could see the maps we were using to keep track of their movements.
It’s amazing to think that we’ve gone from pen and paper to custom tables with digital displays built right into over the last few decades. I think as technology becomes more and more advanced we’re going to see more applications aimed at the tabletop. In the end it all comes down to a matter of personal preference and the simple question of how much money you’re willing to spend. I may prefer my plastic miniatures, paper character sheets, copper dice, and chessex wet erase game map but I don’t have any problem with people branching out and using the technology that is available to them.