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Tabletop Gaming Over the 'Net? 79

kebes asks: "I'm the GM for a group that has been gaming together for about 12 years. We're starting to move away from each other, and want to switch to playing our tabletop RPG online. So far, we've been using a combination of TeamSpeak and IRC. It works, but is not ideal. What protocol/chat service and applications would make for a great online gaming solution? The voice and text chat abilities are crucial, but having a collaborative white-board would greatly help. Ideally, the solution would be integrated (one app), allow logging of the session, run on multiple platforms (Mac OS X, Linux, Windows), work with web-cams, and permit file-transfers. What service or app (or combination thereof) would work best for our needs? Anyone else have stories of success or failure?"
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Tabletop Gaming Over the 'Net?

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  • by WolfStar76 ( 708609 ) * on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:46AM (#15839161) Homepage
    My friends and I are all D&D fans (looking forward to GenCon [] next week! Woot!) and all live in separate states, so we were looking for a similar solution as well.

    There are several ways to go, but for my money, the best product is FantasyGrounds [].

    Fantasy Grounds is a "virtual tabletop" complete with d20 rules, character sheets, dice, a chat window, the ability to share images with your players, and to mask/unmask maps as your party progresses.

    The current version is 1.05, but a major revamp has been in the works all year, with a version 2.0 due out "soon". Speaking of GenCon - the SmiteWorks guys (who make FantasyGrounds) will be sharing a booth with the guys from Code Monkey Publishing [] (makers of the E-Tools software for character creation).

    Other tools to look at include OpenRPG [] and Klooge [].

    I'm not, personally, a fan of those, but everyone has their preferences.

    Also, to aid in communication, I strongly suggest running a TeamSpeak [] server, so you can actually talk to your fellow players, instead of typing everything manually.

  • Bandwidth (Score:5, Funny)

    by HugePedlar ( 900427 ) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:53AM (#15839208) Homepage
    Just make sure your 12-sided dice don't clog up the tubes...
  • Try OpenRPG (Score:3, Informative)

    by castle ( 6163 ) * on Thursday August 03, 2006 @09:58AM (#15839237) Homepage [] - wx?Python based online virtual tabletop.
    • Re:Try OpenRPG (Score:3, Informative)

      by kebes ( 861706 )
      We experimented with OpenRPG last night... the good news is that it integrates a bunch of useful things (chat, whiteboard, and automated dice rolling). It's a little rough around the edges, but overall a great concept. However it's been a real effort to get it running on OS X, which some in the play group use.

      I would have thought that the combination of chat+voice+whiteboard would be so generic that it would be easy to find a bunch of applications (especially OSS ones) to do exactly that... however it's bee
      • I haven't tried it but have heard good things about WebHuddle [], which is actually aimed for business meetings (you can even show slides, although for a whiteboard just leave a blank slide and scribble on that). Being aimed at a non-geek audience, setup is intended to be a no-brainer.
        • Yeah, I was wondering if something like GoToMeeting or LiveMeeting wouldn't be a pretty workable solution. Of course, it isn't a free option.

    • oh boy... do they ever need to cull the comment spam from that page...
  • by aetherspoon ( 72997 ) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:07AM (#15839311) Homepage
    Although I've glanced at OpenRPG before, personally I just use an old fashioned IRC chat room and a dice bot.

  • by Chas ( 5144 )

    Did it with BattleTech years ago.

    What would normally be a 3-4 hour game became a 7 hour game.

    The problem is making certain everybody's on the same page (and not cheating).

    Now tabletop simulations like Megamek [] outstrip tabletop over IRC by orders of magnitude.

    • Megamek's excellent; I just wish they'd solve some of the stablity and connectivity problems when you're running larger games. I've run through five-player, 15000-BP-each games with a couple of laptops and a desktop, in -much- less time that it'd've taken if we'd set up the boards and minis ourselves.
  • Stick to IRC (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thebdj ( 768618 ) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:25AM (#15839482) Journal
    Seriously, it works just fine. Setup your standard OOC and IC channels and in some cases a separate dice channel and let it go. I personally would ditch the team speak, the vocal communication is not needed and in many cases most people I know are better at explaining themselves in type because they can actually work it out before sending it.

    I have roleplayed on IRC for over 10 years. Some of my best friends play on there and I haven't even met all of them in person. You will have a plethora of players at your disposal (recommended finding sane networks, isn't bad for RPG). Most people in the channel I play in still do TT games on occassion, but they are more grown up then me (but not that much so) and have established groups of friends.

    To be honest, I still think the IRC path works better for WoD games. Honestly, I never recall coming across many, if any, D&D games. If you are a D&D crowd with decent PCs, may I suggest attempting running campaigns using NWN. I have not had the opportunity to try it, but since the game with two expansions and Kingmaker can be had for $30 (the Diamond Edition), it isn't too insane and has good single player campaigns as well.

    Otherwise, you can try openRPG, but I really do not think it is that necessary. It sometimes takes a bit of getting used to not having everyone sitting five feet from each other, but you can definitely have enjoyable experiences with RPGs on IRC.
  • And it actually works, unless you're a real stick about being able to see the board...
  • Skype would work pretty well for this, as it is cross-platform, supports file xfers, and has voice and text chat capabilities.
    • Friends and I have done this on numerous occasions when our one or more of the folks in our group have been out of town during a game session. We set up a webcam on a 30sec refresh and then have the missing folks Skype in.
      Works out really well.
    • Gizmo [] works pretty well too and allows more people in a conference call.

      It's also free and works on Linux, OS X, and Windows.

      Oh, and it speaks Jabber and SIP too.
  • Neverwinter Nights? (Score:2, Informative)

    by fragbait ( 209346 )
    I don't have experiences doing this, but trying out Neverwinter Nights GM functionality is the first thing that comes to mind.

    Have you tried that?

    • This works pretty well if everyone has a copy of the game. I have done this a lot and had great fun. Since it was made in 2002, the graphics are a bit dated, but that means you can actually run it on some older machines. Luckily it is very affordable [] now and you can get it to run under Linux and Mac OS X. The Linux version requires having the PC version, then downloading the Linux client here []. The mac version is here [], but you need to buy both [] expansions [] seperately so it's more expensive than the PC version.
  • iVisit (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Our group uses iVisit Pro ( []). It works alright, low bandwidth requirement for video and audio. File transfer works great. No whiteboard though. You can also record your sessions from within the program as well, nice if you want to put together a comedy/blackmail reel. Split video. My face on a TV, and the text chat window goes on the GM's screen for our ability to chat privately or for rolls or whatever.

    We use a Creative wide angle camera, and that seems to work well too.

    We use mic's f
  • by Ohreally_factor ( 593551 ) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:35AM (#15839566) Journal
    Have you ever checked out Giant in the Playground []? They actually play by post in the forums over there. Besides which, the comic Order of the Stick [] is the funniest RPG comic I've ever read. It actually makes me want to get back into gaming and learn these newfangled 3.0 rules.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 03, 2006 @10:48AM (#15839672)
    Same thing happend to some buddies of mine. We all moved away from each other and the regular game we had once a week. We all use to play WoW at the time as well. So once a week, we would log on to WoW, sit all around in the Inn in Stormwind. We would join a private channel and play (a really nerdy version of) AD&D. We would use the games dice system to prevent cheating and etc... It worked pretty well til we all gave up on WoW.

    Playing D&D in World of Warcraft is as about as nerdy and lame as you can get though, keep that in mind
  • Fantasy Grounds (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mainframemouse ( 740958 ) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @11:00AM (#15839783)
    I've been looking for this kind of software for a couple of years now. OpenRPG is as user frindly as open source software was 10 years ago. I'd given up until I stunmbled upon Fantasy Grounds []. It is almost every thing I've been looking for. I've paid up and converting it now so I can run SLA industries. This along with Teamspeak and MorphVOX [] I'm looking forward to running some great games.
  • This is how we do it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grondak ( 80002 ) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @11:01AM (#15839793) Homepage
    My weekly DnD 3.5 game has a local DM, me, and two internet-based out-of-towners. We use a Logitech webcam and Yahoo instant messenger's voice + video services. We have a great time playing, now that the technology discussions and problems are out of the way.

    Our requirements:
    1. The DM wants to be able to move the minis around the map and sit on the DM's side of the table, and wants me to run the tech side of things for him. He wants to be able to draw a quick map or a picture of what we're seeing and show either to the players. This means hands-free communication for the DM and me to the out-of-towners and a picture of what he's drawn, taken by some type of camera.
    2. We need to be able to "talk over" each other-- or at least know when more than one person is trying to talk.
    3. Quickly sharing a changing map environment is crucial-- and the DM can't get me to draw everything in a tool because of the time it takes to explain things, or have himself draw them on paper and have me re-draw them in a tool.
    4. We need to have a way for the players to communicate without the DM overhearing (and without chasing the DM out of the room)
    5. I have a nice iBook and an iSight camera-- we should use it!
    6. It shouldn't cost us anything "per month" to play. I didn't want to turn our out-of-towners off the game due to service subscription fees "just for a game."
    7. We need the tech "out of the gaming process" so we can focus on DnD.

    How things worked out:
    1. I looked for a lot of cross-platform voice + video solutions with "talk-over" capability. Wouldn't you know it, but a two years or so ago, when I did the research, cross-platform, integrated tools with all other requirements just wasn't happening. We looked at stand-alone video tools running simultaneously with stand-along voice tools. We looked at "camming software" and only joked about playing in the buff. Consider AIM, which Apple's iSight can talk to with iChat. That seemed to be my only cross-platform solution, but the out-of-town players didn't want to sign up for "yet another IM system." So, I removed the cross-platform requirement. Things got easier. Remember, I did this research 2 years ago, so specific details are lost to me. I play DnD now, and don't spend my days looking for tech solutions to a problem I've already adequately solved.
    2. We settled on Yahoo IM on the PC only. Yahoo's voice system allows you to know if you are "talking over" someone else because it beeps at you when a voice collision happens. The video support is decent, too. When the players need to communicate without DM knowledge, we just type. The DM doesn't look at the computer screen often.
    3. Our little camera can go anywhere. We reposition it according to need. I have a little test pattern placard I can put in front of the camera for when the GM and I are setting up. That's double-nerdly, in case you didn't notice. :) We have various-sized boxes upon which we place the video camera to allow the right viewpoint for the out-of-towners. Sometimes we need to move the camera to allow different out-of-towners to see different parts of the game, but mostly, the battles converge to a single area and the camera movement slows down until the "move to next battle area" part of DnD.
    4. We use an external microphone, a little cheap one, and lay it on the gaming table between the DM and me. Sometimes the players hear mumbling, but that's mostly when we accidently talk away from the mic (say, past the table, down to the floor.)
    5. Sometimes the tech fails: eg: Yahoo wants to upgrade the client. The DM's internet is out (again). The wireless router is dead. The reception is poor because of the running microwave. Yahoo booted us again. The wireless reception failed.
    6. We did not get a tool that lets us draw on the screen. We just draw on a piece of paper and point the webcam at it. Much faster and much less prone to perfectionism.

    7. Most of all-- this feels like real DnD. The tech, now that it works, is out of the w
    • It seems like there should be a remote mini helping component

      Maybe a little webcam image recognizer that can take multiple webcam views and make an overhead map out of it

      Then the remote players can drag the pieces on the map and the DM just sees the move they want to make with which piece - system can even give exact directions, or detect when the mini is "close enough" to the target position
  • Gametable is good.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doppleganger ( 66109 ) on Thursday August 03, 2006 @11:05AM (#15839819) Journal
    Gametable [], by the guy who does the "Casey and Andy []" webcomic, is pretty good as a simplified whiteboard. It's a java app, and works cross-platform (I run one instance on a linux system as a server, and the players all use different Windows versions to run it). It's not as full-featured as something like OpenRPG, but it is also a lot easier to set up and learn. It covers the basics, and doesn't focus on particular systems other than choosing between square or hex grids.

    No built-in web cam or file transferring, but it has a whiteboard, text chat, dice roller, and unit markers.
  • While not specifically designed for tabletop RPGS, VASSAL [] is an open source game engine written in Java designed for creating internet ready board games and miniatures games. There is an extensive list of modules that have already been created and the program provides a relatively easy to use graphical interface for creating new modules that better suit your needs.
  • One option I have repeatedly heard about on a web comic I read is Gametable []. However, I have never used it personally, so I can't really say anything about its effectiveness. It is written in Java, thus providing support for Windows, OSX, and Linux. From the site:

    Gametable is a remote RPG whiteboarding client. It is designed to play RPGs online, providing an interface for all players to use a shared map. Anything any player does to the map, all players see. The map can be drawn on, have miniatures (we ca

    • there's also playbypost which makes your game more of an interactive story such as available at and If you still wish to keep the advanced combat rules ie miniatures you'll need to combine it with a mapping or drawing program and post on a website screenshots of the action. I used autorealm for a game to do that with but have since found it much easier to simply use my miniatures on a hexgrid and my digital camera.
  • Probably my favorite table top game of all time is Dipolmacy...but alas it was really hard to find people that would actually want to play. (i even asked my ex to play for my bday and she looked at me like i was a crackhead and followed it up with "I [her] better be drunk." Needless to say it didnt happen :-( )
    But all isn't lost, places like [] was created for us loners out there to play this great game.
  • I have a slightly different problem. In our game we have one player that just moved from ohio to california. So we have been trying to setup a webcam / mic thing for him to join in. We've been unable to find any decent (and free, or cheap) web cam conferencing tools. We have a group of about 6 that are a good 15 feet away so we need more resolution. We both have broadband and want to be able to push video around 640-480 most of the common tools (aim, yahoo) have rather crappy file size and everyone just
    • Yes! I, too, want an answer to this question!

      We can do audio through the phone, but good video is a problem.

      BONUS QUESTION: I have a nice firewire capable digital video camera with a good lens or two (and nice audio, too). I would love to use THAT as the video source for the video client instead of a webcam. The video camera is just so much easier to use (PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom), etc.) and has good macro. The problem is finding a way to get that nice high res firewire video feed INTO a video-conference.
      • THAT i can help you with. Google "trackercam" its part of the "trackerpod" series.....of which i have no idea what they are. HOWEVER, the trackercam software lets me use my firewire digital camera as a webcam.
  • Viack Via3 (Score:2, Informative)

    by genedefect ( 845080 ) *
    Another interesting option I found is a product called Via3 ( I use it for other work, but it has some nice features that could work quite well for remote tabletop sessions.

    It has pretty solid Audio and Video, doesn't require you to host your own server, has built in Whiteboard and a feature called LiveView that you could use to show another applicatio (or battle map) to the players.

    One other nice thing is it provides online storage tied to the app. You can use to store all your game note,
  • i'm actually writing a DnD app for a friend of mine that will do just that: chat, file transfer, map design, rolls, etc. i'll probably release it eventually.
  • As I was attending Origins 2006 in late June/July, walking around looking in the exhibit hall at all the items available for sale, I wondered how in the world a game can keep up with all the developments in the industry... new games, new companies, expansions, etc. After it was over I decided to set up a site to make that a little easier. We now scan over 230 sites each day for news and information, have a mailbox where companies can send product announcements, etc., and post daily news updates about goin
  • Seriously, I have been looking at ScreenMonkey [] which is a server program that the GM runs, and then the players connect via a webclient. They have two different web interfaces, an "Advenced" mode for IE6 and Firefox, and a "Generic" which will work on almost any browser, including my Treo650.
    Pretty brilliant in my eyes.

    Download the free ScreenMonkey Lite [], with the encounter map on the same page.
    The interface for the Lite version has chat, dice rolling, and is bascally recreating having a big tabletop ma
  • I play online at [], which mainly runs Shadowrun 3rd edition plus a smattering of D&D. It's been running for close to ten years now and they've got all the basic functions you could need, runs as a seperate Java applet. Play by post, not real-time. I highly recommend it.
  • I had a similar event occur, where I ended up moving out of state and left a really good group of gamers and friends. I did my research on various tabletop, voice and video technology and came up with a lot of the same information as the others, but I chose a different route. For voice and video, it was absolutely necessary to keep a live communication solution. We originally started using Skype in 5-person conference mode, but we outgrew that limit plus we had some issues with talk-over limitations and
  • As the developer of Battlegrounds ( []), I'm a bit biased, but I suggest you give the free downloadable demo a try. It works on Windows and Mac OS X, is easy to learn and use, well-documented, and supports game play in any genre, with any RPG rules system.

    One of the many nice features is the dynamic Fog of War, which automatically reveals the map to the players based on the light sources present (candles, torches, spells, etc.) and takes into account special vision types (lik
  • Really, that's what I did. When the GM needed something to reconnect with players far away, I built him an integrated chat system to go with the website that already managed characters, the world, etc...

    I looked at some of the options out there, but everything was either a fat client (we didn't want that) or didn't have what we wanted. The GM has one set of screens that show him stats (AC, HP - current and max, init rolls, save/abil checks) and let him control combat. Chat and private messages are included,
  • I always wanted to try this, but never had a chance to.

    Seems like an ideal solutions to your problem tho: []

    Heres the short featurelist:
    Miniature Map: Simulate combat with a layered, web base, miniature map. Load any image off the web! Map features include: hex or square adjustable overlay grid, background images, z-order, facing, labels, free hand drawing, tape measure, and more.

    Game Tree: A highly customizable data organizer that allows for the creating of custom made characters sheets
  • You know, if you have a little time on your hands, you could:

    1. Throw together a database framework for characters, monsters, rules, etc.
    characters have blah characteristics
    (include a history for audit purposes)
    monsters have blah characteristics
    (include history of monster spawning / random encounters, etc.)
    rules are blah
    DOCUMENT how to
  • It does not sound like it is what you want, but I have been participating in and running games based on e-mail for over a decade. Combat tends to get bogged down, but our answer is normally to abbreviate combat to each player sending their general strategy and then the GM handling the fine details. For games that are driven more by storytelling then dice rolls, it works beautifully and does not require everyone to be on at the same time, though we have often supplemented with IRC.
  • I was in a similar prediciment a couple of years ago when I moved abroad. There were no English speaking gamers in my area, and so I resigned myself to gaming online with my friends.

    After trying voice, we realized that getting everyone to talk in turn, and notice who was saying what was a major pain, and switched around through various chat/whiteboard systems.

    I've tried OpenRPG (not very user friendly) ScreenMonkey (very nice, but the flashing screen refreshes drove my players batty) and FantasyGrounds (gor
  • Most of the good apps have already been mentioned, and this thread is already days old, but you might still want to check out my webpage [] for other ideas.
  • You might also check out Role Playing Tools ( []), it has the following tools to aid in your gaming:

    MapTool - virtual tabletop
    DiceTool - powerfull dice rolling
    InitiativeTool - Encounter management
    TokenTool - easily create avatars from any image

    All tools are written in Java and are completely free. Development is very active and new feature requests are always welcome.

    • I second rptools, I know the developer and he's very receptive to ideas and to new devs. I recommend it to anyone - and it's system-independent, for the most part, so you don't have to bother with d20 if you don't want to. :)

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972