Gaming in a time of Social Distancing

COVID-19 is causing all sorts of problems and disruption to social lives is one of the more minor of them. VoIP and some other technologies let us carry on gaming though. I’m likely to do more gaming than usual since my other social activities are curtailed.

Here are a few tips to get you up and running with online gaming with a few barriers to entry as possible. There are various fancy virtual tabletop packages out there and I have very little experience of need for them. I’m probably going to get some use out of them soon and might make another post then, but for now my focus is on:

  • Community
  • Dice
  • Voice (and maybe video)
  • A simple shared place to keep track of notes and counters

Discord

The first three are all happily handled by Discord. It’s a free (with premium add-ons I’ve not used) real time text chat system which organises itself into “servers” which are what it calls communities. Each server is sub-organised into channels (so you can separate out game and non-game chat and have a place dedicated to politics that some people can ignore completely if they want to) which are either for text or voice. It supports bots (add-ons written by third-parties that respond to things people say) which are great for dealing with dice.

I won’t go into the details of setting up Discord as there is plenty of documentation out there for that and setting up a private server and inviting your gaming group to it doesn’t need any extensive admin features. A few RPG specific tips though: I’ll use the desktop client for these examples.

Nicknames

You can change your nickname on a per-server basis, so you can stick your character name into the text chat without being identified by that name on every other server you join.

Mute

Some servers are very busy all the time. Some servers are very busy some of the time. You don’t always want to get notifications of everything that is happening.

You can mute a channel or a server for a time period — this is great when people are flinging dice about for a game you aren’t taking part it. You can also control if you get notifications for every message, or only when you or @everyone is tagged in one.

Dice

I use Sidekick for rolling dice. It listens out for when you type something beginning with /roll and then rolls the appropriate number of dice and adds them up. You’ll need the server admin to invite it using the instructions behind the link above.

A generally useful command is /roll 2d6 + 2 # Note about what the roll is for which has you covered for pretty much any Apocalypse Engine game. FATE players can use /roll 4df + 2 # Defend Quickly! and 5th edition D&D players can /roll 2d20kl1+5 # Wisdom Save with disadvantage. Other examples of things it can do are behind the link above.

Google Drawings

While fancier VTT software exists, your needs may be served perfectly well by Google Drawings, especially if you essentially want a bunch of index cards and stacks of chips (I’m looking at you fellow players of FATE).

To create a Google Drawing, go to Google Drive and click New then you’ll find the option for a Google Drawing under “more”.

The big blue Share button will let you share your document with the rest of your group (make sure you set it so they can edit the document!) and any edits someone makes will be updated in real time across everyone else’s screens.

This was the state of play at the end of last night’s game of Fiasco:

Hope some folk find this useful, feel free to drop any questions in the comments or on Twitter.

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