Tabletop Gaming On the Web: I Can Haz RPGs?

Not getting enough gaming in your week? Friends only wanna play D&D and you wanna be a Jedi? Are you the lone nerd within driving distance? Well, I have the answer to all your needs!

And now I’m going to stop sounding like the late Billy Mays and talk to you about a different way to enjoy all your favorite tabletop RPGS: Taking your game to the great wide world of the Internet. Now it isn’t really a tabletop game with out a tabletop but if you are limited in game type, players, or even just number of games, the web offers a bunch of options for the plugged in and logged on gamer.

There are more ways then just the few I’m going to talk about here but these are the ones I’m most familiar with. They range from simple changes to existing games, to whole scale conversions of the game to either text, images, or a mix of both. Join me after the jump for my short list of preferred ways to get my digital geek on, and what I think of each of them.


Play By Post Message Boards

Play By Post (or PbP) message boards are nothing new, but they are gaining a lot of functionality to help out gamers. Examples include built in dice rolling tools, site-hosted character sheets that are easily referenced, wikis to hold setting info, as well as the normal sets of forum tools to make gaming easier.

Pros: With the slower pace you can easily juggle more games, five or six for some people or a dozen or more if have the time. The focus of most games leans more towards the storytelling aspects so more character development and storytelling is done. A large pool of players and the ability to pick and choose who gets in means you are much more likely to find a group you like than with the random bulletin board posting you put up at the local brick and mortar store.

Cons: The games do move very slowly, single combats can take weeks and leveling up months. Like with most things on the Internet, you also may have to deal with the fact that people just disappear or become trolls.

Examples: Myth-Weavers, Giants in the Playground, Wizards of the Coast Message Board

Play By Email

This format is a pretty close mash up of traditional play and the message board games I just talked about. It’s a lot more private, you get a bit more control on who sees the email and things like that. Once more, story is a bigger factor since combat can take forever and there’s a lack of a table, even though this can be overcome with text- or image-based maps.

Pros: Very similar to the message board games. Extremely portable now with so many devices that let you read and send email, though they might not let you surf a message board.

Cons: Lack of tools like the sheets, dice, and things of that kind that the message boards offers. Limited pool of people if you’re just using your contact list, this can be fixed with some of the player databases out there.

Examples: PBEM Players, Pen & Paper Games

Digital Gaming Tables

Now these offer the true digital gaming experience. With full graphically-realized maps and tokens, built-in dice rollers, and chat, some even have rules built into them so things can be run almost completely without books. Digital gaming tables offer real-time gaming for people that can’t meet face-to-face.

Pros: Real-time, lots of tools and support, run just like a table with maps and minis.

Cons: You gotta learn the program, finding and scheduling games can be hard, constant internet connection is required.

Examples: RPTools, Hero Labs, Wizards of the Coast

Voice Chat and Web Cams

This might be the easiest or most complex fix for this problem, I’m not sure which. What this one boils down to is using some voice chat program to let a player who is not present talk with everyone who is, and a web cam so that the player can see the map. I’m not sure how well this would work in the long term but it might be a good solution for someone who is gone for just a short time or someone who had to move but wants to keep playing in the group.

Pros: Simple to set up, mostly normal gaming experience, lets those players who have left still play with old friends.

Cons: Kinda iffy on how effective it is, hard to get a web cam to show you everything you need to see, someone has to move the players mini around and that might take time to get just right.

Examples: Skype, Google Talk

There is 1 comment.

  1. OmnusI said on December 19, 2012 at 6:35 am

    Another digital gaming table is the browser-based site Fabletop, which has all the tools to play available and keep track of your character sheets for you. It has a simple, easy-to-use system for both players and DMs, and instructions you can bring up at a moment’s notice. No, you can’t use any old game system with it, but it is fun and intuitive, and as it grows it’ll only get better and better. I highly recommend it!

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