Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Skype Campaign

I know I've seen some people in this corner of the blogosphere wonder how a Skype campaign would work, and I've seen other people post some about their Skype campaigns, but more about what happens in them than how a Skype campaign works and is different from a face-to-face campaign. This post is about how my Skype Campaign works. Of course, your milage may vary.

Face to Face

One of the lamest parts of using Skype for your campaign is that, unless you're only  using two computers, you don't get to video-chat. That means you don't get the looks on your players' faces when a horrifying monster they've never encountered turns the corner, or when they find a trove of amazing treasure, or when you spring a nasty trap on them, or when they discover a cool feature of a magic weapon, etc.  That's lame.  It's one of the reasons why our group has begun looking for other VoIP programs that allow video-chatting with more than two computers. You can compare different VoIP programs here, if you're interested.


This was one area I was really concerned with before I started the campaign. I wasn't sure whether, over the course of four hours, the connection would stay strong enough for us to understand each other without difficulty.  Fortunately, this hasn't been as much of a problem as I feared.  Occasionally, we have had difficulties, but there was only really one session so far where things were so bad that it really held up play because we couldn't understand each other.  Sometimes Skype drops our calls, too, but that isn't usually a huge problem, as we can just call again.  Over-all, I'd say that the aggravation is totally worth being able to play with friends in Maine and Texas every week.


I've known two out of three of my players for years (one of them is my blood-brother), and the third player is my blood-brother's fiance and shares a computer with him while gaming, meaning that they are sitting right next to each other.  Trust really isn't an issue for me.  I realize that it is for people who might want to run a Skype campaign where they don't know everyone that well, though.  There are some online dice-rollers that make your dice rolls public, I believe, but my personal philosophy, both when gaming face-to-face and over the internet, is that if a player has to cheat to have fun, I'm not going to throw a fit.  If I happen to catch it over the normal course of a session, yeah, I'll call them on it, but I'm not going to exert energy trying to police my players and keep them honest.  Also, if I don't trust them, I really don't get why I'm gaming with them.  Thus I haven't even considered asking my players to use an online dice roller, except for a private one when one of my early players didn't have dice of her own, because physically rolling dice is, I think, an important part of the joy of role-playing.


We don't use miniatures for combat, though there are ways of doing this out there. When we were first considering starting this campaign, some of us looked into it a bit. This looked really cool, but also looked like a lot of time and work that I don't currently have, so we haven't used it. Our group always played with miniatures when we'd played in a current player's face-to-face 3.5 campaign, though I'd run one or two games where, as an experiment, we only used the miniatures to establish and remember marching order, and we prefer to play with them. We've found that they are certainly not necessary, however. We do handwave a lot of fiddlier stuff and usually assume a general melee where anyone can attack anyone on their turn- that seems pretty realistic considering that combat rounds are 1 minute. I do make a distinction between whether enemies are within melee range or not. So far we haven't really had any problems

Mapping, Exploration and Wandering Monsters

Mapping has been somewhat challenging, especially towards the beginning of the campaign. Communicating where door were was a particular challenge. We ended up deciding to use the kind of nomenclature that's used in chess and Battleship to communicate where things are in a room. Lately, they've been exploring the ungridded C. Brackeyy's Gray Goblin Warrens from the 2009 One Page Dungeon Codex, so I've just been guessing at distances traveled and telling them whenever they come to a fork in the tunnel. (There are a LOT of forks in the Gray Goblin Warrens). Usually by blood-brother's fiance maps and the player in Texas also tends to map, both so they can compare notes and so everyone has a map they can look at.

So far as time-based things go- lighting and wandering monsters, I bought Faster Monkey's Turntracker and just rotate it a unit further around whenever I feel time has passed. That's usually after a combat, while they are deliberating over a decision, when they search for secret doors and when I haven't turned it in a while. All this to say, I don't worry too much about how far on the grid they've gone for time-based issues, so not using a grid all that much doesn't really pose a problem.

So, overall, I'm happy with my Skype campaign. Would it be nice to actually see my players and play around the table with some miniatures on a gridded surface? Definitely, but this seems to be about the next best thing and for that I'm quite thankful.

Did I miss anything else about playing over Skype? Have you played over the internet, either with a VoIP service like Skype or with another medium such as IMing or with Wave? If so, what were the pros and cons of that medium?


  1. I've played quite a bit over IM, and a few over VOIP and Wave. The problem with Wave is that it seemed to get laggy when the wave grew to a certain length. VOIP works great, although there's a fair amount of people accidentally talking over each other ("you go ahead" "no, sorry, you go first") until everyone acclimates.

    I actually wrote a dice bot for Google Talk/Jabber. It needs its own account, but has the advantage that not all participants need to install a plugin.

    I sometimes play with my local group over Skype, because eliminating travel time can make otherwise impossible to schedule games possible.

  2. How does playing over IM work for you? I can't really imagine not hearing the voices of my players. Does it work better than I imagine it should?