Guest Writer: Stonie Williams

I’m always thinking of cool stories ideas and some of them I jot down and tinker with off and on. I had one in my back pocket that I thought would be perfect for this online D&D bachelor party. We had some veterans and some folks new to RPGs altogether. So I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want your standard “You Meet In A Tavern”. So they all rolled characters and I planned to have them kidnapped. Stolen in the night by Drow. Forced into the Underdark to fight in gladiatorial games for the amusement of the Drow elite. I had this introduction I was in love with all written out. I had the fights planned and a way to ‘end’ the story but keep it open to continue if we wanted to.

It all seemed simple enough to me. I had some anxiety over DMing after 10 years, I’ll admit. I hadn’t played 5E yet, I was rusty on rules and what you rolled for which actions. Then the added stress of a lot of these people I’d never met face-to-face. They weren’t all ‘my’ friends and I wasn’t sure how personalities were going to match. Roleplaying through the internet seemed strange, somehow. How do you recapture that spirit you get in a living room or around a table through voice alone? But as it got closer to game night my brother got more and more excited and I knew I’d made the right choice. Of course, his excitement meant added pressure on myself but I was happy with the decision.

©Discord and Stonie Williams

All we had was voice chat, text chat, and a dice roller. Character sheets were PDFs everyone sent me ahead of time, most of them made through D& We all had access to at least a Player’s Handbook. It all seemed set. I’d done this a million times, nothing was missing. Or so I thought. I didn’t realize how much non-verbal communication happened when gaming in the same room together. I couldn’t gesture for size or emphasis. We couldn’t see each other point or give knowing looks.

This seemed to be the biggest problem with expressing physical presences of characters and NPCs. A hallway fight with guards seemed to be the biggest communication issue. It was hard to make clear where everyone was standing, the guard that remained around the corner, who moved whereas they attacked… Some of us seemed to have a better mental image than others, but everyone ended up a little confused before it was over.

The game ended in a cliffhanger, our heroes more or less safe but their future was uncertain. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience and (much to my relief) the story. Yet one thing remained clear: We needed more than a voice chat and dice roller.

Early on in our plans, we’d thrown the idea around of using a gaming site that allows you make maps, use character tokens, and a ton of other things. Trying to make this game in the first place was daunting enough. To have to learn an entire system for this site seemed like too much at the time. Also, I was set in my belief that we didn’t need more than dice, paper and pencil, and our imaginations. I still feel that way. But after the issues we had on that first night, the help of a website seemed like a blessing.

I spent the next couple of weeks learning the website and making maps. We didn’t need anything fancy; simply a place to represent character positions and keep the feel of the setting. It took some work, but I got a solid map worked out and I’m feeling good about this next session.

When considering digital versus analog, it’s easier to keep track of stats and many NPCs on a computer. I’m more organized when I’m typing and clicking versus shuffling around papers and pencils. But you definitely lose something when you’re not in the same room together. There’s distinct lack of the human element. That nonverbal communication. A kind of flow that you get into when everyone is into the session.

©Roll20 and Dungeonographer

That said, the internet made our game happen. We brought together a dozen people that otherwise wouldn’t have gamed together. It’s easier to get people together if they don’t have to leave their house. They can stay in their underwear and a headset. Plus, the beer’s cheaper at home and the snacks are tastier. We had players that may never otherwise of had the chance to experience D&D.

Online RPG can’t replace in-person gaming altogether. Yet, it is a workable alternative that keeps the hobby alive when you can’t get together as often. Every single person in that voice chat would’ve rather of been in someone’s living room, face to face. But none of us would’ve traded that night for anything less. It was everything I could’ve hoped for over the first night. The second night looks to be as epic. With some tweaks here and there it’ll be as close as you can get to an in-person game. That feeling of camaraderie and revelry that comes with Dungeons & Dragons.

If you take anything away from this story, let it be this: Find your game. Find your people. Make it happen. It’s possible to bring people together regardless of how many miles separate you. One of the best parts of this game is that it can mold to fit your group, no matter how you bring them together. You might be new or you’ve been gone a while, or know someone who fits those descriptions. Take the leap and do what you have to do to build your party. There are no excuses anymore. Nothing to fear or stop you. Succeed or fail, there’s nothing left to do but try, so… Roll d20.

I’d like to thank everybody who stops to read my little story and the great folks who run the TSR blog for giving me the platform to share it! Until next time, happy reading!

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  1. Christopher Bishop
    Christopher Bishop

    I enjoyed the first offering and the second is even better. I hope you continue to update us as you find new ways to get back into your hobby once again. I definitely have learning curves with technology but roll20 has truly given me a way to game with folks I otherwise would not be able too. I run a pathfinder game for some friends all over the place, mainly because it is my son’s favorite system, I am getting ready to unleash a 5th edition campaign on roll20 in my own world I am building for my DM’s Toolbox article series and I play in hackmaster games here or there online. This includes a kid’s game we run every friday night at the table. I understand the reluctance to leave theater of the mind but you are in correct in your assumption that facial expressions, gestures and visual aids do no good on just voice chat alone. I have just come to realize we live in a visual society these days and the hobby has to evolve in order to stay engaging to those entering it. Besides I always liked using miniatures anyway, and this is just an extension of that.

    1. Avatar
      Loki Lyesmith

      Next time I’ll delve more into Roll20 specifically and the issues I ran into and how I went about fixing them. I’ll definitely need to go into more detail about the tools themselves. Dugeonographer saved me in a lot of ways. It’s basic, not a whole lot of detail, but I think that lends to forcing us to rely on imagination as much as we can. And that appeals to me. I think I have this strange fear that it will end up too video-game-y if you’re not forced to use your imagination in places.

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