Friday, August 19, 2005

Stardate 59631.61 - On-Line Game Table for D&D

OK, so if Outlook is running and Word is the editor for Outlook, then the Blogger tool for Word doesn’t work. Good to know.

We tried to have our weekly D&D game last night. It is getting harder and harder to get everyone together for a game. With me living in NYC, Brian on travel, Andy’s distance to Ashburn, and Trent’s new baby it is really difficult to get 100% attendance for a game. So it looks like most of our games in the future will need to be virtual.

Here is a little history…we used to play at my house in Vienna, VA when my wife and I lived down there. We had “in-person” games all the time…it was the only type of game we had. Once my wife and I moved to NYC, I turned over the game to Trent, and I only played when I happened to be back in town on business. After a year, Trent asked if I could take back over and if we could figure out a way to do the games on-line. We used NetMeeting (it was free) and I purchased a camera. So the group got together in VA (usually at Trent’s) and I pointed the camera at the battle mat and they crowded around the laptop to see what was happening in the battles. The sound was crappy, I had to wear a headset, and sometimes it was tough to get the proper perspective on things, but it worked for the short- to medium-term. Later, I purchased the program Screen Monkey and no longer used the video portion of NetMeeting, but we still used the audio portion or sometimes the phone if we got really angry at NetMeeting. We tried to use Microsoft’s IM tool for audio, but we had some intermittent issues.

Near the end of the year last year (2004), I decided I needed a break from running the games. Except for the year Trent ran things (and I ran a game in NYC), I had been DMing games since 1997 pretty much every week. I needed a break and asked Rick (who joined as a member a year ago to replace Eric who had dropped out) to take over.

Now we are in the situation where we just cannot get everyone together anymore, and we need to move to on-line full-time. Thank goodness for Skype. Great tool for audio over the Internet. Works really, really well even in conference mode. Blows the audio for NetMeeting out of the water. We’ve been using Skype not for a while, and it is our audio tool of choice.

Last night, we tried to use Skype and NetMeeting with video to show the battle mat while Rick tries to figure out what on-line tools he wants to use. It was a disaster. NetMeeting was awful…I was the only one who could connect to Trent and see the video. Once, Brian tried to connect to Trent’s IP and I got the approval dialog box! Total crap. So here is a brief e-mail traffic on what we are going to do, and it contains links to some alternative programs that you can investigate if you are looking for an on-line gaming table solution. These are my opinions, and I am not a reviewer, nor have I performed any in-depth analysis of any of these products. For what it is worth, here are my thoughts as expressed in an e-mail to the group, in answer to a message from Rick (also included):

Actually, I know that Trent was probably pissed at having to give up his free night just to screw around with the technology, but I think it was actually useful to have all of us on the line so we could talk about what works and what doesn’t and what we would like to see in a utility. What we learned:

  • NetMeeting blows big chunks of vomit.
  • Skype has excellent sound quality…much better than anything else we have ever used.
  • Fantasy Grounds is cheap, the graphics are top-notch, and even with Brian’s slow connection speed was good. It does peg the CPU.

I agree that we just need mapping and comms at the most basic level, although I do like a lot of the features we ran through with Fantasy Grounds last night in the demo copy.

My thoughts on others:

  • KloogWerks – This is really a combat system. I experimented with it and while it is cool and it looks good it tracks way more stuff then we would want (I expect). It tracks initiative, distances to target, etc. You have to input all your character data and it does all the rolls, manages all the HP automatically, assigns damage, etc. I think it is more than we want/need.
  • OpenRPG – I downloaded this once, but never got around to really looking at it. It does require a lot of other free software to work, as I recall.
  • Screenmonkey – This suited our needs, except when I loaded in a big map. Not sure if 1.5 is any better than what I had been using. Advantage here is cheap and easy to use (not a ton of features, but it worked well for us in the past, I thought).
  • Fantasy Grounds – The reviews were very positive that Rick sent out. I also watched (skimmed) the video – he talks briefly about getting other tokens. I really think this program is pretty cool.

I really, really liked Fantasy Grounds. I guess I would vote for it first, and Screenmonkey second. But Rick would have more prep work with Fantasy Grounds, I think. But the advantage of Fantasy Grounds is that if we don’t like a feature we just don’t use it. With Screenmonkey if we decide we want a specific feature we’re probably screwed. And Fantasy Grounds really looks cool.


From: Rick
Sent: Thursday, August 18, 2005 23:39
Subject: electronic gaming...

ok - so I was all prepared for a great session and netmeeting really let me down.

I think the conclusion we've come to is this group for the time being is going electronic - brian's in bfe, andy's locked into dc traffic, curt's in new york, and trent's a bit tied up. So virtual tabletop is the solution. I'll miss the pizza and beer/pop.

We played around with fantasy grounds - I've heard good things about it and it looked fairly simple to use in our playing around tonight. Price is $20 for the client. There's also ghostorb which looks pretty sophisticated and is a service at $4.50 a month (currently free, but supposedly about to come out of beta any day).

At the most basic level our needs are:

a) mapping
b) communication

Fantasy grounds offers mapping and text communication. GhostOrb offers mapping, voice, and text communication. Skype offers voice communication.

Just taking a look at other forums...

KloogWerks - looks cool - one word - java

OpenRPG - free - one word - opensource

Screenmonkey has "upgraded" to v1.5 -
benefits as I see it is that the only thing you need is a web browser and a connection to the internet. The "lite" version is free and pretty well featured. Also now offers window chat capabilities, so in theory if we are having difficulties with internet voice communications we can be text based communication.

At first look I'm inclined to test out and dig into screenmonkey and fantasy grounds. Any other thoughts?


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