Gaming on a Budget: Long-distance Roleplaying

No I said Selleck, not Stelek…geez

 As one gets older, one is faced with a seemingly endless stream of bullshit.  Do I really need new brakes for my car?  How do groceries disappear so quickly?  Where have all of my friends moved?

And that latter dilemma is the one we’ll be concerned with today.  What happens when you’ve got a regular game night going and all of your friends begin to move away?  You’ll probably miss playing pretty soon.  It’s time to try and hook up a long-distance game.

If you were playing a tabletop wargame, odds are the fine folks at Vassal has probably got some kind of emulator for you, legal or otherwise.  What if it’s a roleplaying game?  Well, then it’s time to improvise. 

Now if you’re old enough, like myself, your first line of thinking to try and get a game together with your friends that transcends location might look something like this:


I hope you’ve received this letter in good health.  I have secured the capital funding necessary to obtain a conference call line for use in our roleplaying sessions.  Unfortunately, we could not afford a toll free number, so it will be a long distance call for everyone.  To move things along quickly, I suggest cutting chatter to a minimum and only using the conference line for emergencies.  All other communication will occur via Morse Code. 

I trust you have also gotten the marvelous machine that I’ve sent along with this letter.  Maps and other diagrams will now be sent via Telex.  What a world we live in.  To think we can now send and receive documents at the speed of the phone line.

Look forward to our sessions.

Your humble,

No, I have to wash my hair tonight, but thank you for telephoning

Okay, well that was wholly unnecessary, but does make something of a point- back in the dark ages, trying to organize a game over long distances with friends could be quite difficult and costly. So what’s a girl to do?

Well, when faced with this exact problem a few years ago, my friends and I put on our thinking caps and came up with a pretty workable system to get in a weekly game of Shadowrun over the Internet.  Lauby used his reference Librarian: the Internet 6(7) skill to find the technologies that we’d need to get it done.  Now I’m passing the savings on to you. 

The tools you’ll need to get your friends together for a virtual, remote game night are all remarkably simple to operate and, better yet, free to use!  Seriously, other than the books you’ll need for your particular game, and I must stress that the more people that have the books, the better, none of this shit will cost you a dime.  So here is a list of things, other than books (and please don’t illegally download these, it hurts game designers) that you’ll need for a roleplaying night long-distance and on a budget:

  • VoIP Access- Hearing your buddies is probably important right?  Well if you have a computer and a headset there are any number of ways to achieve this over the net.  Lauby already had a Ventrilo server account, so all everyone else had to do was download the client version for free.  Ventrilo does cost money if you have enough users, but I believe that you can host up to 5 clients for free, and you probably wouldn’t want too many more players for an on-line roleplaying game.  Ventrilo is quite stable and clear, if slightly hard to set up, but there are a host of other options depending on your preference.  Skype is always a good choice and I’m sure a quick Google search will find you dozens more.  Above all make sure you’ve got some kind of radio discipline worked out to avoid people talking over each other.  This is hard enough to deal with in person, but becomes even more obnoxious when you can’t see who’s talking (unless you also happen to be using a web cam).
  • Chat Program–  sending secret notes is both necessary and hilarious.  Any good chat program will work just fine for this, but I’d also recommend one such as Google Talk that allows sending of files as well.  (In hindsight, it looks like VoIP and Chat are easily combined into just Google talk now, so things may be even easier with fewer programs). Just make sure that players don’t spend all their time passing cat videos back and forth.  It can get distracting.  I know when I shared this clip, we lost a good 20 minutes so to assorted silliness. 
  • Dice Roller– unless your GM/DM is dumb enough to rely on the honor system, a dice rolling program that everyone can see is most helpful. is a good free site for this.  It allows you to create a private room (using “dice room”) and will, using a random number generator, allow for the use of any size die you need to be rolled.  It will even figure out successes and the like, using built in coding to allow for target numbers.  Better yet, it even lets you figure success in Shadowrun out!  I’m even told that the program is more stable than it used to be, so it should be pretty much good to go.
  • Whiteboard- the last thing you’re going to need is an online whiteboard.  It is often necessary to send maps and diagrams to players to show movement, or make the indescribable describable in less than 1,000 words using a picture.  Scriblink is a nice free site that will allow you to share drawrings with everyone.  Once somebody has created a board to host, he only needs to send all the other members of the party a unique URL.  This is easily done with whatever chat program you happen to be using.

That’s that.  You should now be equipped for a night on online pen and paper roleplaying.  If you’ve got any other tips to share for this sort of venture (better software, additional things you may need for some games, etc drop us a line in the comments).

and now you’re all…

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