Historically, pandemics are a part of the human experience, and, at least from a storytelling perspective, they can significantly contribute to plot lines and settings. However, when you - and not your character - are forced into social isolation or quarantine, it can be kind of difficult to keep your tabletop RPGs going-- especially when you're used to meeting in person.
But never fear-- some of the greatest works of literature came about when their authors were stuck indoors. Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine from the Black Plague; Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein while the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia blocked out sunlight and lowered temperatures in Europe, forcing many indoors. You, too, can seize this opportunity to partake in your creative outlet by finding remote RPGs to join while in social isolation.
Find a Remote RPG Group
Do you have too much time available? Need a new group to play with? The subreddit r/lfg is a great place to start. In fact, it's covered with people looking for exactly that right now.
There are also plenty of sites like nearbygamers a short Google search away. You can even find groups through Meetup.com-- find your local gaming group (try board gaming if you can't find an RPG one) and shoot out a message. Chances are, there's someone out there with time on their hands willing to start a game online and then move into in-person once social isolation is no longer required.
How to Play Tabletop RPGs Online
Roll20 has long ruled the online RPG world. While it has got its advantages, it isn't the only place out there for you to cast some virtual magic missiles.
If you want a purely chat-based experience, try Fabletop. I find it a little more user-friendly than Roll20, and the graphics are more streamlined as well.
However, if you're one of those people who don't really need a hex/square mapping interface, a simple chat program will suit you just fine. Google Hangouts is a great option because it offers the ability to use extensions-- including a Roll20 extension. You can also roll dice.
The modding community for Google Hangouts is quite superior. I was impressed to see that some enterprising modder managed to program proper Edge of the Empire dice into Google Hangouts.
You can also use a call in Facebook Messenger if you're Facebook friends with your murder squad. When a friend was recently struggling with Google Hangouts, we made concession to hop into Facebook Messenger and found it to be handy. No dice rollers though.
I recently heard of YARPS, too.
Of course, there's always Discord or, ugh, Skype.
Don't use Skype.
Some Challenges Unique to Remote RPGs
Every form of roleplaying has its challenges. During in-person, of course, you have to share your snacks. Playing Remote RPGs have their own unique set of problems. Here are some of them so you can be prepared:
- Internet issues - With everyone and their mother working from home currently, the Internet might be a little slow. If you are experiencing lag, turn off your camera. That should free up the bandwidth enough for you to stay up to speed.
- Sound problems - Again, bandwidth might be problematic. If you are using Skype and having trouble hearing your companions, switch to Google Hangouts. Or vice versa. Just because one program isn't working for you doesn't mean they all won't.
- Staying focused - When they have the power of the whole Internet before them, some RPGers have trouble keeping a solid focus. You may turn and ask Tharg the Barbarian how he plans to attack, only to discover he's looking up memes on Reddit. To encourage everyone to focus, have them take notes by hand. Handwriting takes longer than typing (typically), and they can doodle even when they aren't writing.
- Interruptions from family - Got a kiddo climbing all over you and screaming for attention? How about a dog who desperately wants a walk (even though you JUST TOOK HIM)? Make sure you are taking enough breaks to entertain your family members, but also don't be afraid to shut yourself away somewhere they can't reach you. During this time of constant company, we as humans still very much need some time to indulge in our favorite activities. You aren't being rude if you ask your boyfriend or girlfriend to entertain themselves for a couple of hours while you play your game.
- Overindulging - When you don't have to drive home after a gaming session, it can be a bit easy to overindulge in your favorite adult beverage. While we always recommend drinking while playing (if you so desire), it may quickly lose its fun for your companions if you get a little too sloppy. If you're a GM, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your players. If you sense they're getting out of hand, don't be afraid to call it and have a one-on-one conversation with them later about keeping their head in the game.
- Scheduling - Ah, the bane of RPGers everywhere. There's an entirely different set of issues when it comes to scheduling an online game. For instance, people may think they are available just because they know they're already going to be home, only to find out their spouse has other ideas for that home alone time. I've been in many online RPGs, thinking it was a good time to play, only to see a resentful partner off-camera, asking their player, 'When are you guys done?' Make sure all players clear their schedules with their families, roommates, and significant others.
Final Thoughts About Remote RPGs
Despite all the probable challenges, remote RPGs can be very worth the effort. As someone who has moved around the country a lot, getting to play with friends who are thousands of miles away has been an absolute blessing.
And in times like these, we still need tabletop games. They exemplify the most beautiful parts of being a human: the desire to tell stories, our need to engage with friends and family, and our ability to solve problems.
If you are feeling down in the dumps about being socially isolated, seek out some friends and start a game online.
Have you played online before? What has been your favorite online game? Tell us all the juicy details!