RPGs during COVID-19

My hobby, as anyone looking at this blog likely knows, is playing roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons and GURPS. A game, however, usually involves a few hours of face-to-face time around a table with far less than six feet of separation between people.

Our last face-to-face game at the cabin on March 14 (on the cusp of Minnesota’s social distancing order).

After social distancing, most gaming has moved online. Last summer I tried using MapTool with some of my former players in California. It was ok, but required software installation and had some confusing elements. The lack of video chat made us all feel somewhat distant from each other.

After COVID struck, I decided to try Roll20, which is one of the most popular current platforms. A major advantage is that it is browser-based, so nobody has to install software or manage port forwarding. We found the built-in A/V to be buggy, so we switched to Zoom for video chat.

Here’s what it looked like at our most recent game:

Roll20 screenshot from our last session. Managing all of the graphical assets requires quite a bit of prep work, but it can create a fairly immersive visual experience.
We manage A/V through Zoom on a second window (or screen, for some).

We’ve all found it to be acceptable but not nearly as much fun as getting together in person.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to try another type of socially-distanced gaming. Some good friends of ours who live a few blocks away have been wanting to learn how to play a roleplaying game for some time. They asked me if I would be willing to run a family game for them, along with Griffin and Maggie. Just as we were discussing a date to get together, the social lockdown began. We had an initial video chat to discuss how to build characters, but it felt like running an actual game on Roll20 would be difficult. So we improvised. Griffin, Maggie, and I set up on the front porch of our neighbor’s house. Our friends sat in their living room, with more than six feet of separation. It worked, though the guy who mowed his lawn across the street might have the loudest lawnmower I’ve ever heard.

View of our first in-person but socially distanced game on May 16. I was GMing from the porch with Maggie and Griffin.

The game featured the following motley crew:

  • Alora — Gnome Bard (Isa)
  • HeathStar — Human Scout (Adam)
  • Iris — Elf Druid (Satya)
  • Melia — Faerie Dragon Wizard (Maggie)
  • Meow Meow — Cat-Folk Martial Artist (Megan)
  • Sir Yvor Gryffyn — Human Knight (Griffin)

I’m not sure how things will unfold in the coming months. The porch worked well enough that I think we’ll stick with that idea for the family game. It only makes sense, though, for two households. My main group consists of seven separate households, so I can’t think of a configuration that works in-person. We’ll probably stick with Roll20 until social distance rules are further relaxed.

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