Monday, September 14, 2009

Skype May Be the Future of Old School Gaming

Just starting my second online D&D campaign using Skype (and Gametable) for communication purposes as my players brave the jungles of the Isle of Delos. So far so good, even if my older computer causes me to mysteriously drop out on occasion (although I managed to hold on over two hours last session without a drop off, and typically I can immediately hook back up into the chat room).
For those that don't know, Skype is basically phone calling online....or when you have several people, like a giant conference call. You talk into a mic, and the sound comes out of your speakers (and sounds great). Heck, stick a webcam on your computer, and it's like those 1950's era newsreels that showed people talking on futuristic screens to someone else while calling them on the phone....although I think this level of participation isn't usually needed to enjoy a good D&D game online.

My first Skype campaign lasted for quite awhile and was truly a very important milestone in the way I now approach the game, and my hope for the future of old farts like myself that play OOP rule sets (we use a customized version of 2E). Below is a list of some of the reasons why I enjoy using Skype, and why I think it may be the future of old school gaming....

1. It allows gamers from all over the world to get together in one room.....and game.

My game now has a member from Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Canada, and Texas (myself). The odds are incredibly good that we five will NEVER be in the same room together at one time, much less the weekly meetings it would take to run a regular campaign. Gaming with someone stuck overseas (by chance or by choice) becomes a slight obstacle only in the area of different timezones making one player game at 8 pm and the other at noon.

2. It allows you to draw from a larger pool of old school gamers

All of us using OOP rules systems, particularly those of us in out-of-the-way or non-gaming areas, have experienced the pain of attempting to locate a group (more than two) of other gamers who not only play the GAME you want, but the EDITION you are interested in...all within the same area (say, an hour's drive) from where you live. While those of us who play in a large population center like the DFW area are better off, it still took awhile before I was able to locate enough gamers for a face to face group (a group that didn't play 3.5, basically). Using Skype, your pool increases quite a bit. It's especially a godsend for one of our current members (who is stuck in SE Missouri and has looked in vain for months after being relocated for a group to join).

3. It allows you to have a regular time and place to meet

I have a great face to face group, consisting of other old timers who love old school gaming...but due to commitments and distance that needs to be traveled (everyone involved must drive from 15-45 minutes to reach my place) we only meet once a month (if that). Skype allows you, from the comfort of your own home, to meet at a regular time every week because the travel time is nil. So far both of the games I've had using Skype met regularly once a week like clockwork. As a bonus, if the game runs over to say 2 am (as mine have) there are no inner monologues concerning how long it's going to take to drive home, or if you should have that last beer before driving, or if you can game any longer because you have work tomorrow...because as soon as the game ends, you shut off the computer and roll into bed. Less wasted travel time means more time to game....!

4. It allows minimal preparation time

No minis, no maps, no setup...You just turn on the computer, fire up Skype, connect everyone, and start gaming. I keep all my gaming info in a pile on my desk, although a lot of it is also on my computer. Rather than having to print out long descriptive passages, lists of treasure, character sheets, spell descriptions, etc...I can just cut and paste from my files or a pdf and email the player. For my recent game, I scanned in maps of the area and emailed them out to everyone. I also put together character sheets using the old 2E core rules and expansion cd roms, and email those also. For a gaming area we use Gametable, which has a graph paper grid, dice roller, and drop and draggable props like trees, monsters, etc.

While I dearly love using my collection of painted lead minis (some classics from the late 70s), my dwarven forge wall sets, my giant battleboards, piles of snacks and drinks, and my cool looking dice, it's fun to have my preparation time consist of turning on the computer and getting comfortable in my chair.

5. It will allow older gamers to participate no matter what their future lifestyle

My wife and I have toyed with the idea of "Living the RV lifestyle" on occasion, to the point of actually pricing and scoping out different "homes on wheels". I don't know if it's something we would do for a long time, but even a few years could be a crimp in my gaming schedule. Probably not a bunch of RV driving couples out there that have fond memories of their elven warriors tacking B2. Not with would be as easy as finding a wireless connection (which are becoming more and more ubiquitous) to hook up and enjoy your gaming group. Not to mention, as we get older, physical barriers may prevent us from gaming more than we realize. Skype would also be a godsend to the handicapped, bedridden, disabled, and those of us that might retire to more inaccessible locales (say, the hill country or backwoods of Texas) where face to face gaming would be darn near impossible on a weekly basis.

6. Skype is easy to set up and use

I'm a total computer Luddite, and I was able to not only install Skype and us it but instruct others in it's use. all that is required is some sort of microphone (most modern computers have it built in; my older model has a very cheap plug in version that sounds fine) and to download Skype. We use a online gaming client called Gametable (there are may of these, of different types and complexity) which allows me to draw maps on graph paper or roll dice which everyone I'm talking to can see. There's absolutely nothing to's totally intuitive and simple to use, even with a group. There are slight technical snafus every once in awhile, but none have ever proven anything but a minor nuisance.

7. Skype could become a successful way to demonstrate old systems or newer simulacrums

Maybe you meet a bunch of people in a chatroom online that always wanted to play 1E, or OD&D, or B/X D&D, but they have never met a DM with the rulebooks, or anyone else interested in using an OOP system. Maybe you want to run a Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry campaign, but none of your present group (or no one in the area) is even slightly interested. Skype allows you to go online, recruit a few volunteers, and be gaming in mere minutes. This works even better if you have a guilty thrill (say, Gamma world or Star Frontiers) that is really obscure and impossible to find anyone to play except that dude in Australia and the other in Seattle.

I don't know what Skype will look like in the future (or what it will be called), but it's given me a lot of hope for my gaming needs as I get older. I know that whatever happens, as long as I remain in touch with my gaming buddies from the past, or join an online forum like Dragonsfoot or The Acaeum where like minded people meet, I will be able to game online for as long as I can talk. Whether I end up on a ranch in the Panhandle, a nursing home on the coast, or driving across America in an RV, I'll be able to fire up the computer, get online, and game!

Anyone else successful in using Skype to game old school online?


  1. Thanks for sharing your advice and experience. I was wondering about this myself and I might give it a shot with some scattered friends.

  2. We got a group going over Skype. The Blog is:
    We also use Gametable an online service that provides a virtual gaming surface and dice rolling. Some of us have had trouble with the newest version so an older edition is being tried.
    Other than a wonky mic with one of the players it has worked well. Although, the lack of visual cues does cause some problems; for one thing the DM doesn't has less feedback to see if we understand something or are enjoying it. The first session I played in, with several other firsties we were talking over each other constantly. The second, long silences as everyone was trying to give everyone else a chance to speak. But all in all it works well.

    I do wonder how well we'd get along if we actually played in person. Only 2 or 3 actually knnow each other in the real world. Try it. It's better than not gaming...and I'm not trying to damn with faint praise here.

  3. You'll get used to the talking/silence thing after awhile when you become used to each other's speech patterns. Gametable, for me, seems to be an easy choice for an online gaming platform, although at this point I'm getting a little antsy for a few more bells and whistles. My major problem seems to be dropping out at intervals, and since it's only happening to me, I'm afraid it's my old, out of shape computer that's the culprit. But yeh, as you said, it's better than not gaming, and can often be quite a bit better! We are into our 4th session with my new group, and we are having a ball (check for our campaign so far)

  4. Have you looked into Traipse Openrpg?

    It is a computer-assisted role-playing game application that allows people to play role-playing games in real-time over the internet with a virtual table, dice rolling ability, and text chat all combined.
    Traipse OpenRPG is free open source software, distributed under GNU/GPL license.Traipse OpenRPG is developed with the Python programming language, with the wxPython graphical library. It runs on Microsoft Windows, most versions of Linux, FreeBSD, and Mac OS 10.2 and up. New versions are being constantly worked on.

    Some of the developers hang out at Mayhem_Gaming forums.

  5. Hmmm...sounds like a great idea for those of us who don't seem to be able to link up with gamers in our neck of the woods.

    However, since most of the gamers I find via my blog are in the US, I don't think it would work for someone in Merrie England.

    Now I just need to find me some limeys with Skype....