Probably Bad Lockdown

Welcome to the Probably Bad Lockdown special. We’re supported by listeners on Patreon. Thanks to Hedwig for their support. vocalises opening music

Pencil: Hello, and welcome to the Probably Bad Podcast, a podcast which is definitely bad. I’m Pencil
Paper: I’m Paper. And today we have a special episode because the world is also probably bad right now and a lot of people are being forced to move their games online, so we have summoned questions from near and far about how the heck do you online play RPGs in the first place
Pencil: We will try and include at least three or four jokes in this but this is a slightly more serious episode of Probably Bad RPG Ideas because the world is ending
Paper: We will be giving actual advice. And our first request for actual advice comes from many people, who want to know the best and worst platforms for talking to each other while using things like roll20, and I mean personally I just always use Discord?
Pencil: Yeah like, I, I have been basically only doing online games for the last few years and I think it’s the same with Paper
Paper: Pretty much
Pencil: Yeah Discord is just designed to do RPGs and, yeah it works pretty well. Personally whenever I try to use it it malfunctions in some way but I believe that’s a curse on me rather than something more general
Paper: Yeah the only time I have issues with Discord is when it’s talking to Pencil so I think it is just Pencil is cursed in some way
Pencil: I have had points where the microphone specifically refused to pick up my voice and would pick up everyone else’s voice fine but wouldn’t pick up my voice when it was put in front of my face. Some kind of magic spell
Paper: Yeah Discord’s also useful just, now that they’ve got video chat it is just objectively better than Skype
Pencil: Yeah
Paper: But also I like that there’s multiple text channels so that you can have like, a channel that’s just for say resources or I think we have a last time on channel in our game’s Discord server so that we can like summarise what happened because people don’t always remember to write things down and the human mind is fallible
Pencil: And yeah you can do that with multiple voice channels if say you want to have say a political game where you keep things secret from certain players and some other things
Paper: Although like, there’s all the usual ones, but I have been wondering if it would be possible to play over Zoom
Pencil: Zoom? I am apparently old
Paper: Oh no, you’re just not a student. Zoom is what online lectures are being done on, but I quite like the idea of it for an RPG, especially because we’ve had a question from, I think this is pronounced “theirs”, according to the internet, I might be wrong, my apologies if I am, asking about sort of, making sure that you know when someone’s trying to talk, ’cause that can be quite difficult, especially with a larger group. Zoom has a feature where you can put your hand up. You can just raise your hand and wait to be asked, and I think that that would be incredibly useful in a larger group, just to be like “hi DM, I wanna do something”
Pencil: So essentially a D&D lecture
Paper: Well yeah
Pencil: Yeah
Paper: I just think that the ability to raise your hand while playing with a large group of people is difficult to overstate
Pencil: Yeah especially if you can’t, yeah especially if it’s all online so it’s not necessarily easy to pick up whether someone’s about to talk or not
Paper: Yeah especially if you’re internet’s not good or the bandwidth is being used up or you’re only using audio
Pencil: Yeah
Paper: ’cause that way the DM will get a little notification. If you’re using video you could just actually put your hand up
Pencil: Yeah. Speaking of which in terms of using video to role-play, Skype is just not very good. You probably know this but just in case you don’t, Skype is not very good
Paper: Just in life Skype is not very good
Pencil: I think the main issue is going to be people are going to be video calling a lot more than they have been in the past, for obvious reasons, and it is best to keep that in mind, that a lot of the big video, a lot of the big video-calling sites will be under a lot more pressure
Paper: You know the deeper we get this question the more I’m on the side of actually using Zoom for D&D
Pencil: As I said, I don’t know anything about Zoom, so I will just take your word for it
Paper: It’s free, video is optional, and you can put your hand up. I’m just saying it might not be the worst idea. Which does lead into our next question actually, which is from an anonymous person, “what do you think the advantages are for video versus just using audio
Pencil: So yeah like the main advantage of video, which is an important advantage, is that it feels more social. It feels more social to see someone talking than it is to hear someone’s voice coming from a microphone, so, so I think it probably is worth using video sometimes if like, if like me role playing games are one of your main sources of social interaction
Paper: Yeah I do think it makes a big difference just seeing a face
Pencil: Yeah
Paper: Because the thing is, we are social animals, and just having that indication that there’s a person there rather than just a disembodied voice makes such a difference
Pencil: Yeah. I feel like I should make some kind of whimsical noise here because the tone is getting increasingly serious. Doodley-dooley-doo!
Paper: Also you can pull faces at your DM. Or raise your hand!
Pencil: Yeah, in terms of like, it’s probably easier to communicate if you can see the other person, and if you’re using pre-made adventures it can be easier to just hold up the book or in some other way give indications that-wise. Audio obviously the advantage is it requires less wavelength. Wavelength?
Both: Bandwidth
Pencil: It gets closer to gamma radiation. Yeah it requires less bandwidth, it…like that is the main thing with audio. Which, you know, is a thing, especially if online conversation does become a lot more common
Paper: I guess technically video is closer to gamma radiation than audio because gamma radiation is technically a form of light
Pencil: Yeah?
Paper: So you’ll be slightly less radioactive if you just use audio is…pulling from my vague memories of GCSE physics
Pencil: Like, I did A-level physics but I did really bad at it so I don’t know how much more useful I will be. But anyway the point is radiation is probably not the most important factor here
Paper: If you’re already hiding from illness I don’t recommend radiation poisoning
Pencil: You heard it here first folks. Yeah I think, I think I would recommend doing mostly audio, but I would recommend doing mostly video just for psychological health reasons
Paper: Yeah
Pencil: Like maybe for like finales or starting sessions or those kind of bigger ones
Paper: And this does tie into I think Sydney’s question about sort of sharing battle maps and things like that. ‘Cause one thing that we do sometimes is basically open up a map on something like firealpaca or just a basic drawing programme, or you could open it up on roll20 if you’re not like me and you actually like roll20, and you can just screenshare that. I know Skype and Discord have this feature I think, I keep going back to it but I’m pretty sure Zoom does as well. I just really like Zoom! So that’s a good way of easily showing the maps and if you move, you know, you move the characters around and your players are gonna see it in real time
Pencil: But yeah…
Paper: But Sydney’s also asked about creating “vivid word paintings”. Any advice on that Pencil?
Pencil: So I think…so one of the problems with online things, especially if you’re just going audio is if I give a long three minute discussion- description of the room you’re in, you’re likely to start zoning out. Just because there isn’t the obvious stimulus you’d get of being in a room with your friends, so I think in terms of just describing things online, firstly it’s important to sort of gloss over some of the more mundane details, like if you say “you find yourself in a park” it’s probably easier to just assume people know what a park is, and if there’s anything that’s specifically important, bring that up, but it’s easier to just go “yeah you’re in a park” than go into a long discussion of every detail of the park, just anything unusual. In terms of set pieces, again, it’s easier to be kind of like, more succinct? But like, so, if you have, I dunno, a swirling void with voices echoing from it, like, it’s probably again best not to go into too much detail. So essentially what I’m saying is it’s a lot harder to kind of paint these vivid word pictures online, just because there’s a lot less of the…it’s a lot more boring-to be blunt-to sit and watch a recording say of a description of a thing than it is to have your friend in the same room say a thing. So, don’t like, you know, completely abandon all detail, just be like “you’re in a location” and leave it at that but it’s possibly more…it’s possibly important to get the basics down and get people aware of what’s in the room they can start acting, more so than it might be in a face-to-face RPG
Paper: Yeah, and I mean you’ll probably find that it’s not that dissimilar to playing face-to-face like, say you have the classic story start of “your characters are in a tavern”, you’re unlikely to describe all the details of the tavern, you’re just going to say they’re in one and they’re gonna know like, ok, there’s a bar, there’s a barkeeper, there’s tables, there’s chairs, there’s customers, moving on
Pencil: Yeah, mention things that are important, maybe mention some things for flavour like maybe what the bartender’s doing, or what’s on tables but yeah generally don’t go too overboard in the description
Paper: Yeah, which, I think, I feel like I’m doing a good job tying all these questions together
Pencil: Yeah
Paper: We’ve had one from Bruin-Coll, who I think has submitted before, so thank you for your repeat business. “Many RPGs work best with, if not require, maps and minis for distance etc, what are your favourite games that are purely theatre of the mind?”
Pencil: I feel, I kind of want to try theatre of the mind warhammer 40k. It’s completely unworkable, but I want to try it
Paper: That is…the worst RPG idea
Pencil: But yes, in terms of actual, I’ll be honest, I haven’t really…so the main game I’m playing at the moment is Mutants and Masterminds, and that has a lot of specific distances for powers but I haven’t used…I’ve done an entirely theatre of the mind thing for the entire campaign and it’s generally worked out fairly well?
Paper: Yeah I think a lot of the things with distances is not everyone needs to know? The DM just needs to occasionally say “you’re gonna catch this character in your area effect if you do that do you still want to do it?” and things like that
Pencil: Yeah I think, yeah I think generally if you have a rough idea of how much 30 feet is, it’s usually fairly intuitive whether something is within 30 feet of you just from the description
Paper: But then there are also a lot of games where you just, you just don’t really need to know distances at all, like, like something like World of Darkness where it’s a lot more cinematic. It doesn’t really matter as much, you’re kind of near each other or you’re not and that’s it
Pencil: Yeah World of Darkness is like the big one for RPGs which are entirely theatre of the mind so, and obviously there is a bizarrely high amount of stammers information and stammers
Paper: You can do that with no visual references and still have a ridiculous and excellent time
Pencil: In terms of specific RPGs that I would like to try and am hopefully going to try, golden Sky Stories, which is a game where you play adorable magical animals who try and help children and villagers with their minor life problems, is like I said it’s one I want to play, and that obviously doesn’t require any tactical stuff because there’s no combat, so if you look into more like, noncombatitive games
Paper: Or at least low combat
Pencil: Yeah, shock, which is a scifi world building game, and those kinds of things so, yeah, I think if you, sorry, need to sneeze. sneezes Yes, maybe it’s partly that I’m not a huge fan of combat anyway but I think that, if you can’t have a map, and there are ways to have a map online, as we mentioned, but if you can’t have a map it’s possible a good idea to look into more non-combative role playing games
Paper: Yeah, and I mean that doesn’t have to be the sort of less well known ones, like there’s relatively well known ones, like FATE and monster of the Week are very much, it’s up to the person running the game how high-combat, high-, how specific-distances the game actually end up being
Pencil: Or play Nobilis and just rely on the assumption that nobody else knows the rules either so who cares. Right, what is the next question?
Paper: I believe we only have one, which breaks the chain a little bit I can’t think of a direct tie-in for it, that we’ve had from a lot of people, is how to keep people engaged, especially with a larger group, because I feel like this is a real issue, especially in combat or if you’ve got an important scene with one or two characters everyone else can kind of, zone out
Pencil: Like, it’s going to sound a bit childish, but one of the things I’ve been trying to do and I think works is essentially in scenes people…have people take turns like initiative, so it’s like “you meet the big bad for negotiation, Steve do you want to do something, Ellie do you want to do something” like that? Yeah it can be a bit, it can, it sounds childish but like, I feel it’s better than having one person say – one person just do everything, especially because yeah online it’s much easier to talk over people, because it’s much harder to know when someone’s going to say, when someone’s going to speak
Paper: Definitely. Unless you use Zoom, and then you can put your hands up
Pencil: I mean this is essentially a more basic version of using Zoom and putting your hands up
Paper: Although I guess you could put your hand up on discord you could agree an emoji that if you post that it means you want to do something
Pencil: That’s actually a good idea you have a “if you post this it’s you want to do something”
Paper: There is a hand emoji
Pencil: Yeah you could do something similar on skype so like if I post this it means I want to do something please don’t interrupt me
Paper: But also like if you want to do a, if you want to do a one-on-one scene with someone, like they’re having a confrontation or like a dream sequence or something, have another voice channel if you’re using something like Discord that people can jump into and just like chat in character while you’re doing whatever you’re doing, because that helps to develop the roleplaying as well, which can be a really hard thing to get into when you’re playing remotely because you can start to feel a bit silly just roleplaying by yourself in a room
Pencil: Yeah and I meant that’s another advantage of video calling is that kind of thing. Yeah so my Mutants and Masterminds group split the party quite often, this has just become a roast session, and I think so in terms of that because it is quite likely to happen, especially with a large group, it is important to, not to spend too much time, make sure that everyone has something they’re doing. So I would generally advise against something like two of you go on a mission and two of you sit at home and eat icecream, for a number of reasons. But yeah make sure that everyone has something that they can be doing, and make sure that you cut between people often. It’s fairly similar to like, face-to-face but at the same trips over words sorry I don’t know why I can’t speak today
Paper: It’s fine, there’s a lot of emotions
Pencil: Same as face-to-face but it’s more important here because, as Paper said, it’s easy to feel silly sitting in a room saying you’re an orc by yourself
Paper: I’m wondering if it would help with the role-play if you had video on and you all just dressed up? You could do like closet cosplays, like “here’s a brown shirt, this is my leather armour” put on, cover my face in green eyeshadow and pretend I’m an orc
Pencil: Like, because it’s probably easier to use music if it’s an online thing, because you won’t have to bother bringing in speakers and stuff you can just, you all have computers
Paper: If you tie your Spotify to Discord you can share what you’re listening to
Pencil: And I feel that might be a useful thing for like, staying in character, if you just have like, you know, relevant songs, and yeah. One of the, if it is ok if I go off on a bit of a tangent
Paper: I mean that was the last question we’ve got so…
Pencil: Okay. One of the things with online roleplaying which isn’t necessarily good or bad, but worth knowing, is because of chats and stuff, it is easy for like, silliness to happen. Silliness to happen makes me sound like a disaffected old man yelling at a cloud, but it’s easy for people to like, post memes and whathaveyou in the chat and stuff
Paper: Oh yeah reaction memes. We use so many reaction images in our games
Pencil: We do. I mean this might just be us, you might be sitting there going “what, no, I would never post the carcrash evolved man in a post”, you should look up the carcrash evolved man, he’s hideous, his name’s Greg, but…
Paper: I love Graham
Pencil: Graham, but yeah just essentially, it’s not necessarily bad if you are in a game with that thing but what I’m saying is, if you want a serious game, it’s best to be upfront with that, ’cause it’s very easy – due to a combination of you’re not there, you’re sort of looking at a screen, and the fact that you can post silly things while still playing – for that to happen, so if you want an actual serious game, it is best to inform people beforehand
Paper: Yeah I mean I feel it’s best to agree on tone in advance anyway, but especially in this sort of situation where it’s…it’s gonna derail a lot faster if you let it
Pencil: Yeah and then people can post angsty memes instead
Paper: Angsty memes for disaffected teens. That’s probably a facebook page
Pencil: Probably several. You can tell I’m playing World of Darkness because I just post black and white images of sad vampires in the chat. There we go we’ve caught up to the humour, humour bar for this to be a probably bad RPG idea podcast
Paper: So, we wanna thank everyone for sending questions and just, just for listening. I feel like we’re all keeping each other company right now
Pencil: Yeah stay safe everyone
Paper: So, if you have a question for our next normal episode, which should be up on the 5th of, the 1st of April, sorry, appropriately, because we are fools, you can send us a message on tumblr at probablybadrpgideas, on twitter at badprobably, or you can email If you appreciate us doing this and want to support us financially we have a patreon, probablybadrpgideas, where you can get bonus episodes and homebrew content, as well as access to the probablybad server, or you can just leave us a review or a rating or whatever they call it on wherever you’re listening to us and, you know what, wash your hands and have a lovely day

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