Remote Role Playing



Remote Role Playing is growing in popularity these days as advances in technology make it increasingly easy (and convenient) to do traditional pen and paper role playing without having to get everybody together in one place.  In our case half our group moved to the other end of the country mid-campaign and we were forced to investigate the feasibility of doing it remotely instead.

The minimum you will need to do RRP is:

You might also find the following useful:

General Advice

Here are some bits and pieces of advice based on my own experiences:

  • Learn how to do it before trying it for real
    It is best if the GM and one experienced player run a dummy session before trying it for real with a full complement of players.  This gives both sides a chance to learn the tools from both perspectives and means that when it comes to doing the first real session it will go a lot smoother and you’ll have a player who can give advice and assistance to the other players.  This is really useful as GMs and players will use the tool’s features differently.
  • Test everything works before the first session
    To minimise mucking about during the first session make sure your players install and test the tools as early as possible.  Ideally prepare a short guide with links to the download pages for any tools you want to use and some basic instructions on how to get the tools up and running and connected to the GMs IP address. This will require the GMs assistance to run up servers for them to connect to – if feasible they can always just leave these servers running on their machines for a few days until everybody has had a chance to test.  You might think this is unnecessary overkill but I can tell you from experience that even the simplest seeming tools can cause problems and you don’t want half your players getting bored and frustrated while you try and troubleshoot someone else’s technical problem, wasting precious gaming hours.
  • Make sure your group is committed
    This advice mostly applies to groups containing one or more strangers, e.g. you’ve gathered people from online meeting places like the members of the Lonely Gamer Network (at time of writing there are 2 - Pen and Paper Games and Obsidian Portal) or the Tangled Web.  GMs put a huge amount of effort into preparing and running campaigns, so it’s pretty frustrating for them to see players disappearing after one or two sessions.  To combat this I would strongly advise waiting until your group is stable before introducing any plot elements to your campaign which are going to be messed up if one of your players suddenly leaves.  Basically try and stick to the introductory, simple stuff, or maybe some pre-prepared dungeon crawls until you have a good idea that all your players are going to stick around. If you want to try a pre-prepared campaign there are some MapTool campaigns here (linked from this forum on RPTools) and loads of general RPG campaigns in the RPG Archive.

Shared Map/Game Table

The two major choices here are OpenRPG and MapTool, but the one we settled on was the excellent MapTool. Utilitarian name but don’t let that put you off – it’s a great bit of software which can (optionally) do some very complicated stuff if you want it to.  It allows the GM and players to move tokens around on a board with a bitmap background, and is very easy for players to use.  The GM has more to learn, as they will be creating the content for the players to explore, but you can start simple and start using the more complicated features as you gain familiarity.  It’s open source, seems to be actively developed and has a lot of features:

  • You move tokens around by clicking and dragging with the mouse.  While you’re holding the mouse down it tells you how far the token has been moved from where it started – really useful.  You can even move in non-straight lines (e.g. down a corridor and round some corners) by pressing space at the places you want to change direction to add a way point that your tokens route will be forced to go through.
  • Point things on the map out to other players by simply pointing with the mouse and holding the space bar down – it displays your user name with an arrow at that position so the players can see exactly where you mean.
  • Light sources – assign variable strength light sources to player tokens so only the illuminated areas are visible.  Note that it also handles supernatural vision such as darkvision which acts like a light source that only the owner benefits from.
  • “Fog of war” – the map is automatically revealed to the players as they explore.  This is incredibly useful and is one area where RRP really shines – no more twiddling thumbs while your GM draws in the next bit of map, adds monsters, etc.  Players can explore the map much more naturally without having the flow interrupted constantly for map updates.
  • Line of sight for players – add vision blocking information to your map’s walls and players can’t see round corners.
  • Assign bars to tokens for health etc.
  • Add extra overlays to your tokens to indicate states such as prone, held, hasted, slowed, etc.

If you would like to see MapTool in action check out this video demo, the tutorial videos, or some YouTube videos. There are also some Open RPG videos on there.

Rolling Dice

Obviously I recommend Bone Shaker for this – when we started we looked for something that would give us a reasonable approximation of physically rolling dice in a networked environment, but could not find anything suitable. I should point out that MapTool and OpenRPG will do basic dice rolling in their text chat window and they can even do some quite complicated stuff with their various macro like features, but for us, rolling dice was such a big feature of traditional role playing that simply seeing a number pop up in a text chat window really didn’t satisfy. So Bone Shaker was born, to fill that gap in our tool box - it really does make a big difference to the experience, as well as speeding up play by simplifying the whole process and providing favourites.

Voice/Video Chat

We use Skype for this – everyone already had it so there was no setup required, and at the time there wasn’t anything easy to use and free for video conferencing (you need Skype Premium for group video conferencing).  Since then however Google+ hangouts have come along, offering free group voice or video chat. I haven’t tried them but I’ve heard that they work very well, so if you want video chat or just prefer to use the voice only chat they offer instead of skype then it seems like an excellent alternative.

Electronic Character Sheets

MapTool has some capabilities for storing character information but we haven’t experimented much with them because we’re mostly still using our original paper character sheets or MS Excel based equivalents (which mostly work fine in Open Office Calc so you don’t need MS Office to use them).  It just makes sense to transition to some sort of electronic character sheet – you’re going to be sitting in front of your PC/laptop anyway and it is generally a more convenient way of storing your characters information.  It will also then be in a format that doesn’t gradually fade to illegibility or get eaten by your puppy! (A genuine hazard speaking from experience).
If you want to be able to see your players information rather than rely on them telling you over voice chat then MapTool does allow the GM to customise the properties available on the tokens so you could insist on players using MapTool to store certain key bits of information such as inventory, stats, skill ranks etc. Or you could use an online character sheet such as those offered by Myth Weavers – they support most of the main RP systems and you can make your character sheets public so the GM can see them.


We have found it useful to have an online resource for reference materials associated with our campaign - we use it for things like:

  • Maps
  • Background information about the game world
  • Dramatis personae – notes about the various characters populating the world
  • Session notes – one of our group serves as a scribe and uploads a post for each session, which is very useful for looking back over previous sessions when memories need jogging.
  • Loot! - when things are collected it’s handy to note them down centrally until somebody can claim them for their own or they can be sold.

We’re using our own WordPress based web site for this but you could also choose to use Obsidian Portals campaign features – they provide online role playing groups with what looks like an excellent web space tailored to the needs of remote role players.  Take a look at the Solstice campaign hosted with them – it’s so impressive I’m considering migrating our website!

Useful Links

Various useful websites related to remote role playing.  If you know of others post about them below and I’ll add them to the list.

    The providers of MapTool, an online game table, this website also has some community features and forums.
  • Myth
    As well as offering the online character sheets this website is another community of role players with the focus being on “Play by Post” forum based role playing.
  • The Tangled Web
    Much like Myth Weavers above this website provides some online character sheets (not as many supported systems as Myth Weavers) and a system for “Play by Post” forum based role playing. This community however places the emphasis on realtime Remote Role Playing using MapTool/OpenRPG and has some good info including a video demo of MapTool.
  • The RPG
    An online community of role players – forums covering all sorts of topics.
  • Obsidian
    Not only an excellent online community and geograhically based player finder, Obsidian Portal will provide web space for your campaigns website which is specifically tailored to the needs of online role playing groups. Check out this example to see how much they give you for free – it’s really excellent.
  • Pen and Paper
    Another online community which, like Obsidian Portal, has a geographically based player finder.
  • General Campaigns/
    A huge collection of pre-prepared campaign settings and adventures for many role playing systems.
  • Wizards of the Coastwww.wizards.comThe creators of D&D, Magic the Gathering and several other RP systems. They have a forum on their site.
  • White
    The creators of Vampire The Masquerade, World of Darkness and several other RP systems. They have a forum on their site.