Modes of play in your games?

I’m trying to define a set of ways of carrying out the activity of playing an RPG. My purpose in this is to run some polls on RPG forum sites, because I’m curious about the proportions of games being played in various ways: The modes I’ve found so far are.

  1. All players at the same place, mapless.
  2. Same place, physical map and minatures.
  3. Same place, virtual tabletop.
  4. All players in different places, mapless.
  5. Different places, physical map and minatures.
  6. Different places, virtual tabletop.
  7. Several players in the same place, a few at other places (“mixed”), mapless.
  8. Mixed, physical map and minatures.
  9. Mixed, virtual tabletop

Obviously, this is the permutation of three kinds of player location (all together, all separate, and a mixture) with three ways of keeping track of what’s going on (no map, physical map and minatures, virtual tabletop).

For myself, I run and mostly play mode 1, but Roger’s Irresponsible and Right is run in mode 7, and his Wives and Sweethearts was mode 4.

Am I missing any ways that you’ve seen used? Obviously, the importance of a map depends on the style of activity in the game, and a given game may shift between modes: nobody uses detailed mapping in conversation scenes.

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I suspect that some of these may be empty sets (e.g. virtual tabletop with co-located players) but I think you’ve covered it.

Some modes are probably incompatible with some game mechanics - for example, Savage Worlds needs all players to draw cards from the same deck. I’ve done that clumsily with one remote player, standing up the cards where they can see them on the webcam, but I gather that Whartson Hall (all separate places) struggled a bit and I wouldn’t propose it to them.

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There’s someone on the SJG forums who consistently says his group uses a virtual tabletop with everyone in the same room, because they don’t have a big table, everyone has devices, and they spend a lot of time in mapped combat.

That was one of the things that prompted this, along with the suspicion that a lot of people use VTTs these days, and SJG’s regarding them as secondary or peripheral is a mistake, like their belief that almost everyone has access to a US-style FLGS.

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This is the mode of my currently surviving campaign.

Do you think you ought to distinguish AV from voice-only telepresence? I run AV, but find voice-only unplayable.

Do you want to include text modes such as IRC and PBP? I have tried both.

Is the map the only common visual reference? I sometimes sketch a map and hold it up to the webcam, but I sometimes sketch something else and hold that up to the webcam too. I have fooled around with an on-line whiteboard such as Scriblink, used for scratch maps and other sketches — it would work better if I had a tablet and stylus.

Yeah. I’m strongly inclined to suspect that I don’t even know what a FLGS is.

When I was a youngster in Sydney there was The Tin Soldier in Pitt St, which was very far from friendly, and some place in Chandos St that was quite a walk from St Leonard’s station. And then Mind Games opened in one of the malls just as I was leaving. None of them provided space to play in. In Canberra there was a shop that sold RPGs, wargames, dice, miniatures, boardgames, model kits, and model trains &c. But it didn’t add playing space until after I left Canberra, and I think it is shut now. It was friendly, but nowhere in Canberra is local to anywhere.

The idea of a gaming shop as somewhere to play games is pretty much alien to me, and as far as I know the most-nearly-local shop that sells RPGs is 300 km away in Newcastle.

I think something of the sort might also be true in Blighty. In 2003 I went in to a warren of small rooms in Baker Street, jammed with stock of games and junky geek collectibles. There wasn’t much there that interested me, and I asked one fo the staff whether there was another shop I might stick my nose into. He suggested a place in Manchester.

This varies widely: I find seeing the other players to be of very limited use and am happy with voice-only.

IRC is much like voice-only; PBP is a new category, because it doesn’t require all the players to be playing at the same time.

I over-abbreviated: “mapless” was meant to mean “no combat map”. Many groups find a combat map absolutely vital and cannot play without one.

I’ll put up a new set of categories this evening.

I don’t know anywhere near Baker Street. London tends to suffer because a games shop isn’t as profitable as yet another clothes shop or coffee bar, so the yacs/cb can pay a higher rent, and the appetite of London’s population for such is apparently infinite. (And while they may be gone in six months, there’ll always be another one.)

Orc’s Nest is still going, somehow. It’s quite small, and I think it’s the only games shop in central London. Definitely no playing space.

Leisure Games is in Finchley (half an hour or so by Underground from the centre, and not a place you’re likely to go to unless you have a specific reason). No playing space there as far as I know.

@MichaelCule tells me there’s a new games shop in High Wycombe (he’s in the middle, I’m a few miles out) but I think it’s mostly miniatures.

Eclectic Games in Reading is doing well, and has dedicated play space. If I were closer I’d go there a lot more than I do. I saw some GURPS books in there once, in the early 4e days.

Thirsty Meeples in Oxford is boardgaming; they’ll order you role-playing stuff but they don’t keep it in stock.

All these places have extensive net-order businesses of course. But of the ones that carry RPGs at all, it’ll pretty much be D&D/Pathfinder, plus whatever’s hot that month. Maybe some Cthulhu if you’re really lucky.

On the other hand I know that SJGames is very much focused on its US/Canada business and things may be different there.

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I might have that wrong. It was sixteen years ago, and I don’t know London.

I’ve been playing Call of Cthulhu by video since we moved up here in 2016. At first we used Skype; then we changed to Zoom, which works somewhat better. Now that I’m moving too far away to visit San Diego county by train, and inexpensively, I’ve experimented with using Zoom for the campaign I’ve GMed for quite a few years now, which is GURPS.

In the first campaign, I’m a remote player, and there’s another remote player in Massachusetts. In the second, I’m the remote GM, and there’s a remote player in Nevada. So in each case there are two screens, or three if I opt for self-view, which I prefer to, as it makes me less likely to have the camera pointing the wrong way.

I haven’t been entirely satisfied with the CofC campaign, though it’s never been poor enough to tempt me to drop. I think a lot of the problem is that the main player group isn’t normally in an optimal room, especially in recent months, when one player is having severe spinal problems and can’t leave her own house. Having a room layout where some players are off the edge of the screen, or barely visible, or back from the camera, makes it hard to do sight/sound integration and track who’s talking and what’s being said. In my own campaign, on the other hand, the remote player who hosts the main group has laid out his front room to put everyone equidistant from my PoV, and invested in a wide-angle camera. That’s still not as good as being physically present, but it does give me what I would call a “sense of the room”—an ability to track the social process of the game. I think for me that would be quite hard if I didn’t know all the players’ spatial locations. (I am not, I should note, a visual thinker to any significant degree, but I am a spatial thinker, which is not the same thing.)

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I’ve done remote voice-only; the biggest problem I found was knowing when someone’s connection had failed. I found that with nobody to look at I ended up closing my eyes as a change from looking at my notes, rather than the usual looking round the room.

For mixed games, for a while I was using a boundary microphone with a waveguide plate, but the C920 webcam I have now does a decent job of picking up the whole room’s audio. Could do with a slightly wider field of view.

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We did that briefly playng 4th ed D&D (which pretty much requires a combat map) - mostly because the GM had just acquired a Virtual T, and everyone had devices - unfortunately it turned out not everyone had devices that were particularly useful for running the VTT, and the faff setting up the network each time and connecting everyone in was more trouble than just getting a big plastic sheet and some figures out…,.

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Do you perhaps need to define what you mean by map?
Does it only refer to pre-prepared, detailed maps? Or does quickly scribbling a rough and not-to-scale sketch of the location on the back of a bit of scrap paper count? What about randomly generated maps? (Not sure if many games do that these days). Do the maps have to feature in every session to count?

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Yes, I meant combat map:

Sketch-maps for showing geography and layouts are helpful, but not nearly as vital as a combat map for them as needs one.

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Mostly 2, some 1.

When I was younger there was a lot more 1, or 2 with tokens or standups, but my current crowd really likes the minis.

Revised list:

  1. All players at the same place, no combat map
  2. Same place, physical map and minatures.
  3. Same place, virtual tabletop.
  4. All players in different places, no combat map.
  5. Different places, physical map and minatures.
  6. Different places, virtual tabletop.
  7. Several players in the same place, a few at other places (“mixed”), no combat map.
  8. Mixed, physical map and minatures.
  9. Mixed, virtual tabletop.
  10. Play-by-message (e-mail, forum, etc), the key point being that the players don’t have to be active at the same time.

Points of additional information:

If the players aren’t all in the same place, and the game isn’t play-by-message, what mixture of text, voice and video communication do you use?

If the players aren’t all in the same place, the game isn’t play-by-message, and you don’t have video or a virtual tabletop, do you need a means of sending pictures, such as sketch maps, pictures of opponents or building, etc.?

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Not particularly relevant to the questionnaire, but if I’m running a prepared adventure, PDFs with handouts are great for that last point - with a little surgery I can produce a PDF with just the relevant material and give its URL to the players. (I’d really like a shared whiteboard too, but haven’t yet found one that conforms to my slightly unusual requirements.)

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Since coronavirus hit, all my gaming groups have been doing things online, mostly with virtual tabletops. Our Traveller group has found using a VTT very handy for maps and library data and keeping track of ship accounts, so when we can go back to meeting face to face we may actually keep using a VTT.


I’d either do all together, with map, or over Discord, with a roll20 map if necessary. Or I’d do pbp here :smile:
So 2, 4, 6, or 10

I can’t imagine using digital when in person; not even sure how that’d work tbh.

I think for SF the use of digital for resources at the table makes for a genre appropriate game.

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