Roleplaying Online Under Lockdown, Part 2

Date : May 26, 2020

As of today, although the Malaysian government has started to allow some local businesses to open under the Movement Control Order (MCO), the threat of the coronavirus is still very real, so for the foreseeable future, we’ll be roleplaying online.

These are more stories of Malaysians and their roleplaying adventures, under lockdown.

In this installment, I spoke with two prolific gamemasters who are well-known in the local scene as part of the Malaysian Pathfinder / Starfinder Society. I learned how Razzman Khaliff (previously interviewed here) and Harmeshver Singh have been conducting their games (whether Pathfinder or other systems) during the MCO.

Razzman Khaliff

What games have you played or run during the MCO? Are you gaming more or less now?

Pathfinder (1st Edition). Gaming even more now. Four times a week, Thursday all through Sunday.

Roleplaying online using Roll20: Dungeon map, ready for action in Pathfinder 1st Edition.
Dungeon map, ready for action

Nice. Are any of these paid?

Two of them are paid.

What platforms and tools do you use for your games?

Roll20, purchased map assets on the platform, Discord for voice chat, and Token Tool.

Roleplaying online using Roll20:  A fierce dragon battle in Pathfinder 1st Edition.
A fierce dragon battle

How has the online experience been for you and the players?

Good, although lag and other connectivity issues arise from time to time.

Do you use webcams?

We don’t use the webcam. I don’t own a webcam on my computer so we just use voice chat. I don’t like the webcam taking up too much space on the screen.  

Do you feel there is any disadvantage to not using webcams?

Nope, not really.

Any of the players new to roleplaying online?

Both of my paid groups are newbie groups. They’re the ones that came to me asking me to run games for them.

Roleplaying online using Roll20:  Indoors combat in Pathfinder 1st Edition, with Roll20's Dynamic Lighting Effects.
Indoors combat, with Roll20’s Dynamic Lighting effects

Aside from the lag and so on, were there any other interesting challenges or situations that came up doing your MCO games that you wanna mention?

Not really, other than certain players having Roll20 display issues where certain map assets aren’t visible but that has stopped happening recently.

Actually for this question, I can mention that one of my games became increasingly more challenging after I started using Dynamic Lighting when they were trying to navigate a trap filled room, because line of sight and the fact that they do not share vision made that infinitely more scarier. All the games I run use Dynamic Lighting; the Friday game which I am a player doesn’t use it.

You’re doing official Adventure Paths (APs), right?

Modules and APs.

Is there anything else you want to mention?

Yeah, that running games online is not easy. I easily spend four hours prepping for every hour of actual game time. I have to spend money for subscription and buying assets for maps and it’s very difficult to justify running these games for free due to the commitment that the GM has to put in. 

And it’s your longtime players who are playing unpaid?

Yeah, but it’s hard to turn around and tell them to suddenly start paying you, after you have spent years playing together.

Roleplaying online using Roll20:  Maps sometimes have to be painstakingly built in the editor.
Maps sometimes have to be painstakingly built in the editor

Do they ever chip in to buy assets?

The Saturday group that I run for did actually all pitch in to purchase the Rise of the Runelords pack which is the AP I am currently running for them, so all the maps and original statblocks are inside, but I still have to put in work to optimise the statblocks. And sometimes I have to make maps for them still, because the layout for these maps are exactly as they are in the book and don’t look very nice or use a different scale.

Harmeshver Singh

What games have you played or run during the MCO?

I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons 5E, Call of Cthulhu 7E, Pathfinder 2, 13th Age, Genesys, Scion and Modern Age.

Are you gaming more or less?

I think honestly, I have been gaming a bit more than usual. Fewer games are cancelled or postponed due to people not being able to make it.

Are any of these paid games or do you run free?

I have never charged for any of my games so far.

What platforms and tools did you use?

I mostly use just plain Discord, with the exception of Pathfinder 2 which I was trying with the combo of Discord and Astral.

Like, is anyone on webcam?

We mostly just use Discord Voice + text. I normally separate each game into 4 channels.

#gameplay: where most of the game happens;

#rules: I post cheat sheets, etc. that they can refer to;

#handouts: any handouts or NPC info related to the game;

#bot commands: where they can try/test rolling (but most of the real rolls happen in #gameplay).

Roleplaying online using Discord: 4 channels to play Genesys RPG (#gameplay, #rules, #handouts and #bot-commands)
Using 4 Discord channels per game

That’s a lot of channels, but I guess it works for your groups, eh?

Well it is my personal Discord channel with only around 60+ people max.

I use a tab, #next-game-announcements, to post upcoming games for the week. Then when people confirm, we add it.

Roleplaying online using Discord: Announcing upcoming games on the server.
Announcing upcoming games on the server

How has the gaming experience been for you and the players?

I get one feedback from my players which seems to be a constant. They are happy that now the games are not so combat heavy or dungeon crawl-based. Since I am running with just Discord + voice it is easier to run story-based games more.

How many of the players were familiar with roleplaying online before?

So far only two of my players have played online before, and that was on Roll20.

That’s cool. So you have changed the approach during the MCO in these games?

I generally don’t run much combat-heavy games even outside the MCO. I guess since it is Discord, I tend to copy-paste more pictures of NPCs, give more handouts, etc. So it seems they are picking up on more details and interacting with them rather than just going for the combat approach

For example, when they entered an Inn/Tavern, I copy-pasted the whole map + description. Whereas in real life outside the MCO, I’ll just draw a random box on my flip map and say, “OK, this building is the inn.”

Basically I guess you can say my sessions are coming in twice as long since now I am providing details, they are interacting with the world more.

Oh yeah, longer sessions?

Well, a plot I thought will last one session sometimes gets extended to two.

Were there any other interesting challenges and situations that came up when gaming during the MCO?

Challenges? Well, convincing people to join and try was a problem at first since many were skeptical; teaching them how to use certain bots (e.g. we use to connect to our characters in D&D Beyond); and vetting some new players.

Well, I do run various themes in my game, so I created a super-powerful McGuffin for one of the campaigns. This was a dual sword named Yin and Yang. I wanted to make it that the reason no one ever managed to attune it in this world was because of the specific clause of attunement that no one knows. Basically, if someone is a trans woman or trans man to fulfill the requirements, as I was trying to go on the thought of saying that a person born Yin and then transform herself to Yang or vice-versa is the key. I have a trans woman player who is also playing a trans woman in-game so I was trying to involve my characters more. Let’s just say TLDR one player didn’t like this and was complaining how I had to add politics etc in-game. Well, we did kick him out in the end.

Was this an issue that came up because of recruiting people you haven’t been able to screen thoroughly during the MCO?

Cause generally in real life, we can see the facial expression, body language, etc. I guess it would have been easier to read the situation.

Thanks for speaking with us. Is there anything or anyone you want to promote?

I am working on few projects with a local artist who does excellent drawings of people of colour! Their Facebook: Skyriazeth

Part 3 of our interviews is coming soon! The prize quote: “Covid can suck it.”