Facebook, how is it that the "table" in tabletop games still exists? Why is it that we still insist on walking into a gaming store to flip through a guide book, pay cash at the register, and then go home to sit face-to-face with a group of our piers? There must be an easier and more hassle-free way to run a roll playing game.
Well, a lot of people have found out that there is, in deed, alternative ways to play your favorite games. The main question though is - Should you?
With all of the readily available platforms out there to run a virtual game - like Skype, Google Hangout, and soon Wizard's Virtual Table - the reasons for inviting a group of people over to your house or local game store to sit around a table are becoming more and more thin as time goes on. After all, what is a RPG other than people talking to other people? The Game Master tells the players what is going on and where they are, then the players tell the GM what they want to do. You speak, then they speak. Then they speak some more. Then you fight, and all combat really boils down to is you telling the players where an enemy moves and who they hit, then the players returning the favor. None of that really requires a table, or chairs, or pants.
And considering that all readily available platforms have video conferencing, you can still set up a webcam so that the rest of the players can see your amazing maps. And when you think that you can take the leap to complete virtualization, you can always try out Mythweaver's Dungeon Generator, the MapTool from the Online Dungeon Master, or Pyromancer's Online Dungeon Painter. This way, you can have the map dungeon you've always wanted, but not wear any pants at the table!
While all of these tools are there for your use to create a completely virtual RPG world, does this mean that we're moving away from the traditional tabletop gaming experience? Should we all just accept this and start buying PDF copies of our handbooks?
As we as a society move closer to a more virtual age, with the onset of texting and social networks, I communicate with my friends a lot more than I normally would without these tools. However, I look forward to our game nights for two reasons - One is that we get to have this shared experience telling a story, but the other (and possibly more important) is that I get to actually sit down and talk to them. There's also something about roll playing with someone in person that you don't get virtually. Body language, facial expressions, hand movements, posture - These are all major steps in becoming your character (for the GM, as well) which you don't even consider but often times completely skip over when you have that headset on. And in turn, the people attempting to play off of you don't get this necessary feedback to include in their roll playing efforts. Plus, my ultimate GM intimidation tactic of walking around the table slowly, hands behind my back, glancing at the player's character sheets while making subtle "huh" noises just doesn't work over Skype.
There really is something to be said about looking into a person's eyes as you tell them that you've landed a critical hit with the ogre's hammer, and they realize that the damage is just one more point than their death value. Or when the rogue fails his jump check attempting to reach the other side of a castle wall. Or when the. fighter lands the final killing blow on the BBEG with just one hit point left and the rest of his allies unconscious. Or when you tell the druid that he's now a girl.
Now, I'm not saying that all technology at the table is bad. I have a laptop out with my campaign outline and session notes, Combat Manager locked and loaded, and the Pathfinder reference site up just in case I forget how to charge (not to mention Audacity running to record the latest session for the Dragon Fisters Actual Play podcast). All of these things assist me in running a successful session. However, nothing can replace the feeling of sitting around a table, laughing and yelling and high-fiving my friends after an amazing fight.
Do not get me wrong; virtual gaming does have it's place. If you have a friend who lives too far away to make it to your sessions, or if you just can't find a group of people around you that are willing to commit the time and energy to a game. Perhaps your weekly session fell through, but everyone is willing to spend a half hour or so a few nights a week to get some RP done before you can meet up again. There are definitely viable reasons for why you would have to participate in this type of gaming experience, though I doubt that any of us would chose to leave out the human interaction in preference of sitting on your couch, behind a keyboard, with no pants on.