Experiences with Classic Tabletop Role-Playing Gaming Via Google Hangout

by Hawke Robinson published 2012/01/22 12:10:00 GMT-7, last modified 2022-11-12T09:45:30-07:00
If you can't find anyone to join you in your favorite tabletop RPG, Google's Hangout might be your solution. We have been experimenting with 5 participants since November, here is information about how it is going so far...

For those that have been following me on Youtube, you may already know this, but for the past 2 months I have been experimenting with a group of players, using Google Plus's Hangout and broadcast features to play classic tabletop role-playing gaming. I've been using Google+ for about a year now for Middle-earth Talk Radio Show, and Tolkien Moot Convention broadcasts. With this gaming campaign, we had a number of technical struggles at first, but those are fading, and things are getting smoother with each session. We just finished session 4 last week, with session 5 scheduled for this upcoming Sunday. I am now going to add some tools....

Experience Overview

The experience has been mixed. It was frustrating at first, but with each session (4 so far) it has been getting considerably better.. If you can't find anyone to tabletop RPG in your area to meet with locally, especially game systems or settings that aren't as popular, then using G+'s Hangout to get a regular group together might be the way to go. Especially for those of you with busy adult schedules (like ours), this is much more flexible than getting everyone to meet in a physical location. It is handy to have everyone in one virtual room, and the Hangout feature that automatically pops the person speaking to the large video screen is nice as long as others mute their mics when not speaking. Also the option of enabling as a Broadcast rather than private hangout auto-streaming to Youtube for others to watch without having to join the hangout itself is good, which also then uploads the recorded video to the Youtube channel for later viewing is also handy. The recorded viewer has helped all of us refresh on what we did during previous sessions, so that at the next session we can get underway even more quickly than before. As a GM it helps to go over the previous video to check for any notes I forgot to write down, or any discrepancies I might need to account for.


Our group is slightly diverse, participants are:

  • Hawke Robinson - GM - Caucasian - Male - 42 - Spokane, Washington, USA.
  • Katy - Player - Caucasian - Female - 44 - Alternates between Spokane and Redmond Washington.
  • Kesan - Player - African-American - Male - 20's - Seattle area.
  • Joe - Player - Caucasian - Male - 30's - Seattle, WA, USA.
  • Drake - Player - Caucasian - Male - 13 - Spokane.


Setting & System

We are playing a homemade campaign "World of Beru". This is an all-in-one world including many different settings that I have used on and off since the 1980's. It includes just about every "real" mythology on Earth, and a number of created settings, but all somewhat shoehorned into this single world setting (this was long before I was aware of RIFTS and similar games). The players begin in an Arthurian-based setting (though Kesan's character he intentionally asked to be "Dothraki style barbarian from Game of Thrones"), they will soon be dealing with some Grecian-based aspects, and then later Norse mythologies in the north (using the same sources that both Wagner and Tolkien drew upon), and then into Middle-eastern, and Asian settings.

The World of Beru setting is system agnostic, so I left it open to everyone to choose which game system they wanted. Personally I prefer the detail of Rolemaster 2nd Edition, or a number of other systems, but everyone else wanted to stick with D&D 3.5, so that is what we are using for this campaign.

More details at the World of Beru Forum: http://www.rpgresearch.com/forum/world-of-beru

Watch Via Youtube

Soon you will be able to view all our sessions now in one location on Youtube. I accidentally had the sessions spread across three accounts, but the videos are now moved to just one channel at: http://youtube.com/rpgresearching (the http://youtube.com/rpgresearch channel remains for non-game-session videos). They will also be kept archived on the RPG Research Website of course.


More Experience Details

Though some of the videos I edited out our technical issues, you can still view the  unedited versions if you want to see what we had to deal with to get things rolling.

Basically our first session was spent dealing with getting G+ Hangout to work with everyone's different systems with video and audio, and then making characters, we didn't get much actual adventuring done after 2+ hours of wrangling with technical issues, and making characters.

The following session still had some technical issues with sound and video, but did not take as long to resolve.

The third session had relatively few technical issues, and allowed us to focus more on the actual game play. The one issue that kept coming up however was the bandwidth and/or server loads varying so sometimes someone would drop, or become unintelligible. Your mileage in this area will vary a lot depending on your ISP, quality and amount of bandwidth will make all the difference.

Session 4 went pretty smoothly, though we still had the occasional bandwidth issues, for the most part the game flowed nicely, and the technology (at least for me) began to fall increasingly  into the background,and it felt more like a regular session (though it helped that one player was actually at my table), I stopped "seeing" the computer aspect, and increasing "saw" the participants faces, and the imaginary settings of events being described by all. This is encouraging that after enough sessions, the critical "suspension of disbelief' may really get into full gear so everyone can have that great robust tabletop RPG experience. I'll interview the other players to see if they are starting to experience that, or if their experience differs.

Adding RPG-related Features

One aspect we still need to resolve is the dice rolling. For the next session, I have added two utilities now available for G+ Hangouts by third parties that I installed today, and will try out during game session 5 coming up this Sunday, 6:30 pm.

I've tried repeatedly to get folks to try OpenRPG and similar tools, but at least with this group, they really want the tech-dependency to a minimum. The only thing they are open to so far is dice-rolling tech. They are not interested in mapping and the like (yet). Just using a camera on the battlemat at my house has been sufficient for them so far.

Bones - a simple dice roller, that uses a friendly GUI (Graphical User Interface) to select the type and quantity of dice, and button to click to show everyone in the Hangout the roll results.

Tableforge - a utility that is supposed to (eventually) provide a wide range of tools, but so far from a cursory install (and not really reading much about it yet), just an enhanced chat experience. To roll dice, you type for example (in the chat window they provide):  "/die 1d20" then hit enter and it shows the roll result to the group.

I will experiment with both, and see which tool. at least for the dice rolling aspect, everyone prefers.


Some Historical Experiences Related to RPGs and Technology

In the late 70's and throughout the 80's, the only technology i usually used in conjunction with RPG was either playing or programming the "RPG" video and text based computer games, or some online text-based MUSH/MMO in their primitive chatroom forms. The only tech I used at a tabletop session was typically a calculator. Before and after sessions I would use my desktop computer for word processing notes, stories, etc. But most work was still by hand with pencil and paper.

In the 1990's as my friends and gaming associates began to scatter around the globe, and adulthood made it increasingly difficult to find time and other players to keep a regular group going, gaming sessions became few and far between.

Around 1996 or so, I became aware of CuSeeMe, and found the freely available White Pine Software "reflector" software that allowed you to setup your own CuSeeMe video chat server. The video and audio quality wasn't great, and bandwidth was rare, most users still only on dialup.

Around 1998 or so, I had a dual ISDN line, and a couple of CuSeeMe compatible Logitech cameras, and my dedicated Reflector server running. I encouraged some friends to get a new group together, running for the first time, my "Escape from Numenor" campaign, with 1-2 remote players, and others around the table with me.

The other player only had dialup, but he could see us from the different camera angles, one on the group, and one on the table for the miniatures and such. It was klunky, he had trouble making out what everyone said, but we muddled along for a number of sessions.

Then Webcamming seemed to die off in general for a number of years, and CuSeeMe was so outdated, and there weren't any other good free solutions available that you could run on your own for years to come.

Skype had some features that seemed appealing, and I began using it regularly with my show co-hosts, but only recording the audio for podcasts. I wanted to broadcast. Skype offered broadcasting briefly, but we never used it. I then used independent webcams and independent streams to broadcast my gaming and Tolkien conventions from 2005 onward. This was a hodgepodge of different open source technologies and my own servers. I spent a lot of time just getting them setup and keeping them running, often interfering with my having time to enjoy the conventions I was hosting.

In 2011 and 2012 I began dabbling with Google+ Hangout. It had a lot of issues initially. It wasn't until later in 2012 that I began using it instead of Skype (Skype had been getting worse and worse in recent years), for the Middle-earth Talk Show. Then in the summer of 2012 for Tolkien Moot VIII, I used it to broadcast the entire convention, with simulcast streaming over Youtube. Though it was lower quality than my more dedicated setup from the previous years, it was so much easier, so I could actually focus on the event. I just kept several laptops running around the event so remote viewers could view, listen, and respond. Again, not as good as the dedicated approach, but very simple.

I have been warily increasing my use of the G+ Hangout software as it keeps improving.

In November 2012, I talked some friends into trying a remote-based tabletop RPG campaign, warning them in advance that it might take a bit to work out the technical issues, but they were "game" and have been patient, and we're heading now for session #5.

It is definitely greatly improved from the CuSeeMe days, and much easier for everyone to use (I'm the only real "Techie").

Anyhow, I hope some folks found this useful if considering similar applications. There will be more to report in the coming months as I add features, and hopefully the service keeps improving.


-Hawke Robinson

Role-playing gamer since 1979.



Bones Die Roller App for G+ Hangout: http://10x10room.com/2012/04/10/bones-dice-app-for-google-hangout/

Tableforge G+ Hangout App: http://tabletopforge.com/

RPG Research Website: http://rpgresearch.com

RPG Research Youtube Channel: http://yotube.com/rpgresearch

RPG Research Youtube Game Sessions Channel: http://youtube.com/rpgresearching

RPG Research Twitter: http://twitter.com/rpgresearch

RPG Research Facebook: http://facebook.com/rpgresearch

RPG Research Google+:https://plus.google.com/113711184973446792190

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