WTF Do You Mean, Online Tabletop RPG?

I’ve been putting out some feelers on Twitter and Facebook, asking people if anyone would be interested in an online tabletop RPG… and as a result, I’ve gotten a lot of people asking me in turn what the hell an online tabletop game would look like.

It’s not such a contradiction in terms as it seems. “Tabletop” RPG is just one term for “pen-and-paper” RPG or “table-talk” RPG or “those weirdos playing D&D in the dorm basement on Saturday nights.” And the fabulous new Google hang-out system allows large(ish) groups of people to “meet” online, see and talk to each other, and get the impression that they’re actually interacting.

Ever since I started hunting out local friends to play White Wolf’s Changeling: The Lost, I’ve liked the idea of playing with some of my long-distance friends as well, largely because my long-distance friends are more interested in general geekery than my local friends. I think we can do it, and I think we can do it with a system that’s easy for beginners and yet completely creative.

So let’s give it a try. I want to collect a few people—fiveish total, perhaps?—and use them as guinea pigs in an FATE-based online tabletop RPG. At least one spot is spoken for by the lovely Emmie Mears.

How would this work?
I’ll take a poll to find out what type of FATE Core game folks would like to play and to gauge interest levels. Traditional D&D-style fantasy? Contemporary fantasy? Steampunk?! The world is our oyster. We could even play a world inside of an oyster, though that sounds rather humid and squishy.

The fiveish people would collaborate with me to pick a semi-regular day (*coughMondayscough*) and time (*cougheveningESTcough*) we could all meet on a Google hang-out to play. Honestly, committing to a time is almost always the hardest part.

Once we have some folks committed, we’ll all sit down around our Google table and talk about what kind of world we want and what our characters will look like. (If you’re on the fence, just let me know and you can sit in on this chat and decide for yourself if you’re interested!)

I will act as Game Master for the first time around, and the players will, well, play! If this is successful, individuals in our “troupe” could take turns acting as Game Master so everyone gets a chance to play and to act as god.

What is FATE, and why this game system?
FATE, or “Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment,” is “a generic role-playing game system based on the FUDGE gaming system. It has no fixed setting, traits, or genre and is almost entirely customizable. It is designed to offer the least possible obstruction to role-playing by assuming that players do not want to make large amounts of dice rolls” (from Wikipedia).

In other words, it’s a pay-what-you-like RPG framework that enables—nay, encourages!—players to create their own world. Character building is phrase-based (i.e. Smarmy Necromancer with a Weakness for Blondes) rather than point-based, and most of it completely up to the individual player.

Rolls are made with special FUDGE dice or simple six-sided dice, and the successful results of an action are modified based on a plus-neutral-minus system. Players only roll when an action is conflicted: you don’t have to roll to discover the success of walking down the sidewalk. Unless, you know, it’s a sidewalk surrounded by psychotic clowns.

Don’t worry if you don’t quite get it. The materials are readily available and affordable for anyone.

How would I learn the system?
There are loads of resources online, and we can learn together. In the end, you really only need to know the information specific to your character: what your skills and needs are, what spells/abilities you have, and how to use all of those things. You don’t need to learn all the ins and outs of this universe: you’ll be pretending to be the character you create, and that’s it.

I’ll make an effort to learn the game really way by the time we have our first session, and I’ll walk everyone through character creation. Plus, since we, as a troupe, would create the universe together, we’ll all be making it up as we go along!

This is all well and good, but I’m not sure what a tabletop RPG really is.
It’s playing make-believe, but with dice and notepads. And fewer costumes. Unless you want to wear costumes, which might be totally awesome.

Seriously, tabletop gaming is both endlessly easy and endlessly complicated: it’s all up to the players. You create a character and, with your character-friends and under the guidance of a game master, you have a series of collaborative adventures in a usually fantastical setting. You describe your choices and actions, and the game master responds by manipulating the world and the non-player characters.

Think Choose Your Own Adventure, but without preset options. We all make it up as we go along.

I might be interested, but I need more information.
I can hook you up.

Click here to visit the FATE website and download the core rulebook.

Click here to read about FATE on Wikipedia.

Click here to read a review of FATE.

Click here to get a sense of tabletop role-playing.

Click here to watch the fabulous Wil Wheaton and friends play a tabletop game.

Click here to email me: kristinlynnmcfarland AT

So, to help me get some direction in organizing, do me a BIG favor and, if you’re interested, answer a few questions below:

11 thoughts on “WTF Do You Mean, Online Tabletop RPG?

  1. Pingback: Genre of Games Part 2 | gamerastry

  2. I’m a D&D beginner (only played three time, still getting around to understand everything), and this sound like such a great idea. I probably couldn’t commit for a weekly think, but I’d be willing to watch for sure.

    • I’m not sure we’ll play weekly — that’ll all depend on the players. But I’ll keep you in mind (read: pester you to play with us)! 😀

  3. I never actually got to play DnD or anything like that, ever. My mom and uncle had a regular game, but I was too young and by the time I was old enough, they had stopped playing and of my friends, I was the only one nerdy enough to want to do it. So I think I’d like to play, but I would be worried I’d be the lame person needing their hand held for a while. But I’d be down if I could accommodate the time (I’m on PST).

  4. I may be able to do a future round, but right now i have too many books to write. My only RPG experience was one summer in AOL chat rooms, but i had a ball! I also couldn’t separate myself from my character, but that’s a whole ‘nother ball of crazy…

  5. FATE’s a great choice. I haven’t had the chance to play it myself, but I’m familiar enough with it that I know how cool and flexible it is.

    Have you selected a virtual tabletop yet? I’ve been messing around with the one at I haven’t used it–or any VTT–for a game yet, but I’ve been messing around with it while considering starting a game using a retro-clone of old-school D&D. It seems easier to use than some of the other ones I’ve experimented with, and I believe the dice roller even handles Fudge/FATE dice.

    • Yes, I’ve been looking at! It looks completely amazing, but I’m afraid it’s a bit more advanced than I’m willing to go, at least for starting off some people who are new to gaming. Let me know if you try it — I’d definitely like to hear your experiences! hell, I’d beg you to write a guest post about that! 😀

      • If I get a chance to try it, I’d be happy to share my experiences with it. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance between summer school and writing and stuff, but I’ve been having fun learning how to use Campaign Cartographer to make maps for importing into Roll20, and playing around with the tokens and stuff.

        I can definitely understand wanting to keep the online rpg experience simple when just starting out. Most of Roll20’s apparent complexity seems to mostly involve the map and token stuff. Since FATE doesn’t really do tactical combat, you could probably do fine skipping all that stuff and using Roll20 for the video chat, and maybe the dice roller. But if you already have something in mind you think people would be more comfortable with, definitely stick with that 🙂

        And if you have trouble filling up your game, I might be to participate, depending on when it is. Unfortunately I can’t promise anything, since I’m currently taking a pretty intense summer class.

  6. Pingback: Crafting Characters | MC Houle

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