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:

Gettin’ Nerdy With It: RPGs

My husband and I reached a whole new level of nerdy yesterday—and for the couple known as ‘the Doctor Who people’ among our local friends, that’s really saying something.

A degrading Changeling: who doesn't want to pretend to be a creepy horny fairy thing?

A degrading Changeling: who doesn’t want to pretend to be a creepy horny fairy thing?

We dug ourselves deep into the land of Storytelling RPGs, specifically Changeling: the Lost, one of the spin-offs of Vampire: the Requiem, and a sort of grandchild to the 1990s game Vampire: the Masquerade.

Whoa. That’s a whole lotta nerdy right up front there, so let me explain a little more for you muggles in the audience. (You muggles know you’re probably way cooler than me in real life, right?)

A Storytelling RPG, to simplify it vastly, is a game for two or more people based on made-up characters engaging in imaginary adventures: it’s not unlike when you and your childhood best friend pretended to gypsy princesses in a fantasy land, but you sit at a table instead of frolicking around the backyard. (Just me? Awkward.) The designated storyteller guides the characters through their quest, and each player rolls dies to determine the success or failure of their actions.

In White Wolf Publishing’s World of Darkness, everything is similar to ours but just slightly askew. Vampires, ghosts, goblins, and fairies are real. Quests generally involve chasing a magical item, seeking spells, and fighting the forces of darkness—or light, depending on your character preference. There are intricate backstories for every breed of character and every aspect of this universe. Game plots make for fantastic reading, as does the world-building.

It’s… an urban fantasy universe!

So let’s pause a moment here. This is a game that involves making up stories about imaginary characters and spinning out the tension in their adventures for as long as possible.

Why the hell aren’t all fantasy writers already playing this?!

Well, there are a few reasons.

1. It’s super-nerdy, and requires nerdy friends. People already think fantasy writers are crazy; we don’t need to give them more reasons to not hang out with us.

2. It’s time-consuming. You have to make up your character, spend ages learning minute rules, and then spend hours on game play… because we all have so much free time to kill.

3. It can lead to excessive nerdiness, like LARPing, which involves dressing up like your characters and pretending to be them in real life. *shiver*

This history of LARPing goes way back to… wait, no, that’s not history. It’s an old-time fauxtograph of people LARPing as Victorians. (Image via Wikipedia.)

Spouse and I started checking it (Changeling, not LARPing!) out because, well, we’re already super-nerdy, and because we want a new game to play with some of our friends.

Now the real question is… how do we convince our friends to play with us?

Being me, I have listed a few reasons why it’ll be fun:

1. We can pretend to be fairies with specific magical powers! They can look like unicorns if we want them to! We can draw pictures and make up back-stories! (This may not work on the menfolk.)

2. It’ll be hilarious. Come on, grown-ups sitting around a table arguing over why Person A’s vampire is a way better candidate to take on that NPC-troll than Person B’s darkling fae? That’s comedy gold.

3. It’s not that different than historical re-enacting, really. (Our friends used to re-enact.) Actually, it’s just like it, but without the real history or the trips to cool places. And we’d rather not start doing the costumes.

4. It involves some theater! We can turn down the lights and pretend my husband (designated Storyteller because only he actually understands the rules) is telling us a scary choose-your-own-adventure story. And when we need sound effects, like gunshots or ghosts moaning, we can totally add them in!

5. There will be alcohol involved!

What do you think, readers? Would you play with us? How would you convince someone to try an RPG?