[RPG] How to improve player engagement in video call for virtual tabletop game


So I have been gamemastering my university group (6-7 PCs) for more than 4 years, and recently since we moved apart for job reasons we have started to use Roll20 and Skype to play together.

I received some feed back from 2 of my PC that is more difficult to get into the "RP mood"/character, it's easier to leave the mood/character, that the feeling is less good during an online session than when we were around the table, and that they feel less involved because of the format.

According to this article from the Angry DM and some game designer there is 8 kind of fun, and what is fun make the player engage:

  • Sensation: The fun of having your senses stimulated.
  • Fantasy: The fun of losing yourself in an imaginary world and being something you’re not.
  • Narrative: The fun of experiencing a well-told story.
  • Challenge: The fun of overcoming obstacles.
  • Fellowship: The fun of interacting with others and working together.
  • Discovery: The fun of exploring and uncovering things.
  • Expression: The fun of leaving your personal mark on the world.
  • Submission: The fun of of turning your brain off and doing effortless things.

So knowing this how can I improve engagement with video/VTT gaming?
And counter balance the reduction of Fellowship.

(Answers are expected to be primarily based on real experience, what you did in this situation and how it worked for you – demonstrate how your recommended technique or course of action is effective for the problem.)

Best Answer

I run a Pathfinder game using the same setup (Skype and Roll20), with between 4-6 players a session. We will have started 3 years ago in January. Proper ambience and player engagement are some of the things that I always aim for in my sessions, and are not always easy to establish. Here are a few things I've found that worked for my game.

The Jukebox is your Friend

Music is an astoundingly effective tool for setting the tone of a scene. While it is entirely possible to run a game without music, I have found player investment and engagement significantly higher when music was available. Music is even able to signal shifts in a scene's tone, or in the actions of characters, and your players will remember the theme of a recurring villain.

Roll20 has an excellent integrated jukebox feature, useful for adding music and sound effects. While there was recently some commotion when Soundcloud disconnected Roll20 from usage, Roll20 now has a number of other options, including Fanburst integration. Multi-track play capability allows for the potential mixing of background music and sound effects, which can further increase the ambience.

Descriptive Language is Important

While this also applies in regular tabletop, I have found that there is an increased need for description over voice to chat. As you do not have the physical presence of your players, you will need to keep them mentally engaged, or they will begin to drift off to do other things.

While most description tends to focus on sight, do not forget the other four senses in your descriptions. Sound may or may not be demonstrable using the jukebox, but describing the warm and smooth surface of the cobblestone beneath their feet and the scent of warm meat and wood smoke is a great way to remind your players of how welcoming the inn is.

Characterization is More Important

This is one that gave me fits when I was first getting used to communicating over Skype. As it is unlikely that your players are able to see you now, the subtleties of body language are now lost when your players are communicating with each other and with you. This may vary in impact, as someone who tends to speak with their hands will have a harder time than someone who tends to stay rather still.

As NPCs no longer have visible body language, any significant body language will need to be stated in description, or be lost. Attempting different inflections or tones to NPCs can also help to differentiate them, as can giving them differing personalities or tendencies. While I can't properly convey the anger of the character through my facial expressions and body language, my party can still recall the anger of the halfling supremacist who considered humans to be animals and scum.

I sincerely hope that my answer was of some use. Best of luck with your gaming.

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