I played/started in a game that is using Roll20 and Google Hangouts as the "meeting place" for game. It's a weird feeling. I've been gaming long enough that my only real exposure to "phone in" gaming is a bunch of horrific anecdotes that all end with the same moral: don't ever do it. And yet, I had fun and it was remarkably easy. It is kind of awesome to see that the technology is there where regardless of distance a group of folks can get together and game. That said, it did have some strengths and weaknesses and today I want to go over my first impressions of those.
Pro: Visual Aids Are So Easy
You know what is really cool about Roll20 and Google Hangout? You have the internet there for any visual aids you need. You need a picture of a species for a Star Wars game? Google them and post the picture into the room. You need a map of a cantina? Find one online and use that. Visual aids are easy to do, and you can do them fast while running if your google fu is strong. Plus, the Roll20 tools let you draw on the pictures so that Cantina map we talked about? Yep, easy to totally mark up with where PCs are, NPCs are, and where an exit may be blocked by a bunch of boxes.
Con: Getting Started Can Be Awkward
This could just be the first session but it seemed a bit harder to get everyone settled to start. Now, like I said this was a first session so that could be it, but everyone being in their own homes means that it can be that much harder to get them to switch over to game mode.
Pro: Staying Focused Is Easier
And yet, once game started it was a lot easier to stay focused. Without physically being with the other people there were no physical distractions. There was no cross-talk at the table, and there were no funny faces, stacked dice, or other random things that can happen in person. It was easy to just look at the screen and keep in mind "yeah, we're doing game now. Awesome."
Con: Distractions Can Grab Folks And There Is Little You Can Do
This goes back to the being at home thing. But, when you have everyone over for game everyone knows what it is. You're having a social night, most of the people are "out" and it is effectively an event. This makes it harder for life's random distractions to really grab you - not counting major ones - because you're out of the way. Well, with online gaming you're at home and that can mean random people walking into the room, random chores and questions, and random animal attacks from loved pets.
Pros: Distractions Aren't As Game Breaking
And yet, and this is the point I'm going to end on, those distractions aren't as game ending. Someone comes into the room where your game is happening and everyone is kind of confronted by them. Someone comes into a player's room while they're on Roll 20 and it can be handled with a simple "brb," muting the mic, and handling the problem.
Overall I was impressed with Roll20 and the tools it had on hand. I'm looking forward to putting a bit more work into some of the toys there to have things ready and can't wait for the next session. It was fun, and also more relaxing than normal gaming if only because there was no clean up or ride home afterwards. Pretty cool all things considered.