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Rolemaster Skype

Post Number:#1  Postby The Keeper » 16 Feb 2011, 22:11

I started using Skype about three years ago as a means of communication with a contact I know that works for Quark Inc. in Hamburg Germany. It was easy to install and set up even though I was brand new to the world of instant messaging (excluding the IM system we have at work). My contact preferred Skype because it encrypts both chat and voice. That was fine with me.

Sometime around then the regular sessions I was having abruptly ended and I wanted to fill that void. As I was already using Skype at the time I thought that perhaps I could convince my old friend to try it and we could Skype on Sunday nights for Rolemaster. He agreed. The first couple of times getting things to work was an adventure I was unaware of just how much raw CPU Skype consumes just for voice. At the time I was working with an old Titanium PowerBook with about 784mb of RAM. I quickly found out that I had to close just about every program I had as well as any TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) apps I might have had running. Even so, I was usually hitting north of 80% CPU. This had an impact on voice quality, causing interrupts and dropped packets. My old friend and I didn't get a lot of gaming done those first few Sundays.

I also discovered that at least for the Mac version, Skype had a very annoying habit of auto adjusting gain during voice calls. This resulted in my friend hearing me fade in and out. I eventually found a hack to Skype that prevented it from doing this and was able to manually adjust gain.

In the past when I game I usually would play music, burn candles/incense for mood and so forth. Well, I had a problem with the music part. I couldn't run iTunes for my playlists without seriously spiking the CPU. So…I got iTunes 3.x working on an old OS9 machine I have in my garage (where I game). That worked out perfectly. Now, I've not ever had a webcam so the rest of the mood items was mainly for me. I hope to rectify that problem soon.

Somewhere along the line my old Mac died and I ended up with two larger and faster Macs that share the load and an iPod Nano. One Mac runs Skype, the other runs whatever I need it to and the Nano plays my playlists. All tied in to an old 1985 Sanyo stereo system. I have Skype routed to a separate pair of speakers so as to minimize feedback.

So I have been doing this for about 3 years now. What I have discovered is a mixed bag of good and bad. Skype allows me to game while I'm in Arizona and my friend is in California. That's good. Unfortunately, without a webcam I can't illustrate any of my points. That's bad. It's especially bad because I apparently am a horrible communicator. I need visuals to be descriptive to my players. My friend has taken to giving me appropriate 'hmmms' and 'okays.' I am hoping that implementing a whiteboard soon will help to alleviate the problem.

Some other things I have discovered are that you really need to familiarize (or refamiliarize) yourself with the rules. I have a limited time and fumbling around with the books has really cut in to that time. Secondly, the traditional way I do things with the GM making his rolls for the NPCs under his control while the PCs make their rolls for their characters just REALLY SLOWS THINGS DOWN! I have fought my impulse and worked out with my friend a new system. I give him the stats of the NPC(s) (or monsters) he's fighting (it's not something he won't work out in the end anyway) and he uses his tables to roll both his attack and his damage while I use my tables for said opponent and roll my attacks and damage. That way neither one of us is flipping through the books and waiting. It requires some trust, but if you've been doing this a while the experience of gaming is more important than cheating. It also adds more value to Fate Points.

Fate Points are something I implemented into the game on the advice of my friend. They allow a re-roll of any previous roll. If the subsequent roll is worse than the first one then the player makes a choice of which poison they want to drink - unless of course they spend another Fate Point.

Another negative is collateral material. Gaming runs on the little things. Scraps of maps, notes, little things you hand to the players. You can't do that via Skype. The best you can do is scan something you've drawn and send it down to the player(s) as an attachment. Now, the chat part of Skype is still functional so you can get those private little side chats with your GM. That's useful and no one is the wiser. Unlike the very obvious GM talking aside from the others. You can also do it on the fly, versus interrupting everyone else to communicate with someone.

My next project is the whiteboard of course. But I've also wanted a way to implement audio directly in to the sound stream. That way everyone connected hears both music and voice as well as any sound effects I inject. Right now, if they hear anything it's because the microphone happened to pick it up, which of course makes it sound tinny. I just want to provide an experience that everyone is happy with (not just me or the players by themselves).

So, that's pretty much my thoughts on this. What do you think?

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