Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Are you sitting comfortably?

Much thought has been given to the importance of correct seating while playing computer and console games, but my friend James's review of a DM's screen got me thinking about how we sit to play roleplaying games.

These days it's pretty pointless for me to use a DM's screen of any kind. I only ever GM games via Google Hangouts or similar, so no-one could see anything on my desk, even if most of my notes weren't actually typed into the GM overlay of the virtual tabletop or the GM-only section of the game wiki. These latter two may deserve more discussion at a later date, but for now I will simply note that the roll20 virtual desktop is a massive time saver simply by cutting out all the tedious 'the orcs are there?' 'Well I would have done X if I'd realised.' 'No, wait; I was over by the water tanks.' that otherwise bogs down combat, and that Obsidian Portal's player/GM info split is ideal for book keeping, even if the layout is a little bit 'strip of text down the middle of the screen' for my ideal.

What I actually want to consider is the seating positions we adopt for in-person tabletop roleplaying.

The classic is of course to sit around a large table, but this is an increasingly rare luxury as people are forced into smaller spaces and frankly hold fewer dinner parties. There are doubtless many essays on the shift of family focus from the dining table to the TV, but even though we have a table and eat our meals there as a family, I know that I only unfold both sides of the gateleg on very special occasions because it means moving the sofa; and I just don't have enough chairs.

And it's a shame, because let's look at the classic setup:

On a good size, to-scale table (not like this one) you have space for character sheets and notepads, snacks and drinks, reference rulebooks and a GM's private zone, with a shared rolling space in the centre. Everyone is together and thus everyone is engaged. It's easy to pass notes if you need to, and easy to spot when someone is disengaging. It's an ideal gaming set-up, which is probably why board games have evolved the way that they have.

Compare that to the alternative 'distributed' model, which I of necessity used for a while before going all digital. Players are not consistently in each other's eyeline, they are often at different levels and may be disengaged at various times without being immediately noticeable. Dice tend to be rolled awkwardly on books or the floor beside chairs. Anything being passed is immediately and painfully obvious. Although mostly happy with my most recent TT games, the absence of a properly set-up table was always an issue for me. I felt that I lost player involvement (as well as dice.)

I find that virtual gaming returns to many of the advantages of a proper table, especially coupled with a good VTT. Everyone is in front of their cameras, I can see them, they can see me; we're all there together. And I can pass notes!

In conclusion, if it can be said to be such a thing, if I ever run another one-location TT game, I'm moving the sofa and getting the chairs out.