Making combat exciting while using maptools

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Toby
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Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by Toby »

My game has been running for 3 years, with sessions about once a month. We've been using MapTools the whole time for combats, which don't happen every session. I'm also recording the sessions, which we play over Skype. I'm using the recording for a podcast (RPG Logic) where we listen to the recording of a section/scene of the session and discuss what happened.

This is where I'm at: we are going to do feedback on a combat session, and in listening to the session, I can see that it's just not very exciting. No one is really invested in the fight. We have macros that take the place of the multiple die rolls that the system uses, so attacking someone is click, point, and click done. Does anyone have any suggestions for punching up the excitement?

I wonder if the interface of MapTools and Skype is putting too much distance between the players and their characters or if there is something else going on. The fights aren't dangerous enough? The players know that death is a random roll away? Not sure, any ideas here from other GM's running games over MapTools?

Toby

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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by Full Bleed »

Toby wrote:This is where I'm at: we are going to do feedback on a combat session, and in listening to the session, I can see that it's just not very exciting. No one is really invested in the fight. We have macros that take the place of the multiple die rolls that the system uses, so attacking someone is click, point, and click done. Does anyone have any suggestions for punching up the excitement?

A good while back I made my attack and save macros have a manual roll option. Basically, when the macro comes up there is an Input List (0-20). It defaults to 0. If the player clicks through the attack with it still at 0, MT does a random roll... but if they are feeling lucky and want to pick up their own dice at home they can and they they just select the roll outcome to complete the attack.

Giving players a manual option to roll their own dice sometime brings back some of the 'ol table top feel. Some people just have a lot more fun when they get to pick up their dice and roll them every once in awhile.

I wonder if the interface of MapTools and Skype is putting too much distance between the players and their characters or if there is something else going on.

Again, for me and my players, getting an online game closer to the feeling of a real face-to-face RPG requires more than just disembodied voices. We use Oovoo video conferencing... Google Hangouts is a good option too (Oovoo is probably a little better if there are players with only one monitor since it has a side bar option).
Maptool is the Millennium Falcon of VTT's -- "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts."

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Toby
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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by Toby »

That is an interesting idea and would be easy enough to implement in my framework.

Not sure it's going to make things more exciting or not, but it's worth a try.

Thanks!
Toby

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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by aliasmask »

Our group is always BS'ing over hangouts but we do all our roleplaying in chat. None of us are really character voice actors which I think a podcast would need to be entertaining. You can also add critical hit and miss descriptions to combat to spice things up. In my opinion, if you're running a game and posting it as a podcast I would pretend there is a 5 year old child that you're trying to teach the game to in the room. Also, you may want to consider having your players, if they're not very good play actors write down their character comments and quips during gameplay and then try to read them aloud as their character. It's easier to be in character if you're reading from a script. Also, the order of their posting helps so that players don't talk over each other. Unless the player is looking for an immediate response during his turn, I usually end my turn and then post my actions or comments if not completely mundane. I think it's important that the enemies communicate with the players during combat, even if it's just a guttural growl at the tasty halfling.

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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by Jagged »

Toby wrote:so attacking someone is click, point, and click done.

That might be part of the problem. How much choice is there at that point and how much difference does each choice make?

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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by Toby »

Meaningful choices are critical. The macros take the die rolling and handle the crunchy rules. I don't think they take choices out of the hands of the players. I'll talk to my players (hopefully this week) and see what they say.

I'm adding fields for a manually entered die roll and a manually entered range. The first lets the player roll their own dice and the second lets the macro work in more general situations, when we aren't placing tokens in the exact location.

Toby

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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by Jagged »

My groups experience with Maptool is that it has improved combat by making positioning and distance more relevant. Prior to Maptool we scribbled things on paper or not at all and so it was a rare situation where someone lost sight of a villain or they were out of range. So I think there is no reason why Maptool should not add to the experience.

What system are you using? Do your maps have enough detail to make positioning decisions and movement abilities relevant?

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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by JamzTheMan »

My groups experience is similar to Jagged's. Lighting, movement, and sight are more "in your face" now.

Without mini's (or sometimes even with), AOO's were rare. Now Darkvision, torches, increased base speed (try being a dwarven cleric trying to get across a battlefield to heal when you have barbarians and monks moving 60-80ft/round!), doors, vbl, etc all enhance the drama. Plus the occasional misplaced fireball or other template accidently catches a PC (or misses NPCs).

But we also play face to face so die rolling is a must. We're all old school enough that macro dice rolling is just *wrong* and as a GM I still even roll all dice except for initiative and stabilization rolls (I let MT handle that one).

I could only image that if all I did was move my token and clicked a button or two, it could get a little boring. Especially at lower levels.

Now, one thing we absolutely enjoy are using the Critical Hit/Fumble cards. Nothing better than "I thrust my long sword throw the arrow slit...<rolls a 1 and confirms a fumble> crap!"...pulls card, oh look, how appropriate, "you drop your weapon...on the other side of the wall." They do add even more randomness to the game, but not that bad, and we have a couple of other mechanics that help prevent a totally random death on a single roll...
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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by Toby »

The maps we use are usually pretty evocative. Though sometimes I have more time to make maps than other times. The fog of war and lines of sight really make things better - to me. I would love to use MapTools in person on a big screen TV where everyone can see the screen. I don't think that MapTools is the problem. We're going to discuss it tomorrow night.

Toby
PS rpglogic.libsyn.com in case you are interested in hearing the podcast. It's also on iTunes as RPG Logic.

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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by Toby »

I talked to my players and they said something interesting. The lack of investment is not because of Skype or a macro doing all the work for them, it is keeping track of armor values and hit points within MapTools. They don't easily see the result of attacks on them or on their targets. They don't see their hit points going down until it's too late.

I'm using status bars to track hit points and armor, they also have a character sheet macro where they can see details. However, two of my players are using really marginal computers - only one is a regular computer gamer who uses his full power rig to play. The other two can sometimes run macros and have very little screen real estate to have their character sheet. I'll try to tighten up the attack reporting within chat so they can more easily see how they are being affected by attacks.

Toby.

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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by Full Bleed »

Toby wrote:it is keeping track of armor values and hit points within MapTools. They don't easily see the result of attacks on them or on their targets. They don't see their hit points going down until it's too late.

Then the title of your post is misleading... you now seem to be indicating that your players aren't looking for "exciting combat" they're looking for a way to be able to tell what's going on.

So that indicates some critical flaws with your framework. Players can't be expected to be engaged if they're unable to tell what's going on.

But, to be honest, I actually think it's probably just as likely that they're not paying enough attention while playing and have scapegoated the environment. They have a responsibility to pay attention, seek clarification of situational awareness if there is doubt, and focus on the game in order for it to work under the conditions that it's being played (i.e. voice only through a VTT). For example, it sounds like there are multiple ways for them to be able to see their HPs... status bars, a character sheet, & chat output (and you could put it in the stat sheet easily enough if it isn't already there).

Without knowing if they are they surfing the web, reading/answering emails, watching tv, playing other games, and generally not prioritizing their focus on the game while playing... it's tough to tell whether their own behavior isn't a contributing factor.

It's not all that complicated. Yes, they need to be able to see the status of their characters easily. And, yes, the gaming environment needs to engage them (of which there are many suggestions in this thread about how to ratchet that up). But, game focus has to be a given as well.

So, sure, if they can't see their character status easily... that's an issue. But I suspect you'd have been more aware of that well before now if that was the root of the problem.
Maptool is the Millennium Falcon of VTT's -- "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts."

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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by JamzTheMan »

One thing you could try is adding larger "states" on a token, a wound marker that covers the token and can't be missed.

Maybe different markers at 25/50/75% or such.

I was going to use the following markers I found online for some PF Unchained rules...

[spoiler=Wound markers]
wound1.png
wound1.png (11.41 KiB) Viewed 2904 times

wound2.png
wound2.png (21.63 KiB) Viewed 2904 times

wound3.png
wound3.png (31.22 KiB) Viewed 2904 times

wound4.png
wound4.png (36.39 KiB) Viewed 2904 times

wound5.png
wound5.png (40.68 KiB) Viewed 2904 times

woundbleed.png
woundbleed.png (40.83 KiB) Viewed 2904 times
[/spoiler]
-Jamz
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Re: Making combat exciting while using maptools

Post by Toby »

I think Full Bleed has it right, the players need to take some responsibility for knowing the status of their characters. The best framework will not solve the problem of disinterested players.

I also like the big wound markers that Jamz suggests.

Thanks for all of the suggestions!

Toby

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