AD&D: Tokbox Trouble

First proper session of the AD&D campaign was last night – writeup is here. This time around I threw a comparatively linear dungeon adventure at the players, partly to thrust the party into a crisis whose implications will guide their travels and investigations in more free-roving adventures later on, partly to give a more rigorous test of Roll20’s features by running an adventure in a pre-made map (with fog of war enabled) and using their token system.

I think the first session went alright but there were a number of hiccups. The first issue is that Tokbox, the VOIP system Roll20 uses, wasn’t as stable this time around last time, with multiple players finding that voice broadcasting, reception or both fell over. This made the process more difficult for me because whenever the players got quiet I had to check that everyone was still able to hear me and broadcast. In addition, I think Tokbox may have sensitivity issues, because people’s voices kept going all quiet and I’m not 100% convinced that was entirely down to them, and its noise cancellation seems rather variable – sometimes it was alright, sometimes people’s breathing wasn’t cancelled out, sometimes we got crazy amounts of feedback.

WebRTC is apparently coming to Roll20 and is supposed to be better, but isn’t there yet, so next week we are using good old Vent, which I find to be more reliable and also might help avoid people talking over each other if we are disciplined. When you hit the push-to-talk key in Vent it makes your icon in the Vent window go green, so if people hold down the button for a moment before they start speaking and everyone pays attention to the Vent window that should avoid everyone talking at once. That should make the game much less frustrating for everyone and help it flow more smoothly. Microphone self-discipline hasn’t really been something we’ve needed to think about in NWN because we were using the microphone for occasional comments, but now that voice is the primary means of running the game we probably need to work on being more orderly about it.

As far as the actual adventure went, the opening was a bit awkward (campaign openings often are because as the GM you find yourself having to ponk the players down in a situation and unlike any other point in the campaign you don’t have their immediately preceding actions giving it context), but the party seems to have gelled and the kobold fight seemed genuinely challenging without completely trashrolling the PCs (though there was a moment where if they had lost initiative the group mage would have been jumped by the kobolds and probably smushed – guys, don’t let your mage take the lead scouting, it doesn’t end well). And all this within the first fifteen in-character minutes of entering the dungeon!

The next session should be interesting because their NPC backup is going to arrive, which might lead to some interesting strategic options. Hopefully things will move faster now people are more used to Roll20, those of us who know AD&D have shaken the rust off, and those of us who don’t have a better idea of how the system works.

Lessons learned:

  • Missile weapons in AD&D are very useful. The party was hurting a little in the kobold fight because several characters weren’t able to used ranged weapons to the full extent of their abilities, and if I’d given the kobolds ranged weapons the party would have been smushed. (I didn’t in the end because the kobolds’ ambush strategy was to jump out at close quarters and surround unwary parties.)
  • Tokbox is not very reliable.
  • Give the PCs a few barrels of gunpowder and soon they are burying kobolds in it.
  • The FATAL theme song is not appropriate background music for Roll20 games.
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