***SCENARIO SPOILERS FOLLOW***
Last night, we ran Gatsby & the Great Race virtually for 17 players! We ended up with 5 Keepers (three running reality rooms, a primary EK, and an assistant EK). I'm pleased to report it went very well--I would say 90th percentile outcome within the range of what I expected/feared--and virtual presented very few hangups!
Technology platform: Zoom
Zoom turns out to be just about perfect for G&tGR, given its breakout room functionality. I'm by no means a Zoom expert, so if you have information that contradicts the following, go with it, but here are my Zoom tips:
Your primary EK will need to be the event host, with a paid Zoom account, so that they can manage the breakout room assignments.
You'll want to configure Manual breakout room assignments, and then turn on "Move all participants into breakout rooms automatically," with the other options all unchecked. (So no one can choose to return to the Main session, the Breakout rooms won't automatically close at a certain time, and no Countdown is needed to close a breakout room.) You definitely want these automatic transfers, as otherwise players will have an option to join a new assignment, and you want to force them to jump with no warning.
We read online that Zoom breakout rooms don't work with Chrome OS, so we emailed our players that they would need to use a device with a different operating system to connect. This only affected one or two players, who used either a tablet or phone instead, which worked just fine.
In our technology pre-tests (which I highly recommend!), we found issues with pre-assigning breakout rooms. Specifically, the automatic/forced movement didn't seem to work with pre-assignments; people logging in had an initial option to either accept or decline a breakout room assignment. To avoid this, we turned on the Zoom waiting room and our EK let players in one by one, acting briefly as a hostess and asking for "the name that appeared on your invitation" before assigning them to a breakout room. With this first appearance in the main room and the breakout room assignment coming at that point, the auto-assign to breakout rooms worked as planned and they had no choice, the system forced them to go.
Ask players to open their Zoom chats at the start of the game. It's an easy thing to overlook in Zoom, but especially since Zoom allows private message to any of the players, you want it open before you actually need it.
We asked players to change their Zoom display names to "Character First Name (Player First Name)"--so if I was playing Amelia Cosgrove, it would be, "Amelia (Joe)." That grounds players when new faces appear in their Zoom breakout rooms, and crucially, leaves out character last names for the women characters who've taken a spouse's last name in certain realities.
We skipped the investigator photos, given no clear approach for including online. While they no doubt lend an air of the surreal, I found something fun in having a player drop into a room, and then 15 minutes later say something like, "I grab Felicity's hand," only for Felicity's player to respond, "Wait... what?!" The slow reveal that the realities were less similar than assumed worked quite well for us.
I'm pleased to say we didn't have a single technology hiccup throughout the entire game. Some of that was luck--with a group this large, you can usually count on someone to have headphone or internet connectivity issues--but I was also pleased we didn't make any unforced errors, and credit our 2.5 hours of technology testing and prep that occurred in the week leading up to the event itself. (Although I did play off the initial Amelia disappearance following her fainting as a likely technology issue--"Hopefully she'll be back soon! I guess she stays fainted.")
Keeper communication platform: Discord
I expect Slack would've worked just as well, but it definitely helped to have a text chat program up and running, as opposed to texting or something. It's relatively easy to consult without your players noticing you're looking away (I was quite surprised to learn none of mine had realized I had a live text chat going throughout the full game); I used a second monitor to display it. It's a huge help to have instantaneous communication, especially around things like when to pull someone, or when the end time has triggered. Our EK would give us a 10 minute warning for which player cycle was about to start, and the order the rooms would be hit. That gave us time to plan and maneuver the looming investigator to a place where the trigger would make sense and/or have the greatest dramatic effect. Our EK let us Room Keepers drive on when to do the grab, so there were some nice dramatic moments where I'd chat a, "Now!" to the EK, and our player would disappear within 15 seconds, and usually within 5.
We also used Discord to chat about how quickly our players were piecing together the mystery, and on who had the disk shards in each room--which leads me to...
Online play challenge: The disk shards
Compared to an in-person game where you have actual disk shards, virtual play means you need to be verbally explicit about who's picking up a disk shard and what they're doing with it, if they're holding onto it, etc. Additionally, communicating that the disk fragment travels into the extra dimension and to the next reality with the player is more challenging. One place our game suffered for being remote was when the Sylvia from my room jumped to the extra dimension and then to another room, where the group had the other two disk shards. The player didn't realize Sylvia still had the disk shard after traveling through dimensions, and even the Keeper of the room privately chatting him in Zoom that "It's your choice what you reveal about your shard" didn't trigger it for him, and it took a follow-up message several minutes later to make him realize the shard was still on his person. My advice: Be 100% explicit about the disk shards. When a player arrives with one (which a Keeper should know from your Discord chat), the Keeper should chat them immediately, "The shard of the disk you had in your possession before is still with you!"
Extra Dimension: Multicam approach
For our extra dimension, we had a breakout room with our two EKs with video off and the display names "Operator" and "Voices in Your Head," plus one camera fixed on a table with several items on display--a clock, an open journal, a couple of ancient-looking books, etc. The EKs would do some creepy voice and interrogation stuff, tee up the Frozen Moment, and then ask the player, "What would you like to do?" Most of them understood immediately they could interact with the equipment on the table--the very first player asked to write her name on the journal page, and that started a cascade of messages written by players, as well as some attempts to reset the clock hands, etc.
Summoning: High tech meets low tech
Our possession approach was to have our primary EK chat via Discord to the relevant Room Keeper (with proper warnings that this might be/is approaching) that the summoning was occurring, then to call that Keeper on their cell phone. The Keeper would then answer their cell, and immediately mute it and put it on speaker phone. Then they'd invite their group to ask questions, which the Room Keeper would type into the Discord chat, which the EK would then read to the summoned player, who would reply--both of which could be heard over the speaker phone, piped through the computer mic into Zoom. It worked well enough, although we had a Reverse Summoning that left the recipient very confused--he mostly made statements that went into the Zoom chat and were then read to the summoned individual (including, "Oh great, more timey-wimey stuff"). I can't decide if that bizarre experience was a bug or a feature.
Time management: Regularly-scheduled breaks & run-time
It's simply true that playing online wears folks out in a way that playing in person doesn't. To help combat this, we built in a 5 minute bio break every 90 minutes, which we communicated to our players in advance (so no one would step away to use the bathroom 10 minutes before a break, when perhaps they were about to be grabbed for some dimension hopping). We were scheduled to run 7 p.m.-midnight (with the true kick-off planned for 7:15, which worked perfectly), so we broke at 8:30, 10, and then 11 so we could finish the rest of the game uninterrupted. We ended up pushing past midnight, with the first room wrapping at 12:25 and the final room (mine) wrapping our end time at 12:40.
Post-game: Large group Zoom
I expect it's true of the in-person game that tables can wrap a few minutes apart, but it's a little different in Zoom where you're stuck in a breakout room until all rooms are ready to end that setting and jump into the main room together. Of course, the real issue is this means instead of players breaking up into groups to discuss what happened, we had 22 people on one Zoom call at 12:40 a.m. Large group discussions are inherently difficult, and are prone to domination by a few people. I wish I had a better solution for how to make this discussion more like an in-person post-game debrief. On the bright side, people were animated and we still had 8-10 people online and discussing at 2 a.m. when we shut it down.
Finally, a big thanks to @Paul Fricker for writing a brilliant scenario that translates so well to online play! At least one seasoned roleplayer said afterward, "I've never played anything like that before!" It was an awesome, memorable experience, and I'm pleased and little proud of how well it went--which really just reflects back on you and how strong the scenario is.