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Gatsby and the Great Race scenario - Virtually?


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Does anyone have experience running the large group scenario Gatsby and the Great Race via video conference?

For context, I have a friend who runs a mini-convention out of his home every August. It's four days and 30-40 people, with a mix of board games and roleplaying games. This year, the in-person option obviously won't work, so we're brainstorming things we can do online instead. But he always likes to have a few large-field games to serve as the marquee events on Friday and Saturday nights, and I thought of Gatsby. Normally the group skews a little more board gamers than RPGers, but the hope is more people will be willing to take the RPG plunge this year given they're easier to pull off remotely.

Can anyone attest to having run Gatsby and the Great Race successfully online? What videoconferencing software did you use, and what tricks did you find most effective for keeping a level of immersion when you can't blindfold folks or do some of the other LARP aspects? Or are we better to skip it this year and instead try to run it in a future year when we're back to an in-person gathering?

I appreciate any and all insights!

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That's great, Paul--thank you! I'll give them a listen. I'm more accustomed to Zoom and Google Hangouts than to Skype--will have to explore whether there's Skype functionality that made things go smoother, or if the same functionality is available in other programs.

If anyone participated in this game, I'd love to hear any lessons learned or insights that came about while translating it to virtual. Maybe they'll be obvious from the recording, but I'm certainly up for reflections on the experience!

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On 7/9/2020 at 10:31 PM, Joe Kenobi said:

That's great, Paul--thank you! I'll give them a listen. I'm more accustomed to Zoom and Google Hangouts than to Skype--will have to explore whether there's Skype functionality that made things go smoother, or if the same functionality is available in other programs.

If anyone participated in this game, I'd love to hear any lessons learned or insights that came about while translating it to virtual. Maybe they'll be obvious from the recording, but I'm certainly up for reflections on the experience!

Hi Joe!  Hey, our Midwest Cult of Chaos has run Gatsby and the Great Race a few times live (Shout out to Gamehole Con Madison and Gary Con Lake Geneva! :) ), and (although I haven't posed it yet :) ), I'm also going to try and get our troupe together to run it online for Gamehole Con.  From just the buzz in the field, it sounds like Zoom may be a good fit - I've heard lots of great things, it has the built in whiteboard, siderooms, etc, etc which I think would add some great functionality to the run.

Additionally, we've put together some nice materials to make the run easier (standups (Cut and paste the picks), character sheets, a 4th reality (for 5 tables total) and a really nice Keeper flip sheet, timing sheet - all updated for 7th edition).  I'd be happy to share this with you if you'd like to take a look! :)  We have some nice methods we've picked up which have been pretty popular with our groups - I'd be happy to talk to you about it if this is of interest....

Additionally, we can use some of your online running experiments to improve ours for November! :) 

When are you planning on running?  Definitely the Skype of Cthulhu folks are the primary source (I was proudly in that game! :) ) - they have been there and done that - they have the most experience. :) Good luck, and I hope we can talk soon!

Take care!

Keeper Cory

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Hi Cory, thanks for chiming in! I actually learned of the Gatsby & the Great Race scenario when your colleague Jen was on the Miskatonic University Podcast last year. Yes, I'd love whatever resources and insights you have to offer!

We just kicked off the call for participants yesterday and I should know by the end of the week if we have enough interested parties to play (I want to make sure we can justify at least three "tables"), and to serve as Keepers for the scenario. Assuming it goes forward, it'll run either Fri 8/7 or Sat 8/8. Glad to hear Zoom has looked like a good option. And yes, assuming things go forward, I'll happily share any insights and lessons learned of my own!

In addition to general insights toward running the scenario and advice for a virtual game of it, I have a number of specific questions and ideas that have come up as I've contemplated the scenario. Would love help with these from Cory, Paul, or anyone else who's participated before!

***SCENARIO SPOILERS TO FOLLOW***

1) How important is the character portrait element to the scenario? Given the nature of Zoom, those are tough to bring in naturally. I'd like to encourage everyone to use their character name as their screen name, so they can "recognize" one another that way as they move between rooms--will that be enough, or will we be missing an important element of the fun?

2) Since I have to advertise this as one big game, my plan is to have each of the Keepers tell their tables that they're the early guests to the party who are staying overnight, but of course other guests, some traveling together, are en route and will arrive later--and imply other Keepers are running rooms traveling to the party, while they are the room that starts at the Gatsby estate. I don't know if that will work, but hopefully it creates some early misdirection to make up for their knowledge that others are also in the larger game.

3) I'm a little confused as to what happens if on the First Time run someone follows Gatsby to take his "phone call" and watches him pace in the hallway. If someone watches him when Point Zero occurs, then on successive loops, they'll jump to a point where they're watching an empty hallway, correct? (And so perhaps the point is that Keepers should ensure no investigators have him in sight when Point Zero does occur?)

4) I'm also a little confused by the Frozen Moment. Is the purpose simply to create a shared extra-dimensional space that discerning players can discover they all pass through, so they have a point where they can hand things off (physically, or record information to share)? There's not an original piece of the disc here, is there?

5) For Summoning in a virtual game, my suspicion is we're best off having the Keeper take down the summoners' questions, chat them to the Extradimensional Keeper, and have that EK ask the questions of the summoned in the extra dimension breakout room, type up the responses, and send them back to the summoners' Keeper for reading to the group.

6) I figure it probably makes the most sense to have a single Extradimensional Keeper, since there will be fewer physical logistics to manage, and have that EK maintain Video Off (i.e. a black screen) in the extra dimension, and only speak to players.

Appreciate any answers or feedback anyone has on these points!

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On 7/14/2020 at 4:26 AM, Joe Kenobi said:

***SCENARIO SPOILERS TO FOLLOW***

1) How important is the character portrait element to the scenario? Given the nature of Zoom, those are tough to bring in naturally. I'd like to encourage everyone to use their character name as their screen name, so they can "recognize" one another that way as they move between rooms--will that be enough, or will we be missing an important element of the fun?

Character portraits add a lot to the game if you can work them in somehow, because of the experience of witnessing the change in one's appearance, or of someone else having 'your face' when you move games.

Names change in some cases from game to game. The player will assume to keep the same name, but the way they are known in other games may be different. 

On 7/14/2020 at 4:26 AM, Joe Kenobi said:

2) Since I have to advertise this as one big game, my plan is to have each of the Keepers tell their tables that they're the early guests to the party who are staying overnight, but of course other guests, some traveling together, are en route and will arrive later--and imply other Keepers are running rooms traveling to the party, while they are the room that starts at the Gatsby estate. I don't know if that will work, but hopefully it creates some early misdirection to make up for their knowledge that others are also in the larger game.

That sounds fine I think.

On 7/14/2020 at 4:26 AM, Joe Kenobi said:

3) I'm a little confused as to what happens if on the First Time run someone follows Gatsby to take his "phone call" and watches him pace in the hallway. If someone watches him when Point Zero occurs, then on successive loops, they'll jump to a point where they're watching an empty hallway, correct? (And so perhaps the point is that Keepers should ensure no investigators have him in sight when Point Zero does occur?)

Gatsby is summoned to a fake call and goes into the house, wanders about, hides, etc, to kill time until 2:27:00 PM (point zero). This is the point at which you record where people are, this is where they will be at the start of each loop.

2:27:01 Loop starts - but not the first loop. Numerous loops have already taken place and been forgotten. So during that first cyle of time (2:27-3:27, prior to the first time jump), somehow Gatsby DID the ritual. Nothing the players can do to change that (unless they kill him before the loops begin, before 2:27).

On 7/14/2020 at 4:26 AM, Joe Kenobi said:

4) I'm also a little confused by the Frozen Moment. Is the purpose simply to create a shared extra-dimensional space that discerning players can discover they all pass through, so they have a point where they can hand things off (physically, or record information to share)? There's not an original piece of the disc here, is there?

Its there to add strangeness, and allow players to have some interaction with characters from other games. You could have a piece of disc there if you want, but I don't think there's one there by default. 

On 7/14/2020 at 4:26 AM, Joe Kenobi said:

5) For Summoning in a virtual game, my suspicion is we're best off having the Keeper take down the summoners' questions, chat them to the Extradimensional Keeper, and have that EK ask the questions of the summoned in the extra dimension breakout room, type up the responses, and send them back to the summoners' Keeper for reading to the group.

Sounds good. Be great if the responses could be recorded and replayed, but probably technically difficult.

On 7/14/2020 at 4:26 AM, Joe Kenobi said:

6) I figure it probably makes the most sense to have a single Extradimensional Keeper, since there will be fewer physical logistics to manage, and have that EK maintain Video Off (i.e. a black screen) in the extra dimension, and only speak to players.

Appreciate any answers or feedback anyone has on these points!

Audio only could work well for that I think. 

I've messaged a couple of others with experience of running the game online and asked them if they'd like to contribute.

Do keep us posted on how it goes!

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Hi Joe.  I was part of the SoC crew that ran Gatsby online and have helped Cory run it in person a couple times.  We are starting to think about running it online again in November I think.

One piece is how you shuffle people from call to call.  We used Skype only because Skype is what we use.  I suspect it could be done with breakout rooms in Zoom maybe more easily.  At least everybody would be on the same call.  This requires the ED keeper to have authority to move people around or a way of messaging people to drop out of one call and join another.  It would require a lot of adding friends for Skype, so some other software might be better.  Discord might be fairly seamless.  Each game would have a channel as would the ED, and the ED would message players to drop out of a channel and join the ED channel.  

For Zoom and some other software, you could pass out character portraits and ask players to use them as an avatar or background, but it would get messy as people have to swap them around.  We were audio only.

We typically have a google doc for player notes. This is also a place where the maps can be dropped.  I have found that the maps are useful, so if you can find a way to make them available to the players, that would probably be good.

It is also useful for the Keepers to be able to message each other during the game to help with timing.  This is one area where online might be an advantage as the players won't see it happening. 

Like the others, I'd appreciate hearing how it goes, assuming it does.

Good luck and enjoy--it should be a great time.

Edwin

 

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Thank you both!

We're having a little more trouble drumming up interest than I'd hoped--at 8 interested players and 3 interested Keepers so far, and I'd really like to have 11-12 players and 4 Keepers. Fingers crossed we get there!

6 hours ago, Paul Fricker said:

Gatsby is summoned to a fake call and goes into the house, wanders about, hides, etc, to kill time until 2:27:00 PM (point zero). This is the point at which you record where people are, this is where they will be at the start of each loop.

2:27:01 Loop starts - but not the first loop. Numerous loops have already taken place and been forgotten. So during that first cyle of time (2:27-3:27, prior to the first time jump), somehow Gatsby DID the ritual. Nothing the players can do to change that (unless they kill him before the loops begin, before 2:27).

Okay, so what I'm getting is I should make every effort to ensure no one has a view of Gatsby at Point Zero. If they follow him into the house, for instance, I should ensure Gatsby maneuvers away and they don't have a view of him at the time Point Zero strikes.

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11 hours ago, Joe Kenobi said:

Okay, so what I'm getting is I should make every effort to ensure no one has a view of Gatsby at Point Zero. If they follow him into the house, for instance, I should ensure Gatsby maneuvers away and they don't have a view of him at the time Point Zero strikes.

Consider the individual time tracks of Gatsby and the PC that perhaps follows him, and what will happen at the gaming table and what won't. This is just an example:

GATSBY: At gaming table: Gatsby goes in to house and kills time. As Point Zero is reached he is in the hallway. [Not at gaming table: following PZ he then moves to the casting room, does the ritual]. At gaming table: Gatsby exits the casting room following PZ.

PC: At gaming table: follows Gatsby in to house. At PZ the PC is perhaps watching Gatsby. [Not at gaming table: We'll never know what happened here, but somehow the PC loses Gatsby.] At gaming table: Gatsby, if being watched, blinks out of sight. 

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On 7/21/2020 at 7:43 AM, Paul Fricker said:

Consider the individual time tracks of Gatsby and the PC that perhaps follows him, and what will happen at the gaming table and what won't. This is just an example:

GATSBY: At gaming table: Gatsby goes in to house and kills time. As Point Zero is reached he is in the hallway. [Not at gaming table: following PZ he then moves to the casting room, does the ritual]. At gaming table: Gatsby exits the casting room following PZ.

PC: At gaming table: follows Gatsby in to house. At PZ the PC is perhaps watching Gatsby. [Not at gaming table: We'll never know what happened here, but somehow the PC loses Gatsby.] At gaming table: Gatsby, if being watched, blinks out of sight. 

Perfect. Thanks, Paul! This was clarifying for me.

Good news: It took about a week longer than I'd hoped, but we have 14 players and four Keepers, and our game is a go for next weekend! I will certainly report back on the other side with how things went. In the meantime, @caddy1071, if you're still willing to share your scenario reference materials, please DM me! They sound very helpful!

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  • 2 weeks later...

***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.

Edited by Joe Kenobi
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