I begin using a simplified VTT – Owlbear Rodeo – to enhance my game without losing the Theater of Mind focus. Meanwhile, within the game, the players battle a large Bone Horror and find the young boy Galen who they were tasked to find. A long trilogy of adventures is now winding down and a bunch of new opportunities is about to present themselves!
My new stripped-down VTT – Owlbear Rodeo. In my Discord games I want to maintain Theatre of Mind. Obviously in an online environment you miss out on a lot of the essential face-to-face contact essential to table-top RPG gaming. For the last nine months for my C&C games online, I’ve been screen sharing map pdfs to provide players with reference points during their exploration. However, it was clear that I needed to make some changes. It sometimes feels that there are new VTT’s appearing every few weeks, but when I saw and played around with Owlbear Rodeo (https://www.owlbear.rodeo/) I thought this is what I need. I can import whatever map I am using, use the fog feature to cover it up, and then reveal portions of it as the players explore during the adventure. There are also counters which the GM and players can label and use if there is really a need to use them (there are a few more features, but I am doubtful I’ll use them). I can load a map and cover it with the fog feature for a game in a matter of 5 minutes. That is all the prep I need! I don’t need and don’t want digital character sheets and everything getting calculated for me. I am a hands-on referee. I want to reach for my physical books and page through them by hand and spread them across my tables. I am also a GM that stands up and moves about for roughly half my game session (perhaps 2 hours of a 4 hour game), which means I can’t just passively sit in front of my computer and fiddle around with my mouse for the entire game session (I find it static and boring). I have energy and I want to convey that to my players and get them excited, I am a GM trying to present awe-inspiring fantasy, I’m not trying to report the regional weather forecast for four straight hours using funny voices. So Owlbear Rodeo works well, I only need to take a moment once in a while to remove the fog to reveal where the group is going next, and most of the time I can interact with my players standing up and motion and gesture to convey what they are seeing and hearing.
The game session. The group was roughly halfway through exploring the catacombs of Rodemus Keep when the session began. During our four hour game they pretty much completed the entire complex, taking on a group of goblin tomb raiders which had barricaded themselves within a large chamber. This forced the players to enter one-by-one instead of just charging in, which allowed the goblins to get a few rounds of arrow attacks in. But when you have warriors wielding great-axes, the goblins are going to be taken down! There were also encounters with zombies which were dealt with easily enough. Many more storage rooms and burial chambers with un-animated dead were explored.
The final encounter for the game session arrived when they approached a door and the paladin detected a wave of evil triggering a powerful headache. One cleric cast a protection from undead scroll which radiated its magic for a 10 foot radius around her. They opened the door and facing them was a 9 foot tall creature which had tattered bat-like wings, a zombie face with two skeletal heads on mounted on its shoulders, two clawed hands, and a scorpion-like tail. It screamed out “save the boy!” and then flew over three zombie minions it had under its control and went to attack the characters. It’s attacks mostly missed. Players attacked it in turn, but noticed that non-magical weapons had no effect on it. However, one of the clerics successfully turned undead, and as it turned to flee, players with magical weapons moved in and attacked it with bonuses to hit from behind. This broke the turn attempt and it turned to face them again for its three attacks (claw/claw/sting), but again it failed to leave its mark (which is good, since it’s tail sting was of the old-school saving throw vs. poison or die variety). They beat the undead monstrosity to its knees and destroyed it, at which point the remaining three zombies were a mere afterthought.
The chamber of the bone horror was connected to another room with a ladder leading up a chimney to a secret exit point from the catacombs. Hiding behind the ladder was the young boy Galen. He was so happy to be saved from the frightening undead! The adventure was now effectively done, however, the players are very thorough, so in the next game session they plan to explore the last room or two they think might exist inside the catacombs (based on the couple of foggy areas that haven’t been revealed yet on the map). Once this is done they will return to the town of Dale, collect their reward, and then the adventure opportunities will be wide open for them. I shared various rumors with characters based on their races and classes a couple of months back and I will be expanding upon that when this adventure is officially completed. The next few months of gaming will be based on their interests for each game session. I wonder what they will want to explore? I will be supplying some of the rumors they picked up in a future game diary so that you, too, can ponder the possibilities.