Virtual Tabletops and In-Character/Out-of-Character Speech

image This post presents some ideas for separating player speech from character speech when playing roleplaying games on a virtual tabletop.

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  • Excellent piece ... I agree with you on almost everything (I actually like playing small PCs ).

    Using different colors/fonts/etc for different speaker modes really helps the game along imo. I have played in a game where we only used text chat, but we differentiated actions, OOC and in character speech. It worked great imo

  • Glad you liked it. How important/useful did you find it to differentiate between actions and in-character speech? I guess I found it useful for non-verbal communication: "Riorx scratches his chin thoughtfully", "Dalorr nods", etc. On the other hand, I've been thinking that if you just have an in-character/out-of-character toggle, maybe actions are superfluous. I mean, you kind of get the difference from verb tense. Opinions?
  • To be able to differentiate between speech and actions is not that important, since the way you type you text will make it clear. Using " symbols helps a bit and using colors helps even more. I like the way Fantasy Grounds does it, except that its a bit too easy to choose the wrong key-combination. Might be easier to start an action with /a, an ooc text with nothing and speech with /s ... for instance


    Typed by character Johan: /a walks towards the old woman

    Result: Johan walks towards the old woman

    Typed by character Johan: /s says Hello old lady

    Result: Johan says: "Hello old lady"

    Typed by character Johan: /s yells DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME NOW?

    Result: Johan yells: "DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME NOW?"

    Typed by character Johan: does she seem to understand me?

    Result: Johan: does she seem to understand me?

    Preferably the three types have different colors.

    Just one way of doing it of course. It can be made a lot more complex
  • I bounce back and forth on this all the time. Distinguishing actions from speech keeps popping in and out of EpicTable, and it's not even released yet. On the one hand, I think the difference is small, people get it from context, and they often forget/mistype. On the other hand, I suppose that the real advantage comes into play, not with the rendering of quotes, etc., but consistently differentiating the output with color, italics, etc., so that everyone knows in sub-second time whether they're looking at actions, character speech, or out of character speech.

    I'm currently rendering whispers in grey italic, because I think it's particularly important to know when something's whispered. And I do the same with the input box, because it's even more important to have a visual cue that you're whispering (or not whispering!). I think it's actually the whisper that pushed me over the edge, towards less signaling of intent--because nothing else seemed as important as the whisper distinction, and each distinction seemed to make the whole experience more visually and cognitively cluttered.

    That said, what you're talking about is very straightforward and seems unobtrusive enough...and I do think there's value in the distinction.... Probably worth revisiting.
  • Hi John. I am new to your site and looking forward to RTM.

    I work in the software industry, though not on the dev side today. I am a gamer of many years and use OneNote to capture 10s of thousands of notes everyday and in particular on the requirements for a good VT. But work and family prevent me from ever getting it done. And now I see there are many on the web to evaluate. Such as Epic Table, which looks very exciting. So I congratulate you on getting ideas into action.

    On the topic of in-game chat, I know what I would like to see. I would like to see players register a player name and a character name. When they speak in Character, all players see their text and when they speak OOC, only I see their text, unless I allow OOC crosstalk. OOC would be activated by the players with a button. I think this is more inline with your design approach than switches, though supporting switches seems like a popular theme with chat tools.

    I think when players see something like

    Grog (OOC): Can I roll to see if I hear anything?

    It really detracts from the immersion. Actions should be triggered by things the player can do; move, attack, cast spell, etc. Using Kepli's example above I would prefer:

    Player Dave moves his token toward the old woman on the map

    Result: GM sees indication of Dave wanting move his character across map and allows it and all players see on screen the text: Johan moves and they see his token move next to the old woman.

    Player Dave types Hello old lady

    Result: Johan: Hello old lady

    Player Dave types DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME NOW?

    Result: Johan: DO YOU UNDERSTAND NOW?

    Player Dave types Does she seem to understand me? and presses the OOC button to send his text.

    Result: GM sees Dave: Does she seem to understand me?

    Now, I am a little torn on the emoting aspect as I can see how players could use an emote action to role play, but I can also make the argument that using emotes allows players to be lazy with the words they use. Anyway, just some thoughts. Any likelihood of a beta this spring? I am starting a new campaign with friends and shopping for a tool now.
  • Welcome to the site, YoAzz. I kind of like your notion of making out-of-character speech private. It does seem like it would make it more immersive...or just encourage players to mix IC and OOC speech. I think a lot of people like out of character speech--the social aspect of the game is a big draw for some people. A lot of VTs, EpicTable included, support "whispers". You could use whispers to the GM for all your OOC speech, I suppose. I could imagine a GM wanting to eliminate the OOC crosstalk if he were running a story-oriented, roleplay-heavy session--especially if it's a "pickup" session between strangers. It's an interesting notion.

    I'm not a huge fan of emotes either--for exactly the same reason; I think they sometimes prevent someone from finding a better way to express himself. I really don't want my evil cleric's speech littered with frowny faces. (EpicTable uses only textual emotes--adjectives, not smilies.) On the other hand, without tone of voice, and sometimes it's just faster to tack on an emote than to think of yet another way to convey that your character is cheerful.

    In terms of your evaluation and a Spring beta, I really don't think I'm going to have a public beta by Spring. EpicTable is fairly far along, and I'm going to be using it with my own gaming group next week. The existing VTs are pretty strong, though, and I don't want to rush EpicTable out and make a bad first impression. I'd say absolutely check out the VTs that are out there, get your campaign going, and let me see if I can lure you back for another look at EpicTable later. If you haven't already found, check it out. It's a really great, friendly forum that deals with VTs, and several of the VT vendors frequent it. Also, "heruca" of Battlegrounds maintains what's probably the canonical list of VTs. Finally, iCon2008 starts this weekend, and it's a great opportunity to get a look at the VTs that are currently available.
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