It’s amazing that I have the energy to write tonight, given that I just spent four and a half hours running a D&D adventure online for EIGHT PLAYERS, but it was such a rush. I can’t believe how well it all went! Seven of the players were already logged in before the scheduled start time, and the eighth ran about 10-15 minutes late (no big deal).
We started off with everyone being able to see their tokens on a small map (with an image of the map of Waterdeep on the page), and I explained how MapTool worked. As a player, the only things they really needed to know were how to move their token (click and drag), how to move around the map (right click and drag; zoom with the mouse wheel) and how to deal with their macros (just click them). That went pretty easily.
We also spent a little time talking about the future of the group. We’re going to split in two – one with me as the DM playing at level 1 and one with another person from the group as the DM, playing at some higher level in order to get to paragon tier faster. But since I had put everything together for this evening with the plan of having eight players, we would still play the adventure together. (It was the Living Forgotten Realm module that I’ll be running in my local store next Saturday – WATE1-1 Heirloom.)
I should also point out that, in addition to having MapTool open with everyone impersonating their characters in order to talk in-character (way cool), we also had Skype open for voice chat. Let me give a huge shout-out to Skype – this software is awesome. We had excellent call quality with eight active lines (two of the players were together at one computer), no lag – it was just fantastic.
Anyway, I used audio to communicate with my players most of the time, and they used a mixture of audio and text. The adventure started off with a lengthy skill challenge to track down a thief who had stolen a family heirloom (hence the title of the module, “Heirloom”). Mixed in the middle was a quickie combat encounter with some drunken sailors, which ended in one action – the party’s invoker walking up and unleashing an encounter power that just about wiped them out (whereupon the sailors that were still up surrendered and staggered away).
At the end of the skill challenge, the party confronted the thief and his cronies in their underground lair. This battle was much more interesting, with some good movement, creative use of marks, and SO many conditions to keep track of! It’s easier in MapTool than in real life – I can’t imagine running this encounter with eight PCs around a real table.
We took a five-minute break before diving into the final encounter, where the party faced the person who had hired the thief to steal the heirloom. The party did a good job of achieving surprise, and it became clear that I could either have the bad guys fight smart – keeping their guard drakes in front of the door to the room and making it hard for the party to do anything – or have them fight fun – letting the drakes shift back into the room so the melee fighters had something interesting to do. I went with fun, and I’m glad I did.
The best part of the evening was the very end of this encounter. I had some bad guys, who were hidden at the time, go out the window of the room they were in, trying to escape. Hilarity ensued as the party tried to go after them. Lots of falling out windows, landing on people who had already fallen (dealing improvised damage – why not?), and so on.
Looking back, it was clear that the encounters were not all that challenging for the party, since no one ever ended up making death saving throws. But you know what? For a party of eight, that’s okay. The encounters were long enough already, and making them tougher would have made them take longer.
The most important thing was that everyone legitimately seemed to have a great time. A couple of people who were planning to go play in the high-level game reached out to me to say that they were having so much fun that they were considering staying low-level. That’s really gratifying to hear – “I’m having so much fun that I want to keep playing in your game.” Is there a better feeling as a DM? Not to mention the fact that one of the players is an Englishman playing in his first-ever tabletop RPG, and he played with us from 1:00 AM to 5:30 AM his time. How’s that for dedication!
It will be a little sad to break up the group, but I honestly don’t have the energy for an eight-PC campaign. I can handle four or five, but beyond that I think it’s just a little too much. Still, just to run a game this big one time was worthwhile. It was, quite frankly, an unqualified success, and I can’t imagine it having gone any better. This is what I live for as an online dungeon master!