GM Style and Playing Online


Hey guys,

I assume most of us got experience on both: playing in person and online.
Did playing online change your GMing style? If so in what way? Do you evaluation that change to be positive or even negative? What’s your future plan for returning to the real table some day?

Just to make clear: I don’t want to state any way of being inferior or something like that - just piling up GM-reflections :slight_smile:

For me: I strongly dislike using “nice digital features” in my games like full-color battlemaps, digital character sheets, concept art as backdrops and alike.
One reasoning for me is, that I don’t have those things available at the table. I don’t want to add a screen to my table etc., because I think I may “spoil” my players’ expectations (and my habbits). My players are still “fresh” to the hobby (playing for less than 5 years) and we dug the table feeling, hence I want to preserve it.
Another reasoning for me is that, full-color battlemaps and concept art “restrict” me. Improvising a scene becomes impossible without sacrificing a “coherent look”. Bashing together scenes with physical terrain (and using it in RHVTT) bridged that gap and avoids that players see “how the sausage got made”.

Maybe I’m weird :smiley: Anyway, hence my online play got a mimic of my table games: journal, physical terrain, looking my players into their eyes (as far as possible with a webcam :smile: )



Honestly, playing online has actually improved my overall experience because I get to play more! More games mean more practice and more opportunities to learn. But I also get to play in person occasionally and that will hopefully increase in frequency (although I’m not giving up my online games).

What I’ve noticed is that I how I run games differently for each setting.

For VTT, I also don’t like fancy digital features and I’m all in with the simplicity of RHVTT. I mostly use concept art as backdrops and I’ll mildly attempt to keep things similar, but I’m not afraid to drop the cohesion if an image just works.

For the table, I go with minimal 3D terrain, paper minis, and index cards. I still want to create that campfire space for the table, without a lot of fuss.

So maybe I’m weird because I like both. Each for different reasons and I just want to be a GM that adapts to my environment rather than fighting it :smiley:


in my experience online play is a lot more focused due not being to speak while someone else is and at the table has been more friendly bantery while playing. they each have positives and negatives but if it weren’t for online i wouldn’t be in this hobby and get a chance to play with people from around the world that my little mountain could never offer.

I think that there is a pressure to make online play more visually impactful but i also usually play with someone with aphantasia, so i need to put in some work in that respect anyway.

ive unfornately have not had many chances to play in person but i have really enjoyed what ive gotten to do. it does completely drain me of energy for like a day or two so its not something i think i could do every week.


First off, Kane, I have watched pretty much all of your actual play videos, and I just love the way you make the depth-of-landscape and side scroller-style background images work for your in-game storytelling. Your technique is smooth, and your narrative advances almost seamlessly as you move through the screens in sequence. It’s very impressive.

For me, online play is great because it connects you to new people or to friends you’d otherwise have to wait to play with in person. That said, I don’t think it will ever hold for me more than a fraction of the immersion, the energy, the interactivity, the spontaneity, or the excitement that gathering around the physical tabletop brings. Playing in person makes it so much easier to run and participate in games. And besides, I just love tabletop crafting too much to give it up! :nerd_face:


A hobby store just opened not far from my place… so let’s just say that I have plans to go GM there if I can put a group together! :grin:


I have started playing TTRPGs using only theatre of the mind, which worked well for games like Call of Cthulhu.
Since I am mostly a player at the moment, I cannot say how my GMing style was changed or if I already have a particular style to begin with. It always depends on the game. Maps in Call of Cthulhu are optional but props/handouts etc. are important for me. GMing Forbidden Lands I used a hexmap, because it was important for how certain mechanics work. Playing Warp Shell, I use maps to visualise the area. When I played The Dark Eye our group used a whiteboard if something needed to be visualised but kept it theatre of the mind most of the time.

As for the question how online play has changed my GMing or even playing style: I feel that I’m still learning the ropes. I play 5E with some people and not all of us have either stable enough internet or a functioning webcam, so we are basically incorporeal voices, which makes reading social cues impossible and leads to players dominating entire scenes. I have been guilty of muting myself and drifting off while other players take 15 minutes to collect paint to paint their shield and then discuss an additional ten minutes that they should get proficiency on their roll.
I do like online play, though because I get to play with my friends all around the country.
I don’t like online play because if certain criteria are not met (stable internet, functioning webcam) the social aspect of it is greatly diminished.


Playing online has changed a few things about the way I run games:

  1. It was easier to do voices without people looking at me. On the rare occasions we do video chat, I get more self-conscious about voice acting, but folks tend to cheer me on more to compensate. It’s just easier to get in character as a goblin or orc warrior with no one staring me in the eye.

  2. I have to run shorter sessions. Which is a shame, because I started (in person) at 3 hours, with room for beaks and late-comers, and now it’s down to only two hours. Sitting at a computer listening to people talk is just more mentally taxing than sitting around table – people can’t feed off each other’s energy as easily as in person, and it’s more tempting to check that browser tab, etc. I believe it’s better to leave folks wanting more than punish them with a third hour. (This is especially a problem since I usually run D&D 5E, a game that seems built around the assumption of a 4-6 hour session. Just another reason to play ICRPG – less HP bloat!)

  3. Using images changed how I describe and narrate. I’m a writer, so description isn’t really a problem for me. But when they say a picture is worth a thousand words, they ain’t lying. Being able to quickly Google, “Forest Hag” and have a pretty memorable image to burn into everyone’s mind can save me a lot of prep time. Same for using images as establishing shots of taverns, haunted mansions, castles, etc.

Lastly, I just want to say how thankful I am for online play. Without it my group would have fallen apart during The Dark Times. Being able to connect with people did everyone a world of good. Online play isn’t perfect, but to say it’s better than nothing is an understatement. As long as you find the right group, it’s a damn good time for everyone.