After ~9 months of remote play, I thought I would provide an update.
After some interruption by Skype dropping XP support, we settled into using Google Hangouts for video, with a camera in one corner of the room, and one laptop displaying the remote player in the other corner. We were using (tweaked) Discord on a phone for voice. With the multiple video sessions, I wired everything which significantly improved performance. We were using Maptool on a 47″ TV screen for the tabletop, with the GM (me) doing most of the moving of objects, except for the remote player. Maptool handled combat rolls and tracking of hitpoints. I’d created pogs for the PCs, and I had a suite of pogs, mostly derived from the OOTS Monster for Every Season. I could fairly quickly add a pog, and import the stats into Maptool.
And it wasn’t good enough. It took too much time to drag all that stuff out. It took time to configure the maps and pogs for Maptool (a fair amount). I’ve also GM’d for a long time. I generally know how long I need to prepare for a session, and couldn’t mentally compensate for the extra time to get everything set up, leaving me always short on time. I was hating it every single time I had to prepare to play. Yet I had a huge amount of time sunk into that setup. Getting Maptool easy-to-use (learning the interface, tweaking the config, and the efforts setting up PCs and maps, and the AWS). Sunk cost, moving on.
I had almost reached the end of my tolerance for the whole thing, but decided to change things up to see if I could at least move it to tolerable. I removed the TV and Maptool. I upgraded the camera displaying our usual whiteboard to a mobile phone (with an extended battery). I added a dedicated router/access point in the gaming room and made the wiring more permanent.
The revamped environment is:
-A wired Chromebook used as the “player” (where his head appears) running Google Hangouts
-a wired Win7 laptop running Google Hangouts providing a bigger picture view of the room
-Discord for voice (it’s been really helpful having two separate communication methods for when one is being flaky) on local Wi-Fi.
-A mobile phone hanging from the light fixture over the tabletop running Google Hangouts, also on local Wi-Fi.
That puts us, at the table, close to a normal environment of no remote players for less work for me. I still have to drag everything out, but it doesn’t include a TV(!), and there’s no game-specific prep for the remote player (maps, pogs, etc). They can see the same tabletop (if from a top-down perspective) everyone else can see. That moves prep into the < 30 minutes range instead of several hours.
We’ve done that for the last few sessions. It’s better. I’m still not 100% certain it’s a long-term solution, but it’s leaps and bounds better from my perspective than the last setup.