Running a Pathfinder (or other RPG) Game in Hangout

I got asked over the weekend by one of my blogs regular readers ( +Nico Lindner ) if a specific post about running a Pathfinder game in hangout existed.  This is something I do every week (run a Pathfinder game on-line) and I have never thought to do something like this so in response to Nico’s request I said I would write one for him!  So if you are keen to run a game of Pathfinder online and you are not sure where to start let me give you a hand.


I generally run Paizo Adventure Paths online
OK, I may be starting a little basically but if you are going to run a game online you will want to have an adventure to run.  There are several options here that may not immediately stands out to you so I would categorise the adventures you could have as follows;
  • Home grown adventure
  • Module created for Pathfinder
  • Adventure Path Module created for Pathfinder
  • Module for another system that you have adapted for Pathfinder
Once you have one of these types of adventure planned you need to make some decisions around the adventure.  Are you going to use tokens/miniature style play?  If so do you have maps prepared and are the maps to scale?  Are the maps scanned from the books or available electronically for you to upload?  Are you fluent in the use of an image manipulation program such as GIMP, Paintshop, Photoshop etc.?

They are a fair few questions initially.  Some of these questions can be easily answered if you are a subscriber to Adventure Paths or modules as you will pick up some PDF’s with the books that can be sorted.  A lot of my preparation is taken when I go into a module (I generally run Adventure Path modules) by going through the PDF and taking screen shots of images that I will use such as maps, handouts, token images and the like.  I then take those screenshots into the GIMP and modify them so I have just what I need and that my tokens are nice and token like.

I will eventually put a guide up on how to do some of this stuff.  To me, graphics specialists and real computer nerds this stuff comes pretty well straight forward but I realise it could be a bonus for others to have a step by step guide for this material.

Of course, you may run combat a little more loosely and rely on imagination and description rather than the virtual tabletops you can employ.  I use a Virtual Tabletop that is designed to dovetail with Google+ called Roll20 but I will detail a few options that you can use in the following sections.

The Virtual Tabletop

There are a number of various tools you can use to run your game on-line.  Now I know a lot about hangouts (a Google+ phenomenon) but there are more options than just that out there to run a game.  So I intend to cover a few of the options for you to consider.


Good old free to load Skype where all your heads pop up and you can eyeball each other.  I have noted that a lot of the groups that use Skype tend to run their games like they are sitting around a table.  What I mean by this is that they play with a pencil and paper character sheet and roll their own physical dice.  This works just fine from my observations but it does lack tabletop map support unless they run another tool like Map-Tools or Roll20 or some other kind of virtual tabletop setting (like 3D Virtual Tabletop or Tabletop Connect which are eagerly anticipated tools).
My favourite


My virtual tabletop of choice that works perfectly by itself or dove tailed into a Google+ Hangout.  I believe that of the current options that this system is brilliant.  it is customisable, responsive and has all you need to run a tactical board game, an RPG session or even play poker!  I have done a post or two on how to use Roll20 which include video footage.  My last is about six months old and therefore very dated but can be viewed here.  I will do another video post in the near future as a LOT of new options have been added and some of what has been covered has changed also.  It is free to sign up to this by the way although as a GM I would seriously recommend that you invest in Roll20 rather than using the free version.  I pay for a Mentor level investment (about $10 a month) and I do not rue a single cent of that investment.  These guys are developing a fantastic tool that is perfect for on-line play.  Roll20 has chat, dice rolling, character sheet, player handout, video, voice, card deck, macro and customised programming support.  And if that is not enough I am sure I have missed something (like a store for map packs and token support!).

Map Tools

I have never played with map tools but when I first went looking for a system that I could run a game on this had a lot of love from some communities.  They pointed me at the site and I downloaded it for trial but none of the downloads gave me a stable tool to use and I failed to get any of them running.  I have seen screenshots of map tools at work and it looks OK but really that ship has sailed for me now.  If you are keen to try it you can head over to their info page here and follow the links to download it.

Google+ Hangouts

Roll20 in a Google+ Hangout
There are a few options with a hangout.  First you can decide to run the game on air and therefore have the video available via YouTube later or just a normal hangout.  You can run the Roll20 app in the hangout so that everyone can use that application at the same time as recording.  Or there are native whiteboard tools that you can use and dice roller apps that can be used so all dice rolling is handled virtually!  Google hangouts is a great way to game as there is awesome community support for games and games on-line off of Google+ and the hangouts just complement everything perfectly.

Twitch TV

This is not so much a virtual tabletop but a lot of gamers are beginning to record their games on-line via Twitch TV which largely began as a space to broadcast video games.  I can’t say I have ever used it (I have been tempted to once or twice) so I can’t comment much about it but if you are keen to try it then have a look at the link above.

Final Decisions

The final thing you need to consider is some style issues.  Are you going to use virtual dice or allow players to roll their own dice and report results.  Will you use maps and handouts or just put brief online sketches up for consideration.  Will the game be run completely in the minds eye and therefore not need sketching tools etc.  The answers to these questions will probably guide you to the virtual tabletop you need listed above.

Character Sheets

The players need characters.  How to handle the character sheet can be a tricky thing and there are several options.  The first (and my go to choice at the moment) is if the player has Hero Lab then it is the best Pathfinder character generator out.  The problem with it though is it is not free and if you want options provided by the expanded core rules or other supplements you are going to have to pay more for it than you would if you were playing the basic rules.  I have the full version with nearly all the supplements and it is expensive to do this.  I run a lot of my players characters from my software and transfer them to PDF and send them out to them.
HeroSheets beautiful easy to use interface
So what are the other options?  There is HeroSheets that I reviewed late last year (thanks +HeroSheets!).  It is not as accurate as Hero Lab but it is far easier to use.  It is an on-line character sheet service that does not cover all of the rules yet but it is a positive step in the right direction.  There are subscription fees attached to this one so there is still cost involved here too.  

There is also Myth Weavers for on-line character generation that is pretty good.  This is a free service and works pretty well.  Mind you, it does not fully incorporate all the rules and so you will find yourself entering a lot of the data yourself so still need a good understanding of most of the mechanics of the game and have your books or the on-line references available as you work through the character.

How to find players?

I have always used Google+ to find players putting up notices in communities such as the G+ Tabletop Roleplaying Games or the Pathfinder RPG community.  There are communities specific to certain time zones also that help you find players.  I have never had to go further afield than those communities to find my players though.  You answer those that are interested, have a chat with them and tell them your requirements (e.g. have to have a Roll20 account and the time we play etc.) and decide on your players from that point.

If you struggle that way then Roll20 has a looking for players board (where if you are a Mentor your posts are highlighted) or you could create a page on Obsidian Portal or Tavern Keeper and put out requests from there.  Obsidian Portal and Tavern Keeper are campaign management sites that allow for players to get information about the campaign world or even have play by posts operative.  I use Tavern Keeper for a couple of my games and it is a nice add to the game.

Final Game Day Tips

Make sure your players know when the game is and what they must have prior to logging on (like virtual tabletop accounts, character sheets etc.).  The event manager on Google+ is my friend in this regard.  This way an event will be put up for all players and they have to RSVP so you will know who is meant to be showing on game day and if people can’t make it they have a comments section to let you know why.

Make sure you get your prep done prior to the game.  I generally put aside an hour or so (while my wife is watching reality TV) on my Sunday’s to prep for RPG’s in the week.  I get into Roll20 and update my maps, tokens, images and macros if I need to.  I get rid of old material because when you are the GM it loads everything when you log on so keep only what you need there.  I do all my lighting and wow factor stuff ready for the game.

Make sure you are aware of the adventure and what you will be doing throughout the nights adventure.  Along with the adventure, make sure you have played with any of the tools that you are going to use so the game can run as swiftly as possible.  The more prepared you are, the swifter the game will be!  If you want to see a game in action (and I recommend you do) before you run one, watch one that has been recorded on YouTube.  I have included a link to one of mine below.  
Know that you will make mistakes too.  These things come with practice and there are times too where things will change with the hangout or with the tool you use and you won’t be aware of it.  The players will be OK with that and are very forgiving.  Try to keep things fun and make sure you talk to all of the players as cross chatter can be a bit daunting to some people and they will be scared to talk up.  Be inclusive and be prepared and your game will be great!

Most of all have fun!  Hangout games are great if you can’t get enough gaming or you do not have enough people nearby that game.  If you want to know anything more about the process just pop it in the comments and I will see what I can do for getting you an answer!  Until next time, keep rolling!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.