I'm new to the forums. Nice to meet you all! I'm making this post mostly because since I started listening to Critical Hit, I've noticed an awful lot of listener emails asking about this application or that website, looking to build a D&D campaign that can be run over the internet. I've been running a Skype-based game for about 6 months now and I thought I ought to share the home-brewed setup I've been using to do it. It's worked great for my guys, with a few limitations, that I'll discuss once I get through the little list.
First off, we use Skype. We have used Ventrilo and Mumble as well, when one person or another was at a strange computer or something. I prefer Skype because as the GM, I don't like having to hold a push-to-talk button down while I describe things. It makes my finger hurt after a while.
Next, we use Obsidian Portal. Well, ok, mostly I use it. I write down a lot of stuff that I'm fairly convinced my players have no clue about. But it's quite intuitive, and keeps my stuff organized and easy to reference.
For the battle map, we use Googly Docs. This is the big ugly link to my sample Googly Doc battle map: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Am-HZioic6jRdGNJZ1piUEFPQkU5Y0tFTTVVdmlMZkE&hl=en_US
All it is, is I got a regular ol' googly spreadsheet, set all the columns and rows to 50 pixels, and that's it. For player and monster markers, we just use a colour fill, although a couple of my players have gone out and found little pictures they put in there instead. I'm working on making a bunch of little 50x50 pictures for more interesting terrain, but between the grey shades of colour fill, and the lines of borders, we get the point across pretty well. We mark conditions, hit points, etc in the cell comments, and then as stuff moves you can just copy/paste the cell and all the comments go with it.
Finally, because none of us reliably use or have a webcam, and my players are all jaded and won't roll hidden dice, there's a dice roller out there (and it makes me weep to use it I love my dice) at www.catchyourhare.com/diceroller
. This is unique in that if you get your group to put in an agreed-upon password, everyone who puts in the same password sees all the same dice.
Otherwise, I personally use D&D Insider and a bunch of random little tools like a fantasy name generator and some other random little things to make my life easier, but those aren't particularly integral to this collection.
Now this system works pretty well mechanically speaking, and it's been able to communicate the important stuff seamlessly enough to keep my players interested across 20-odd sessions so far. However, there are some limitations that I haven't figured out how to stop yet. The first and biggest one is the total lack of non-verbal communication tends to make the game flow a little difficult. My players sometimes don't quite know when I or they are done talking and will either inadvertently talk over each other or leave these horribly awkward dead spaces. Also, while my players are all seasoned MMO veterans and are usually quite good about letting at least me know when they have to go AFK for a minute or two, I could see that being really distracting if that particular little etiquette isn't followed.
The other big thing I've noticed with this whole system is, Skype has a chat box at the bottom of each call window. So, if my players are in weird moods and want to derail each other, they can now do it in MANY DIFFERENT MODES OF COMMUNICATION. This can get out of control really fast. I have to bring the hammer down maybe a little more often than I would in a real tabletop session. I think this is really just an offshoot of the lack of non-verbal communication problem, really.
Anyway, if anyone has questions or comments about this whole mess, I'd be more than happy to elaborate on anything you like. Hope it's useful!