WebRPG: Traditional RPGs Over The Internet


I am a traditional gamer. I like AD&D. I like 1st Edition AD&D. I like my weird house rules. And, I'm not interested in Internet games. I don't want arcade or strategy; I want role-playing. I don't want to learn a new rules system. I just want to play my game, my way. And, I want to play it over the Internet.

I am a traditional gamer. I like AD&D. I like 1st Edition AD&D. I like my weird house rules. And, I'm not interested in Internet games. I don't want arcade or strategy; I want role-playing. I don't want to learn a new rules system. I just want to play my game, my way. And, I want to play it over the Internet.

Being a computer programmer, I thought, "I should figure out a way to play traditional RPGs over the Internet. I should write some programs that would allow the players to chat and roll dice over the Internet. I don't want to write a new game; I just want some programs to play ANY role-playing game over the Internet." Being a GOOD computer programmer, I didn't want to re-invent programs that already exist. It's faster to build on existing work rather than build the same thing from scratch. So, I did some research (on the Internet, of course!). And, do you know what I found out? Somebody already thought of my idea and created a product that does exactly what I wanted. It's called "WebRPG". And, THANK GOD, because if I had to write it, nobody'd be able to use it until years from now.

WebRPG bills itself as a "virtual tabletop." By this, they mean that it is a computer program that simulates many of the items that most gamers would have on their real life gaming tables. For example, the computer program has pictures of dice and clicking on the image of a 10-sided die makes a die-rolling noise and shows the a random number between 1 and 10. Even better, the program communicates over the Internet to other players running WebRPG on their own computers and shows the results of the die roll. So, if a group of gamers are all running WebRPG, one can roll a die and everybody hears the die roll and sees the result. But, WebRPG does not just do dice. It also provides chatting, "virtual miniatures", character sheet sharing, online rulebooks and even some shortcuts to speed up play.

WebRPG totally rocks. It's free, too. Two months ago, two players and I tried out the system for three weekends. It fulfilled all our expectations. We had a lot of fun. But there are a few caveats. Nothing serious but a few things to keep in mind.

I got together with two people who I met through a newsgroup (rec.games.frp.dnd). I live on the West Coast of the U.S.: one of the other guys lives on the East Coast and one lives in Great Britain. There is an 8-hour time difference which we overcame by playing on Saturdays. Without WebRPG, there is no way that we could have played together. But, with WebRPG, we sent e-mail back and forth and agreed on a time.

To prepare, I installed and practiced with the WebRPG application. To install, I downloaded the Java application, WebRPG 2.2.0, at http://www.webrpg.com/gamesystem/step1.phtml . To run a Java application, I knew that I'd need a Java environment so I downloaded jre1_2_2-001 for Windows from http://java.sun.com/products/jdk/1.2/jre/ . (jre1_2_2-001 is the current release which should work.) The installation of JRE and then WebRPG went smoothly. Neither of the players had any problems, either. To practice, I double-clicked the WebRPG icon.

Now, here's the first caveat. Java applications are rather slow and take a good amount of memory. I use Windows NT 4.0 on a Pentium 133 with 32MB of RAM. WebRPG ran okay but, sometimes, I would have to wait several seconds for it to refresh the screen. It was acceptable but a faster computer would have made it a lot better.

When our group met for the first time, I logged in a created a new game with a password. Then, the other guys logged in to the game and we got everything setup to play. This took about 20 minutes on the first session (although we would get it down to 5-10 minutes on later sessions). Since I was the DM, I typed the initial description (of a road outside a walled town) and the adventure began.

We learned the second caveat during the first session. My computer blue-screened once and I kicked the power cord out once. The guy from Britain had problems with his Internet connection timing out. In most cases, to fix things, it was a matter of rebooting, running WebRPG and getting the session going again. Still, during a 3 hour session, you should expect a few problems which will interrupt play for 5 or 10 minutes. In every one of our 3-hour sessions sessions, at least two things happened.

We learned the third caveat about WebRPG along the way. As everybody knows, playing a role-playing game is a real time sink. It takes a lot of time; a single combat can take over an hour! Well, when you add a Java-based application and substitute typing into a chat window for real face-to-face conversation, everything takes twice as long. We found that it is really important to keep the game moving.

WebRPG provides some features to help you do things faster. As a player, you can set up some automatic calculations to determine attack and damage rolls. That helps. You can also be aware of what takes time: avoid unnecessary conversation and select a player to act as a "caller" to make mundane decisions. Similarly, as a DM, you can type descriptions before game time and then just cut-and-paste them into the game. For everybody, building an expertise in using the WebRPG system should help. Unfortunately, the basic tutorial does not cover every feature of the system and I have not found very much other material to learn more about WebRPG.

I've included a screenshot the WebRPG program. You can get a sense of using the program from looking at it. The left side shows resources for the game: character sheets, miniatures, network status and rule books. The right side shows the dice rolling bar (with lots of special options), the chat window (where you can type messages to the entire group or "whisper" to individuals) and the map for placing miniatures. Although it isn't self-explanatory, you can learn about a lot of features by poking around.

click for larger image

Like I said, WebRPG is a great system. As far as I know, it is the only serious system for playing traditional games over the Internet. It is well developed and pretty stable. Give it a try.

I second this. In every way. WebRPG may be a tad slow and unwieldy at times, but it's loaded with all types of nifty features - if you can find them. Beats the ol' IRC chatroom with a dice roller bot, anyway. And, um, preparation 's instrumental to pretty much anything you want done well.

I've only used WebRPG on Windows NT 4.0. But, the web site claims that it runs on Windows 95/98/2000, Mac 7.5/7.6/7.6.1/8.0/8.1/9.0, Linux and other Unix variants. If you've tried it on another platform, post and let me know how it went.

Instead of cutting and pasting descriptions, etc, for the adventures, you should really read up on making Adventure Assistants. They'll let you display text just by clicking a link on a page you make before hand. Not to mention they can allow you to change the map everyone is viewing, or have characters appear on the map... and tons more. The Adventure Assistants are a VERY useful and powerful tool!!

Is there any documentation on how to use Adventure Assistants? I had trouble with that feature so I could not describe it in the review.

The webrpg design project is dead. There are no longer any programmers working on its development. I ran a game there for just over a year; in some ways, the system was good. There were nice features that sped up combat, and a tolerable miniature system. But in the end, the java console, the java bugs, and the java networking issues made it too hard to develop any game beyond simple adventures and hack&slash.

In recent months, however, an opensource project has popped up to take over where webrpg left off. www.openrpg.com for more details.

I mean they gave no warning what so ever before they made it into a pay site i was an abbit user of webrpg and had just signed up for 2 games to play (someone would make a game and look for players and i signed up for 2) and was to starts playing this weekend but i logged on to webrpg to look for the GM and i find out its now a pay to play setup so in my words the webrpg people can go take a flying leap

yeah webrpg is a good system but it is NO longer free system so it bites

making us pay for webrpg sucks.

I agree with James and azz_kikr. Do they realize how many games they probably killed? Not to mention all the work the gamers put into it. I mean, I built ONE character sheet, and that was a fair bit of work. Now I may as well have spent that time taking a leak on my front lawn for all the good it did. WebRPG can eat my shorts.

Anyone heard anything concerning OpenRPG? It's supposed to be a WebRPG clone...

I really want more information on this. I will investigate OpenRPG, and report back.

WebRPG had its problems, but as a Mac user, it was the only such program I could use. As far as I can see, OpenRPG has no Mac version. Can ANYONE direct me to a WebRPG clone that I can use? HELP!!

I moved to OpenRPG in July 2001. It is still weaker than WebRPG but is improving. Its open nature has been a significant advantage, both by protecting us from people who want to charge us and by allowing me to hack in my own features. It is growing rapidly now and looks like it has a great future.

There is now a java version of openrpg in development as an alternative for people that can't or don't want to use the original. It still lacks many of the features as there is only one developer on it right now, but if you have mac users or you need a java version check out jopenrpg.sourceforge.net and if your a java program offer Ted some help.


Correct me if I'm wrong...

But isn't there a program that is ultilized within your Internet browser? Complete with battle map, dice displays for players as well as stats, and a live 'chat-room' style message board, for real-time communications.

Or are we talking about the same thing?

WebRPG is no longer a pay system, the tutorial is still weak :)

I have started playing D&d recently but my group has problems getting together, since some of us live far away. We are thinking of getting something like OpenRPG, but is it better than going on Skype with a virtual die roller?