Social Distancing may be the new norm, but that doesn’t mean that gamers can’t gather! Tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons are a fantastic way to spend quality time with friends and family, and they translate wonderfully to virtual spaces. Want to find a way to bring your game online? Here are a few options:
A simple way to connect is through a video chat app like Discord. It’s free, available on most platforms, and designed for voice, text, and video. If you plan to run a game mostly based on theatre of the mind, it’s perfect. You can share images with your players in the text chat if necessary, everything else can happen over the video chat. One caveat: if you’re a DM who likes to play music during games, that can be a bit tricky, as Discord doesn’t support sharing music over video calls. Right now, my fix is just to link to a Youtube playlist in the text chat and have my players listen to it separately. Not perfect, but not bad, and an easy way to keep things simple and just focus on the game.
If you’re looking for a more immersive experience, try a Virtual Tabletop. There are a few out there, but one of the most widely used is Roll20. Roll20 is a great resource for DMs who are looking to add maps and other visual effects to their remote games. You can make an account for free and there is a library of free resources to get you started here. With Roll20, you can invite players to a fully fleshed out campaign or one shot. You can upload and share art, maps, and other visuals live with your players, just like at home! Your players can create and update their character sheets directly on the site and control the character’s “tokens” themselves. You can create NPCs and monsters and use the site to track combat. They also have a virtual 3D dice roller that throws animated dice directly on the map, so everyone can see the results (it’ll do the math for you too!). If you’d like to incorporate music into the experience, they have a library of ambient sound and music that you can tap into. Layer a few tracks on top of each other to create a really unique, immersive experience.
There’s definitely a learning curve to the system, but there are some helpful Youtube tutorials and a help wiki to ease the way. The more you use it, the easier it gets, I promise! A great way to practice is to run a quick session with some people you’re comfortable with. Try a module and explore all the tools that Roll20 has to offer. The team at Critical Role released a free adventure to preview their new book The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, and it’s a great way to get to know the site. If you’re able to invest a little, you can purchase other modules as well as more art for tokens and maps. All in all, Roll20 is a fun way to take your game online. As a DM who likes to use minis and maps and music, it’s been a really helpful tool to keep those going, even if we’re playing remotely. Using the site has definitely increased my prep time and I’ve also found some difficulties with the chat connectivity, but overall, it’s been a fun way to keep playing.
Astral Tabletop is another great Virtual Tabletop. It doesn’t include pre-made modules, but you can upload all your own images for maps and tokens and the map builder is fun and easy to use. Just like Roll20, it includes integrated character sheets, dice rollers, music, and text chat. Something that sets it apart, though, is its animated weather and visual effects. You can have it rain or snow, or trigger a fire trap or poisoning effect. They definitely add a new level of immersion to the game and are just fun to play with. Keep in mind that all that animation does make it a little intense to run, my laptop fans definitely work harder while Astral Tabletop is going. But so far, it’s been a cool way to add some spice to dungeon crawls. Better yet, they’re offering all their paid content for free until the end of April, so it’s a great time to check it out.
If you or your players aren’t a fan of either Virtual Tabletop’s character sheets, you can still use paper ones for reference, or try D&D Beyond. If you do decide to go with D&D Beyond, I highly recommend the Beyond20 Extension for Google Chrome. It’s a great way to link your sheet to Roll20 or Discord, you just install it and it’ll roll your checks and attacks for you!
Honestly, the best remote strategy is going to be what works for you and your players. I’m finding that a combination of all of these resources is the best way to go for me. Roll20 is fantastic for most maps and I love their soundscapes, but I like to use Discord for chatting, D&D Beyond for character sheets, and Astral Tabletop for dungeon crawls. There’s still a lot to learn, I’m new to most of these sites, but I’m looking forward to discovering more and even incorporating them into my IRL games. Virtual Tabletops are a really helpful way to make maps and incorporate terrain without having to spend a fortune on physical accessories, so they’re a good tool for DMs on a budget, whether you’re playing in person or online. Whatever you choose, I hope that you and your players have a blast. Stay safe out there, adventurers.