Planning your next Dungeons and Dragons session but unsure how the burgeoning pandemic will affect attendance? Wondering how much Purell you’ll need to clean all your dice after you roll them on the table? Unsure how to handle taking turns to bring the food when your increasing paranoia about getting sick has granted you the ability to see the germs wafting out of everyone’s mouths as they breathe?
Solve all those problems at once by telling everyone to stay home and host your D&D sessions online! You can’t catch COVID-19 through a webcam and headset! Set up an account on Roll20, invite your players to your group, and struggle through the difficult UI that makes Roll20 an easy to try but difficult to master answer to all your remote tabletop RPG needs. I’ll admit it’s the best program out there right now and I definitely couldn’t do any better, but it’s worth going through all the difficult steps involved with installing the VTT Enhancement Suite since I literally can’t function as a DM without it.
Next up, get ready to shell out some cash because you need maps for your players to reference since you’ve already deprived them of the social warmth that comes with playing a game in the same room with your friends and you need to give them something back so they don’t succumb to the crushing despair of isolation and deprivation! You can buy digital map packs that will give you lots of neat options that are almost exactly what you need but never actually right, purchase a program to make your own as you try to eke out a sensible, visually pleasing map on a computer that wasn’t built to handle the strain of 300 different layers in a program that sometimes ruins your saved file simply because you tried to save it again. You could also use a browser map maker instead, but get ready to stick to one style of art that you’ll quickly wish was just a little more or less realistic instead of this uncomfortable middle ground.
After all that, you’ll be able to enjoy activities like realizing your desk doesn’t have enough space for nearly everything you need to run a game or trying to find where you saved that document in Google Drive three months ago when you made it for something you thought would happen immediately (it’s in your maps folder because it’s supposed to lead them to a map, which made sense at the time. It’s not your fault you didn’t have the “player handouts” folder until just last month and forgot that you never actually put all your player handouts into it). Additionally, you’ll get a free “is my webcam also picking up my voice or is my headset just that bad” existential crisis with every other session! If you play long enough, you’ll even get to wonder if it’s your cookies or your players cookies that are keeping you from seeing each other. If you’re REALLY lucky, you’ll even get to prepare for and start a session before you realize you never plugged your microphone in so you need to close and reopen all of your programs and browses so you can manually set the correct audio source because nothing ever respects the Windows “default device” designation.
All that being said, I hope you picked up on the somewhat sarcastic tone. I’ve been running a game online since last June and there have been a lot of issues with just the technology side of things, though it has enabled me to play D&D with people I otherwise would not be able to. I put all of my time and effort into creating the world and story for the game, but didn’t really invest much time in learning to use Roll20. Sure, it can be frustrating at times, but there’s a reason it’s practically synonymous with “online TTRPGs.” Sure, you need to buy a subscription to use the coolest features and because you WILL fill up your online data storage quickly, but it’s worth it for the year. Just wait a bit, until your storage is almost full on your free account, and then upgrade. There’s no better place to manage maps, handle combat, and gather your players.
For character sheets, rule management, and sharing the information you’d normally provide via books, I recommend using D&D Beyond which is incredibly dangerous because you can just BUY all the books, adventures, and one-off content bits that Wizards of the Coast creates for D&D so you have it all in one searchable compendium. If you do it soon, you can use the coupon code from the banner at the top of the page to get a massive discount on the “Legendary Bundle” which contains literally every bit of official D&D content and a discount on all future content not yet released. It’s also a MASSIVE deal even before the coupon. Once you get a subscription, you can create unlimited characters and, as a DM, give players in your campaigns access to everything you’ve purchased using the “campaigns” feature of the website. You can’t go wrong.
If you need maps for your game on Roll20, you can copy the maps from the adventures you’ve bought on D&D Beyond and upload them there. Additionally, you could also buy a program like Wonderdraft to handle all of your world creation. You can also use it to make battle maps, but I find myself struggling when I try to do anything on that scale with it. Which is why I purchased Dungeon Painter Studio on Steam. It’s a great map creator program for a pretty low price, has a bunch of great community-created art assets on the Steam Workshop, and the only major bug in it has an easy work around! If you ever get an error telling you that it failed to save or that the save was corrupted, just save it with a new name. It’s pretty good practice to have multiple saves of a file you’re working on anyway, so get into practice with this useful program! And if you ever create a map with 300 layers and it crashes the program causing the map you’ve spent 3 hours working on to disappear because you only ever saved one copy of the file, then that’s on you. Your computer will start chugging well before the program crashes, so really it’s your fault for ignoring the signs.
After all that, just get yourself a decent headset, a workable webcam, and you’re good to go! I definitely recommend the webcam since it feels weird to play D&D without being able to see people’s faces. It probably shouldn’t be a requirement for your players to get a webcam, but I would strongly suggest it. So much of communication is lost without facial expressions. It’s also a lot harder to call someone out for not paying attention when you can’t see their face. You’ll get there eventually because their continued silence as you address them is damning evidence on its own, but sometimes it’s nice to know they switched tabs to Facebook and you’ve lost them to The Scroll before you need them to answer an important question or decide whether or not they’re going to let that goblin attack them without response.
It takes some getting used to, but it’s better to play D&D with your friends online than to get each other sick because you’re feeding a pandemic. Stay home and try it today!