As you’re aware, everyone is stuck inside, and the days of sitting around a table playing Dungeons & Dragons have been paused. Instead, we are all sitting on our computers, but still wanting to play our favorite game! Luckily, some people have already been playing games virtually, usually due to the lack of local players. Generally speaking, you might want something that is as close to how you played before. So if you are a “theater of the mind” group, then all you need is a voice chat. However, if you are used to setting up the table between you with a map and minis, then a Virtual Tabletop (VTT) is the way to go. So below are some of the most popular ways to play D&D, while still social distancing.
At it’s core, all you need to play D&D is to communicate with others, and access to your character sheet. If you want to keep the game at it’s simplest, or are using this time to convert new players to the game, then this is the easiest way. Each player is responsible for their character sheet, their dice rules, and their video software. This is most like playing at a table, as there is no added gimmicks or tools to use. A bonus with Zoom is that it focuses on one or two speakers at a time, which reduces the amount of cross-talk, allowing each person to be heard clearly when it is their turn to speak.
An amazing online tool for numerous reasons, D&D Beyond allows you to create a character sheet online, allowing the site to do all the math and modifiers when creating your character, and ensuring that you are following all the rules and getting every bonus your character should. Then, once your character sheet has been created, not only can you share it with your party, especially your DM, but you can use it while you play, tracking your health, spell slots, gold, which all updates live on your DMs side, so they can have a clear picture of what’s happening without having to ask. The site is mostly free, allowing you to have up to six character sheets, and tons of other resources. However, if you choose to spend money, you can actually purchase digital copies of the rule books through the site, to have at your fingertips while you play.
Discord is a great site, like a chatroom of olde. You have different servers for different groups, and different channels within those servers. In those channels you can either text, voice, or video chat. Discord has gained popularity specifically with gamers, and has a reputation for having the best consistency with quality of sound. There are even really cool bots that you can upload to your server that can roll dice, track initiative, and more. There’s also the ability to easily add pictures to the chat, so that you can show character portraits, or a sketch of the area for reference.
Speaking of which, D&D Beyond has created a free bot you can add into your Discord server called Avrae, which allows you to track initiative, import your character sheets, roll attacks or checks with modifiers, and so much more!
Roll20 is one of the most popular , and Freemium (starts free, can upgrade later), Virtual Tabletops, and has been praised for it’s built in compatibility with the 5e system. When you log on, you have access to a compendium of spells, items, monsters, and more, and you can even digitally buy the books right from the site, so you have more information at your fingertips when you play. There are cool tokens you can add to your VTT, and even create a game for anyone to join. Just like Discord, you can also have text, voice, or video chat. While Discord allows you to run a “Theatre of the Mind” game, if you are more interested in tactical combat, maps, and minis, then Roll20 is a great source to check out.
The upgrade from Roll20 is Fantasy Grounds. This is a bigger, stronger, faster VTT setup, that supports more game systems than any other, with the downside of costing money.
I personally don’t have much experience with Fantasy Grounds, but D&D personality Matt Colville does, and he has a great video on why it’s his preferred platform.
Personally, I like to mix between Discord, DnDBeyond, and Roll20. I first use Discord for the great audio quality, dice rolling bots, and image dropping, while using DnDBeyond for the character sheets. Lastly, I’ll only use Roll20 for bigger battles, as most of my combat I run “Theatre of the Mind,” save for the more climactic ones where tactics might be necessary. I haven’t yet been able to use Avrae, however I’m starting a new adventure next week, and will implement the bot in the game, to see how it works. It sounds like it might be amazing, but it also could be too much. I’m excited to see for myself.