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How to play Dungeons and Dragons online during isolation

By Nikayla Goddard, May 13 2020 —

Has your D&D group fallen out since the instigation of isolation? Just as there are ways to continue your classes and work online, there are websites and apps to continue playing D&D or other roleplaying tabletop games from a distance. For groups who were already playing online pre-isolation, the change has been negligible, with the only difference being occasional lag from overloaded servers. But for groups that have been playing in person — such as the campaign I run or the campaign I play in — switching to playing online can feel artificial and stressful in lieu of seeing each other in person. While playing online, in my opinion, isn’t as good as playing in person, there are websites and apps that make it not just possible, but also awesome and interesting. 

Video and voice

While you could get away with purely messaging back and forth for interactions, that’s really not much fun. Finding a good video and voice app is easy. If you are a university student, you have access to a Zoom account that allows for unlimited hours and unlimited people in the call. Zoom also has screen sharing options that come in handy for sharing visuals and options to change your background to suit you character or the setting you’re in. Discord also has video and voice options — if you are looking to use video, I would suggest Zoom, but if you just want voice, Discord is superior. There are other video and voice options built into tabletop apps, such as Roll20, but they are typically not great in quality and I would recommend turning off those settings and using an external app like Zoom or Discord. Skype and Google Hangouts are also two great options. 

The tabletop

Roll20 is a free online virtual tabletop that provides you with a space to layout maps and grids, as well as a chat bar, jukebox to upload and play music through, a variety of free character and monster tokens, a place to upload images and maps, automatic dice rollers and a ton of customizable options for adding macros and character sheets. If you’re willing to put in between four to nine dollars a month for a yearly subscription, you can have extra things like dynamic lighting, special effects, custom character sheets and more. Having run a full year and a half campaign through Roll20, as well as using it currently for both of the campaigns I’m in, Roll20 is arguably the best free option for online tabletop gaming. Just make sure to use a different app for video and voice. Roll20 also has a lot of community forums, including a place where you can post that you are looking for a group or for a DM, allowing you to join a game if you don’t have a group already. 

Fantasy Grounds is another program that I personally have not used, but is one that looks good. There is a free demo version, but it doesn’t allow you to run games — you would have to buy the Standard or Ultimate subscriptions which are four and ten dollars monthly respectively. Watching the demo trailer, it appears they have many features that Roll20 does in an arguably more polished manner, including a place for maps (with some pre-loaded ones too) and character sheets, plus dice rollers, tokens and access to a lot of official content and rulesets. 

There is also the Tabletop Simulator on Steam, which I also have not used, which is around 30  dollars Canadian and allows you to design and build your own tabletop setup — anything from Dungeons and Dragons to poker or chess. It’s all 3D, which is extremely cool for designing dungeons and having moving figurines if you’re willing to put time into coding scripts. 

Other online resources 

D&D Beyond is lauded as the place for online official content for 5e. While most of the original content is free, you have to pay to unlock supplements and additional new content, which in my opinion is worth it if you prefer having all your books and supplements in one place online. You can also create and share character sheets on there, and because it’s attached to official content it’s super easy to make your characters. They have a lot of support articles and resources available as well, plus they have released a lot of free adventures in light of quarantine, which are great.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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