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Playing D&D Online

The world as a whole is experiencing an event like no other right now. Businesses are shut down, families are huddling inside, people are severely sick, and the invisible enemy is combated by heroic folk. During times like these, it’s extremely important that we stand together against the darkness that is here and will pervade our lives for the weeks and months to come. One way to accomplish this is to continue gathering with the people we love and share common interests with, including our Dungeons & Dragons groups.

We might not be able to physically reach across the table in glee when the vile red dragon falls, or feel the tremble of the wooden table under the weight of a maximized fireball’s d6’s, but we can still create stories & battle monsters in worlds of our own design. All we must do is utilize the tools that are given to us, namely the internet. During times such as these, we can transfer our in-person groups to a virtual tabletop, a voice and/or video server, or a text channel. We can adapt and keep pursuing happiness in this time of crisis.

Virtual Tabletops

As the field of online TTRPG play has grown, more and more virtual tabletops have entered the scene. These allows us to play our games in a simulated tabletop environment. In many of them, Dungeon Masters have the ability to set up battle maps, move icons across the field of combat, and communicate with players individually. Lots have the functionality to hook up character sheets to them and even roll within the application. I’ve only used Roll20 a few times and it works well, but it definitely requires a time investment to master. Here are a list of popular virtual tabletops you can try out for your online D&D experience:
These are all reputable platforms to play D&D on. However, as I stated before, they require time to master. If you’re temporarily moving to a virtual environment, then these may not be the choices for you. Instead, there’s a clear, simple favorite: voice and/or video servers, particularly Discord.

Voice and/or Video Servers

Instead of using voice and/or video servers such as Discord and Zoom for strategizing in video games or planning our days of work, we can repurpose them to be avenues to play D&D. Discord works especially well, being an intuitive, free platform that supports uploading files, multiple D&D bots, and more. This is what I’ve been using during quarantine. For my sessions, I created a single chat channel for the group, a text channel for the group, and private text channel for me, and a public text channel only I can write in. The private text channel allows me to run commands by the bot I utilize for background music called Groovy — check it out if you want to enhance the virtual mood. In the text channel only I can use, I share information with the group. Whether it’s a handout for character creation, the map of the catacomb entrance they’re speaking beside, or a piece of art representing the undead dire bear they’re about to battle, this text channel serves Dungeon Masters well.

In combination with some sort of server, you can also utilize applications like Google Slides to great effect. If you have a battle map you want to use for more than theater of the mind, you can import it into Google Slides, place a few different colored tokens across the slide, and share your screen (something that can easily be done in Discord). Following these directions, you can simulate combat in a quick & concise manner, moving tokens from square to square and removing enemies once they’ve fallen on the battlefield.

I truly think using Discord is the best option right now. It’s simple to set up, easy to use, and reliable to everyone. Sure, there might be a few hiccups as everyone adjusts to muting their mics when they’re not speaking and forgetting their friends can’t see their facial expressions, but with time, everything will normalize.

Text Channels

Now might be the time to try something completely new by playing D&D with text interactions using channels like Discord or Facebook. I’ve tried this for brief periods of time and never enjoyed it, but I’ve heard stories of people who live and die by text-based roleplaying. The premise is simple: set up a text channel in a Discord server or Facebook group and take turns describing what each character does after the Dungeon Master sets the scene. Interactions are slower, combats take forever or take a back seat entirely, and there’s obviously never instant interaction unless everyone gathers on the channel at once to play. This style of play would serve mystery campaigns well and lends more power to avid descriptors. Try it out if you’re looking for a slower pace in these volatile times.

Stay Safe and Play Together

Just keep playing D&D, folks. Even in these difficult times, D&D serves as a medium to escape our normal lives and become extraordinary characters in an extraordinary world. It gives us a way to spend time with the people we love and make the impossible happen. Not being able to gather everyone around a physical table isn’t a barrier right now, it’s perfectly plausible to play online. Don’t shy away from it, embrace it. Soon enough, we’ll all be back to our grand oak tables or our stained plastic unfolding platforms. Until then, this is the way.

Stay creative and farewell!

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