Dungeons and Dragons Online
Kind of continuing the midst of physical distancing that we have going on all around the world, I want to keep talking about ways that we can still socially be close and possibly some ways to even grow the nerd community around you. I wrote yesterday about ways that you can play board games online with people, but easier than that, in a lot of ways, is playing an RPG, or Dungeons and Dragons online.
Now, I’m not the only one talking about this, D&D Beyond has put up several articles on it, but I got the chance to run a quick session of Dungeons and Dragons on Saturday night for some friends and my wife via Google Hangouts, so I wanted to talk about that and what else you can use as well.
Let me start off by saying that as long as people have access to a way to roll dice, playing Dungeons and Dragons across a distance is easy. You need a webcam, someone with access to another device to go on D&D Beyond, and even with the free stuff there and the limited character creation, you have enough to run an enjoyable game for a little while without it becoming boring or stale. However, that’ll limit you a little bit, so I’d strongly suggest someone grabbing the books either digitally through D&D Beyond, or pick up a physical copy of the core three books, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide.
The only real physical thing that is nice to have is for players to have dice, but again that isn’t even needed. On Google Hangouts, they have commands that roll dice for you so you can do that in the chat section. And other virtual tabletops, like Fantasy Grounds or Roll20.net will also give you the ability to roll dice as well. Personally, I like rolling physical dice, but those are something that can be gotten easily from your friendly local game store that is hopefully doing curbside pick-up of orders or delivery now, as well, of course as places like Amazon or if you want fancier dice, Easy Roller Dice. You might just have to wait longer for those, even though, I think Amazon should consider dice to be essential items that get priority shipping.
Then you can really just dive into playing. Make up your own world, do theater of the mind, and just let the game and imaginations run wild. Now, I will say that if you are starting out, I’d recommend that people roll up characters for the first time in the limited options on D&D Beyond. Or that the person who is running the game does that for everyone simply so that you don’t have to start by going through the process of creating characters over the internet. But if you have a group of more experienced players, you probably have more of them who have the player handbook or can find online resources to build out the character that they want on their own or during a session zero where you talk through a story idea.
Let’s talk a little bit about theater of the mind, depending on what you’re playing on, you’re going to need to determine the level of theater of the mind. If you’re not familiar with that term, it basically means that your combat and encounters are all done in your head, when you describe it, people picture what you are saying in their head, and they can’t look down at a grid or anything to figure out how close their characters are to the bad guys or anything like that. With some of them Fantasy Grounds and Roll20, you won’t have to play that way, if you don’t want to, but it’ll add in more prep and planning to your game. The advantage of theater of the mind is if a combat happens, it can just happen because you don’t need to prep a map, put characters and monsters where they are supposed to be. I personally prefer theater of the mind and find it easier and easier for online because it requires considerably less work. However, in a major boss battle, it can be fun to set the mood for the combat with a map as well.
What are some pitfalls when playing online? Obviously internet connectivity is a must and it might be possible that you’ll run into situations where someone freezes or lags. So someone might be trying to say something and it gets lost because of that, also it’s harder for people to talk over each other and for everyone to hear everything. So, this is something I picked up with podcasting, try and not talk over each other, in particular, if you see someone is starting to say something at the same time you are, pause and let them go first and then jump in fast so that you can say what you want, but so that you aren’t stepping on someone else’s toes. The more people in more different locations the more likely you’re going to run into this issue.
There’s also going to be a learning curve for players who are familiar with Dungeons and Dragons because it plays differently than it does at the table. I feel like playing online requires a little bit more buy in and a little bit more go with the flow of what is being presented. Going back to Fantasy Grounds and Roll20, you can set-up a map for an encounter, but you aren’t able to pivot as quickly as you might if you were playing all at the same location and you could draw it out or set it up on the fly for whatever encounter your players get into. This is going to be something that trips up players who are familiar with playing that style, versus new players who might be jumping into it for the first time or so.
With those two negatives for it, or not really negatives, but potential pitfalls to watch out for, I will say that compared to board games, Dungeons and Dragons is way easier to do over physical distancing and if you’ve been in a situation where you don’t have people around to play with, this is a chance to try digital and find people around your area and all around the world who would want to play some Dungeons and Dragons with you.
Have you played D&D online? Are there any tips or tricks that you recommend for people starting up playing digitally?
Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!