Dungeons & Dragons In The Digital Realm: A Guide To Tabletop RPG’s During COVID-19

This article was written by freelance contributor Ballto Kenney.

‘The world is in turmoil, a plague has spread across the globe, thousands upon thousands of people are infected daily. Some countries don’t have the resources to handle the pandemic, and the ones that do worry about those among them who would hoard resources to ensure their own survival.  Daily life has changed as it has been decreed by law that all must wear special masks to help prevent the spread further. Most do so but there are those who do nothing to stop the spread of this life-threatening disease.

It sounds like the introduction to a dark and terrifying campaign of Dungeons and Dragons, but for anyone who is surviving through the year 2020, it’s the reality of the world today. During these tumultuous times it’s no exaggeration to say that most of our lives have been turned upside down. 

One challenge is how we entertain ourselves while still doing everything we can to stop the spread of Covid, are encouraged to maintain  social distancing, and limit personal interactions with others.  People who enjoy Tabletop RPG’s have had to put their games on hold as they are very social activities, involving several people crammed around the same small table, sharing snacks, and interacting with each other face to face.  These game nights are a tremendous amount of social fun, going on fantastic adventures with your friends, and exploring worlds through your imagination.  Any time you miss your weekly game you’re left feeling like part of your life is missing something special.

Here are some alternate ways that you can get together with others online to try to enjoy your weekly games in new ways. You can stay in touch with your friends, and more importantly let that big bad guy in your fantasy world know that even the world falling apart around you won’t stop you from vanquishing him and his evil ways.  

Zoom, Skype, Discord, FaceTime (or other similar apps):  

These are usually the easiest way to play tabletop RPG’s online since most of us use them in our daily lives to communicate with people.  Some games will be easy to continue this way, just join a chat with others and pick up where you left off and video chat helps make it feel as if they are sitting right there with you. 

For many this will be your go-to option as most of these are apps that we already have on our phones. They are also free and easy to download.  However, there are people who like things such as maps, figures to represent both people and monsters, and the ability to see what their fellow players are rolling for their dice. 

Though these things are possible with these apps, adding them to games is much more difficult as it requires some tricky camera work and positioning. Ultimately, if you’re the type of group that does everything in the worlds of your imagination, these simple programs will work for you, but if you require more tangible things there are better means out there. 

Roll20.net

Roll20.net is a virtual tabletop program that has been around for many years and is better now than it has been in the past. It’s a comprehensive online program that has everything built into it, including voice and text chat, maps and player tokens, simple drawing tools, and a built in dice rolling system.  Players can even add their character sheet to it so everyone can bask in the glory that is ‘Trolth: Goblin’s Bane’! 

However, all of these advanced tools do come at both a figurative and literal price as the best features of Roll20 are locked behind a subscription fee, and knowing how to best make use of the tools it offers requires some learning and even some simple understanding of coding. For players who are wanting a free option to their games, or who aren’t overly computer literate, Roll20 can be a daunting hurdle to overcome.

Myth-weavers.com

For those who fancy themselves writers, myth-weavers.com offers a unique option in the form of ‘Play By Post’ Roleplaying where you actually use an online message board and write out in a novel format what exactly it is that your character does.  

This is a unique means of playing your game that becomes something akin to shared story writing, where you write your actions out as if you were writing a story, and then others respond to what you do all the same.  The website has dozens of different games that can be used with it, ranging from every version of Dungeons and Dragons to more obscure games like G.U.R.P.S. It has a built in dynamic character sheet function for these games so that you can seamlessly write about what your character says or does and include the rolls and statistics to back up what you’ve written. 

While this definitely is a more niche way to play it’s something I’ve done for several years, and as a writer myself quite enjoy.  However, while it’s possible to include your entire group, this method of online play leans more towards single players or maybe a pair who are looking to start a new group.

Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop

Lastly, a means that I have found works for me is combining the features of Discord, along with Photoshop (or in my case Adobe Illustrator).  Discord allows players to both join in a group voice chat as well as see the screen of one player that is connected.  So, using both of these features together I have had my own players join in a discord voice chat so they can tell me what their characters do, while at the same time having the second monitor of my computer running Adobe Illustrator where I have a digital copy of the map we are using, as well as tokens to represent everything that moves around.  

All of these images are  on their own separate layers in Illustrator so that they can be easily grabbed and moved.  These sessions would have me telling my players the scenario of what’s happening and them telling me where they would like to go. I would then move their token in illustrator where everyone can see and I would then trust them not to cheat on their dice rolls. I’ve found that this makes for a happy medium for my players as some of them are not as computer literate, so all they need to do is join the voice chat, and I do the majority of the work.  

This isn’t a perfect means of playing, as it requires me to have digital copies of maps, and I had previous knowledge of Adobe Illustrator, but if you have these skills handy yourself as a GM then you have the means of providing your players with an easy to access means of playing your weekly online games.

This list of course isn’t entirely comprehensive, and there are many people out there with creative imaginations coming up with ways to still enjoy their weekly games, but I hope this helps some of you to try and get back into the swing of things and take back a slice of normalcy into your life by enjoying your games together with friends. If you have any other means of playing together that I didn’t cover here then feel free to share them in the comments below.  I hope all of you have both fun and safe games together.