Online Guide to D&D

by Kale Brenzi

D&D has always had an easy time being adapted into many different kinds of real-world environments, whether being played at home with friends, or even using makeshift rules and dice for prison inmates and soldiers on deployment. Being a game which relies heavily on the “theatre of the mind” allows for the game to be run with very little equipment and tools.


Playing D&D online has always been an option for players who were unable to find a group locally, and allowed them to play with and meet new friends from across the globe. With today’s current world climate, playing online is not only easier, but also the only way many groups play. This guide will help you find the most suitable virtual tabletop for your adventuring party, and will also open up new ways for your games to be played and tracked.


Character Sheets & Management


D&D Character Sheet


Since the creation of 5th edition, Wizards of the Coast has offered an online solution to keeping track of your characters. On their official website, they not only offer pre-generated character sheets to get you in the game as quickly as possible, but also PDFs for blank character sheets, which can be easily filled out from the comfort of your digital device. These sheets include the usual statistical overview of your character and equipment, but also offers pages for keeping track of your characters backstory and allies, plus any spells they may have.


D&D Website


There also exists many 3rd party applications and programs that can help with the creation and storing of your characters information. One of these apps that I personally use is known as Fight Club 5e. This app is available on both iOS and Android, and allows for players to quickly create characters, modify stats, and even roll dice and keep track of spells. Whilst initial setup requires a bit of time, once rules and information have been added to the app’s database, you can easily pull the relevant information up on your device quickly. It even allows players to add in their own homebrew rules and items!

FightClub 5e Screenshot

Whilst keeping your character info offline on traditional pen and paper is still possible when playing over the internet, having your character sheet easily accessible for both yourself and your dungeon master is a welcome addition to any player’s arsenal of tools.


Voice & Video


So, you’ve got your character sheets ready, but what now? Having a way to properly interact with your fellow adventurers is vital for a great game. Using text-based messaging services doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to being thoroughly immersed in your adventures, so having an easy way to directly communicate is important. This is where voice-chatting programs and services come into play. While there are many on the market for you to decide from, here is what we recommend for an easy and simple experience:


Discord

Discord Website

Discord has slowly grown since its inception to become one of the largest and widely used programs for communication. Any D&D group can easily get set up to start chatting within minutes, using either a pre-existing server (such as our Elandrial Games discord, which offers private voice chat and text discussion!), or by setting up their own server. Players and their DM can also set up video chat for a more personal touch. A livestreaming function is available as well for the DM to use to display various digital media, such as battlemaps or pictures of locations. The integrated text chat is a great way to keep track of the session as it progresses, and ties in nicely with the rest of Discord’s features.


The quality of Discord, along with its price tag of being free, makes it a much better alternative to other voice and video chat programs such as Skype or Teamspeak. If you wish to join in on the fun, check out our own Elandrial Games discord right here → https://discord.gg/GdWy674


Virtual Tabletop


What good are your character sheets if you have nowhere to roll your virtual dice? Virtual tabletops are exactly that; a tabletop that is entirely virtual. They allow both the DM and players to have an area where their dice rolls can be shown publicly, lay out a battlemap and keep track of their characters positions, and get a general sense of location and scale. Many also include other benefits such as in-built voice and video chat, background music, and battlemap creation. There are a variety of different virtual tabletops to use, but the most popular of options is Roll20, which is thankfully free to use!


Roll20 Game Screen


Roll20


Roll20 is a fantastic way to run your games online, and is easily accessible from any web browser. It offers some amazing tools that are simply not possible, or hard to set up, on regular tabletops. One such feature is the Hide/Reveal Area tool, which allows you to dynamically show or hide certain parts of the battlemap or dungeon as your players progress through it!


DMs can create their own game pages for their players to join, where they can add descriptions of their worlds, and even post update posts after each session so players can easily remember where they left off. DMs can also update information on their characters in specialised sections, so only they will see the notes!


The Roll20 system offers a library of content such as battlemaps, soundtracks, tokens, and more for players to use, and the vast majority of this content is free! This is an amazing platform for any group to use and track their progress throughout their campaign. However, because of the vast amount of options to choose from, initial setup can be a little bit difficult at first. If some time is spent getting everything organised, the system can run smoothly and provides a gaming experience that is hard to match.

For those of you who are having a bit of a hard time figuring such a system out, Roll20 themselves have created a video guide on how each of the basic features work. Check it out here → Roll20 GM Overview: Learn the Basics!


Keeping It Immersive


No matter the tools at the DMs disposal, keeping players engaged can be a lot more difficult than in person. Playing online via your digital devices opens up the group to becoming distracted easily by social media and other notifications. Many groups suffer from this problem in face-to-face games regardless, so playing online can worsen this issue.


How do you keep your players focused? Well, the most effective way to do so is to make sure each player has their own time to shine, and have their character perform an important task. It is no fun for a player to play a rogue, for example, and for them to not have an opportunity to sneak around, pick pockets, or lockpick doors. This issue is regarding the DM, rather than the group, but is even more important to remember when playing online.


Besides this, the biggest piece of advice we can give to DMs is to make sure they are describing and setting the scene well. This is usually an easier task in person, as the players can see the dungeon master’s facial expression when talking, and oftentimes have miniatures and props to elevate the roleplaying. However, players and DMs won’t usually have access to these luxuries when online. So, to help make sure scenes are described as accurately and as immersively as possible, try remembering this simple word: E.A.S.E.


[E]nvironment - First describe the area your players are stepping into. Is it a cave or a building? Is it dark or bright? Is it full of plant-life, or barren and lifeless?

[A]tmosphere - How does the environment make the players feel? Does it give the players a sense of hope and joy, or is it dark and oppressive?

[S]enses - This is where you will describe the general senses such as smell and sound. Remember to focus on more than just sight, and use as many of the senses as a way to describe the scene.

[E]vents - Describe what is taking place in this scene you have just described. Are secret cultists talking amongst themselves? Is a monster gorging itself on its latest meal?


By following this template for describing scenes, it will make it much easier for the dungeon master to create more immersive gameplay, which in turn will hold the attention of the players for much longer, regardless of the lack of visual stimulus.


So, with all these recommendations for online D&D play, we hope you find it easy to set up a game for you and your fellow party members online!


Want to check out some of the programs and websites we discussed in this article? Check them out here:


D&D Character Sheets: TRPG Resources

Discord: Discord — Chat for Communities and Friends

Roll20: Roll20: Online virtual tabletop for pen and paper RPGs and board games

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