A lot of people are looking at running online campaigns for the first time.
Due to coronavirus, we’re supposed to be staying home. Your local game shop might be closed, and your friends might not want to gather in big groups either.
There’s good news: In this technological era, it’s easier than ever to play games without being in the same room with other people. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot. In fact, many online services are free.
But how should you transition your long-running, in-person campaign to a digital, online-only game?
We’ve been doing it for awhile, and we can help.
Pick a virtual tabletop. There are lots. Some of the most popular are Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, Astral Tabletop, d20Pro and GM Forge. Some have free options. Others offer enhanced features if you upgrade to a paid service. Even with paying, it usually doesn’t end up costing much. My group, for example, uses Roll20. I have a paid account ($4.99/month), but the rest of the group plays for free.
You don’t have to use a virtual tabletop. You can use a Discord chat or just meet up via a Google Hangout or Zoom teleconference. You can do a play-by-post service or use just about any instant messenger. But one thing I’ll say about virtual tabletops is that they organize everything including monster stats, handouts and character sheets. And they also have integrated voice and video chat as well as dice rolls and text chat. Some can even pipe in music. Even if you play “theater of the mind”-style, there’s still lots to love in a digital tabletop service like Roll20.
Find digital maps. Maps abound online. You can get a load of them on DriveThruRPG and DM’s Guild, but you can also find a lot of free maps, too. One of my favorite resources is the subreddit r/battlemaps.
Create digital miniatures. Making digital tokens is really easy. My favorite tool is a browser-based app from Roll Advantage called Token Stamp. You just upload any image (search for monsters, NPCs or your character) and it’ll make a token with customized borders.
Make digital versions of handouts. Making digital handouts (think player maps, messages, artwork, etc.) is just as easy. (What kinds of handouts can you make? Sly Flourish has a great list.) is just as easy. Snap a photo of your handmade piece or out of your adventure book and send it to your players.
You can still use all those physical tools and items in your collection. You can roll dice in a video chat. You can take a photo of your favorite miniature and turn it into a token. You can scan a map and upload it to a virtual tabletop. You can use just about any physical tool (card decks, coins, dice, whatever) in your digital games if you get creative. I use our Campaign Journals and Character Journals even when I play online.
Buy digital versions of your campaign books. This one’s not necessary, but it can be very helpful if you don’t want to work super hard recreating a physical campaign in a digital space. Roll20, Fantasy Grounds and others let you purchase entire campaign books, and they’re set up entirely online. Say you buy Tyranny of Dragons on Roll20. When you launch the game, you’ll see the entire thing is set up. All the monster and NPC stats. All the maps (with monster tokens in their proper place). All the handouts. Everything.