How to Transfer the Board Game Dungeons & Dragons Online
COVID has erupted at the height of the Dungeons & Dragons board RPG revival, and while it’s not the worst aspect of the worldwide plague, nerds who aren’t allowed to gather at a local hobby store and pretend to be elves really suck. Fortunately, with a little know-how, you can bring fantasy online. Computers cannot replace the joy of face-to-face communication at D&D, but if you remove a few technical hurdles, you can get pretty close.
The technical side of getting a paper game online can be a little tricky (especially if you’re playing with solid techno-fobs like me) because there is no one-size-fits-all app or website that provides everything you need to play, so you should get some creative. I first put together this guide, organized by the most technologically straightforward solutions.
Basically, there are three aspects to Dungeons & Dragons:
- Rules and bones
- Table top
… and you will need to replace each of these personal items with a computer equivalent. (If you’re new to D&D, check out the official New Player Guide .)
Level 1: Teleconferencing only
D&D can be played entirely like a theater of the mind, so all you need to play is a few friends, a few agreed rules, and a way of communicating. Hell, you can play with Morse code if you like, but teleconferencing programs like Zoom, Skype, or Discord will probably work better, plus adding webcams helps create a sense of personal communication.
To play this way, each player has to keep their own records, dice rolls, statistics and rule finders, so everyone will need a separate copy of the Player’s Handbook (essentially the Dungeons & Dragons basic rules), a character sheet, and a set of dice. From now on, all you have to do is hop on Zoom and tell the story together – and with a lot of math.
Speaking of math: computers are really good at it, so if you play D&D this way, you prefer not to optimize the most annoying (to me) aspect of the game. Another downside to this style of play is that there is no “tabletop” part in the RPG game, so teams that tackle the tactical, military aspect of D&D will have a hard time, as will players who like handouts, props, etc. miniatures or anything physical at all.
Also: if you’re playing with a guy who cheats, you won’t be able to see his dice rolls – “Of course Noah, that was another natural 20″ – so you have to trust your gaze.
Level Two: D&D Beyond and Teleconferencing
It took Wizards of the Coast, publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, over 20 years to figure it out, but D&D 5th Edition offers a free, fully integrated, easy-to-use, and engaging online portal. D&D Beyond greatly simplifies and automates the paperwork and math part of Dungeons & Dragons, freeing players to imagine things and make bad accents in the game.
You can use D&D Beyond to create characters, manage campaigns, roll dice, and even create spells, classes, items, and more. Online character sheets allow you to attack, cast spells, level up, and do just about anything you’ll ever need, just by clicking on your character sheet. It will add up all your modifiers and whatnot, as well as give out the numbers needed to continue the story. Dungeon Masters can create campaigns, invite players to campaigns, and easily share notes and handouts.
Perhaps best of all, D&D Beyond allows players to share books. If one player has a $ 5.99 “Master Tier” account, any official book published on the site may be available to players in the campaign. This means that only one person has to purchase a rule module or extension, and everyone can use it. Wizards of the Coast, reminiscent of the anti-drug pusher of the 1980s, is even giving away the first taste for free: the basic version of the D&D rules is available right now , free of charge. Come on, try it. You can’t get out of one game …
Level Three: Combination of Virtual Table, D&D Beyond, and Teleconferencing.
Top tier online D&D adds a virtual tabletop to your game. It allows players to navigate the community map, roll virtual dice that everyone can see, and gives the dungeon master a ton of playable options to spice up the game.
There are a number of apps and websites dedicated to making sure all players can use the same shared space (and millions of pages of computer arguments about which is better and why), but the most commonly used virtual tabletop is Roll20 , a free website … an application based on it that is relatively easy to use for players and contains everything you need to go on a fantasy adventure together.
Players need to have a basic understanding of how computers work, and it can be a little tricky at first, so if you’re playing with newbies you should probably start by playing with no expectations in order to figure out how to manage things. Also: I highly recommend the Beyond20 Chrome extensions that integrate D&D Beyond with Roll20.
As with the pen-and-paper RPG, the Dungeon Master has a lot more work to do in Roll20 than the players – the price of being God, I suppose – so if you’re a DM, you need to prepare. Fortunately, there are tons of detailed tutorials online for you to explore. Start here .
Roll20 lets you run full campaigns from Wizards of the Coast and indie developers, complete with ready-made maps, documentation, NPC tokens and whatever else you need to get started, and even offers several free single and mini campaigns. To make the online transition as easy as possible, you should probably start with a finished game.
Once you’ve climbed the initial Roll20 tech mound with one or two inclusive modules, you can roll your own, import your own maps, create your own meetings, or otherwise create your perfect fantasy world.
If you’re fast enough, Roll20 can play an impromptu, whatever-that-can-happen-style game on the fly. You can even add sounds, music and custom effects, and dig into macros and API scripts if you want to get really geeky … and that’s D&D, so you probably want to be a really geeky one.