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How to Play Tabletop RPGs Online During the Pandemic

There is nothing like getting together with a group of friends for a night of Tabletop RPGs. You bring your figures, dice, and books to whoever is hosting. You order some food to eat on your break, and talk shop about whatever comes to mind. Unfortunately, the pandemic has not only made this difficult, it has made all forms of gathering ill-advised.

Luckily for us, there are various online solutions that can recreate the experience of playing a tabletop roleplaying game. No, you don’t have to point your webcam at your maps while your players scream about where their characters are supposed to go over Zoom. But while the experience pales in comparison to playing in person with a group of friends, it should do for now. Read on to learn about the various online platforms that have made it possible to play TRPGs online.

In no particular order, here they are:

Discord

Discord has become an incredibly useful platform for communicating with friends, especially given its capacity to host entire servers for text, voice, and video communication. But what most people don’t know is that there are actually plenty of Discord bots that can actually help facilitate tabletop RPGs. From dice rollers to music players, there are an unlimited number of tools to help facilitate your game. There are even Discord mods that allow you to change your voice at will, which makes it an interesting experience for players and DMs alike.

And it isn’t just for D&D. There are plenty of bots for different systems, including Fate and Vampire: The Masquerade. It can serve as a useful all-in-one resource for communication during the game. You could even stream what’s on your screen for the rest of your party if that’s what you need to do.

The D&D Beyond Bot in Discord.

One caveat though is that there is no dedicated interface for tabletop games. You would still have to know the commands and type them up in order to use them, as is shown in the image below. Another caveat is that there is no interface for a shared map or board in the system, which can make it very difficult for combat based systems that make use of extensive maps.

Roll20

Roll20 is a free platform designed solely for the playing of RPGs. It allows for the recreation of the battle map experiences through the use of images and icons, allows player management through character sheets encoded into the system, and a rolling system (that gives you the optional choice of rolling 3D dice) that makes the results visible to everyone in the game. Not only that, but it also allows for the use of music during the game which it takes from public domain providers of TRPG music. It even has a built-in video and voice call system, so you wouldn’t have to use any other apps.

It has useful tools for players and game masters alike. Game masters and players can make use of fog of war effects, maps already in the database, information resources, and so on. The great thing about this is you won’t always have to type up every single command, as rolling for Stealth or other skills is as easy as clicking the word on your character sheet.

Some of its aspects are still in development, such as the video and voice, but that can easily be worked around by an employing a different service (like Discord) for this aspect of the game. Roll20’s apps are also still in development, so it necessitates the use of a laptop.

Roll20

The platform also has a vast collection of Tabletop RPGs encoded into the system. Many of the more popular ones have complete databases of information, but other ones will have to be accompanied by copies of the books. And while Roll20 is free to use, there are premium options for those willing to spend some money on the extra features.

Fantasy Grounds

Similar to Roll20, Fantasy Grounds is a virtual tabletop in early access that facilitates the playing of TRPGs. It boasts itself as having the most official licenses of any virtual tabletop platform to date. Like Roll20, it features plenty of tools for players of all roles. You can choose to buy digital copies of the various books in various RPGs in order to add more to the experience.

Fantasy Grounds

It does with heavy caveats: it is a paid service. You can either pay a one-time fee or a subscription fee for all the feature, with there being three tiers of membership. The Free/Demo, Standard, and Ultimate. Free members cannot GM even if they all have copies. Free members can only join games if they are invited by an Ultimate member who choose to GM. Standard players may GM, but only for other paying players of any tier. Ultimate members have access to all the features and can play paying and non-paying players alike.

Tabletop Simulator

Tabletop Simulator is a program available fopr purchase on steam that allows you recreate the experience of sitting at a table with friends to play board games and RPGs. That’s right, Tabletop Simulator can be used to play board games in addition to RPGs. And when we talk about recreating the experience of sitting at a table, we mean just that. You could incorporate VR and pretend you’re actually together playing a spirited game.

The 3D graphics are enjoyable enough, but it can feel like an unnecessaryl step in the game for some. Users also tend to report that recreating the tabletop experience can be difficult, as it involves recreating that 3D experience from the ground up. However, if you and your players are feeling extra, go right ahead and splurge on the 4-pack for you and your friends.

At the end of the day, it is up to you

Whatever system you might choose to host your online tabletop RPG sessions, all of them involve learning new processes and some elbow grease. Many of these systems come with their own complications on top of their features, and experiences may vary depending on the preferences of you and your group. But if you do end up choosing to play, good on you. After all, we could all use some distractions during the pandemic.

And if you’re interested in a stream that makes regular use of some of these methods of online tabletop play, give The UwUverlord a follow on Twitch. She and her friends have partnered up with the Dragonforge to host regular games of D&D online for everyone to watch.

You could also check out our store for all our tabletop-related goodies. After all, that’s what you’re here for, isn’t?