by McKelle, Day-Riverside Branch
First, what is D&D?
Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG). One of the great things about D&D is that you only really need a copy of the rules (which has been made available online for free for new players), some pencils and paper, a set of dice, and your imagination.
D&D allows each player to create their own character to play, and these characters embark upon imaginary adventures within a fantasy setting. A Dungeon Master (DM) serves as the game's referee and storyteller, while maintaining the setting in which the adventures occur, and playing the role of the inhabitants of the game world. The characters form a party and they interact with the setting's inhabitants and each other. Together they solve dilemmas, engage in battles, explore, and gather treasure and knowledge. In the process, the characters earn experience points (XP) in order to rise in levels, and become increasingly powerful over a series of separate gaming sessions.
D&D famously uses a bunch of weird-looking dice, which some players collect like they’re Pokémon cards. For most people, a standard set of polyhedral dice works just as well. There are premade character sheets available (though you often have to purchase them), but if you want to create a character from scratch, you can do that too. The website D&D Beyond offers a character creator tool that can help.
Once you have everything you need, you’re ready to play!
Traditionally, D&D is played on . . . you guessed it, a tabletop.
But the internet has now made it remarkably easy to play a D&D campaign with your friends online—which is also useful when you’re trying to social distance. Knowing how to play D&D online is also a low-effort way of getting into Dungeons and Dragons for the first time. It's easy, and anyone with a mobile device, laptop, or computer can get involved. Because D&D can be a real pick-me-up in times of social distancing, that's no bad thing.
Step One: Pick the Right “Virtual Tabletop” for Your Group
A virtual tabletop is the software you’ll actually use to do all the planning for your digital campaign, as well as where you’ll gather to roll, play, and role play. D&D is all about immersion and cooperative storytelling, so you have to be able to chat with each other. While there are many modules that you can pay for that might make gameplay easier, it’s not necessary. Basically, if you can hear the voice of another human being you can play D&D.
Roll20 is an amazing, free to use piece of software that provides interactive and intuitive battlemaps. You can also import tokens and maps from premade modules, if you run them.
Tabletop Simulator is a physics engine that allows you to play virtually any board game online. Although it takes a fair bit of work to set up correctly for DnD, it is easily the closest you can get to playing in person. However this one costs money to use, so if you’re short on cash, Roll20 is the way to go.
Step Two: Choose a Voice Chat:
There are a number of video chat platforms out there, most notably:
Zoom - Most reliable, but only free for 40 minutes.
Google Hangouts - Can get laggy, but free and user friendly.
Discord - The free and favorite option for most gamers, but it doesn’t have a pop-out video panel, which makes it a tough choice for online sessions if you want to see each other.
Step Three: Get Digital Copies of Books and Materials
This step is not strictly necessary. As we mentioned before, if you’re an experienced RPG player and feel comfortable designing your game and your characters from scratch, that is totally an option. But if you’re more of a newbie, it will be easier to have the handbook and modules to work from. Again, DnD Beyond is the best online resource for everything you might need.
Step Four: Have fun and be flexible!
There will always be some bumps and hurdles with playing a tabletop game online, but the great thing about RPG is being able to improvise new solutions and roll with the punches (pun intended).
Have fun out there, and beware of the smiling dungeon master.
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