Beyond Tabletop: Your Guide To Long-Distance Gaming
June 24, 202111 min read
Author:Rhenn Anthony Taguiam
Meta Description:Don't let distance stop you from enjoying Dungeons & Dragons 5e! We'll explore the best ways to do long-distance gaming with your friends in this piece.
Today’s Coronavirus woes aren’t the only reason for tabletop gamers to resort to long-distance gamingto play Dungeons & Dragons 5e. In fact, groups of friends may eventually want to find ways to play D&D 5eand other TTRPGs without having to go out of the house. And while there’s appeal to hearing the clanking of dice on the ground or using character sheets, sometimes long-distance gaming is the best solution to a wide variety of concerns.
How exactly should you plan for long-distance gaming, though? This article will be your definitive guide for long-distance gaming with friends and peers.
First: A Matter of Preference
First, it’s important to realize that there’s no one correct way of long-distance gaming, as a lot of successful virtual or online sessions have to do with what makes TTRPGs the most fun for all the players. Thanks to software and apps today, players and DMs have a ton of long-distance gaming options to choose from.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of preference. Here’s an important question to ask yourself and your table before embarking on long-distance gaming: what kind of experience do I want to have?
I want to immerse in lore.If you’re the kind of DM that loves throwing lore after lore to players, you should consider using software and programs that help capitalize on your ability to create and organize lore for your campaign. The more in-depth your details, the easier it is for everyone to visualize your setting even without graphics. Likewise, players who love reading about their game world should ask their DM to focus on this kind of virtual setup.
I want to breathe life into my character.If you’re the kind of DM that loves facilitating interactions between players and NPCs, you should focus on software with great voice and chat opportunities. Your ideal gaming setup would be a messaging platform with voice chats, so your players can focus on portraying their characters without the hassle.
I want traditional RPG action.If you’re the kind of DM that loves the numbers and dice rolls associated with TTRPGs (especially D&D), then your virtual tabletop setup should focus on software that emulates the tabletop experience as much as possible. This software should be able to help you create dungeons in a breeze, facilitate encounters and dice rolls without a hitch, and manage sheets without any hassle.
Keep your answer in mind and read on.
Distance Gaming: The Options
Playing TTRPGs long distance can easily become overwhelming as there’s a ton of options for different kinds of DMs and players out there. Where do we even begin?
Well, an easier approach to building your ideal long-distance gaming setup would be tackling your potential TTRPG experience from different platforms.
If you’re not keen on organizing an adventuring table over other apps and software, you might want to start your virtual TTRPG experience with a familiar platform: Facebook. Weirdly enough, Facebook has enough tools to make most of your TTRPG experience possible, especially if you’re into D&D 5e. Here are some considerations:
Coordination:Facebook has become an ubiquitous part of our lives, as almost everyone is on Facebook. We can find our friends, family, favorite businesses, and even favorite celebrities on various Facebook accounts, pages, and even groups. Likewise, we can organize and join groups of fellow enthusiasts in various hobbies, including D&D 5e. It’s become much easier coordinating tables thanks to groups that can be dedicated to campaigns.
Lore:Thanks to Facebook Groups, tables have a repository of information they can use to add information and event imagery to add life and flavor to their campaign. In-image captions allow DMs to add great scenes to visualize events in the campaign. Notes and the ability to attach files and documents also allow DMs to add important pieces of lore that players with the Facebook App can easily access.
Visuals: Facebook doesn’t support battle maps and virtual tabletop options, meaning players who want to play on a virtual tabletop need to rely on other software to do this. However, screen sharing and group chat options make it much easier for DMs and players to upload photos of their characters and events that happen in the story.
Roleplaying:As Facebook has Messenger, players can easily transition into their characters thanks to voice calls, video calls, and even chat. Of course, the risk here is that other people such as friends and family may interrupt sessions with random chats, as Messenger is a general platform.
Mechanics:Unfortunately, Facebook doesn’t provide tools for players and DMs to roll dice and manage character sheets. However, DMs may have alternate means of managing dice rolls and character sheets - such as migrating to sites and programs that enable players to make and manage various character sheets as a team. That way, Facebook can serve as the main means of communication to play while everyone views the extra websites to check their information and mechanics.
Other Considerations:While Facebook lacks most of the utility features that make virtual tabletop possible, it’s still possible to replicate most virtual tabletop experiences in Facebook - especially if they’re using mind’s eye.
Thanks to Messenger, D&Dfans can easily communicate and organize themselves without having to install other apps and services. This is a great way for players to pursue D&Dwithout learning complicated software.
Players who are willing to adjust to accommodate more programs can easily rely on Messenger for their voice and video needs, with the DM now able to share their screen and provide visual guidance to players. Unfortunately, they have to rely on other apps and programs for the mechanics-heavy aspect of the game.
If you want a dedicated chatroom where your table can do all things tabletop, you can create a free server on Discord and do your sessions there. As a team-oriented and gaming-oriented platform, Discord has a lot of tools to make your TTRPG sessions and D&D 5eadventures possible in one handy platform. Here are some considerations:
Coordination:Perhaps one of the most amazing things about Discord is its ability to bring gamers together. Anyone with a Discord account can join hundreds of servers on games and hobbies that interest them, get connected with co-workers and colleagues, or even play TTRPGs with friends. In the case of your D&D 5ecampaign, you can gather your table in a Discord server dedicated to your particular game.
Lore:While there’s no way for Discord to launch windows with dedicated lore pages, you can have a dedicated lore channel where you or the DM can post text dedicated to explaining certain aspects of the game world. Other gamers might be concerned that this can flood the chat, but thanks to handy search features and the ability to make multiple channel groups, DMs can organize lore by region, race, class, or other forms of classifications. Moreover, DMs can attach links to documents and files that can serve as references.
Visuals: Unfortunately, there’s no way for Discord to show a virtual tabletop to players, meaning it won’t have the same “action” usual tabletop games have. DMs and tables relying on Discord would either have to use other virtual mapmakers for their encounters, or simply rely on their mind’s eye (imagination) to visualize the scenes. Relying on the latter means having to adjust some aspects of combat, as distance might be difficult to portray from a mind’s eye. However, thanks to video call and screen sharing options, DMs can still show their screen and present visuals as needed.
Roleplaying:Since Discord is primarily a text and voice platform, it’s a great tool for roleplaying fans. Thanks to voice calls and video calls, gamers can easily act as their characters and make their usual funny quips and grand speeches. Moreover, text formatting options can add a lot of unique chat options for TTRPG fans who also prefer to have their sessions text based.
Mechanics:Unfortunately, as Discord doesn’t have a virtual tabletop, it doesn’t have the kind of sophistication usual map tools have. However, Discord does allow various chatbots and widgets, enabling players and DMs to play music in adventures or even use handy dice bots to roll for them. Moreover, there are also Discord-connected apps that let players create character sheets that Discord can “refer” to with specific commands.
Other Considerations:Discord isn’t a virtual tabletop simulator, meaning D&D 5efans won’t be able to conduct their games with the same tabletop feel compared to Roll20 and MapTools. However, it does offer some handy features:
Unique text formatting allows DMs to set special chat rules to make games more immersive, enabling them to remove voice options entirely and making their sessions more chat oriented.
Thanks to widgets such as Avrae, Discord players can have interactive character sheets in another window that they can “refer” back to with special Discord commands. Moreover, Dice Bot also allows players to roll dice with a few simple commands. D&Dplayers that want to rely on mind’s theater mechanics will find Discord a handy place to play their games.
If you want the closest thing possible to an authentic tabletop experience, Roll20 is perhaps the tool for you and your table. Thanks to its handy chat interface and virtual tabletop option, Roll20 is one of the best tools out there to simulate an authentic tabletop experience, complete with dice and battle maps. Here are some considerations:
Coordination:Roll20 has a built-in chat system, allowing players and the DM to talk with each other via chat or even via video. This is also why a lot of TTRPG streamers stream via Roll20, as this is a great way to present their game to players. Moreover, Roll20 users can use the app’s built-in group features to find DMs, groups to play with, or simply coordinate the entire party in their own game room.
Lore:DMs who love making and writing lore for their adventures will love the Journal feature in Roll20. This tab essentially stores all the information on games, wherein DMs and players (with permission) can access different Handouts and their own characters. This feature makes everything about the game’s story accessible in a handy place.
Visuals: Roll20 has a straightforward way of designing maps. DMs simply need to load a basic grid template for their game, import their visual assets, and they’re free to place and resize the overall map. Not to mention, DMs can also add various objects to various sections of the maps, enabling them to customize the battlefield to their wishes. Moreover, DMs can place visuals on various “pages” that they can transition to in order to give players a better means of being “immersed” into the game.
Roleplaying:As a virtual tabletop, Roll20 can give perhaps the closest players could get to a tabletop experience. While there aren’t any tables or physical tokens, the top-down tabletop view and being able to hear or read messages of friends via chat and calls can offer a great way of simulating a real D&D
Mechanics:Roll20 perhaps shines best in terms of mechanics. As a digital map making tool, Roll20 enables players to design maps and other battlefields on grids and assign tokens to players. This tutorial provides a more in-depth look with the various features Roll20 has. However, Roll20 gives players the means to create their own tokens, roll different kinds of dice, and even automate much of the game’s mechanics. This makes D&D 5ea breeze, provided the party can streamline the things they want to do.
Other Considerations:Roll20 has a whole host of quality of life features that can make adventures much easier to play and manage. For instance:
DMs can choose maps from Roll20’s servers or even upload their own maps. Tokens and small objects can be placed and removed depending on DM discretion, which makes settings more interactive.
DMs can easily introduce characters and even monsters in encounters by dragging and dropping NPCs and Monsters, with players easily able to move their own characters without much difficulty.
There are other quality-of-life options such as click-to-roll dice and even dynamic lighting that can spice up sessions.
Players looking for a free alternative of Roll20 can try out MapTool instead. Similar to Roll20, MapTool provides a digital tabletop experience for TTRPG fans. However, its interface allows DMs and players to tailor-fit it to fit their preferred game, meaning not only can they play D&D 5ewith MapTool, but also their other favorite TTRPGs as well. Here are some considerations:
Coordination:Similar to other virtual tabletops, MapTool enables players and DMs to converse via chat and even create private servers for tables. This means DMs can simply plug their screen to the TV for the whole party to see their room, or even set up servers for people playing all over the world.
Lore:Unfortunately, there’s not much information as to how DMs can add direct handouts or lore pieces for players to be more immersed in the games’ story. However, MapTool does offer GMs to add custom tokens in maps, letting them add special notes (for themselves or for players) to certain sections of the map that may hold supplemental information for players. However, lore-wise, players and DMs may have to use another tool to keep track of the in-game story.
Visuals: In terms of visuals, MapTool isn’t as sophisticated-looking as other map making tools, but it gets the job done. DMs have the option to upload their own maps and other visuals such as custom tokens and items. They can also add fog of war effects to the map to hide certain sections. This adds a lot of flavor to sessions, as maps can instantly switch from forests to dungeons or even scary mansions.
Roleplaying:Thankfully, MapTool supports both chat and voice call capabilities, allowing players and DMs to interact as though they’re playing D&Din real life. Moreover, thanks to visual features MapTool provides, DMs can make maps more exciting instead of the conventional “map and token” styles of games in physical sessions.
Mechanics:MapTool works like the conventional virtual tabletop, but it’s free! This feature means DMs can track character statistics such as health and initiatives, and even have customizable character sheets for characters. Not to mention, most of MapTool’s features come with an easy-to-understand interface that most players and DMs can make a sense of with enough tinkering.
Other Considerations:As a Java-based application, MapTool can run in almost any computer. And as an open-source software, players and DMs with a keen interest in programming can help introduce handy features that can tailor their D&D experience to specifically their needs.
MapTool has an Open Gaming Store that lets players pick up map packs that suit their needs if they don’t have the time to make their own maps. Moreover, DMs can easily add tokens and other items into the game map.
MapTool tends to be a bit technical in terms of more complex options, as DMs have to manually input certain items to make certain functions happen. However, this does mean MapTool provides DMs with the means to make macros that can simplify much of their activities.
Thanks to Java compatibility, many extra resources exist that can be integrated with MapTool to provide extra features, such as options that add sounds during the entire adventure.
Get to Gaming!
It’s important to always remember that while analog gaming is fun with real dice, miniatures, and the company of friends, we gamers have to adapt to current events and modern technology. Thanks to messaging apps, intuitive chatbots, and even programs specifically designed for TTRPGs, we can play not just D&D 5ebut, almost virtually any tabletop RPG we want from the comfort of our own homes.
If you’re itching to try long-distance gaming and virtual TTRPG gaming with your friends, try any one of the methods we’ve suggested below and let us know what you think in the comments!
Author’s Note:I’ve personally tried D&D 5eover Discord, and my separate tables used different methods to incorporate play:
A friend incorporated Discord chats into her campaign, where in-game “chat” interactions can happen via special Discord formatting rules. The Discord server also served as a means for players absent in sessions to “make up” for lost time by interacting with NPCs and gaining experience, again with special formatting rules.
My most recent D&D 5etable primarily used voice chat. While we had to rely on our mind’s eye for the visuals, we did use chatbots for audio and dice work, which helped us keep the D&Dspirit alive. We played for four-hour spurts, and it’s one of the most exciting TTRPG experiences I’ve had as of writing this.