The traditional, and some would say correct, way to play Dungeons & Dragons is gathered around a table. What’s better than playing pretend around a table stacked with snacks? How can stuttering Zoom calls compete with the drama of reacting to a friend’s roleplay in the moment? And who doesn’t want to show off their pretty new dice in person? Yet as the hit game Baldur's Gate 3 shows us, there is a better way.
There’s a lot that can be said about how cultural phenomena like Critical Role and Stranger Things brought D&D to the mainstream. There were certainly a lot of people who became interested in this silly game they saw on their streaming show. Baldur’s Gate 3 hits different, though. It shows you how to play D&D by being a D&D game. Players get firsthand experience with both affecting the story with their choices and leaving things to the will of the dice. As for the technical stuff, it’s neatly sorted into in-game menus.
In this way, BG3 is a testament to the appeal of online D&D. The player-centric story and deep character bonds are still there and as effective as ever. The dice don’t clack on the table, but they still provide the thrill of chance. What goes away is all the time-consuming information sorting, giving you more time to actually enjoy the game.
Pen And Paper Is Cool Until You're Sifting Through Three Different Books
Online tabletop roleplaying is hardly a new concept. But it really came into the spotlight in 2020 when it was unsafe to gather in groups. Websites like Roll20 and our own StartPlaying stood ready to help players find groups of any experience level and time zone. Digital character creators like D&D Beyond made it simple to get rolling right away. When the world was saying no to a lot, it was easy to say yes to online D&D.
The biggest benefit of online D&D is the convenience of it all. There’s no need to debate over who hosts or miss a session because of commute-related issues. You can show up 30 seconds before start time in your pajamas if you’re cool with being on webcam like that. And you don’t even need to use your camera if you have social anxiety or another issue that makes it uncomfortable.
Furthermore, if you use a service like StartPlaying, you have the freedom to search for fellow players from all over the world. This widens the pool immensely, helping you discover party members that better match with your play style and habits. Your only limitations are time zones and language barriers, and even those can be overcome with text-only games.
The convenience of online play extends to the game itself. Digital tools keep track of your resources like HP and spell slots even if you end a session mid-battle and have to pick up a week later. Many websites also have digital compendiums so you can search up specific abilities. No offense to those who prefer paper character sheets, but it does bog things down when you have to ruffle through your book to find the exact distance of your spell. Calling up your spells with a click keeps combat moving, just like in a video game.
DMs Don't Get Caught Lacking
If you’ve ever needed to buy a birthday or holiday gift for your DM, you know they carry a lot. Most DMs like to have materials on hand to make maps to fit any situation, books for rules and art, a way to play music, and lots of dice. Or they could just have all of this in their computer and save themselves the trouble.
Dungeon Masters are best served by playing D&D online thanks to the power of digital storage. You can keep folders upon folders of art and maps in your computer. Once you upload these to a VTT like Roll20 or Foundry, they stay there. What’s even better is that there are plenty of artists who make maps that can be easily ported into VTTs. So you can have a backlog of NPCs and battle maps ready to go no matter where your party’s chaos suddenly takes you.
Presentation is also made much easier with online play. Just like with images, you can build a library of soundtracks and ambient sounds. You probably guessed it: your sounds can be stored in your favorite VTT and called up whenever you need them. Some go as far as letting you make and save playlists. Since most people are using headphones when playing online, they control their own volume for maximum comfort. Overall, online play offers a more convenient and flexible set of tools for DMs to foster immersion.
Get Experimental With Technology
There’s an advanced level of using online tools to DM. Various apps and extensions can up your game, allowing for new gameplay experiences. For instance, consider voice changing software. Voicemod is a popular option that is free and works with Discord. Imagine suddenly breaking out an unnaturally deep voice for a dragon fight or a machine filter for a warforged. The tech is really simple to use and can enhance your NPCs in a way that you couldn’t reproduce so easily in person.
Audio and visual immersion can also be achieved with your VTT of choice. Many offer custom spell effects to give your lightning bolts some extra pizazz, similar to the effects seen in BG3. Foundry allows for animated battle maps– think running on a moving trail or fighting on the back of a huge monster. Many of our StartPlaying GMs offer these special effects in their weekly games.
The possibilities aren’t entirely limitless with online play. You’re still beholden to the strength of your internet connection and how quickly you pick up new tech. But if you’re willing to give online D&D a chance, you’ll find that it’s much more immersive than you think. Everyone can still roleplay on camera, and the GM is given a range of amazing tools to transport you to your next adventure. After a few sessions, you might even find that you like online D&D better.