To play Dungeons & Dragons–or any other tabletop RPG–online, you need to have some way to communicate. Zoom made a name for itself during the global lockdown, and it is a solid platform for video chat, but many gamers prefer Discord for its community-friendly features.
Discord provides a solid service for audio/video calls as well as extra perks that can enhance your TTRPG experience. DMs can give players a private channel that persists even after the call is done, allowing the party to build camaraderie with above table talk or keep the role play going with play-by-post. Those savvy in design skill can also create custom emojis and personalize their channel to make it feel like a true community center. This might sound like a lot of work, but it’s very easy to get started.
For Game Masters
Creating A Discord Server And Channels
One of the best things about Discord is that it’s free to use. Creating an account and downloading the app costs nothing, nor does hosting a call of any length. Compare this to Zoom, which limits your call length if you don’t have the professional version. Discord lets you create your own server, which is basically your own little corner of the internet.
To create a server, just click the little “+” button on the bottom left of the screen. Select the relevant options, and your server will be born! From there, just send the server invite link to your players.
A server can be further divided into channels. All it takes to create a new channel is another click on a small "+" icon. The most important is obviously a voice channel, as this will be the place where everyone calls in to actually play the game. As for how to use text channels for TTRPGs, it really depends on the group size and dynamic. If you’re only looking to play a casual game with a single group, then you can get by with one text channel and one voice chat room.
If you’re a GM running multiple games, you’ll want to create at least one text channel per game group. You can still have a “general” channel if you want to encourage casual chit-chat, but each gaming group needs its own channel to talk schedules, strategy, and other things that only apply to their game. If you’re looking to be a pro GM or streamer, you might also want to plan out fun channels for things like memes, art, or pet photos. Discord is a great place to build a community of fans, and you want them to be checking in regularly.
Using Channels To Help Tell The Story
One of the more popular ways Pro GMs use Discord is to combine it with a virtual tabletop like Roll20. The idea is that players are looking at Roll20 for game images and dice rolls, but keeping a Discord call open on the side. If your game uses more Theater of the Mind than battle maps, you might instead elect to use Discord video chat and have the players front and center.
Another way to enhance your storytelling with Discord is to make use of text channels during and in-between the game. Perhaps you prefer a more minimalistic game setup, one without battle maps or the sometimes-distracting bells and whistles of digital tabletops. Discord could then serve as the entirety of your game platform. You could tell the story on video chat while showing relevant images on text chat for NPC portraits or puzzle items. As a player, you could also use text chat to spam memes during funny moments.
A few StartPlaying GMs offer play-by-post elements via Discord. This allows them to account for their character’s downtime activities like crafting items or learning new skills. Players can post what they’d like to do in between sessions, and the GM can arbitrate when it’s convenient for them. It’s a great way to keep players invested in their character without using up valuable session time on a series of individual downtime rolls. In this way, Discord allows you to keep the game going all week long.
Customizing Your Server
To play a TTRPG on Discord, you really only need text and voice channels. But if you want that premium experience, you can customize your server with bots, emojis, and other fun elements. Bots can help streamline gameplay and add immersion–think automatic dice rollers and ambient music players. Emojis are a fun way to personalize your server by immortalizing certain in-jokes and game characters.
For a more detailed look at which bots to use and other helpful Discord functions, check out our setup article!
What Is Discord?
Discord is a computer/smart device app that provides text chat and audio/video call service. Chats happen in servers run by a person or groups of people and are usually formed around a singular theme. It could be a popular video game, the fandom of a TV show, or a content creator's way of chatting with followers. A server is further broken down into channels, each with an even more specific purpose. For TTRPG play, Discord is a place where you and other players can run remote games and chat between sessions.
How To Download Discord And Make An Account
To download Discord, just visit the official site and find the link for your operating system of choice. If mobile is your game, check your app store for the Discord app. Just look for the purple and white logo. Once you've downloaded the app, follow the instructions for creating an account. It's a simple setup like that of many other sites–just give an email, create a password, and soon you'll be customizing your profile.
How To Join A Discord
If you are the player coming into a GM's server, you should be sent an invite link. All you need to do is have your account setup and accept the invite. Once you click the invite link, Discord will send you to the server. From there, the server owner will probably have some kind of welcome page appear. You might be asked to agree to some simple rules before gaining full access to the channels, such as not harassing other users or avoiding certain language.
Using my server as an example, this is what you'll see when you open Discord. All the way on the left are the various servers I belong to. The one open right now (you can see the white line next to it) is the orange background with a white d20, DM Serg's Game Corner.
Next to that is the list of channels available in the server. Right now I have the general channel up, with random banter about whether Tiamat's five heads have their own brains and would if they would share tastes in books. Below you can see other chat channels for things like character building, adult humor, and individual private rooms for each campaign I run. Far below that, past what's even visible, are my voice channels. Simply clicking on the voice channel will put you in a call with whoever else is in the lobby.
In the middle, of course, is the text chat itself. If you've used any chat app before, you get it. There are icons for gifs, emotes, and the + sign lets you upload your own images. To the right of chat is a list of users in case you need to DM someone or mute them should something go wrong.
Those are the basics of how to use Discord to play TTRPGs. To witness a Discord game with a pro GM, take a look at our beginner-friendly games!