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The SYFY FANGRRLS guide to playing Dungeons & Dragons online

By Riley Silverman
Dungeons & Dragons

There are lots of reasons to play Dungeons and Dragons online. Maybe you're cooped up in the house and looking for something to do with all of that extra time on your hands. Maybe you're looking for a way to connect with some friends across the cloud. Or maybe you've had a long-running game that is now feeling permanently on pause because you've all been collectively grounded by medical experts.

While role-playing games like D&D are designed to be played sitting around a table with bowls of salty snacks and pencils and paper aplenty, we also happen to be living in a golden age of technology that makes remote gaming extremely accessible. Licensed resources like D&D Beyond can help you build characters and share digital books and game features with your campaign, while programs like Roll20 can help you to create interactive maps for a more traditional immersive gaming experience. But as useful as supplemental tools like these and others are, they do cost money and perhaps a little investment of time to learn how to use them.

The truth is that all you really need in order to play an online game of D&D are the same materials you might use for an in-person game ... and access to a software that allows you to communicate across the void in as much time as it takes to put together a campaign. Digital dice rollers are easy to find online, and you can always just share pre-made maps via chat windows, emails, or messages.

With that in mind, here are a few SYFY FANGRRLS suggestions and tips for your online games. And while we're using D&D as a shorthand due to the popularity of the game, we believe these ideas can be applied to most other tabletop games as well.

Use video chat if possible

This one is not an absolute necessity per se. You can play an online D&D game with just voice chat. In fact, before the modern prevalence of built-in webcams and computer microphones, many of us cut our teeth playing RPGs in online chat rooms with entirely text-based games. But if you have access to video chat, it really can add a spark of life to your games. There's just something about seeing your adventuring party's faces across the void that makes it feel like you're all together in person. You get that visceral feeling of seeing someone's eyes light up when they make a good roll or their playful angst when they crit-fail at the worst possible time.

As an added bonus if you're a dungeon master who loves setting up minis and using physical terrain markers: You can point a webcam right at it so that all the players can see. It may take just a little more patience than normal as you all learn a cooperative language for communicating movement and such, but that also can help toward a feeling of being in this together as a team, making something work.

Love your labeling

As mentioned above, it can be a bit trickier to explain where on the map you're trying to go to when you're not able to just reach out and point. But this can be easily worked around with some simple labeling tips.

If a map is small enough, try to add a grid to it so players can just state what square they want to move to. If it’s a more complicated map, consider adding identifying letters or numbers near specific landmarks that players can quickly identify. You can adapt this to physical terrains and minis as well by using cut-up bits of paper to write numbers on or by using small but distinct objects from the house in place of traditional minis.

It could mean the difference between "I move to attack the goblin that's kind of in the middle but off to the right, no my right" and "I move to attack the salt shaker goblin."

Which brings us to our next suggestion ...

Embrace the silliness!

Very few of us aren't feeling the anxiety of these times right now, and that's exactly the reason so many folks are looking toward D&D as an outlet. This means that now may be the best time to just say yes to so many of the absurd and ridiculous ideas for games or characters that have been rolling around in your head.

Run that one-shot of Tabaxi roaming the streets of London at night with the Cats soundtrack blaring. Build that Warforged character that's one of the actual animatronics from Pirates of the Caribbean brought to life and swashbuckling through the Forgotten Realms. Right now no idea should be too silly, provided it doesn’t impede others’ ability to have fun at the table.

This is a "your mileage may vary" suggestion, of course. If you’ve got an established game going and you just want to continue playing out that campaign, by all means, don’t derail it with a Muppet Show level of chaos. Maybe that semblance of normalcy is exactly what your group needs to breathe right now. Or maybe your group already knows what dynamic works best, and that's great too.

Don’t be afraid of the mundane.

This is perhaps the exact opposite of the last point but is not immediately contradictory, either. Of course, most D&D-type adventures do lend themselves to epic heroics. You’re playing hero-type characters, after all. But if you don’t have a lot of time to prepare a big session or you can only get a small group of your players together at a specific time, don’t be afraid to still have a session that’s a little less on the major quest and a little more on doing the mundane tasks around a given town.

One of our games this weekend was just that; we handled a few odd jobs posted on the local board, like rescuing a woman’s dog, hunting and cooking crabs for a cook-off, and investigating the deaths of some sailors in a nearby cove. Each segment of the game only took between a half-hour to an hour, and there was still some light combat against sea creatures and a werewolf that had kidnapped that dog. But there was something really refreshing about just kind of going about a day as our characters that helped us feel less cooped up as players.

So if you've got a little group together who want to play but don't have any idea what sort of big mission to send them on, don't be afraid to just have them run some fantasy errands. A low-stakes game may be just what some of your adventuring parties need right now.

Well, those are some of our ideas for online games, and we'd love to hear some of the things that have worked for you! Tweet your tips and some of the things your digital parties have gotten up to at @SYFYFANGRRLS.