Playing DnD online

Vael

Adventurer
So, with social distancing becoming the new norm for a bit, I thought I'd ask about playing DnD online. I'm learning Roll20 with the goal of starting up some games shortly, but I have some questions to those that have done this before:

What programs do people use?
How does it differ from in-person play?
Any advice on running/playing games specifically online?
 

ART!

Explorer
I'm having a heck of a time figuring out Roll20. I suspect some of the newer VTTs are more user-friendly, having the advantage of looking at earlier sites and seeing what works best, what the most common complaints are, etc.

Generally, it's just very frustrating to have what I think is a pretty good (read: "makes for a fun time for all") face-to-face GMing skill set and approach to planning and prep, and now having to learn this whole new way of doing things, and Roll20 is not making it easy for me.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
As we run TotM I’m going to stick with Discord for as long as possible. But we‘ve playing as a group for years so there’s a lot of trust/shared knowledge about how things go.
 

ChaosOS

Adventurer
Here's my setup of online play tools

Roll20: Battlemaps for combat or detailed exploration

Discord: Organizing play times, between-game chatting

Google Hangouts: Main play - a big mistake I see a lot of people make for online games is thinking the map/table is the most important thing. It's not! The table is an accessory to seeing the other people. Yes, that means Jim has to finally go buy a decent webcam.

Kanka: Best campaign planning tool I've found, it's essentially a wiki but with pre-defined types of pages with additional functionality based on type.
 

Vael

Adventurer
Here's my setup of online play tools

Roll20: Battlemaps for combat or detailed exploration

Discord: Organizing play times, between-game chatting

Google Hangouts: Main play - a big mistake I see a lot of people make for online games is thinking the map/table is the most important thing. It's not! The table is an accessory to seeing the other people. Yes, that means Jim has to finally go buy a decent webcam.

Kanka: Best campaign planning tool I've found, it's essentially a wiki but with pre-defined types of pages with additional functionality based on type.
Fascinating ... so do you normally run the game in Hangouts and then, if an encounter warrants it, switch to Roll20?
 

ChaosOS

Adventurer
Yeah the game is in Hangouts and then Roll20 is the equivalent of pulling out the markers to draw on the map (I'm not the type of person who has a bunch of high quality terrain for in person games).
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Here's my setup of online play tools

Roll20: Battlemaps for combat or detailed exploration

Discord: Organizing play times, between-game chatting

Google Hangouts: Main play - a big mistake I see a lot of people make for online games is thinking the map/table is the most important thing. It's not! The table is an accessory to seeing the other people. Yes, that means Jim has to finally go buy a decent webcam.

Kanka: Best campaign planning tool I've found, it's essentially a wiki but with pre-defined types of pages with additional functionality based on type.
So why discord and hangouts? Is there an advantage to using one over the other?
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Because of work I no find myself overseas but have been able to keep my campaign going through on-line play. I don't have great internet and I'm not sure all my players want to install software and learn new technology, so that colors my preferences.

I've been using RealmWorks for years for building campaign worlds and running face-to-face games. So what I've been doing is running my games with Google Hangouts, sharing the player view window to show maps. Basically it is just to show maps, progressively revealing them as the party explores. It is not a VTT. But RealmWorks development has stopped and it was getting to be too much work to enter everything in RW. Also, I'd like to use tokens for more tactical battle situations.

I've also joined some pickup games on Roll20 with mixed results. Usually it is fine, even without great internet, but I wouldn't want to rely on it as a DM. Also, many of those running games on Roll20 use Discord for voice. Many complain Roll20 voice is not great. But I've had so many issues with Discord that I won't even try joining a game that uses it.

For voice and screen sharing I find Google Hangouts or Google Meet to provide the most consistent good quality no matter where I am in the world. Few companies are able to provide the reach and power that Google can with datacenters all around the world. It also ofters a great app for smart phones, which is a good backup if my wifi has issues, I can just switch to the app and my 3G network (I use Google Fi giving me choice of multiple service providers in most countries in the world). Microsoft Teams is also go and, I suppose Skype. I only use Teams with work and don't want to use it for personal activities.

I've been spending a lot of time testing VTT platforms the past few weeks. I like Roll20 as it is easy to get started with and players don't need to install anything. But it chokes on large maps with a lot of lines mapped out for line of sight and dynamic lighting.

There are other threads on EnWorld I've participated in recently where I've discussed various VTT platforms, but I'm getting close to settling on Fantasy Ground Unity. It is easy to add the MANY maps I have for the mega dungeon I'm running. You can set up a player instance and share that window in Google Hangouts. If players want to download and install the software, they can. FG does, however, have a steep learning curve esp. if you want to use all its features. But it is growing on me. Happy to discuss more but I have pizza and a movie waiting!
 

ninjayeti

Explorer
I have played online using both Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 plus Discord for voice chat.

Online play isn't too different from IRL play. There are only a couple of differences that stand out to me. First, it is more focused on maps because that is what everyone is staring at for most of the session. Having nice maps and visual aids (e.g., pics of key NPCs) pays off more in an online game. Second, having a group on voice chat can be a bit more awkward than in-person play. Without visual cues that someone is going to start/stop talking you end up with long silences where everyone is waiting for someone else to talk, then everyone starts speaking at once. It tends to get better as the group gets more familiar just be prepared for it and don't let it throw you.

Some advice in no particular order:
-Don't set out to master all the bells and whistles on the VTT at the outset. As long as you can get people into your game rolling dice and moving tokens on the map you can run a game. Figure additional stuff out as you go.

-There are many features on the VTTs that might not be obvious. With Fantasy Grounds, every time I thought "I wish the system could do X" I later found out it DID do x, I just didn't know how. Roll20 is less robust, but even then there are a lot of great things you can do with macros. So if there is a feature that you think would be helpful, a little research may pay off. Both VTTs have helpful communities so reach out if you have questions.

-The text chat feature of Discord is great for between-game communications. Players can post recaps, plan for the next session, handle downtime, or even engage in RP over text. Or you can just post memes.

-Voice Chat Etiquette: If you aren't the DM, use push-to-talk. But if you are laughing at someone's joke, be sure to key your mike - nothing kills humor quicker then hearing dead silence after every joke.

Good luck!
 

Martin

Former Grand Vizier of Nutkinland
Google Hangouts: Main play - a big mistake I see a lot of people make for online games is thinking the map/table is the most important thing. It's not! The table is an accessory to seeing the other people. Yes, that means Jim has to finally go buy a decent webcam.
Could you elaborate on why you feel that it's the most important thing to see other people? James Haeck wrote something similar in his recent article on online gaming and I'm genuinely curious as to how and why this is a must have for those of you who use it.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Could you elaborate on why you feel that it's the most important thing to see other people? James Haeck wrote something similar in his recent article on online gaming and I'm genuinely curious as to how and why this is a must have for those of you who use it.
So, a couple of relevant things:

We get information from words. We also get a lot of information out of vocal tone (which, along with speed, is why having audio is better than just typing everything. But, we also get a ton of information out of facial expression and body language, which is why he camera is important.

Also, if there's a camera on, you recognize that people can see you. If you have just a microphone on, you are more likely to get distracted, because you don't have the presence of people keeping you focused.
 

Mistwell

Legend
We use just Roll20 and Skype. Roll20 has it's own built-in skype too, but we didn't like it as much (at least early-on). It does handle video too I seem to recall. And of course there is a fully chat/text window in Roll20 as well.
 
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Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
Any advice on running/playing games specifically online?
There was a good post on Reddit about this recently, and I agree with it wholeheartedly. The gist was: Don't try to use all of a virtual tabletop's features right out of the gate. There's too much to learn, and a lot of the features are unnecessary anyway. You can get by using just the dice-roller. Once you (and your players) become more comfortable with the interface, you can slowly add in more features.

Also, my groups use Discord for voice chat and Roll20 for the VTT. When I run games, I have the adventure book on my desk, a tablet with my campaign notes on it in my lap, a glass of water, and a Blue Yeti microphone. For comfort, I use an adjustable standing desk (so I can switch between sitting and standing).

Playing online does make some parts of DMing more difficult (reading the table, an important DMing skill, is much harder when you can't see players' faces and body language (we play without video)), but I get a lot of enjoyment out of playing online.
 

Nebulous

Hero
I'm having a heck of a time figuring out Roll20. I suspect some of the newer VTTs are more user-friendly, having the advantage of looking at earlier sites and seeing what works best, what the most common complaints are, etc.

Generally, it's just very frustrating to have what I think is a pretty good (read: "makes for a fun time for all") face-to-face GMing skill set and approach to planning and prep, and now having to learn this whole new way of doing things, and Roll20 is not making it easy for me.
I am also learning Roll20. Fortunately, two of my old players are in different online groups and they've been able to help me. But yes, the layers crap can be very, very confusing, and getting dynamic lighting to work the way I want has been a huge pain in the ass. One player knew how to tweak the aura setting to replicate 60 foot darkvision, which I never ever would have figured out.

However, I don't think Roll20 is any harder than Fantasy Grounds. I signed up for Fantasy Grounds College where you have online Discord chats with DMs who volunteer their time to teach the VTT. They are both very different systems, and I don't know either well enough to say which I prefer, but for now I'm using Roll20.

In a month or two Foundry comes out, check that out, it's being built from the ground up as a VTT and has some exceptionally good looking lighting dynamics.
 

Nebulous

Hero
Yeah the game is in Hangouts and then Roll20 is the equivalent of pulling out the markers to draw on the map (I'm not the type of person who has a bunch of high quality terrain for in person games).
See, I am the opposite. My in person games are full color maps, 3D terrain, miniatures of all types, spell templates, etc. I need my online to replicate that as best as I can, so I search for full color maps, preferably maps with elevation terrain for added tactics, not just a square room. I have been enjoying the dynamic lighting of Roll20 as it really enhances the "exploration" aspect of the game where you can't see what is waiting in the shadows around the corner until you look, and it's often some scary token.
 

Nebulous

Hero
I've been spending a lot of time testing VTT platforms the past few weeks. I like Roll20 as it is easy to get started with and players don't need to install anything. But it chokes on large maps with a lot of lines mapped out for line of sight and dynamic lighting.

There are other threads on EnWorld I've participated in recently where I've discussed various VTT platforms, but I'm getting close to settling on Fantasy Ground Unity. It is easy to add the MANY maps I have for the mega dungeon I'm running. You can set up a player instance and share that window in Google Hangouts. If players want to download and install the software, they can. FG does, however, have a steep learning curve esp. if you want to use all its features. But it is growing on me. Happy to discuss more but I have pizza and a movie waiting!
I agree. I found Roll20 difficult enough to get the hang of, and FG is much, much steeper. I will continue to fiddle with both though. Sadly, Roll20 does choke on large maps with dynamic lighting. I don't think I could even load Wave Echo Cave into the game. Probably doing something wrong, or the megabyte size was too large, i dunno.
 

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