How to launch and run a remote D&D game from quarantine, the Wirecutter way

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I’ll sit down tonight and read through some of this, because I’m having some real mental blocks to getting the campaign I’ve been running back up again. Spent a year running a group of kids through a story, and then COVID happened, and we barely limped along with Zoom and Roll20.

Parents just don’t seem to understand that if I’m spending 5+ hours a day on Zoom, the absolute last thing on the planet I want to do after dinner is get back on Zoom for another 2 hours of talking. I get that your kids like it, and you really like having 2 hours a week where you don’t need to pay attention to your kid, but I’m doing this for free.

ProTip: If you’ve got a kid taking advantage of someone else’s DM skills, and you’re texting them constantly about when the next session will be, maybe consider throwing in $5. We do it because it’s fun, because we really do enjoy it, but asking for a year’s worth of knowledge work (for FREE!) is pushing it.


I don’t understand people’s desire to use Zoom :eyes: We do our coordination on Discord for text and voice chat, we don’t bother with video because there’s not much of a point to but that’s our preference though i like that it simplifies things on that front.

For the actual game we use Roll20, couldn’t tell you what other programs our DM uses to plan and build the campaign. He generates custom sprites for characters and builds the environments, though not for everything just the most pertinent locations we visit. We’ve been playing online for about 4 years though he’s been running games online for much longer.


Yeah totally!! Being a DM is very fun and rewarding but it’s quite time consuming! Add in the cost of necessary technology, making the effort to move it online— it’s a lot! I think like so many things, the effort is almost invisible as a player if the DM is doing a good job. On the other hand, if you’re playing with folks who don’t appreciate it or (as has happened to me) actively trying to mess up your preparation, it becomes laborious. Takes all the fun out of it.

Those kids are lucky to have an adult in their lives that creates space for fun! Hopefully some of the other adults see the value in what your doing and support you. My friends with kids would probably pay $50 a kid just for two hours of alone time a week right now. Five dollar is a great deal LOL

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Seems like having video off might make it easier to suspend disbelief and get into character? Does it seem that way to you?

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That’s the exact setup my gaming group uses for D&D - Roll20 for the visuals and mechanics, and Discord for voice or video. Works pretty well, though there is a bit of a learning curve to Roll20, especially for the DM.


Sorry to hear that you got crap players.

The problem I’ve been having is that I’ve been spending 7 days a week thinking about my campaign, and only getting to play for about 2-3hrs per week. My brain was running round and round like a hamster in a wheel and stressing me out. Recently, I started writing another campaign while running my original one. That way I can spend loads of time thinking about a future game, and, hopefully, relax about the one I’m actually running.


It certainly made it easier for me. When i first joined i had never done D&D and honestly didn’t feel like i would take to it and that i just wouldn’t gel well with the group, among all kinds of insecurities and anxieties of playing with folks that knew D&D inside and out. Doing it all at the comfort of my home with voice only might sound impersonal to seasoned players but for me it gave me the ability to bumble forward and slowly get confidence. I really think it was the best case scenario for me but likely not universally applicable to every new player. Some day i’d like to transition to doing in-person sessions but i do not know anyone that plays where i’m at.

The other advantage to doing it all online is that we can still play during holidays :slight_smile:

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I have been facilitating my fair share of online workshops over the last decade or so, and especially in the last 6 months a significant part of my job was help others pick up remote work and facilitation skills. I found that a shared workspace makes all the difference for participation, focus and immersion, so if were to facilitate an online role playing game, I’d do it like this:

  • as @Grey_Devil pointed out, I’d use audio (Discord, Jitsi, Team Speak), because people would want to focus mostly on the game (as they would focus on the work in most workshops). I’d probably set up a second room so that I can talk to just a part of the party if necessary
  • I’d use miro (the free plan is perfectly fine for this application) as a shared workspace for the map. I’d cut up the maps into individual rooms I could just drag in as they are revealed to the party (probably from a second miro board in another window), I’d also pepare avatars and monsters, items etc. miro is easy to learn, and really awesome!
  • I’d use Loopback to insert background music into the call (I use this in workshops for silent activities, otherwise you have minutes of dreadful silence)
  • I’d do all the rolls myself, and I don’t believe that players should ever see their character sheets so that they are not bothered with the mechanics, but of course character sheets and the like can also be created in miro or imported as scans.

I would assume that preparation for a game in miro is not significantly more time consuming than doing it offline, once you get the hang of it. I create a new workshop in miro a lot faster than I could without it, not just because I re-use formats and activities, but also because mapping things is what miro is made for.

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Describing it as launching and running a remote game makes it sound like you set up your D&D game in the cloud somewhere and just left it to carry on by itself.

Our group uses discord for voice and text chat, and occasionally video if we are showing a map or combat. Our DMs have played around with Roll20, but never really got into the hang of it. (The ‘theatre of the mind’ is a powerful thing.)

I’ll point them at miro, just because we don’t mind trying new things to see if they work with how games are run.

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