My friends and I aren’t allowed to meet each other face to face because of our families’ social distancing policies in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Since most of us have know each other since grade school, it was extremely hard on us when we couldn’t meet up to play Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Because we go to different colleges, the only times we could all see each other, when everyone was in town, was when we invited each other over to play a game. To get around out limitations, the friend who is the dungeon master (DM) for our next campaign proposed that we try playing over Discord, a text and voice chat program for gamers. Playing this ways comes with many positives, but it also has a few detractors.
We are playing with streamlined rules that our DM put in place to make the experience flow better in his opinion. In our first session we were able to get through two major combat encounters and one role playing focused section. In past campaigns getting a second combat encounter and a role playing section was a rare sight as one encounter tended to take up most of out time. In our most recent session, we rushed through an entire dungeon and ended after a major role playing section. We play fast and loose, but that is by no means the only way to play D&D online. Knowing my friends, we prefer the goofy interactions that our characters have with each other so strict combat rules and the like aren’t necessary for our play style. You by no means need to simplify rules to play online. What is going to be effecting those who chose to adventure on Discord, though, are changes to the social environment. Since we don’t see each other face to face, yet can all still hear each other, it has become even easier to talk at the same time as someone else. At points other player’s mics would cut out mid-sentence. It also is easier to become distracted by things outside of our shared game space or by sending memes to each other. Despite these possible detractors, Discord offers great opportunity and ease of play. One thing that was hard to pull of when playing face to face was the moments when a player had to speak with the DM in private. In our server we have a private voice channel for secret information that the DM can move a player to when a moment required it. Discord, through the use of free bots like Avrae that can calculate dice rolls and character stats, allows essential game actions to be performed without leaving the Discord window. Because die rolls are viewable by all players, we don’t have to worry about someone lying about their roll, not that any of us would lie about that anyway, or about the unbalanced nature that comes with cheap dice. Discord bots can also be used to curate music as we play. One think to note that can be a challenge to do online without paid tools is running dungeons and encounters that require maps. If playing D&D online is your goal, than the cheapest method to run encounters with the lest amount of technical set up is running them in “theater of the mind.” Running it this way is effective for quick encounters, but can potentially limit an encounter’s the complexity. There are specific online tools designed for making and running mapped encounter available for a fee, but not everyone wants to make this kind of monetary commitment. Our DM decided to run the dungeon from last session through Google Spreadsheets and, to be honest, I can’t attempt to explain how he set it up. Playing with something not intended to be used in that way had its own challenges and quirks. What each group’s needs are going to vary greatly, so my advice to any DMs attempting to switch to an online format are the following: 1) Think about what your goals are for the campaign or one shoot your are running, and 2) think about what your players’ goals are for playing the game. Hopefully these considerations are useful and I hope more groups are able to enjoy playing together remotely.
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