Dungeons and Dragons in the Digital Age

This article originally featured in the December 2020 issue of Connect.

Rachel Fagundes (Okayama) | Reese Mills (Okayama)

Dungeons & Dragons is awesome and you should be playing! If you aren’t already, good news: D&D is now easier to play than ever before, and Reese and I have assembled lots of excellent online resources to help you get started. Even better, new developments have made
it possible to play D&D online, making it the perfect way to stay creative, connected to friends, and having fun while quarantining at home or struggling with an isolating rural placement. So, without further ado, here’s our guide to some handy resources for D&D that can help you set up a game online whether you are an old pro or a complete beginner.

So. What is DnD?

If you’re really lost so far, don’t panic!

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy role-playing game inspired by fiction like The Lord of the Rings and the works of Robert E. Howard. Basically, a group of (usually 4-6) friends will get together to tell a story. One person will act as the DM (Dungeon Master), who will run the game and describe the environment, people, and obstacles that the players encounter. The other players each invent a character, whose actions and choices they describe throughout the game. Dice rolls are used as a fair way to determine whether a character succeeds or fails at actions they attempt to take. And thus, a story emerges.

The tone of games can vary wildly from group to group, from wacky shenanigans to epic adventures, mystery, drama, horror, and everything in between. Ultimately, it’s a game crafted by your imagination, and a great chance to spend time with your friends in a fun, creative, and collaborative way.

D&D Beyond

DnDBeyond.com is D&D’s official website, and it’s a treasure trove of useful tools and info, whether you are playing in person or online. They have everything from a basic intro for
new players here to a pretty extensive free guide to the rules here. (If that looks intimidating don’t worry! It’s ok to just jump in and learn as you go!) There are searchable and sortable lists of spells, feats, monsters, magic items, and more just waiting for you to explore. They also have a great Quarantine Resources section to help folks play online, that features free campaigns your group can use to get started. D&D Beyond also has a great step-by-step walkthrough of character creation and (my favorite feature!) absolutely outstanding digital character sheets. You can click any feature on the character sheet for handy rules explanations, and automatic calculations make leveling up a cinch. This is honestly a fantastic tool for both new and experienced players and makes D&D easier and more accessible than ever before.

DM Tips

As the DM, you can create a game group on D&D Beyond in the My Campaigns section. When players join your game group, you can see all their character sheets, making it easy to help players check rules and keep track of information.

While most basic content on D&D Beyond is available for free, some options and abilities are only available if purchased in the online store. You can get around this by either not using those additional features or by manually adding them using the Homebrew option on the site. Members of your group will have access to any homebrew rules you’ve added, and any rulebook content you have purchased, giving the players the opportunity to get around paying for content.

If you want to purchase rulebooks or a campaign adventure, you can do so here. The online versions have handy hyperlinks, allowing you to access the relevant information more easily than in a PDF file or a print edition.

Online Tabletops

D&D is usually played around a table, snacking and laughing with a group of friends. Some DMs provide maps or drawings to help the players visualize the space they are in. And of course, everyone has dice to roll when the action starts heating up. So how do you transfer these things into playing online?

Online tabletops are set up specifically to recreate your cozy kitchen table online, and provide all the tools you need to play in one place. There are a few different online tabletops to choose from, but we recommend Roll20 since it’s free and awesome.

The players and the DM can all log into Roll20 together to see shared maps and character placemarkers. There is also a digital dice roller that allows everyone logged into your game to see the rolls, which keeps the game honest. Roll20 has a Skype-like video and audio chat option built into its toolbox, so everyone can see and speak to one another throughout the game. There are even nifty tools that your DM can use to add background music to your adventure. You can check out Roll20’s video guide for players for a more in-depth explanation of their various cool features.

Note: While online tabletops can be helpful tools to enhance your game, they are not actually necessary in order to play D&D online. Less tech-savvy groups may be happier skipping all that and just sticking to the three basics:

1. Character sheets (shared with your group on D&D Beyond)
2. Dice (like this digital dice roller if you don’t have our own)
3. Friends (you can just Skype with your group members or use any other similar service)

And let your imaginations do the rest!

DM Tips

As the DM, you gain the ability to give players control over tokens, prepare multiple map pages to switch to, play music, hide or reveal maps and tokens during game, and give out informative notes or handouts. They have a great video guide for DMs to help you get set up.

When setting up, you can manually add everything, or you can purchase a campaign adventure in the Roll20 Shop, which will give you access to the PDF and the ready-to-play pre-made Roll20 maps for that adventure.

Finding Friends to Game With

Starting a gaming group is a great way to get to know other expats in your area! If you’re struggling to make connections in a new country in these isolating times, invite some acquaintances to play D&D with you. After running amok and slaying dragons together for a few sessions, you’ll be tried and true companions! Gaming is also a good way to stay in touch with friends back home (time zones allowing). It can be hard to keep up with old friends while living abroad, but if you are in a weekly online game together, the time to see one another is already scheduled in.

However, if you’re still struggling to find folks to game with, there are resources that can help you connect with online players too. Both DnD Beyond and Roll20 have forums for players looking for groups and vice versa.

Reese Mills has also started up a Facebook group Expats – Okayama Gaming Hub that can help folks (anywhere in Japan!) interested in playing D&D find one another. He will even help people set up their group or find one to join.

Watching a Game

Still nervous about getting started? Intimidated by the weird dice or lots of new rules? Don’t worry! You definitely don’t need to have everything memorized in order to play. Most people learn as they go, and more experienced players in the group can always give newcomers a helping hand. Still, many beginners find it helpful to watch a game in action before they get started, to get a better picture of what playing a D&D game is actually like and how the game mechanics actually work.

There are quite a number of YouTube videos and podcast recordings of D&D groups that can be a great starting point for getting into the game.

In particular, we recommend Critical Role. This D&D game, played by a group of voice actors, has done a lot to demystify D&D and make it seem exciting and accessible to beginners. It may help new players, or those friends still on the fence about giving it a try, feel more comfortable getting started. Critical Role is also available as a podcast and can be watched live every week on Twitch.

Dice, Camera, Action is another great option. This game is run by a lead D&D designer and takes players through the gothic Curse of Strahd campaign.

So, You Want to be a DM

Great! We can help you out with that too!

Dungeons & Dragons has tons of pre-written scenarios that will provide you with all the tools you need to run a great adventure for your friends. These campaigns are composed by professional writers and game designers, and range from high seas adventures to heavy metal dungeon crawls. Want to run a high fantasy heist? There’s a campaign for that. Want to punch a dinosaur? There’s a campaign for that too.

You’re also welcome to just, you know, make shit up. D&D is a game about imagination, and if you don’t see what you’re looking for in a pre-written adventure, you can always modify the material to your liking—or make up completely original worlds, monsters, and adventures of your own. Want more Afrofuturism in your fantasy? Sweet, put it in there. Want to create
a gritty political thriller with elves? You can do that too. Want to send your players on a quest to rescue Lord Guy Fieri from the gangsters of Flavor Town? I have a friend who is playing in one such campaign right now, and it sounds fuckin’ wild.

Whatever makes your game easy to manage and fun to play, it’s all okay!

DM Tips

Here are some additional resources specifically to help new DMs get started.

The Core Rulebooks

There are three core rulebooks to the game, but you can start off by using the free basic rules on D&D Beyond, then use google to find obscure rules as needed. Still, you may want to buy the three rulebooks once you’re invested in the game.

These include the Player’s Handbook for player rules, the Dungeon Master’s Guide for the game rules, and the Monster Manual for listing all the monster stats. You definitely don’t need to read all three books from cover to cover; just skim at the start, then pick the relevant pages as you need them.

The DM Screen

A tool for the DM to hide dice rolls and use as a cheat sheet for looking up key rules or information during the game. You can get a physical one, or use google to find a free online version, like on D&D Compendium.

Box Sets and More

Now if, like me, you are feeling a little overwhelmed when starting out, I recommend getting the D&D Starter Set. It contains a pre-made adventure, a set of dice, a DM screen, character sheets, a world map, and basic rules to start with. The pre-made adventure The Lost Mines of Phandelver can last for around 15 games or more, giving the DM everything they need to reference in the booklets for rules, story, maps, character and enemy information, and progression guidance. Using this, I can say it helped me and my players learn the basics, giving us a fun adventure to grow and progress from. The Essentials Kit includes similar material but has the adventure The Dragon of Ice Spire Peak, which can be more difficult to run as a starting DM because of the sandbox approach to the quests.

You can also supplement these adventures with D&D Beyond’s free Encounter of the Week and other free official material here.

Now gather your party and venture forth!

Adventure Awaits

We hope that these resources can set you on the path to adventure, and help you build friendships and tell fantastic stories of your own. Good luck, and have fun storming the castle!

 

All artwork ©Wizards of the Coast LLC and used with permission of Wizards of the Coast and D&D

 

Rachel is the Entertainment editor of CONNECT Magazine. When she isn’t pretending to be an anxious goblin wizard in D&D, she’s terrorizing her friends with eldritch abominations in Call of Cthulhu. She also likes the Italian Renaissance, Japanese festivals, morbid folk ballads, and good books. She will steal your cat.

Reese is a second-year British ALT in Okayama Prefecture, formerly a game designer in Scotland, UK. He can be found on the Facebook group “Expats – Okayama Gaming Hub,” updating the group with gaming news and sales, or playing D&D online with the members. Otherwise he is tinkering with gaming projects in UE4 or practicing 3D art in Blender—oh, and I guess a bit of Japanese too.