Taking your online DnD sessions to the next level
I have been playing DnD online steady for about 2 years now and while this was born out of necessity due to the times we live in , I can honestly say it has been a journey of learning that I would not have changed.
Being a lifetime player of Dungeons and Dragons it goes without saying that I have some very firm ideas on HOW a Dungeon Master should run a campaign/adventure. When I was starting out I was very much entrenched into the theater of the mind experience versus the use of props and miniatures. During the 80's finding an array of suitable miniatures was not as commonplace as it is now. While I loved "Theater of the Mind" in my sessions I found that keeping my players engaged in the combat aspect of the game was becoming more and more difficult, whether by my own shortcomings or the lack of imagination that each new group of players brought to the table.
In 2018 I started incorporating miniatures and tabletop scenery into my games. I purchased the official DnD Adventure Grid from Wizards of the Coast and started my path to creating compelling tabletop scenes and encounters using terrain and miniatures.
Having a vast amount of modeling experience from my other hobby; Tabletop War gaming ( Warhammer, Star Wars Legion and other too numerous to list games) I was able to assemble and create the needed visual elements to bring my games to life...then COVID hit.
A worldwide pandemic changed the way I would play DnD for many years to come and while I was insistent on using digital tools to continue enjoying my hobby I quickly realized that the miniature and modeling aspect of the game that I was infusing into my sessions were no longer viable nor where they needed. Boy was I wrong; on both counts.
After dabbling in various platforms ranging from Discord to Roll20, Foundry, and even Vorpal Board , I blazed a trail of curiosity and determination to capture the magic of my in person sessions. I even started using animated maps to add another level of immersion to the games. I created custom tokens and maps and wrapped it all up in a beautiful package with a bow called DnD Beyond.
The journey so far has been successful. I currently run a business called Maverick Games Learning and Support Services where I teach and play DnD with children ages 10-17. This is my full time job so I have invested a lot of effort in bringing the BEST possible experience to my players as possible. I am constantly iterating and pushing the boundaries of how virtual DnD can and should be run.
I am going to walk you through my current and by far my most preferred way to play DnD online.
Before we go any further go and sign up for an account. This is a free service but if you plan on really investing in your online games I recommend you pay for the subscription. I do this because I run 3 different campaigns a week and the amount of characters and record keeping involved is more than I want to handle physically. Also having a digital library is helpful when I am running online sessions. DnD Beyond also has a built in Di8e roller for your players and a Game Log that allows all players in your campaign to see each others rolls.
Set up a Discord server and invite your players.
Set up your game table
Dig out your miniatures and terrain. Use whatever you have but know that your collection needs to grow to fully immerse yourselves in this type of online play. If you are just starting out and have yet to create and build a collection don't worry. Pick up some figures and scratch build some terrain.
There are lots of videos online that show you how to make terrain and the Game Nexus will also be publishing " How To" and "DIY" articles for DM's who need some help getting started. Start with the characters in your campaign and plan to add creatures and characters as needed. It is a deep rabbit hole and you need to decide how deep you go into it.
Set up a webcam ( with a tripod if possible)
The webcam will be the eyes of your players on your table. Think of it as your own little movie set and your webcam is what your viewer ( in this case your players) will be watching when the session starts.
Discord allows you to broadcast your camera to all the players in your server and once your session starts you will start streaming your table directly to them
Once our table is set up you can start adding elements to it to enhance your " set" much like a movie director. When the actions starts it is as easy as moving your camera around to get close to the action and requesting players to tell you where they would like to move their miniatures. If you have a grid map it becomes even simpler as they can guide you how many squares they move and in which direction.The level of detail is in your control.
Having been using this format and system of online play for over a month now I can honestly say that my players are thrilled. They love the level of immersion this brings to their games and allows for a much more dynamic session . The games are no longer downgraded to a simple video game style approach where tokens and flat 2D maps have become the catalyst to engage them. This is old school brought back into the virtual table.
Over the next months I will endeavor to bring your more ideas on how to take your online sessions up a notch whether that be terrain building or simply just little tips on how to keep layers engaged with your games when you cant just look them in the eyes or grab a handful of dice and scare them with the clatter of damage coming at them from a horde of goblin arrows.
Leave comments if you have any questions about how I set my table up or just give me some feedback on your virtual tables.