Real talk? Everything kind of sucks right now. Even in a post-pandemic world, things will likely look and feel a little different. Suddenly your friend’s sneeze might not be as easily dismissed as allergies. And your health and safety procedures at work might take a whole lot longer than they used to. If you’re sitting at your computer, working from home, and missing your friends, you’re probably aching for a sense of normalcy, right? Enter Dungeons & Dragons online.
Nothing that happens while playing Dungeons & Dragons is ever normal in “real life.” However, it might just be the new version of socializing that you’re looking for. It’s like a video game that you act out. There are friendships, epic adventures, sprawling fights, and maybe even a romance. But most importantly, there’s the chance to communicate with people — to talk, bond, and form friendships. To have fun.
If you’ve never played D&D before, just ask one of your nerd friends (it’s okay to call us that now) — they’ll tell you. The people around those tabletops are our community. Our friends. And, sure, there are a few gatekeepers in the midst, people who will call you out on your “newbie” status. But most players are always down to add a new face to the table and teach them the ways of the game. Since gathering around a literal tabletop would break our new social distancing protocols, playing online is a great option. Even better: It’s way cheaper and more flexible.
Here’s how to get started.
Decide What You Want
First and foremost, what do you want? If you already had a group of D&D friends and just miss getting together with them, you don’t need much. As long as you have a webcam and your dice, you’re good to go. You can keep playing Dungeons & Dragons from the comfort of your own home simply by logging into Zoom or Google Hangouts. If you already have your crew and everything you need, this is the absolute easiest way to get started playing online. If you don’t have a group of friends to play with, you’ll need to look into other platforms.
Choose a Gaming Platform
And if you don’t have that community yet? That’s cool, too. There are actually two really decent places people go to play D&D online. Roll20.net is a fantastically popular RPG-only forum and, if you’re just starting out, you’ll be pleased to know they offer a free membership. Their “Plus” and “Pro” membership levels cost money and come with more perks, but you can start with the free version until you get the feel for things. FantasyGrounds is another great option for online campaigns. FantasyGrounds requires a monthly member subscription, but it is a well-designed website.
Still, if you’re capable of imagining a world of dragons and trolls, you may not need the extra flourish of a well-designed game or website. We’d suggest starting with Roll20. Stick with the free membership until you’re certain you like playing Dungeons & Dragons online enough to keep doing it. If you do, you can drop more dough.
Grab a Handbook
Do you absolutely need a handbook to play? If you’re a first-time D&Der, definitely get one. Dungeons & Dragons can be an absolute blast, but there are a ton of intricate rules and steps involved. When you show up to a table of friends as a newbie, they’ll go easy on you. Rolling up to a game online where you know no one can be a bit overwhelming, though. But don’t worry. Grabbing the Basic Rule Book isn’t going to set you back a chunk of change — it’s actually available free online. In the “old days,” we had to actually tote around a real book. Now you can have it stored on your desktop as an easy, searchable reference. The times, they are a-changin’.
Take note: There are plenty of amazing books you can buy when playing Dungeons & Dragons. Each will help you dive into a new world of fantasy and adventure. If you choose to go that route, you’ll need to look for a forum (or start your own) using that “campaign.” Those books aren’t necessary, though. Most groups tend to take more of an improv (“Yes and…”) approach to their campaigns.
Pick/Create a Character
Creating a character is truly a blast, but it’s also admittedly the most painstaking part of the process. Each character comes with its own unique set of attributes, strengths, and weaknesses. As you dive deeper into Dungeons & Dragons, you should absolutely use some character-building sheets available to create your own unique character. To start, though, there are a whole bunch of pre-generated characters you could choose from. Playing a few campaigns with those “generic” characters will help you get a better idea of what each type of creature, job, and alignment is capable of. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll have way more fun creating your own player.
To have a successful D&D game, it’s important to prepare. While playing, don’t be afraid to jot down some notes. Take down important details or ideas. Then, before your next game, review and share them with your team. This will help you establish your goals for the game and bring everyone up to speed.
D&D is a game, so having fun is important but so is having direction. Ask yourself, what is your character’s ultimate goal? And what is your party trying to accomplish right now? This will help you make your mark in the fantasy world and avoid boredom and pointless missions.
Take a Deeper Dive
Everything above is really all you need to start playing online. Some of us like to be more prepared than others, though. For those of you who want to study up before the big game, there are a few other purchases you could make:
- Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit: This is the absolute most basic thing ever released in the world of D&D. Having said that, the fact that it’s fantastically simple makes it perfect for new players. Even better, it teaches you how to play with just two people. So, if you have just one other friend willing to try online D&D, this kit will help you two set up the game. (You could also use it to convince someone in your house to play.)
- D&D Monster Manual: There are a ton of monsters out there! If you encounter a creature you’ve never heard of, you could always do a quick Google search — but having a tangible book to scan through also has its perks. Plus, it makes a cool coffee table addition.
Online D&D House Keeping rules
Before you play D&D, there are a few things you should know beforehand to make your gaming experience more enjoyable.
- Make sure you’re using a good webcam. Visuals are everything in this game, so it’s important other players can see and hear you clearly. A few free options you can check out include GoToMeeting, Skype, Zoom, Discord, or Google Hangouts. Most of these programs you may already be familiar with because of work or school.
- Get a quality headset. D&D is rooted in communication, so if you have a faulty mic, it can literally cost you the game. Before buying just any headset, make sure it has clear audio.
- Grab the free stuff. Especially if you’re just starting out, don’t be afraid to snag things you find along your quest.
- Talk about it. A big part of D&D is team building and conversation — there’s a lot of talking and explaining that happens during this game. But if you want to go over a plan or make sure everyone agrees, you can communicate “out of the game.” This is basically like a time-out. Or you can talk after the game and strategize for the next battle on your own time. Remember, all your decision-making doesn’t have to happen in the game.
Can you play D&D by yourself?
Having a team is cool, but you can play by yourself too. You can run a solo campaign. This gives you the chance to learn the game at your own pace and make mistakes without feeling self-conscious about falling behind. You can take your time to test your weapons and won’t have to worry about making group decisions or voting about what to do next.
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