Ask A Gm – 002: D&D in the time of Covid

Hello friends, I’m Cam Wiens. GM, Chef and lover of things geeky. Im a Gryffindor, Chaotic Good, and my favorite ninja turtle is Leonardo.


Yeah, that’s a lousy reference to “Love in the time of Cholera” Because I LOVE D&D. But the state of the world says I shouldn’t have people over, and that I should stay home! So I do, and unless you need to, you should too! But you’re probably tired of hearing about it. I know I am. BUT I had been reticent to start playing D&D online. Before March of this year I had never played in an online game ever. I’m an old fashioned guy. I like pen and paper, giant bags of chips, and your favorite fizzy beverage. I like having friends around my table. So thanks to Covid(last time I’ll bring it up I promise), I learned how to use Roll20.net, and discord in a hurry.

I’ll say this upfront, If you think another set-up is more optimal, or there’s a better service. I truly would love to hear about it. I’m EXTREMELY new to internet D&D, and I don’t know everything by far. But, this is what I’ve been doing this last month. It’s been a rousing success. I get 85% of my D&D fix from playing online, not 100% but it’s still an A.

Where to start. My journey begins on facebook, and other relevant social media. I put a call to arms to my friends, a beacon for adventure. Everyone is free right now. After running a game in Roll20, it went well with mixed results. I’ll talk about Roll20 pros alittle later but for now the major con: I found myself having to refresh the page often to stop the sound glitches. So we went to discord.

I’ll level with you. You can play D&D online with just a multi-user call. Print off a character sheet, have your dice with you. It’s very similar to tabletop, for argument’s sake you could even play in a chat room. The audio stability we were seeking I’ve found belongs to Discord. Admittedly I didn’t go looking for it that hard. Discord works, the second game we played, with discord on in the background, I never had to refresh once.

Roll 20 is NOT easy to navigate (Pros are coming) until you’ve gotten a guided tour from someone who has used it before. I sat through the tutorial, I was struggling, but I could manage. I spent 5 minutes with a well versed friend, and he taught me more than the tutorial ever did. But pros, the tabletop, the dice roller, the fog of war. Once you actually get a grasp of the application it really opens up. Custom tokens, custom maps, customizable dice to a degree. My verdict on roll20 is this, much like D&D I would recommend having at least one experienced person in the session. It will go so much smoother.

Speaking of maps, I use a couple things. I make maps with inkarnate. Great maps as well as landscapes, it’s no good for a battlemap unfortunately. For my 1 inch battle maps, the first game I used the marker tool and just drew the terrain; sloppy but effective. I’m sure there are free apps out there to build battlemaps, but Ive been using Dungeon Painter Studio on steam for a while. It’s served me very well over the years, and I don’t have to buy printer ink right now. 

So, now that you’ve got a setup, headphones, microphone, webcam (not necessary but I think it promotes table cohesion), and dual monitors(also not necessary, but you’ll thank me). You need a character. Dndbeyond is an excellent resource for building characters and especially for online play. They have all the basic character classes and races available for a limited version of free

Find some friends and play! But don’t stream it, you know unless you want to. And stay safe! You only need to be bold and adventurous when rolling dice. “Never tell me the odds!”.

Well, hopefully that helps. Have any questions for “Ask a GM?” send them to admin@pawnandpixel.com and put “Ask A GM” in the Subject line.

Until then, happy dice rolling.

– CAM

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