How to play Dungeons and Dragons Online

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a tabletop roleplaying game that has become more and more popular in recent years. You may have heard that it’s similar to some video games, and if you’re a fan of role-playing video games like The Witcher, it might be something you want to try. The question is, how can you try it on your gaming PC?

Many people don’t have a group of friends to start a real-life D&D group with, so how can they play D&D online? There are two main options – there are a series of D&D video games and there are also a variety of ways to play the tabletop roleplaying game itself, all without leaving your desk.

Video Games

If you’re not sure if you want to try playing the D&D tabletop game, there are a few video games that can give you the gist of what it’s about. They can also tide you over while you’re searching for a group.

Neverwinter

Neverwinter is a free MMORPG set in the Forgotten Realms city of Neverwinter. This is an actual D&D setting brought to life for millions of players, in an accessible way. You start this game as a shipwrecked traveller and have to solve problems throughout the city to stop it from being destroyed.

Each class and race have separate side quests, meaning you can have multiple characters and have slightly different experiences as you play this game. You can also make friends, join guilds and experience traditional MMO aspects during the game.

Baldur’s Gate III

Baldur’s Gate III is the third instalment in the Baldur’s Gate video game series. It’s officially licensed by Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of D&D, and is widely regarded as one of the best games in the genre.

Like with Neverwinter, Baldur’s Gate is also a city from the D&D setting of the Forgotten Realms, and your character must save, or destroy, the Forgotten Realms while potentially seeking a cure to the corruption that gives them power, for a price.

Solasta: Crown of the Magister

Solasta is a game based on the D&D 5th edition Systems Reference Document. This means that there aren’t as many options, but the story is rich and the developers have created a world with a variety of races and classes to tell their stories.

One of the best things about Solasta is that when you make an attack, roll a check or roll for damage, you see the dice roll. This makes it feel even more like D&D and shows how your ability scores count and make a difference in the hairiest of situations.

Dungeons and Dragons Roleplaying Game

When playing the tabletop game online, there are four crucial components you need: a virtual tabletop (VTT), a voice chat software, a method of keeping track of your character sheet and a dice roller. Almost every VTT comes with a dice roller of some kind, and others might come with voice chat software.

Each VTT is different and some are more difficult to use than others, and they often have different levels of integration of character sheets. Some of them come with library sharing, so if one member of the group owns D&D books through that platform, they can share the material they own with the rest of the group. 

Foundry VTT

Foundry VTT is one of the newest on the scene, and can be bought as a standalone option by one player. They host and run the game, which other players join through their browser.  The host is usually the Dungeon Master, who runs the game. The creator of Foundry VTT doesn’t have any licensing agreements with the publishers of D&D, however, so making a character can be complicated and require knowledge of the software to ensure that everything works properly.

Foundry VTT also has user-made modules which add greater functionality for roleplaying games, not just D&D, and various editions of D&D are covered by these modules. There are also modules that let you make characters in other programs, like D&D Beyond, and import the data into your Foundry character sheet, as well as ones that transfer dice rolls to Foundry from D&D Beyond.

Library sharing: No

foundry vtt
Example of Foundry VTT with a monster’s character sheet

Fantasy Grounds

This is available on both your browser as a subscription and as downloadable software from Steam. Fantasy Grounds is often considered to be an advanced VTT, with huge scope to customise your characters, the rules you play with and the maps you’re exploring.

Fantasy Grounds also has a huge number of roleplaying game licenses, so you can buy digital copies of official D&D books through which will give you more customisation options for your characters as you level up and fight ever more difficult foes.

However, it’s not considered to be particularly good in terms of communication. There aren’t any in-built chat capabilities, and while the customisation features are great, they can be complicated to use for beginners.

Library sharing: Yes

Roll20

Roll20 is a browser-based VTT that is free, although there is a subscription that removes adverts and gives you extra features. These include more storage space and dynamic lighting, so players only see what their character would see. It also has licensing deals with various RPG publishers, so you can buy digital copies of the books and gain extra character features, adventures and settings.

Roll20 also has apps you can use on tablets, iPad and Android phones, so there are lots more ways to play, and a variety of character sheets for multiple systems, so there’s plenty of options to find out which suits you best.

Library sharing: Yes

roll20
Example of a map and character sheet from Roll20

Tabletop Simulator

Tabletop Simulator is a video game you can buy on Steam. It simulates a table where you can play all sorts of board games, not just roleplaying games. However, there is no integration with character sheets or books, so you will have to reference these in a separate window, like a browser or PDF reader.

Tabletop Simulator is also quite complicated to set up, especially for beginners, but you can make beautiful 3D environments on it, leading to immersive, captivating gaming for everyone. It also has the added benefit of rolling what feels like physical dice. You can watch them roll across the table until they land, rather than just pressing a button as you do in other VTTs.

Library sharing: No

D&D Beyond

D&D Beyond is not a VTT, although it has been rumoured that there is one in the works. D&D Beyond is, however, an incredibly useful site with regular sales on digital versions of the books, a character builder that walks you through the process of creating characters and has an integrated dice roller.

D&D Beyond also has a subscription service that increases the number of characters you can make and campaigns you can share your library with. It also features simple-to-use homebrew options, so you can use classes, races or items you’ve created yourself as well as ones others have created.  The compendium lets you look up spells, feats, items or abilities quickly and simply, giving you access to almost everything you might need as a player or DM.

What sets D&D Beyond apart from other services, despite its current lack of a VTT, is that it also has an easy to use app where you can access your characters at all times. This means you can have the D&D Beyond app on your phone, take it with you to an in-person game and use it as your character sheet, instead of printing it off and writing all over it as you pick things up.

Library sharing: Yes

dd beyond
Example of a character sheet from D&D Beyond

Voice chat

If you’ve listened to even a few minutes of a D&D podcast like Critical Role, you’ll know that D&D involves a lot of talking. This means that having voice chat software is extremely important to playing D&D online. There is no right or wrong voice chat software, so it’s up to you and your group to decide which one you use.

Popular voice and video chat software include Skype, Discord and Google Hangouts. Of these, Discord is widely regarded as an excellent way to run D&D campaigns because you can organise your discord server into different sections, and there are several Discord bots that have integrations with sites like D&D Beyond, meaning dice rolling in Discord becomes a lot simpler.

Summary

Playing D&D can be as simple as finding a video game such as Baldur’s Gate III. It can also involve meeting new people as you venture into the world of tabletop roleplaying games with a group and connecting with them on Discord as you play on a virtual tabletop like Roll20 or Foundry. With D&D more popular than it’s ever been, and so many easy ways to join in, there’s no reason not to give it a try if you’re interested.

Author bio: Rachel Gowland works at digital marketing agency, Tillison Consulting. She’s a passionate gamer and avid reader who loves to travel, using her knowledge of foreign languages to connect with people around the world.

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