Table-top campaigns online

  • Admin

    Hey folks,

    I was asked by some RL friends to run a table-top campaign for them online, and I was wondering if you had any insights to share.

    The system is D&D 5th but that's perhaps not too important; what I was mostly curious about were some of these items:

    1. Which platform or combination of tools worked best for you? For example Discord can provide voice chat but there are also bots to enable dice rolling - is that convenience preferable to using something like Roll20 with Skype, etc? How do you manage/keep character sheets? I don't think I want them to resort to typing commands or stuff like that, as some of the potential players aren't the most savvy of computer users.

    2. I'd happily learn from your mistakes so what are some things I should avoid in an online campaign? If I use maps or grids (which some platforms provide) is it manageable or intuitive or a pain compared to a piece of paper on a table?

    3. In your experience are schedules easier or harder to coordinate when playing online? Do folks become more consistent about being there on time (and/or not skipping sessions without a good reason) when they can play from the comfort of their homes or less so since the overall experience is different - there's no pizza for all, etc?

    Anything else you can think to add or suggest would be welcome.

  • I have one remote player at my table and we use Roll20. Somehow it's voice/video chat is way better than Skype's. It has built in options for sharing maps and sheets with dice rollers built in. I use the free version, which is all I really need for the one player, but if I was doing a whole campaign with all virtual, I might look at some of the neat features the paid version uses.

  • Pitcrew

    My group has always used Fantasy Grounds. I don't know it well from the ST side, but it's pretty customizable for what you need/want.

  • Admin

    @Lisse24 Does it have voicechat built in? Would you say it's easy to use for a casual computer user?

    One thing that (IIRC) put me off about Roll20 was the DM had to create the character sheets. That felt weird - although maybe I was doing it wrong.

  • Both my current online campaigns use a combination of dndbeyond, roll20 and discord, with the Pancake discord bot for background music.

    I hate roll20 as a GM, but it beats... not having roll20. >.>

  • I think the fact that it's DnD5 is actually pretty important; there are a lot of rules that pertain to battle-map setup: movement squares, cone-shaped effects, abilities that require teammates or enemies to be within x squares of each other.

    Roll20 has a lot of resources, and you may find some of those DnD5 resources are already available on Roll20. With a little setup time you could get all of your ducks in a row. Otherwise, you could simply USE Roll20's interface to cover the battle map pieces and then keep character sheets outside of Roll20 on Google Docs or something.

    A lot of people use Roll20 for the game mat and I suggest Discord for chat/game coordination since you can setup sub-channels, share files, etc very easily. The key, though, will be the map. There are a few other services that create a battle mat environment (D20Pro, Fantasy Grounds) that might be worth looking into, too:

    tl;dr: You need a battle mat whiteboard service. Roll20|D20Pro|Fantasy Grounds. Use Discord for everything else.

  • Admin

    @saosmash said in Table-top campaigns online:

    Both my current online campaigns use a combination of dndbeyond, roll20 and discord, with the Pancake discord bot for background music.

    I hate roll20 as a GM, but it beats... not having roll20. >.>

    What does dndbeyond do for you?

    What I didn't like when I looked at it is it seemed to require having to re-purchase the books in digital form (even though I already had them physically) to use their contents.

  • @Arkandel It does, although there are some books that are available in the free version. I didn't have that issue because I didn't own them, but I started out just using the free version and upgraded when I wanted more stuff. We use it because its CG is DAMN slick, especially for hooking new players who are learning the game, and we enjoy it for tracking spells / HP / inventory. Way cleaner than roll20's system. Plus we keep campaign notes and stuff in there.

  • Pitcrew

    I've run multiple OTT campaigns of D&D 5E on Roll20. It's my platform of choice. The groups would range in size from 3 - 8 and the platform always worked well for us. You can do a lot with it if you front end some of the work and do a little research but the built in community tools were fantastic. I went full subscription for it as well, felt it was well worth the money.

  • Admin

    What about consistency? How would you compare people's attendance and attention spans compared to a RL campaign?

  • Pitcrew



    If you don't care about maps, want a good voice system, and want easily shareable rolls this is a good alternative. I currently run 2 campaigns and a play by post campaign with dnd 5e. They are all utilizing now.

  • Pitcrew

    The group I ran it for were very consistent. They were all relatively new to Table Tops and the only reason we stopped the campaign was because I didn't have time available to GM consistently so it was on me, not them.

    I think consistency ties in a lot to engagement. I was told they really enjoyed the story, the amount of influence they felt they had on things and that it wasn't stringent. Compared to in person table top, I think it was MORE consistent because it required less 'time' commitment. We would run our session for about 2-3 hours once a week whereas inperson sessions can obviously go much longer.

  • Pitcrew

    Roll20 for the game/combat and Discord to communicate. My group uses this setup every week to run Tomb of Annihilation.

  • @Arkandel My brother's campaign meets every Sunday. The one I ran... met ... consistently until I flaked? IDK. It seems pretty similar just in terms of real life to "DARNIT" ratio.

  • Pitcrew

    I play online tabletop every other week, my husband plays in them several days a week. We use a combination of Discord/Fantasy Grounds for our stuff. (And Hero Labs to make PCs on.) We have D&D, Savage Worlds (variations) and a 2300 game off of those.

  • I play D&D (5th also) weekly on maptools (java client-server program, more technical know-how intensive than roll20 but for our uses more convenient and powerful) + separate voice chat, as well as an L5R game purely on Discord. The latter doesn't use a map, but does use a dice bot to handle rolls (FFG system).

    As for experiences/schedules/etc I imagine that's going to be very personal to your group. The D&D game I play with people I've gamed with since college, so for us its as much a means to keep in touch as a way to play. We've kept it going for many with some minor player adds and drops and schedule adjustments between campaign chapters. We've done this even through the inevitable 'oh I am having a kid now' and such as the group has aged. So if people care and are invested in making it happen, they'll make it happen. Flakiness I imagine is just the person not really valuing the game.

    The L5R group is new but people have been enthusiastic to play the new system.

  • Pitcrew

    Fantasy Grounds has most of the book information on the platform available, the PDFs of the books can be loaded into the library and accessible to the players. (The platform is free to use for players, though the GM needs a subscription, whomever is running it - we have a subscription because my husband GMs a lot on there + does some coding work for them.)

    Consistency is about the same, in my experience. Honestly the attention paid is probably higher because we're all "plugged in" to the same thing so it's hard not to be paying attention to it. Attendance might actually be a bit higher, and the amount of time it takes "to play" doesn't actually take the time investment of attending a RL game (which would include travel time + time spent talking about all the other stuff in life).

    The biggest drawback to me is if you get more than 3 other people on a Discord call, then you start getting people talking over one another and it can be frustrating. I play a game with 1 gentleman who cannot seem to allow "dead air" to happen, as he perceives it, which makes it hell trying to get a word in edgewise with him sometimes. It also means you don't have the visual cues you get from face to face, so someone might be acting like a dick (but not intending to be) or the "IC" vs "OOC" might get confusing.

  • Admin

    @bored said in Table-top campaigns online:

    So if people care and are invested in making it happen, they'll make it happen. Flakiness I imagine is just the person not really valuing the game.

    Oh, agreed.

    I'm just wondering if making the campaign online makes it easier or harder for people in general (whatever 'in general' means, if something), since on one hand they don't need to put on pants and drive somewhere to play but on the other there's no pizza and the camaraderie of meeting up your buddies in person.

  • Pitcrew


    The biggest issue I have with online tabletop is the feeling like my players are not 100% engaged. The downside to them being at home is pets, kids, spouses, roommates interrupting. There's also those people who get easily distracted and are playing a MU or watching a show or something in the background while being a player in your game. Out of the dozens of games I have run the feeling that I didn't make a compelling enough session is probably the most consistent thing with online vs in person. You really have to just trust people won't show up consistently if they didn't enjoy it. I find that voice over text (which is preferred by most of my players) helps this because people tend to be more engaged when there's tabletalk than when it's all just text RP.

    I also always go big with my groups and trim the fat to account for the online vs in person chance of falkiness.

  • Pitcrew

    @Jeshin I feel like using video chat instead of voicechat might solve this. I've been considering offering out my Zoom account to my group for this purpose.

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