How to DM Your First Online Game

This post was written by a guest blogger, Draconick.

More and more D&D games are moving away from the table and to the screen. 

Naturally, we’ve seen a big spike in this recently due to the need to quarantine, but even before this there’s been a steady rise in the number of games being played online. 

A lot of this is attributable to the busy modern lives of people, distance between players, and the emergence of actual-play podcasts and streams that are available online and appeal to an audience of people who are more frequently online themselves. 

So if you’re taking your first steps into bringing your game into a digital space, just know you’re not alone. It’s easy to get started!

First, pick a platform

The first step for this is generally finding your platform. 

In physical sessions, you need a space to play in, and for online games this is the digital equivalent of choosing that venue. Thankfully, you have a number of options. 

Roll20 is one of the most popular platforms. It’s relatively simple and functions well for free (though there is a premium option and whole content marketplace).

Astral, Fantasy Grounds, and Tabletop Simulator are some other alternatives that have generally been well received by the online D&D community. They’ve each got their own special features and intricacies that might suit your taste better, so definitely compare them all before focusing on one.

You also have the option of running games on platforms that are not specifically designed for it.

Personally, I’ve had success playing on Discord, which can have character sheet and dice rolling features added in by easily-available online bots like Avrae and Sidekick.

Then, practice with it

Once you’ve got your platform of choice selected, you’re going to want to sit down and use it for a planning session before you jump right in to playing the game. 

If you’re starting up a new campaign, this is great to have alongside a session 0, but you should do this even if you’re taking an existing campaign and transitioning to an online space. 

The main purpose of this session is to familiarize yourself with your chosen platform and to set expectations for how online play should be conducted. 

As a DM, this gives you time to learn the commands and UI of your platform and to prepare any digital resources like maps and tokens that you might need. 

For your players, this is a time to get digital character sheets up and running (either as the sole sheet or as a transfer from existing hard-copy character sheets). This might be their first time on the platform, too! 

For both you and your players, this is also a great time to discuss details around how the game is played.

Will you use webcams, or just voice chat? You could even go simpler and keep everything text-based.

And consider your schedule. When will you play, and for how long?

These are questions that should be addressed when playing online.

That’s it!

Ultimately though, running a game online isn’t that different from DMing in person.

Sit down to tell a story together, roll some (digital) dice, and have a good time!

And remember, you’re learning – don’t be too hard on yourself those first few games.

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