COVID-19 has changed the current landscape for tabletop gaming. Role-players and board gamers alike have had to shift to alternative methods to have their normal gaming sessions. It’s hard to have the same experiences as gathering together around a table to play your favorite TTRPG or board game, but we’ve discovered that gaming doesn’t have to end. Our in-person D&D campaign has shifted to Discord video calls and board gaming has moved to Tabletop Simulator. Others in the community have shifted to utilizing camera setups for gaming over Zoom with physical components. Let’s break all of these options down and figure out what might be the best option for your gaming group!
Tabletop role-playing games usually need users to gather around a physical table with dice and stat sheets, but in recent years there have been a growing number of tools to play online with people all over the world. Tools like Roll20 & Fantasy Grounds have paved the way for online gaming, and many other options have been developed in recent years as well. Roll20 is completely in browser and, while there are subscription options, can be used completely free, if you don’t mind ads. There are many rule systems available in Roll20’s large and growing library, as well as a marketplace for assets like tokens, maps, and even full adventure modules. There has been a consistent effort to add more and more features to the platform such as dynamic lighting, fog of war, and even spell effects. On the other hand, Fantasy Grounds is a robust platform for D&D and Pathfinder players. It has a steeper learning curve, and requires the host to have a full license for the software, but is great if you’d rather not use an in browser setup. Beyond these two power players, other tools such as Astral Tabletop, Foundry, or even Tabletop Simulator have made great headway in drawing users to their platforms as well. Our group specifically uses D&D Beyond for stat sheets and video calls in our Guildmaster Media Discord server. It serves our purposes well, but we are excited to get back to the table in the coming weeks.
Board-gaming has a bit of a different set of trials to overcome, but there are many options available. A completely free option is Board Game Arena, but there is a limited number of games available. Server reliability can also be a little rough when many users are logged in and playing. They also limited user sign-ups at the beginning of the pandemic to help load balance their servers. Another option that is growing quickly is Tabletopia. This in browser solution has a free option but is severely limited in the games you can play. The best use you will get from Tabletopia is signing up for a subscription. Developers also have the option of uploading and designing their games on the system as well. The option our group chose is Tabletop Simulator, a program available on Steam. Each player will have to have their own version of the game, but it is a good investment for the workshop content alone. You can purchase officially licensed content, but there is an ever-growing library of user-generated content in the workshop available for free. Partnered with a voice chat system like Discord, you can get a lot of playtime in with your friends.
One last option that requires a bit more technical expertise is using physical game components and a service like Zoom. This method tends to require players to make some adjustments with their game setups. There are some great guides on the internet for this option, but the biggest trouble with this method is that typically every participant needs their own copy of the game being played.
Gaming doesn’t have to end because we’re all stuck at home. As you can see, there are many options out there for gamers at every level, and not all of them cost a fortune. Until we can gather around the table together again, game on!