For many 2020 was the beginning of virtual table top play for RPGs by necessity.
This is what I have learnt after playing 5e Dungeons and Dragons virtually for 4 years.
- Its great for time poor people. Not having to travel to the game and back is a huge time saver for parents and busy people. This alone can make the difference between playing and not playing. One benefit is that it increases your playing opportunities to a weeknight instead of a weekend which is much more family friendly. You will find as I did that many people have idle weeknights so there is a good chance they stick around for the long term (years and years). Players who travel for work on weekdays usually juggle things to not miss a session while on the road.
- Two hours makes a great virtual session length. For just sheer practicality a 2 hour (sometimes 2 and a quarter hour) intense session is a really good time period. It’s sufficient to play out a decent scenario and the possible scenarios the players might journey down will be narrow enough for GMs to prepare in advance of the session.
- Video is not required. I’ve not seen my players and have no idea what they look like and they have never seen me. Some people won’t like this but its absolutely not essential and it will help you all focus on vivid descriptions.
- Using a VTT (virtual table top) platform is invaluable. I commenced using Roll20 and moved to Fantasy Grounds once I realised how helpful Fantasy Grounds automation is for a DM (virtual or at an in person game). Automation results in a play experience more focused on story and less on character management and calculations (combat is mind bogglingly faster). While I recommend Fantasy Grounds Unity because of its automation and line of sight features you should choose the VTT you prefer (best advice). GMs if they can afford it should consider a 27″ 1440p or a 28″ 4k monitor or larger as the larger screen space is very helpful. If you play a published adventure having the hard copy and digital when GMing is really valuable.
- Use a good quality microphone. Having players with good microphones really helps with reducing voice fatigue during a session. Gaming headset and phone microphones are of lessor quality and tend to become dreary after a short period of time. A Samson Q2U USB / XLR microphone is a really good choice without breaking the bank. The forthcoming Samson Q9U will be another option to consider.
- Going virtual means greater diversity. My gaming group includes two Australians, one New Zealander, three Americans, and one Bulgarian. You will be surprised who is keen to get up in the middle of the night to play, and you will enjoy the differing perspectives brought to the table. The Fantasy Grounds Forum LFG is a great place to find new players for the Fantasy Grounds VTT.
- Add music and sound effects to enhance the experience. Adding this element makes a VTT session pop – provided you don’t over do it. There are a range of options available to bring sound to your game and if you choose Fantasy Grounds you can have Syrinscape integrated automatically. Avoid music containing lyrics as it will be distracting.
- Finish each session on a suspenseful note. This is also true for a in-person game but it really wraps the session up and provides the players with sometime to discuss between sessions. The suspenseful doesn’t have to be dramatic just saying “your force open the door and the light from your spluttering torches spills inwards there you see…. and we will be back next week”.