David Collier has played every iteration of Dungeons and Dragons since the “red box era” when he started rolling dice in junior high and trading turns behind the Dungeon Masters screen with his friends. But between work, travel schedules, and life in general, David almost drifted away from the hobby.
Then he found virtual tabletops.
David – known to many as the Grumpy Old DM – says at one point he was lucky to play a game of D&D once a month, but playing the Adventurers League online has opened up a whole new way for him to play. And one that meshes with his lifestyle. Now he runs virtual games every week, and he shared with us some of the insights he has learned along the way.
Online Platforms & the AL Go Hand in Hand. With work travel getting super busy, David said the Adventurers League already helped him keep D&D in his life. Unable to commit to a regular group, game nights that ran AL modules gave him the freedom to drop into any game without committing to a long-term campaign or hardcover adventure. Moving to online games only increased this flexibility. He could join a game truly anywhere, anytime.
You Don’t Need to be a VTT Wiz. “To even say a virtual tabletop is required might be a misstatement,” David clarifies. When he started out playing online, he used Google Hangouts to run games, allowing players to roll physical dice and describing encounters with theater of the mind. Although VTT make running games easier and automated, they aren’t required as long as the DM and players have a way to communicate.
Try Different Platforms. David has tried several VTTs, such as Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds, and says his preferences have jumped back and forth at different points. The pros of Roll20, he says, are that all you need is a browser and that it is an easy-to-use option for those who want to test if online games are for them. The pros of Fantasy Grounds, he says, is that it is more fully featured and automates many of the “monotonous tasks” of playing the game. Although perhaps tougher to pick up, a group called the “Fantasy Grounds College” helps teach new users to use the platform.
Find the Online DM for You. David says the world of virtual D&D has evolved a lot since he first started playing online. He recommends sites like AL Online Tools or Discord servers like AL Guild Hall or the Roll20- or Fantasy Grounds-dedicated Discords for finding games… some of which are offered and played on the fly. As with any D&D game, the styles of different groups and Dungeon Masters varies, and David says the nature of online games lets you easily try out many different DMs to find someone with the style that fits you. For instance, David loves roleplay aspects of the game, and he says players now seek him as the Grumpy Old DM for roleplay-heavy games.
Visit an Online Convention. David admits to being “a bit of an online con junkie,” so you’re likely to spot the Grumpy Old DM in the roster if you “visit” an online con. If you don’t have local conventions to attend or you simply want to enjoy a weekend of rolling dice from the comfort of your own home, David recommends looking into ALO Con, Ethereal Couch Con, Roll20Con, or FG Con, some of which run multiple times a year. Some of these online conventions are able to boast premier modules or even run EPIC adventures online two or three times to accommodate various time zones.
Meet Adventurers Around the World. Online games connect D&D players on opposite sides of the world. David says he’s made some of his best D&D friends through the large online cons, including regular players from South America, Britain, and Russia.
“Even if you’re used to playing at a store or local conventions, maybe sometimes you just want to sit in your pajamas on a Friday night with a glass of wine and play D&D,” David concludes. “My #1 advice for anyone looking to get into VTT is to play the game exactly how you want it to be. Do you want to be chatty and roleplay a lot? Do it. Do you want to be combat-y and kill everything? Do it. If it doesn’t work out, try a different DM!”
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