Software has improved greatly over the last few years, and more and more tabletop roleplaying is being done online. There are many reasons you might want to play online:
- It’s hard to gather a gaming group in your area
- Your schedule makes it difficult to meet with local gamers
- You want to try games that your local group isn’t interested in playing
- It’s difficult for your group to find a consistent space for gathering in person
- There’s a worldwide pandemic and you need to shelter in place
Here are a few of the many tools you can use for running your favorite roleplaying games online:
For games that don’t require grids and minis, and are more theater of the mind, a basic, free communication app (or sometimes two in combination) is all you need.
One combination has become particularly popular recently: Discord for text chat, die rolling, and sharing files, with Zoom for audio/video. My group uses Slack + Zoom, and it works pretty well.
Discord – Set up your own free Discord server and you can incorporate text and voice with one tool. It also gives you the ability to create discussion channels and private messages. Check out David Schirduan’s tutorial.
Google Hangouts – With its emphasis on video, and support for text and add-on applications, Hangout is a solid option if you don’t want to shell out for a dedicated virtual tabletop product.
Skype – Audio + text is the sweet spot for Skype. It doesn’t provide access to add-on tools, but it’s easy to use, free, and works well across a wide variety of platforms.
Slack – Best known as a business tool, Slack provides tools for text-based play with robust image support and integration with many other services. Dylan Reed’s short writeup gives you an idea of how some people use it for gaming.
TeamSpeak – Used by esports leagues, TeamSpeak provides very low latency and military-grade encryption.
Zoom – Free to use for short conferences and easy to set up, this has become a very popular videoconferencing tool for a variety of purposes.
Dedicated Virtual Tabletop Software
There are several other VTT tools available, but these three dominate the market. If you’re playing a game that would usually incorporate miniatures, or has complex combat mechanics one of these may be right for you:
d20Pro – A Java app that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, d20Pro provides separate licensing for player and GM use.
Fantasy Grounds – This app, which runs natively on Windows and on Mac and Linux via WINE, is also supported on Steam.
Roll20 – This browser-based service also supports tablet apps for Android and iOS, and incorporates robust community features.
The Roll20 folks have produced a slew of well-produced videos showing how the app works, as well as actual play videos using various game systems.