Since returning to tabletop roleplaying games, I’ve only once played at a real tabletop. That was at a convention. Most of the time I play using virtual tabletops – either Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds.

Mainly this is because of my personal circumstances. A lack of suitable players in my local area, a seriously sick child and a need to play at odd hours of the night (my sessions rarely begin before 10pm) really puts me in the key target audience for VTT providers.

Given my limited availability, I need to optimise the available time I have for gaming. Being able to turn on the headset 5 minutes before a session and turn them off again within 5 minutes of it ending means that all of my time is committed to gaming and not to travelling back and forth to an actual tabletop game.

As a result, I now very strongly identify as a “Digital Dungeon Master”. My wireless headphones and my browser with D&D Beyond sitting open at the Spells page are as much part of my “DM toolkit” as dice, graph paper and core rulebooks.

It’s not without it’s challenges though. Often we spend some of the session battling technical gremlins just to be able to communicate clearly and see each other. Not an issue you have at the physical table. It can be frustrating. The upside of course is that when you do manage to get the comms elements working, you can find yourself playing with players from as far afield as Australia and the US. It’s good to widen your horizons and learn about other cultures. A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of DMing for a player in Lahore in Pakistan. A very committed player as well, as the game started at 2am his time!!!!

The increased reliance on battlemaps in virtual tabletop play, rather than theatre of the mind, does lead to slightly more prep time, however that doesn’t worry me greatly as creating maps has always been a core part of the D&D experience for me. Plus, it is possible to run theatre of the mind on a virtual tabletop if you need to, subject to a few tweaks to make it more manageable.

Scheduling games can be a bit more challenging as a virtual game often doesn’t have the same priority level in people’s lives than other “in person” activities. That’s normal. There’s a much bigger social attachment to a group of players who you’ve met in person, drank beer and shared snacks with. On the other hand, if you are at a loose end then one-shot games can be rustled up at short notice with players you’ve never met before and aren’t likely to play with again any time soon. The VTT world can give you access to thousands of players at very short notice.

So on reflection, I can’t see myself rushing to the physical table any time soon. Yeah, I miss the dice rolling but I never run a VTT session without having a set of polyhedrals to hand, and I’ve been known to make a few DM-only rolls with physical dice every session. I’m immensely grateful for the presence of VTT software. I can safely say that there is no way I could have returned to the hobby without it. The number of sessions I’ve run online would never have been able to be matched if I were relying on in person games.

Here’s to many more great sessions.