In the COVID-19 world we all have had to make changes to our routines. People have begun working at home, businesses have switched to curbside pick-up, restaurants have switched to a pick-up or delivery model, and in-person meetings have been replaced with virtual meetings. One of my weekly rituals was going down to my local game store to play in-person pen and paper roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. I would meet weekly with a group of friends and huck the dice around while imagining my players in a fantasy world of fighters, wizards, rogues, dwarves, and elves.
Unfortunately, when my local game shop had to close due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, I had to think of a way to get in my weekly D&D fix. There were many online options to choose from. Roll20 is an online tabletop platform that has been around for several years and reminded me a lot of a World of Warcraft top down video game with a steep learning curve that I wasn’t willing to invest the time in. Fantasy Grounds was more of a virtual tabletop experience: the only problem was the price tag. I didn’t want to ask the group to pay for something we normally do for free. The only other viable option was Zoom.
I must admit that I am a luddite when it comes to online tabletop role playing games. I have purposely stayed away from them for a few reasons – mainly is the fact that I am a social person and prefer to interact with people face to face. I had used Zoom for work and felt the controls were simple to use, so with a willing group we jumped into the unknown of online tabletop roleplaying. The first couple of sessions weren’t without its hiccups: I needed to learn how to share a screen with my players, I had to learn how to work the finer points of Microsoft Word, and I had to make sure players couldn’t see my Dungeon Master notes. Once I was able to comfortably operate Zoom I embraced the new normal and began to adapt scenarios for the new digital realm. I learned how to crop dungeon maps, use the draw tool to create tokens that represented characters and monsters, and use online dungeon map builders to generate passable game maps.
After two months these online games became the new normal and my group and I found ourselves wanting to play more than the once a week games. We added bonus sessions, and another player decided he wanted to lead his own game on Saturday nights. We were all getting our online D&D fix and I found a new purpose during the pandemic: creating tabletop roleplaying stories. When things get back to normal I’m certain that my group and I will go back to in-person gaming, but will it be the same? Will the group be so used to online tabletop roleplaying that it’s awkward to play in person? Who knows, for now I am content and happy finding the little joys in life.