Tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons are traditionally played in person, but the tools available for virtual sessions offer distinct advantages.
Although Dungeons & Dragons is traditionally played in person at a table, the pandemic saw many groups transition to gaming via webcam using virtual tabletop programs, and many have found that web-based DnD has some unexpected advantages. The social element of tabletop RPGs has always been a distinguishing feature of the hobby, and some veteran DnD fans were skeptical of virtual RPG sessions. Beyond enabling people to enjoy tabletop RPGs while social distancing, virtual campaigns offer flexibility, particularly for adult DnD fans working around busy schedules, or those with friends in distant regions. Virtual DnD cannot replicate every aspect of in-person gaming, but its benefits outweigh any drawbacks.
There are ways to ensure combat does not require an entire DnD session to resolve, but some battles do take longer than others. Many groups do not wish to end a session mid-battle, and with a traditional in-person tabletop game, this makes sense. Few households have a dedicated gaming table, and most groups pack up the grid maps and miniatures at the end of each session. This can make it hard to end a session mid-campaign and keep track of where everything was next time.
Ending A Session Mid-Battle Is Easier With Virtual Dungeons & Dragons Than With A Physical Map
The ease of resuming combat the following session with virtual DnD means the Dungeon Master can pace the campaign more organically. Whatever time the group allocates for any given session can be used to its fullest, since the DM will not need to end a session prematurely when the group enters the Dragonlance campaign’s notably difficult DnD battles, or any other combat that might take more time to finish than the session allows for. Many players have switched to purchasing RPGs as PDFs instead of physical books, or through programs like Roll20. Having a digital library of DnD books can be more convenient than transporting them every session.
The social facet of the game is arguably hindered by virtual games more than any other functional aspect since virtual maps and tokens offer more cost-effective options than physical miniatures. Virtual gaming can help more than it harms socially, however, as friends who live far apart, or even in different time zones, can still play together over the internet. Even for those that live closer to one another, busy work, school, or family schedules might allow three to four hours for a session, but not for the drive to and from the gaming venue. It could also make introducing friends to DnD for the first time easier.
An in-person session could have more engagement, simply due to the energy involved in a face-to-face presence with the other players and the DM. Virtual RPGs could arguably have fewer distractions, however. If someone needs to check their phone messages or take a call, this could harm the group’s focus while in person, whereas with a Skype-based session, the player can simply mute themselves or turn off their camera. Jokes or tangential conversations that might interrupt the flow of the story can sidetrack an in-person game, but these can be side-barred to the chat function of Zoom instead of preempting spoken roleplaying or DM narration with virtual games.
Virtual D&D Offers Just As Much Customization And Creativity As An In-Person Game
For those who have invested in a collection of elaborate miniatures or 3D-printed terrain, a virtual game could sacrifice some of the craft that goes into DnD. There is a wealth of pre-generated maps available for purchase on virtual tabletops, however, and fans of custom DnD miniatures can still create their bespoke masterwork and photograph it for their player character token. Artistically gifted players could replace their camera footage with an image of their character when speaking in character, and the DM could do the same for NPCs and monsters. Leveraging the tools available for virtual sessions can ultimately add to immersion more than it harms it when applied properly.
There are some DnD traditions virtual gaming can never replicate entirely, like bringing snacks to share with the other players. Those who habitually bribe the DM with gifts of food can still have a pizza delivered at session time, however. For many Dungeons & Dragons groups, there is simply no going back from the flexibility and convenience of virtual sessions.