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Curious about setting up online tabletop RP group – help wanted

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This topic contains 7 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  lawnor 6 months ago.

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    Cult of Games Member

    Firstly, let me just say I’m a little surprised to see theres not a dedicated role play forum here.

    My friends and I used to play D&D at university back in the old days, but then life started getting in the way and we could not commit to getting together regularly to play and it just faded away (Its been 12+ years since we last played properly).  Then we moved in the wargaming which took over and didn’t require the same people to always be there so was less demanding.  Over the years though my friends have moved away, had kids etc so even without a lockdown getting a game going has become near impossible.  The last friend I could expect to play against (He lived with me) is now moving out and slightly too far away to casually drop by for a game.  So my mind has wandered to seeing if they’re interested in a digital pen and paper RPG.  I’m not quite sure what to clal this stuff.  Is there a term.  Online RPG sounds like a MMORPG.  Skype/Twitch RPG is too specific and could sound like I want to stream publicly.

    At this stage this is just a though exercise for me.  I wouldn’t even want to mention this to anyone until after the move has been resolved and everyone is settled in.  I’m not even sure I’d want to commit to 4+hrs a week, plus extra for prep time to DM it.

    I’m looking for some advice from people who have roleplayed in the last 10 years about what systems and modules etc are out there that would suit us.  Here are my “requirements”/infuencing factors/thoughts/questions:

    1.  We were always more Roll Players rather than Role Players.  I expect streaming leds itself better to chatting rather than hack and slash (I’ve yet to listen to any of the streams so not sure how they play), and I would like for us to work our way out of our comfort zone but I really wouldn’t want to force that, especially early on.  We were always more about the problem solving/combat side of things, rather than the long characterful in character conversations.  I know I was never entirely comfortable acting.
    2. As a miniature gamer and painter I am interested in an opportunity to get minis on a table for the more epic fights, but I don’t want them for most of the game.  They really seem better suited for everyone being at the same table, and would require me to get extra cameras etc
    3. We used to play almost exculsively D&D (2nd ed-3.5ed, and we played 4th ed once).  We have played a few sessions of World of Darkness  but I never felt like it really clicked with us.  D20 Star Wars didn’t work much either.  We went straight back in to hack and slash and loot the bodies mode to the great dissapointment of our DM.  We had one mad session of All Flesh Must Be Eaten.  Due to some VERY cheap cola from the takeout place we had a weird sugar/chemical reaction to strangeness in the misison that ended in us laughing for an hour straight and doing nothing.  I’ve also played a little shadowrun 2nd ed back in the day.
    4. How does 5th Ed D&D line up to earlier editions?  2nd ed was highly lethal at early levels and didn’t become survivable until mid-late levels, and didn’t have much inbuilt class options.  3rd ed was more survivable early on, but it became very easy for characters to become OP by mid-high levels.  I DMed Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil and I could not touch the Dwarven Defender in combat.  With any challenge removed it became less fun.  4th Ed seemed like more of a tabletop skirmish game for the one session we played, but we were still learning the rules so I’m probably misjudging it.
    5. I do not mind playing older editions of games as we may already have access to the books anyway.  If people don’t have to spend it’ll be easier to get them to give this a go.  I have a large archive of digital books somewhere.
    6. I will not want to write modules.  I’ll want to play through pre written ones.  I am always convinced what I’m writing is unbalanced, or plot twists are too obvious or too confusing.  I also have players who like to come up with things that can’t be predicted.
    7. To begin with I’ll be interested in short modules.  Stuff that can be completed in 1-4 sessions, even by people as easily distracted as my lot.  As such I like the idea of something like Shadowrun where we play as mercenaries sent to get a short job done.  Shadowrun might be a little too unfamiliar to us though.  Sticking fantasy might be best as its familiar to our experience.  Short missions lets us get to the end of a story reliable, and means players can drop in and out without feeling like we are breaking the story or depriving ourselves of a key role ie healer.
    8. I’d rather stick to a better known system.  There will be a wider range of resources out there, the players will have some familiarity with it even if they’ve never picked up a book making it more tempting, and it’ll be more readily available.

    I’m guessing I should stick to D&D as its a familiar “setting” and shouldn’t take much extra learning.  Does 5th ed have a range of short modules that’ll take you from low to high levels?  3rd ed did.  Perhaps I should stick with 3rd/3.5rd ed?  I’ve just browsed the main website and it’s not the best.  I see a few campaigns to take you from 1-12ish, which is great for if I’ve got a commitment from a group, but dissapointing it everything falls apart after the first 2-3 sessions.

    Is there any other systems I should be considering?  Do some games lend themselves better to the online format than others?  Is there anything else I should be considering?

    • This topic was modified 6 months ago by  lawnor.

    Cult of Games Member

    Okay I will take a stab at this. It does not have to be 4+ hours a week. It could be 2 hours every week/week and a half/two weeks. Personally, I would call it playing D&D online with friends.

    1.     You can use Discord to chat, which I have done and add pictures to it. You can talk, type or both. You might want to go on youtube and read up or watch games utilising Roll20 or tutorials for Roll20. Do not think of it as acting, just know what your character is about, what motivates them and let their actions and choices speak for itself. Just do it slowly and gradually, it does not need to be full blown theatrics out the gate. I’d gently encourage at least having a character history and motivation. Otherwise it is kinda just a different miniatures game. Do whatever works for you though.

    2.     Only use them for when its needed, messy, clunky or positioning really counts that much. I would say run a few small games, get stuck in, and get a feel for yourself with some experience and trial and error of where you are at and what is next.

    3.     This isn’t really a question and I am not sure what input you are looking for on it. Maybe don’t do that if its something you are worried about happening again in future? Also, just play 5th ed d and d.

    4.     D&D Fifth Ed is more streamlined and fun. Its different to earlier editions so don’t expect the same thing with levels and meta. Loads of options in this edition. Some people complained it is not hardcore enough and do easy to not die (you can always change that as DM) but it is the most widespread, popular, successful and liked version if the D&D 5th Edition facebook page is anything to go by. It is more like 3.5 than 4th. 4th ed was terrible. I gave all my 4th ed books into a second hand book shop. I’ve played a lot of stuff. Too numbery. I’ve heard of some people enjoying it but it was in sharp contrast to the overwhelming dislike in the general consensus. Low level D&D can still kill you but it is not as lethal, not that I have played 2nd ed it is just from what I read and hear about. Lots of built in class options. Characters can be powerful enough in the second tier of adventuring levels.

    5.     OOC what are you actually, more specifically looking for because you mention 2nd ed with fondness a lot and you seem to be leaning into that heavily. Do what you want, and what works for you guys and makes you happy if your content you got all the stuff. Personally, D&D as a miniature game is a bit of a flat experience that misses the point, regardless of edition. The only people really needing to spend is the Dungeon Master and after a year of play if people do not want their own players handbooks then I would raise an eyebrow if they are really invested. Regardless the 5th ed starter set is inexpensive and full of great content.

    6.     There are a lot of adventures and campaigns out there, both official and not official so there is no shortage of material to draw on if you do not want to write modules. I encourage people writing their own adventures; imho a RPG shouldn’t be balanced because it’s a living and breathing world. Even then with pre-written campaigns players will always always always come up with things that can’t be predicted. So, that last bit is a hurdle you can only overcome with reacting and improvising.

    7.     The Starter Set, Lost Mine of Phandelver is a great mini-campaign with four or five sections of varying length for levels 1-5. I’ve run it five or more times for various people of different gaming experience and it is solid. If they are new to RPGs and you are worried about attention span start with a nice, accessible, understandable, relatable and Tolkienesque setting like Faerun/Forgotten Realms for Dungeons and Dragons. The less complicated moving parts the better.

    8.     D&D is nice and simple: roll a 20 sided dice, add a modifier, beat a target. It is simple and a better known system. Even if the editions change that is the crux of all of the editions. You fail or succeed. Again, fifth ed d and d has a lot going for it.


    Most of the campaigns have blrubs about starting at level 1, or continuing on from the starter set, or continuing on from other campaigns so it is pretty tight. There is also the D&D Essentials set which has an adventure in that which I have not got around to yet. All the campaign books tell you what levels they cover as well on the product description or back of the book. If things fall apart after a few sessions that’s not on you or how the campaigns are written.


    There are lots of other systems out there but D&D 5th ed, to me, is the most fun, least convoluted, satisfactorily detailed, and material rich system to work with due to how it has exploded in popularity as well as my own personal experiences. I think because of roll20 it lends itself better to games online, but no, no game system is better or worse for online play. I think it is down to whether it is a good system or not.


    You mention it not seeming the best, but I mean, if the game falls apart after 2-3 sessions you aren’t going to get anywhere remotely near level 12 if you start at level 1. My players spend about two and a half years, I think, going from the starter into Storm Kings Thunder campaign and didn’t hit level 12. Close, but not 12. And that was consistently playing one night nearly every week for 2-4 hours, roughly.


    As for anything else you should be considering, I think you should make a more concise list of what the needs are for yourself or whoever the DM is as a DM and another for your players and reassess what you really want, are looking for and how to accomplish it.


    I hope this helps.



    I’d say it all depends on what kind of game you want to run. If you just want a virtual tabletop space where you can “push some toys around for a bit” and do all the rules checking and dice rolling and calculations yourselves then something like roll20 would suit you quite well. If you want something that automates mechanics and dice rolls then I’d say something like Map Tool (not Map Tools with an s which is a software program for  surveyors) or Fantasy Grounds would be more up your alley. You basically need to decide how much you want the program/software to support and automate things and how much you want it to just be more like a space to display relative distances between things “oh yeah, he’s over there and this thing’s over here”. When I’m playing Pathfinder with Map Tool (And a suitable Pathfinder framework for Map Tool) I can just click a button to attack and a menu pops up where I can select a target, set attack & damage modifiers and then one more click to roll the whole thing with all appropriate rules taken into consideration. If I was doing this with Roll20 then I’d have to go through every step manually. The strength of roll20, on the other hand, is that it’s a website that’s easy for people to connect to instead of needing to get into ip addresses and port forwarding with some other virtual tabletop softwares. It might help to know where you sit on a scale of convenience to wanting to get dug down in deep and really get to grips with the thing yourself.

    Given your stated preference for rules playing over roleplaying I’d suggest Pathfinder 1st edition. However Pathfinder’s got a lot of rules (it’s basically 3rd edition with house rules that fix some of the issues 3rd ed had) but you don’t want to go throwing people in at the deep end. By this point Pathfinder has lots of source books with extra rules in. Don’t go giving people a wiki link and telling them to do whatever they want or they’ll either get lost or come up with some broken combination of things they’ve taken out of context. When a feat says it can only be taken if you’re a worshipper of a particular deity or a member of a certain culture new players can often overlook things like that (and some of the wikis don’t mention the gods for copywrite reasons).


    The Mage brings up a lot of good points. Essentially if you can give us a better idea of what you’d like to achieve we can give you better/more helpful recommendations.


    Cult of Games Member

    Thank you both for the responses.  I’ve got a couple of starting points to look at.  I’m leaning towards 5th ed out of the two, as its more familiar so it should be easier to aproach and garner interest in, if this is something I choose to do.

    We used to play D&D every week for many years.  We completed Night Below and made it most of the way through Return to the Temple Of Elemental Evil, along with others.  It’d be all day sessions.  I don’t know how people get anything done in a 2 hour sessions.  It used to take us that long to get started.  I’m looking to recapture some of that, but not necessarily have an epic 20 level campaign fall apart ofter the thrid session as the only healer decides its not for him (so short modules at least to begin with allow us a break to swap characters if need be).  We never played with minis, but I have thousands now and its always nice to have an excuse to get some out or paint some more.  Far from essential though.

    I was only mentioning the old stuff because its easy to assume people only want the newest thing.  I didn’t want it all getting discounted without thought. So what am I looking to achieve?  I want to get my friends doing something together again, by removing as many hurdles as I can: By making it so no one has to leave their house to join in.  I want to revisit the fun we used to have while trying to keep the work anyone has to do down to a minimum.  The game is an excuse to get together, talk, be silly, have fun, and maybe find an inventive way to overcome that dragon over there, and to see what unexpected craziness happens.

    As for the tech, right now I’d be happy running it all through MS Teams or Zoom or something and trusting everyone to be honest about their rolls.  I can screen share maps etc when needed, and PM/email handouts etc.  I’ve never seen behind the scenes on Discord.  Perhaps that might be useful.  I can also share party files through my google drive/google docs.  I’ll definitely take a good look at Roll20 before I commit to anything though.  I don’t yet know what it can and cant do, or how intuitive and easy to use it is.

    More opinions are still definitely welcome.


    BTW is anyone getting email notifications about follow ups to posts etc?  I’ve not seen one in a long time so its either broken for me or broken for everyone.


    Cult of Games Member




    You are welcome. Hope It helped and did seem too ‘know-it-all-ey’. I think you should go for it, it will be fun! J


    A lot of classes end up using spells which can help. With fifth edition anyhow.The older stuff has merit, and for sure revisit it whenever you want. Personally I think fifth ed removes a lot of hurdles that, 3.5 had (which I disliked, I won’t get into why. I’m kind of biased).


    Regarding tech, you can have a dice roller make rolls for you in Discord, you just type in a short, very short, formula and it rolls the dice for you in the group chat. Please read up on roll 20 as you’ve had two recommendations. PMing and emailing can take time and it breaks the fourth wall say, if someone has to spend time checking their individual emails to get a file when you can just quickly send a map or pic up on discord people get instantly. Experiment with it, its free. You can do most of what you describe on Discord, more on roll 20 so don’t have MS Teams and email and Private Messages and google drives. It would be super clunky for the flow of a game especially if two hours isn’t enough time to get even a small bit of adventure done or your players attention span is as you describe in your two posts.


    I’ve been doing Discord for a while with my group after they all went home from college. Its been good but I am moving more toward roll20 now. I would recommend if you are on FB to join the D&D 5th Edition Official page: lots of people on their sharing ideas and creativity and helpful too.


    No I am not getting notifications for those but I haven’t started a thread in how long either, I do not come onto the forums much these days.


    Cult of Games Member

    Don’t worry, I never thought you were know-it-all-ey.  You were both very helpful.  You reinforced a few things for me and pointed the way forwards, should I follow through on this.  Life is both on hold, and going through some big changes right now, and I’m a little afraid I’ll be committing to more than I’ll end up being happy with if I start this, what with my obsession with painting all the things, 3D printing all the other things, talk of starting 40k once lockdown is over, and trying to get gaming as a whole started back up again.  Plus I’m buying a house right now.  This is all why I’m just thinking about it right now.  Research at my own pace, and take it further only if I’m ready.

    Think I’ll watch some roll 20 how to videos while painting this weekend and see where that takes me.  Maybe some reviews of 5th ed to get a feel for whats changed.


    Cult of Games Member

    Best of luck and keep us updated. And if you do bite off more than you can chew with D&D online, its ok to walk away or change things, limit the size of the group or whatever else suits you since you will be running the game. Tell the players in advance. Also, try not to make painting and miniatures the main focus of your preparation work: the scenario, rules are and flow of the game is what the focus should be on.


    Don’t be afraid to say, get your minis to ‘tabletop standard’ as part of the balancing act. Otherwise you have a pile of minis and you might be doubting if you are ready, lol.


    Good luck with the house and make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. There’s so much D&D on youtube now you wont be left short of content to absorb 😉



    PS: Also, do not be afraid to post up ideas, questions or share anything you do with this on here. I’m very keen to see how it turns out! 🙂


    Cult of Games Member

    If I do this I’ll be focusing on the rules, game and tech wrt prep.  I’m not convinced minis would even work, at least without setting up a second camera over a special table.  I only have the one camera borrowed from work for now.  My mini collection is almost all painted anyway.  Over 2000 minis and less than 150 unpainted at the moment.  I’ll be focusing on the basics to begin with.  Get the core together and running first.  Worry about extras later.

    I won’t be looking to start this for a while yet, but that gives me plenty of time to read the rules etc.  I see theres 2 versions of the PHB and DMG.  The full book and a starter book.  Whats the difference?  Limited rules and spells and abilities stop around level 5 in the starter books?  I was going to skip the starter books, but if they are good they might be good for handing to incoming players to ease them back in?

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