How to play Dungeons & Dragons online
Keep your tabletop roleplaying group going wherever you are by playing Dungeons & Dragons online.
It can be intimidating enough learning how to play Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games in of itself, let alone working out how to play tabletop RPGs online and the tech setup involved - whether you’re interested in storytelling tabletop RPGs for beginners or more mechanics-heavy fantasy tabletop RPGs.
Fear not, because there are loads of options out there for playing Dungeons & Dragons online, as well as other tabletop RPGs - and plenty are free to boot. You’ll be playing Dungeons & Dragons online in no time and, depending on what level of presentation and feature set you’re after, without paying a penny.
- Voice and video chat: With a microphone, webcam and chat app like Discord, Skype or Google Hangouts, you can play Dungeons & Dragons online with your friends wherever you are.
- Virtual tabletops: The online tabletop platforms that provide customisable battle maps and tokens to help you visualise what’s happening in your game.
- What other tabletop RPGs can I play online?: Numerous tabletop RPG titles can be downloaded for free, letting you jump straight into your next campaign.
When playing Dungeons & Dragons online - or whatever tabletop RPG your group prefers - you can use virtual chat rooms such as Discord and Google Hangouts to meet up with folks and play tabletop RPGs online as a group. Although these video and voice chat apps lack the interactive maps and unique tabletop gubbins found in dedicated virtual tabletop tools, they’re relatively simple to get going with and are often the easiest way of taking your roleplaying group online.
A little more complex to wrangle than playing RPGs online through chat, virtual tabletop RPG tools like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds grant access to a treasure trove of guidebooks, maps, digital dice and player tokens, as well as loads of official supplements and assets from a host of the best tabletop RPGs out right now. If you want a more in-depth experience when playing Dungeons & Dragons online, these are the way to go.
Last but not least, PC apps used to play board games online with friends such as Tabletop Simulator can be used to create your own virtual tabletop space - complete with miniatures, terrain and the ability to flick dice off the table - but is by far the most complex way to play tabletop RPGs online.
How to play Dungeons & Dragons online
For the most part, all you need to play Dungeons & Dragons online is a half-decent microphone (or solid headset), webcam and standard PC or mobile device, such as a tablet.
Below you’ll find our guide to the best tools for playing Dungeons & Dragons online with voice and video chat, the finest virtual tabletops and the best free tabletop RPG games to play over the internet - so you can keep your campaign going, wherever in the world you might be.
Without further adieu, here’s how to play Dungeons & Dragons online, along with other tabletop RPGs.
Voice and video chat
Ultimately, as long as you have a means of communicating with other players, you can play a tabletop RPG online without all the fancy integration.
To play Dungeons & Dragons online you'll need at minimum a chat platform and your own dice, microphone and a webcam (if you want to see your companions). Essentially, you’ll be playing Dungeons & Dragons online through audio and/or video chat - with some text chat support if required.
Video chat is one of the best ways to play Dungeons & Dragons online, as you get face time with the other players. However, playing tabletop RPGs over just audio is also compelling - and likely the best option for anyone struggling with a slower internet connection or lack of gear.
This works best for ‘theatre of the mind’ tabletop RPGs - in other words, tabletop RPGs that don’t require miniatures, terrain or anything more complicated than some dice and a couple of sheets of paper to play. This means that you can play Dungeons & Dragons online with voice and video chat, as long as you’re not hoping to recreate battles with anything other than your imagination.
Among the most popular platforms for virtual chat in tabletop RPGs are Discord, Google Hangouts, Slack and Skype.
Simple voice and video chatting
- Cost: Free
- Complexity: Low
- Best for: Video, audio and text chat, plus Google Drive integration for the sharing of maps and overall tabletop RPG assets
One of the more popular virtual chat rooms, Google Hangouts is a fast, simple and intuitive way to play Dungeons & Dragons online. Unlike Discord, it does not have static video chat; instead, the camera focuses on whoever is speaking as you play (or you can choose to pin a single person, such as the GM). Text chat also accompanies the video chat.
It’s less complex than Discord, but lacks more advanced features like music integration. However, it’s perfect for straight-up, simple online tabletop RPG sessions with its easy setup.
Additionally, you can share documents as you play on Google Hangouts through Google Drive, without leaving the chat window. As such, Google Hangouts lends itself well to adding documents such as character sheets, maps and player handouts.
Those who do not have physical dice can roll digital with the official Dungeons & Dragons and Google dice rollers.
Group chat with added features
- Cost: Free
- Complexity: Low
- Best for: Text, audio and music integration
Gaming chat app Discord grants you private chat through text, audio and webcam. You can use Discord completely free through a browser, or download it for free onto your PC or mobile device for increased integrations, such as connecting up to a Spotify playlist.
Providing all party members have Spotify premium, you can listen to a playlist as you play Dungeons & Dragons online - perfect for upping up the ante during roleplaying. Not only the home of rock and pop, plentiful soundtracks befitting of a fantasy tabletop RPG are available.
One workaround for not having Spotify premium is posting Youtube videos within the Discord channel and as a game master, directing players to press play at the right moment. There are also Discord server mods available that allow players to play music and videos directly in a chatroom.
In addition, the accompanying Discord text chat allows for uploads and direct chat, with an option to have notifications sent to your phone - which can be helpful for when it comes to organising games.
For those who lack physical dice, Dungeons & Dragons and Google have online polyhedral dice sets you can throw down while playing. Discord server mods can also be used to allow players to roll any number of dice with the stroke of a few keys.
Last but not least, you can share your screen on Discord - handy for helping folks with technical problems as they arise, or for the dungeon master to reveal terrifying secrets.
You can use Discord completely on its own to play Dungeons & Dragons online, or use it in tandem with a virtual tabletop like Roll20. This would require switching between video and map screens, or using Discord audio while viewing a map on Roll20.
If you’re looking for a more immersive experience when playing Dungeons & Dragons online, a virtual tabletop is the way to go. These online apps can provide battle maps - areas that represent the imaginary space you’re in - along with tokens that represent your characters and other features that up the level of presentation.
Several of these virtual tabletops feature official support for certain tabletop RPGs, meaning that you can play Dungeons & Dragons online using the RPG’s full selection of books, accessories, scenarios and more, as well as other tabletop RPGs such as Call of Cthulhu and Pathfinder. You can build your own game with customised maps, tokens and handouts, or use a paid pre-built module to get playing straight from the off.
Fast, free, customisable and full of free modules
- Cost: Free with advertising, plus premium options from $6/£4.50 a month
- Complexity: Medium
- Best for: Games with official support, such as Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder and Call of Cthulhu, but any tabletop RPG can be played
Roll20 is one of the most popular (and free) ways to play Dungeons & Dragons online. It’s a free virtual tabletop simulator that provides a full battlemap - a space representing your environment and where your characters are, which can have a grid to calculate distance and space - giving you not only excellent visual cues, but also something tangible to interact with during play.
You can create your own map, import it in from elsewhere or use the range of free and paid maps available on the app itself. Using Roll20’s storybook-like interface, you’ll also be able to create multiple maps that you can switch between in-game.
Players, non-player-characters and monsters are all represented by tokens - small, movable avatar-like pictures - that can be moved about the map by player and game master alike. Other Roll20 features include character sheet support (with plenty of unofficial community builds for independent tabletop RPGs like Blades in the Dark) and dice rollers.
You don’t need to make everything from scratch either. If you’re willing to part with some cash, Roll20 adventure modules - which come with maps, tokens, handouts and text - are available to get you started with minimal faff.
Roll20 itself has music - to help charge your campaigns with some atmosphere - through Soundcloud, but can also be teamed up with chat app Discord for Spotify integration if you’re a premium Spotify user.
The downside of Roll20 is that it can be finicky to use and a bit glitchy. However, it does just run in your web browser - no download required - making it easier to match up with video chat apps. It’s undoubtedly the best free virtual tabletop simulator out there right now and is hugely customisable once you get to grips with it.
In-depth virtual tabletop in which you can create your own rulesets
- Cost: £29.99 on Steam or monthly subscription starting from £3.20/month
- Complexity: Medium to high
- Best for: Anyone who wants to create their own RPG rulesets or folks who feel more comfortable using a tailored program that provides more in-depth customisation
Fantasy Grounds is a virtual tabletop that’s been around since 2009 and can be used via individual licence (meaning you all have a copy of the program itself) or through a low-cost monthly subscription. Unlike Roll20, it runs through an standalone app that can be purchased from PC gaming platform Steam.
It supports numerous rulesets including current and older editions of Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy tabletop RPG Pathfinder, along with Savage Worlds and a host of other tabletop RPGs. These add-ons can be bought on the Steam platform as upgrades.
As well as extensive customisation options from your own tabletop RPG campaigns available, you can also save time and buy premade adventures that are good from the go.
As a game master in Fantasy Grounds, you can create a map, add the players (represented as tokens) and move them around, while also initiating combat with monster tokens. Many of these are available on the Steam store to buy - or you can import your own for free. Handouts, descriptions, rules and secret game master rules can also be utilised to make sessions more immersive. It also includes built-in dice rolling.
Fantasy Grounds does not have built-in chat capabilities beyond text, so you’ll still need to get audio/video support through the likes of Discord or Google Hangouts before playing Dungeons & Dragons online.
Users can create their own tabletop RPG rulesets and modifications with scripting tools. This makes it an ideal candidate for anyone looking to build their own tabletop RPG from scratch.
On the downside, Fantasy Grounds is among the more pricey options when it comes to playing D&D online, as everyone needs a subscription to play and there isn’t quite the same dearth of free content as other platforms such as Roll20.
Build the virtual tabletop RPG gaming space of your dreams
- Cost: £14.99
- Complexity: High
- Best for: Folks who really want to simulate a full tabletop full of objects to play with
Tabletop Simulator provides an actual virtual space, complete with a table of your choice, to play Dungeons & Dragons online in. It’s essentially a physics sandbox - meaning you can add anything into it and move it about to boot. It simulates a big table, with components on top.
If you absolutely love the tabletop itself, complete with miniatures and the option to flick and flip pieces, this is the one for you.
Tabletop Simulator comes pre-packaged with some classic board games like backgammon and chess, or you can pay to download pre-packaged mods of some of best board games like Wingspan and Scythe, but there is also a ridiculously huge number of Tabletop Simulator mods that players have made, bringing thousands of different board games, objects and other creations to the game’s Steam Workshop catalogue.
As well as being one of the best ways to play board games online, Tabletop Simulator is also ideal for those looking to play Dungeons & Dragons online - or any other tabletop RPG involving miniatures and other bits and pieces.
Tabletop Simulator's virtual sandbox lets you add everything from complete table, map and dice sets right down to individual miniatures (many of which are animated) and maps direct from tabletop RPG sourcebooks. You can get going with some basic terrain and miniatures thanks to Tabletop Simulator’s basic RPG miniatures set, which comes ready-loaded.
Next you’ll need to find some polyhedral dice, a map, some markers, any specific miniatures and character sheets from Steam Workshop. Download them, then hop into your game on Tabletop Simulator to add them to your virtual space. Add some friends and you’re ready to play your tabletop RPG online.
Tabletop Simulator is among the more complex options for any budding online game masters, but it’s perfect for those who want a complete sandbox to play in, as well as those looking to switch between playing board games and tabletop RPGs. You’ll be able to communicate via voice and text chat within the game.
You’ll need a slightly more beefy PC to run Tabletop Simulator, plus a bit of patience as you get to grips with learning how to play.
What tabletop RPGs can I play online?
Some of the best tabletop RPGs out there are available for free in digital copy quickstart kits and virtual tabletop starter packs. Either pair up some PDFs with a virtual chat platform like Discord, or head out onto a virtual tabletop with ready-to-go content.
Dungeons & Dragons 5E
One of the most popular fantasy tabletop RPGs around, Dungeons & Dragons makes a great introductory tabletop game. With many D&D campaigns and D&D sourcebooks available, it’s endlessly expandable. Play this if you want a good mix of roleplay, combat and exploration.
To start playing Dungeons & Dragons online, ask your players to input character sheets for free on D&D Beyond’s Character Builder. Then set up a Discord and just play as standard. You can use the official Dungeons & Dragons dice roller if folks don’t have dice. Consider checking out the free Dungeons & Dragons starter rules and get an official one-shot adventure, like haunted house traipse Death House.
You can also boot up Roll20 and use one of the free introductory modules. The latest D&D adventure, the Critical Role-inspired Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, is currently available to try for free on Roll20.
Call of Cthulhu 7E
Another classic tabletop RPG, cosmic horror title Call of Cthulhu is perfect for horror fans and folks looking for investigation and puzzles over combat. Be sure to build up an atmosphere with music and share any handouts with players digitally - there’s plenty of dastardly puzzles to solve and cursed tomes to read.
Roll20 has an introductory free module and rules for Call of Cthulhu. This includes an adventure, pre-made characters and all the cosmic horror monstrosity tokens you’ll need.
You can also download the free Call of Cthulhu Quickstart Rules, stage a session zero to help your folks create characters, then use Discord or Google Hangouts to set up a chat - you’ll need a smooth way to get handouts distributed. As Call of Cthulhu uses a set of polyhedral dice like D&D, you can roll dice online using the Wizards of the Coast dice roller.
Vampire: The Masquerade
A horror tabletop RPG in which you play tormented blood-suckers, Vampire is ideal for players looking for intrigue, politics and monstrous character development. You’ll likely want to use webcams for something as roleplay-heavy as Vampire: The Masquerade.
Vampire: The Masquerade can also be adapted into Roll20, with numerous groups looking for players via the app’s classifieds. Be sure to pair up with Discord or Google Hangouts for video support and dig up a lot of spooky pictures to build up a campaign.
The latest edition of Vampire: The Masquerade comes complete with a free playable module that also packs the latest rules. Just get on camera, and get playing.
Where can I find online tabletop RPGs?
These aren’t your only options to play tabletop RPGS online. Titles like storytelling RPG Dread can be played online with a tabletop Jenga simulator, while more complex tabletop fantasy RPGs like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay would work fine with dice and a simple audio setup via Discord.
Whatever tabletop RPG you’re looking for, there’s a way to play it online with the right tools - and you might even make some new friends along the way. Learn how to play board games online with friends to expand your remote tabletop game options.