Tabletop gaming is more accessible than ever, and there’s something delightful about crowding around a table with friends to hoot and holler at the fate of imaginary elves, Lovecraftian spies, or embattled Space Marines. There’s definitely a summer camp that exudes camaraderie and adventure, though the trials and tribulations of a pen-and-paper session tend to be a bit more ambitious than roasting s’mores and singing songs around a campfire. .
Running one of these games can be intimidating, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, many groups have gone online. This approach has advantages and disadvantages – it’s easy to rustle a group, but hard to engage. Although with a few handy tools, setting up an online tabletop grouping is easier than you think.
platform of choice
There are a few ways to set up your game, but Discord is a surprisingly efficient organizational tool—and, depending on the game you’re playing and the system it uses, it can even host your games automatically. Except for a dice-rolling bot and a little bit of preparation.
If you’re looking for something more concrete, Tabletop Simulator A popular choice for many games, as it provides the tactile experience of moving the Mini around a map or rolling a critical success. Need something more sophisticated for a dungeon crawl or an elaborate campaign? The Roll20 and Foundry Virtual Tabletops offer a range of tools for both players and game masters and allow for everything from setting up soundtracks to tracking feats and fumbles. My husband and I for one are using the Foundry Virtual Tabletop Savage Worlds Campaign, and as long as it’s paid for, the versatility and reach is worth it. If you’re not willing to spare the money, or you just don’t need the better features, Roll 20 is a perfectly good free option.
Tabletop Simulator Image: Fearless Games
Tools and Tricks
A clever game master always has a few tricks on hand, whether it’s a surprising villain waiting in the wings or a secret door that leads to a dungeon full of treasure. With digital games, the game master has a little more freedom in showing things off—it’s easier to pop an image into a Discord channel than to pass it around the table, for example.
If your players crack a crypt, it can be very helpful to whip up a quick map. Dungeon Scrolls is a free web tool that creates maps that can then be imported into a virtual tabletop program or uploaded to an image host. Dungeon Scrolls isn’t too complicated, but for game masters who want a very simple process, Dungeon Map Doodler is an even more accessible and simple map maker.
Want to go big, or need to set up a basic setting? townscaper, a small town builder game, is incredibly helpful for those who want to build elaborate buildings and towns that look fascinating to explore. Avatar is great for creating a large geographic map that shows a region or continent; It has a free setting.
Finally, AI tools like ArtBreeder are great for game masters because they don’t require artistic ability or practice. With Artbreeder’s Portrait, users change the settings and “genes” of a photo, and it’s a reliable, relatively quick way to create unique, interesting character portraits.
Image: Oscar Stahlberg / Raw Fury
Dungeons & Dragons is the most famous tabletop game, followed by heavy hitters like Vampire: Masquerade either Cyberpunk Raid, But there are several smaller systems that may be exactly what your group needs. Experimenting and trying out different sports is a great way to broaden your horizons and create a memorable one-shot adventure or chaotic campaign. Some suggestions include:
Failure, an improv-heavy game, sets up tricky scenarios and then everything goes horribly wrong. If you want to play a game that could potentially end with a player trapped in a burning basement, wearing a fursuit while their co-workers pour more gasoline on their lawn over a misunderstanding at work, Failure This is for you. It’s also available on roll 20, which is a nice bonus.
mark borg Is a deep dark apocalyptic RPG with extreme lethal combat and little respite. Layout and formatting turned on mark borgKey’s sourcebook is truly stunning, and while the setting does offer a bit of comfort, it’s metallic as hell. For those who like futuristic twists, spin-offs CY_BORG is equally stylish and covers even the most punk rule of all – you can never sympathize with the core, even if you end up working for them in a pinch. Both systems are great for bloodied one-shots and shorter missions.
Image: Occult rtmästare Games/Stockholm Cartel
Search There’s a Cozy, Welcoming Ramp for a Tabletop RPG, (Disclosure: Chris Plante, editor-in-chief of Polygon worked on Search As an editor.) This accessible experience recently went free-to-play, so it’s a great way to give the experience a spin and see if it works for your group. Search It’s also highly story-driven, so groups have a lot of freedom to experiment with characters and choices.
One final pro tip – be sure to follow the tabletop games section on itch.io, which has some inventive style that might be better for your friends than a big, mainline game. Killer Rating is a game where players play as the crew of a terrifying paranormal show on the verge of cancellation, working one last really haunted Fist is a Metal Gear Solid-inspired game about a squad of paranormal mercenaries embarking on Cold War spy gigs.
There are tons of ways to play online that make for the complete camping experience of settling down and hanging out with friends. There’s certainly a lot of merit to playing in-person games, or choosing a bigger mainline system like Dungeons & Dragons for your weekly games. But a little experimentation and clever use of online tools can make for an accessible experience. Online tabletop games are the way I keep in touch with my friends and family, and I hope you can take a little time to give them a shot this summer.