Once upon a time, when you taught someone how to play roleplaying games, you would gather around a table with dice, paper, and pencils and start playing a game. In our current situation, either because of the pandemic or just because our world is more connected digitally, you might find yourself teaching roleplaying games over the internet.
So let’s talk about using online tools to your advantage to teach RPGs.
Discord Brings People Together
The first thing technology can help you with is in finding people for your gaming group. Discord is a fantastic resource for finding new players. Discord is a video, voice, and text messaging social media platform. There, you create a server, which is a set of chat rooms and voice channels that keep everyone in a community together. Discord is free and can even be used in your browser, so it’s easy to jump in and experiment.
You don’t have to dive into the deep end, however. You can lean on familiar surroundings for help! Many local gaming stores have their own Discord server. Kobold Chronicles has its own Discord server for monthly events. Places like these can help you find players since you might already know people running or contributing to the server.
Discord is also a common place for people looking to find a place to learn to play RPGs. Potential new players who have heard about RPGs but don’t know anyone who plays often seek out Discord servers to learn more. If you’re playing a specific game system, you’ll find servers dedicated to just that game. This can be a great way to learn, play, and teach.
Once you’ve got players, you need to decide what technologies you use to play. If you have new players, then aside from just deciding what works for the group, take a look at what fits your players. This requires you to learn a little bit about each one. Do some players prefer one online service? Do some have better online access than others? Do you have players who just aren’t that comfortable with online tech? Some might be uncomfortable learning a new program at the same time they are learning a new game.
If your players might have trouble learning new tech, try a game using “theater of the mind.” This type of game uses only voice or video chat between players but no additional technology for maps, dice rolling, or character sheets. It relies on descriptions of the characters and events from the GM and players.
Mechanically, each player must keep track of their own character sheet and roll their own dice (unless you use an online dice roller). The advantage to this is that you could run a theater of the mind game using only a Discord voice channel or a video call. So much of a roleplaying game occurs in the players’ imaginations that this method can work well. Many players even prefer this to using online tools to track character sheets and show maps.
However, if your players are new to the game, they may have trouble imagining what is happening. Many new players benefit from graphics such as maps and pictures of characters.
Virtual Table Tops: Now with Less Table!
An easy to way to do this is to use a Virtual Table Top (VTT). There are many options, such as Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, Shard Tabletop, and Foundry. Each has its own strengths, and its own support from Kobold VTT products. With these systems, you create an online game session and all your players sign into your game. Then you all see the same maps and graphics—images of monsters, NPCs, scenes, gifs, or whatever you want to show them!.
Additionally, players can create characters for your game using an online character sheet and character creator. This makes the VTT system a bit more complex, so you’ll spend some of the first few sessions explaining the VTT as well as the game rules. But if your players benefit from building and keeping their character sheets online, this learning curve might be worth it.
For instance, when your new player is having trouble deciding what their character’s next action will be, you and the player can view their character sheet at the same time, which makes it easier to make suggestions. This also has the advantage that when a player can’t make the game, you have their character sheet and can play their character for that session.
For a simpler experience, some online websites like OwlbearRodeo let you upload a map and send a link to your players. They follow the link, choose from provided tokens to represent their characters, and then they can show you where they want their characters to move on a map. This is a much simpler interface for players, but they still need to manage their own character sheets and die rolls.
Experiment on Your Players
There are many ways to run RPGs over the internet and none are definitely the best. Figuring out what works for your group takes experimentation. If you are dealing with players you don’t know well, this can be difficult.
Showing can be more valuable than telling. Consider running a one-shot (single session adventure) with characters you’ve prepared in advance. Run part of the game using theater of the mind and then finish using a VTT. Afterward, you can decide which way works for the group. Then in the following session, you can start a longer-form game confident that you’re using the best system for your players.