On A Roll Games' Guide to Gaming Online
Look, I admit something like this is a little late, seeing as we're a year into this pandemic and vaccines are rolling out depending on your area, but I didn't have this website last year, and I've gotten a chance to play most of these throughout the year. Besides, maybe you're like me and 2/5 of your game group live across a body of water, so role-playing will always be online. Maybe you've just been slugging through a virtual tabletop (VTT) and didn't know some of these existed. Or maybe you have a pal somewhere else in your country, continent, or globe that you would play games with if only you had a good way to do it. Well, here's a list for ya! I'll add to this as more come out and I try them, but at the very least this should get you going.
First up: Tabletop Simulator
It's worth mentioning off the bat that Tabletop Simulator is probably the most flexible of the VTTs on this list. I've organized everything else into role-playing games, miniatures games, or board games, but Tabletop Simulator (TTS) can handle almost all of them. I've played board games and miniatures games on this platform and if you look at the community section on Steam (what I use to run it) you'll see some impressive stuff. I have a friend who streams his Warhammer 40,000 games on there, and I've seen some pretty pro-looking tournaments happen on this platform. People do use it for role-playing, but I'm more partial to some of the VTTs I'll list below on my RPG section. Mostly because they have official content, and are created for the purpose of role-playing.
A lot of VTTs have built-in chat clients, but here are some if you done use a VTT that has one.
This one's my favorite, and I'm currently a member of no fewer than thirty-two Discord servers. It's a great mixture of chat room, and community hub, and many of the VTTs on this list have Discord servers that you can join to get help using them. My group uses Discord for voice and a VTT for dice and maps and character sheets and stuff, but I'm also party to weekly Discord hang outs that run the gamut from paint 'n' hangs to full on "house parties." It's getting better all the time, and while I've had a few issues with streaming and doing a video chat, I found that just switching to voice chat made the stream go way faster for things like seeing someone's screen or playing Jackbox games or whatever. Also, this one has bots or macros or whatever they're called (look, I can barely use computers, okay), that can simulate die rolls or act as databases for rules. I know there's one for Vampire the Masquerade that will allow you to roll dice in the server, so you might not even need another VTT depending on how integral you think maps, and character sheets are.
This one I've mainly used for taking courses at a local technical institute where I live, but I also played through a short Advanced Fighting Fantasy campaign using the video chat. It's a lot more functionality than Discord, and is a bit more stable, but costs money for consistent use. One feature that I absolutely love is that you can have a background on your video. This is handy for me, as my desk is in front of a high traffic area in my apartment, and it keeps the privacy of my partner as they go about their business and I'm in class or playing a game. Also, there was a bit of a controversy early on about where the servers stored your information, as it had to do with privacy laws. I think that's been resolved or if you pay for it it stores stuff on servers in your country. Admittedly I never looked into this as I only use it for school and my instructors have assured me that it's safe for those purposes.
The ol' dog. After one member of my role-play group moved away, we kept him in by placing a laptop where he'd sit at the table, and have him Skype in. It worked for years before a second member of my group moved away and we bit the bullet and moved whole hog into VTTs. Anyway, it's a good way to do it, though last time I used it it had some issues dropping calls.
I haven't used this in years, and it appears to be changing soon, but it's a Skype-like service. Honestly, though you gotta be careful getting too invested into Google's products. Those guys have a short attention span when it comes to support, and before long you can see the service changing, getting combined with other services, or getting dropped altogether.
Here's the big list. I've used most of these as of the initial writing of this blog, and while they can take some prep to get going, they're worth exploring. When it comes time to choose the one you want to use, you should take a few things into consideration: which ones have content for your game or campaign? Which ones are easy for you and your group to use? Which ones are priced to your satisfaction? Pretty much all of these require money. Even the free ones, like Roll20 have limitations that get removed when you start paying for them.
Without any data at my disposal, I'd still say this is the most popular VTT out there right now. It's good, and I'm currently playing a Legacy: Life Among the Ruins campaign on it. It's got tons of content on its online store, it's simple to use, and its flexible, so can handle almost any type of game you want to run on it. It has features for your games, but not too many features so if you just want a grid and a die roller, it's there for you. It also has built in video and voice though I've never used them before. I'm not crazy about the way it looks, though. It's not ugly, but it's on the bottom tier of VTTs in terms of looks. It also doesn't have as much functionality as other VTTs. I think this is a good entry-level VTT or a good one to jump into for certain games that might require more setup on other VTTs. Roll20 is web-based and it has a subscription model with a monthly or yearly fee.
I used this one for almost an entire year, running a Savage Worlds: Deadlands campaign on it. I loved that it had modules for various games and campaigns on it, and the reason I chose it was that it had the campaign that I wanted to run on its online store, meaning I had all the tokens, charts, enemies, and pictures at my disposal that I could use in the campaign. It's got a lot of functionality and neat things a GM can do like create packages of items to give to characters. It's not easy to jump into, though. It takes some real study to get going. They even have a website called Fantasy Grounds College, which should tell you how steep the learning curve is. Once you've figured out how to use it, though, you can fall back on the two failsafes: right-click, or drag-and-drop. Either one of those actions usually gets you to where you want to be. This one requires everyone to download a program and have either the GM buy or subscribe to an Ultimate license, or everyone buy or subscribe to a standard license.
This one might become my favorite. I own it, and have played around with making a campaign on it, but I haven't actually hit the road with the rubber, so to speak. However it looks great, it has an amazing community making playable modules legally, and it has official content from some publishers. What's nice about it is that it has the functionality of Fantasy Grounds, the intuitiveness of Roll20, and looks better than both of them. It has built in audio capabilities so you can have sound and music playing (or even localized to certain spots on a map so players can hear them when their tokens get close). It also has video and voice capabilities, but I haven't used them. It does require a bit of learning to get up and running, however. It also only requires the GM to purchase it at a one-time fee; everyone else just logs onto the game through their web browsers. Apparently it accesses the files on the GM's computer, so it might be worth renting a server to have your game be accessible even when the GM's not online, but if that's not a problem for you and the GM has a good Internet connection, it's not necessary.
This one is done in conjunction with DriveThruRPG, and is easily the most beautiful of the VTTs. I did the tutorial for this one and it looks like a nicer Roll20. It also has some online or purchasable content and a huge list of supported games. It pretty much looks like you're all playing Baldur's Gate, which really appeals to me. It's web-based and requires a subscription.
This one is done by some local folk here in Vancouver (well, technically I think they're from Burnaby). They just got it off the ground, so I haven't had a chance to use it yet, but they're an open-source, non-profit, group that doesn't want to charge for its service. I really hope something like this works out for them because it's a great concept. It's also web-based with no subscription or purchase necessary.
Not a VTT in the strictest sense, and is only for D&D5, but it's got all the official content (for a price), and a die roller. You could easily stream a table for the map, or use any kind of whiteboard program if you're not too picky about having a grid. I've used it for character creation and found it easy, and great to use.
Other RPG Tools
Here's a list of stuff that will help your RPG campaign experiences
If you're using something that isn't exactly a VTT, or you are just using voice or video chats, then this site is pretty great at organizing your campaign information. It's also good if you're running a long campaign with breaks, or if you just don't find that any VTT adequately organizes your information to your liking. It also has a subscription model.
A great map making tool. I've played around with it, and it looks great. I haven't tried importing anything to any VTTs yet, but you can totally just share your maps to your players using this program. It also has a subscription model.
I've bought so many maps from this artist that I went and joined his Patreon. I don't regret a single penny spent on his stuff.
This category loses something by being online, in my opinion. Out of all the types of gaming I do, besides board gaming, I miss this one being in person the most. That being said, other than Tabletop Simulator here are some ways to play some miniatures games until you and the gang can storm the hotel ballrooms and game shops again for tournaments or game nights.
This one is pretty Warmahordes- and Guild Ball-centric, but it does a great job of dealing with the kinds of precision those games require. I don't play as much Warmachine as I used to (or as I'd like to) but it's pretty easy to get a game in with this. This one is web-based with no subscription model.
This one works great for regimented games like Warhammer Fantasy Battle or Kings of War. In fact, I've played a few games of Kings of War on this VTT and had a blast. Take your time with the model maker part of the program, though so that you don't get frustrated (it's easy to get that way). The cloning tool is your friend. This one is either program-based or web-based and has a subscription model that doesn't auto-renew, and can be as short as a week or a couple of days, I think (I actually couldn't find their rates unless I tried to subscribe and I didn't at the time of writing).
It's specific to this game, it's PC only, and it's a season or two behind, but it's apparently true to the tabletop game. I haven't played it because I'm a Mac user, but I hope to one day be able to give it a shot.
Collectible Card Games
Here are some ways that you can play some CCGs. Most of these are proprietary programs, and require you to purchase virtual cards (which can irk some people... Not me, though), but if you're like me and can't ever get to a Friday Night Magic because you work, this is really the best way to play competitive CCGs.
Magic's one of my favorite games of all time, and here's a way to play it. It's the only way for Mac users to play digital Magic. It looks great, it's got a bunch of formats that mimic paper magic, and it's fun to use.
The OG non-paper magic experience. When this first came out, I was a teenager with a PC and I played this a bunch. It's primitive-looking, but it's got way more stuff than Arena, and a lot of pro players use it. I haven't touched it in eighteen years, but it's still going.
Look, if you've never played this game, you gotta give it a shot. The Mutant Chronicles setting is one of my favorites, and this CCG has been woefully under appreciated in the history of CCGs, but some enterprising young developers made this a reality. It's still in beta, but it's worth giving a shot.
I haven't played this game in years, but it was fun the last time I did. I don't know what more I can say about it; it's not like it's obscure. It's the only game on the list that has never been a physical product.
I'm not a huge Pokémon fan, but I'd be remiss if I didn't have this one on the list. I gave this one a shot recently (having never played the CCG since it came out in the late '90s), and it was pretty simple, but pretty fun.
This one is a pretty simple-looking program, but it's a way to play any other CCG you might be curious about (or even ones that are out of print). My favorite one on here is Vampire: the Eternal Struggle. There's not a lot of automation, which makes it pretty faithful to actually playing a game of cards against someone.
This list is a little light because the best advice I have is to try Tabletop Simulator or go to the publisher's website and see if they have a digital version of their game. Usually this is reserved to the Asmodee family of companies as they've been going hard into digital gaming as of late. This includes Catan, Ticket to Ride, etc.
Hilariously enough, these guys got recently bought by Asmodee. However it's a great way to play tons of board games and I've been having a blast playing some favorites on here like Carcassonne.
Ascension is my favorite deck-building game. It's got evocative art, simple mechanics, and it's different every time you play.
That's all I got for now. Like I said, I'll update this as I come across more info. Until then, stay safe and don't stop playing games.