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Reasons & Resources for Playing Pen & Paper RPGs Online

For many people, finding a consistent group of players with which to enjoy an RPG, especially for a long campaign, is a difficult, if not completely insurmountable task. Why might a person want to play online? What are the benefits and advantages to doing such a thing? What tools are available to players?

I got together with my friend Daniel (@behemoth0089) from the Aldaquen Role Group with an eye toward answering these questions (his Spanish language version of this post is HERE). This post contains the answers we came up with. It is by no means inclusive of every tool available, but it is enough to give you some good reasons for playing pen and paper RPGs online and point you in the direction of some worthwhile tools.

Advantages of Playing Online (with voice chat)

  1. I can game with people who are not in my timezone.
  2. I can sit at my comfortable desk at home, wearing whatever I want.
  3. I can game at weird times (I’m a night owl and run games late at night).
  4. I have cupboards stocked with drinks and snacks a mere 30 feet away.
  5. I have the use of my own restroom instead of a public one.
  6. When the game is done I don’t have to drive anywhere, so there is no danger if I want to drink while gaming (well, except the drunken DM TPK).
  7. Because of the lessening of time constraints, I get to play a lot of games – many more than I would be able to play in a face-to-face setting.
  8. Even though technical problems are almost a given (see below) many players are understanding and willing to be patient, which makes for a pleasant gaming environment.
  9. It is WAY easier to find players! Twitter, internet forums, Google+, and Facebook have all made finding individuals with similar tastes and interests infinitely easier.
  10. Since almost everything is virtual you can have a little more order than in a normal table, all books organized and you won’t lose anything – and no carrying those heavy books to a game store or someone’s house.

Disadvantages of Playing Online (with voice chat)

  1. I don’t get to see the body language of the players while we are playing, which can lead to not knowing if they understand something and/or the loss of being able to tell at a glance if they are bored or interested.
  2. Talking via VOIP and not interrupting each other takes some getting used to (especially because we do not have the body language visual cues to follow to be able to tell when someone wants to speak).
  3. There are often technical problems if someone is on a wireless connection and/or doesn’t have a stable connection to the server. Sometimes the virtual table, depending upon the hosting conditions, doesn’t push changes out to all players, so some disparity in maps occurs (i.e. one player sees one thing while other players see another).
  4. Technical problems can also cause the quality of the voice over IP to be very low, which can reduce the enjoyment of the game for some players.
  5. If the game is very map heavy and has lots of tactical token movements and strategy (a la 4e D&D) it often takes longer to run a game over a virtual tabletop. Getting used to the map interface and token movement can take a while, especially for non-tech savvy players.
  6. The level of funny chatter and generic banter is much lower in a tabletop game because if two people talk at once no-one can understand what anyone is saying. This improves a great deal as the group gets to know each other and everyone gets used to the talking styles and cadence of the others.
  7. It is impossible to tell if someone is distracted or paying attention. It requires the players to pay close attention to the game or they may miss something, while at the same time, they are at home with all the distractions there. When playing face-to-face, you can see when a player has pulled out the phone and isn’t paying attention. Over a virtual table-top, you can’t tell if a player is watching TV when it’s not their turn.
  8. One of the weak spots noticed with many virtual tabletops is the small chat window. Many of them have adjustable sizes, but making the chat bigger effectively reduces the size of the map portion of the screen. It’s not that big a deal and is something that can be gotten used to. Unless you have a disability your computer screen will always be smaller than your field of vision.

Disadvantages of Text Only Gaming

  1. Some people don’t want to type everything out, and have the opinion it is easier to say what they want to say, so they resist a non-voice online game.
  2. Some people wouldn’t mind text only, but type unbelievably slow (or at least it seems that way when you are in the middle of a battle) or with abundant typos, and that can be frustrating for others.
  3. Some people think it is, in some ways, far less personal to have a real-time game in which you do not speak to anyone but type everything instead.
  4. Text only takes out the option to make funny voices for some NPCs or even for your own character, and so can take away a good part of  the personality and mannerisms of the PC/NPC.

Advantages of Text Only Gaming

  1. In general, you do not have to worry about or deal with connection issues due to VOIP since your game isn’t relying on voice chat contact.
  2. There is no background noise from other player’s microphones (which can be a bigger problem than most people realize, even if it’s only white noise).
  3. It doesn’t exclude people with hearing impairments.
  4. It doesn’t exclude people with vocal impairments.
  5. In some ways, you can write a lot more richness and detail into a game, with a lot more subtle nuance than you can over a voice-chat game. This is a benefit to those who write well, but a big disadvantage to those who write poorly.
  6. Some people are shy in voice, but can write beautifully without the shyness coming across, making them better players in written word.

One of the benefits of this digital age is being able to find a vast number of tools waiting for you to use them to help your game. Here are some that may be of assistance to you. Some of these tools (the map making ones in particular) are useful even if one is not running their games online. NOTE: I have edited this post to add the links from the comments section – it’s been a long time coming , sorry for the delay!



Tools Master List

Google Plus Hangout Group for RPGs: G+ RPG Group

Virtual Tables:

  1. Maptool – Free, Open source, Customizable, Can create frameworks for different game systems and campaigns
  2. ScreenMonkey Lite – Free, Integrates with RPGlife.com
  3. Fantasy Grounds – Free demo, Full License with fee, Can purchase campaign packs for specific adventure modules
  4. BattleGroundsGames – Free Demo, Full License with fee, Can purchase map packs for use in RPG adventures
  5. iTabletop – Free, Data in cloud (non peer to peer hosting)
  6. GameTable – Free, Open Source
  7. Klooge Werks – Free demo, Full license for fee, Java based
  8. d20Pro – Free demo, Full license for fee, Java based, Customizable
  9. OpenRPG – Free, Customizable
  10. Wizards of the Coast D&D Virtual Table – Currently in beta test, license purchase necessary
  11. Infrno – Free beta test version, Allows video conferencing and customizable play packages
  12. Black Marches openRPG campaign
  13. Roll20

Dice Gadgets (free):

  1. Online Customizable Dice Roller
  2. Dice Roller for Google Wave
  3. Wizards of the Coast Dice Roller
  4. Rolz Online Diceroller
  5. Dice Roller MiniApp
  6. Catch Your Hare
  7. Any Dice
  8. Invisible Castle

VOIP (voice chat programs):

  1. Skype
  2. Ventrillo
  3. Teamspeak
  4. Loudtalks

Free Map Creation help:

  1. Hexographer
  2. Random Dungeon Map Creator
  3. Dungeonographer
  4. Random Dungeon Creator (different from the above link)
  5. Random City Map Generator
  6. Random Inn Floor-plan Generator
  7. Grumble Mapper
  8. Ye Olde Map Maker
  9. Gridmapper (Gridmapper tutorial)
  10. Autorealm Mapper Program
  11. BatttleMapr
  12. Posterazor Map Tool


Map Repositories:

  1. RPG Mapshare
  2. Dungeoneering map share
  3. Fantastic Maps
  4. Cartographer’s Guild
  5. Dundjinni Map repository


Campaign Management tools:

  1. Obsidian Portal
  2. Epic words
  3. Phastinus
  4. RPG Manager
  5. Shareware RPG Campaign Manager
  6. 4e D&D Masterplan


Text Play by Post sites:

  1. Rpol
  2. RPGGeek
  3. RPGFO
  4. Roleplayer Guild
  5. Myth-Weavers
  6. EN World
  7. d6d20


Miscellaneous Tools:

  1. 4e D&D Encounter Planner
  2. Dungeon Master’s BattleScreen
  3. 4e D&D Random Treasure Generator
  4. Custom Calendar Generator
  5. RealNPC fantasy NPC Generator
  6. Gamma World (D&D) Character Generator
  7. Online Pathfinder Character Generator (beta)
  8. HeroLab Character Generator
  9. Gamma World (D&D) level 1 PC Generator (different from above GW chargen)
  10. PathGuy’s Star Wars Saga PC Generator
  11. Pathguy’s 4e D&D PC Generator
  12. 4e D&D Cardmaking tools
  13. 4e D&D Power2ool
  14. Full Suite Fantasy RPG Generator Tools (free)
  15. Ski’s 4th Edition Character Generator Or this alternate link: 4e CharSheetGen
  16. Dungeon Mastering Tools (15 day free trial, after which you can buy a lifetime account)
  17. Mad Irish Man (Character Sheets for many different games, custom and original)
  18. WotC’s Character Name Generator
  19. Daniel’s Token Collection 1 (large file)
  20. Daniel’s Token Collection 2 (large file)
  21. Dingle’s Games D&D 3.5 NPC Generator
  22. Dingle’s Games Pathfinder NPC Generator
  23. Propnomicon How-To videos for making terrain and props
  24. RPG Attitude D&D 3.5 NPC Generator

If you find or have a tool or something you want to share, post it on the comments, and we’ll add it to the list!

We hope that you that you find some value in these links and that you can utilize them to improve your game.

Until next time, I wish you good gaming!


DM Samuel is the Editor-in-Chief here at RPG Musings as well as the podcast editor for The Tome Show. He is also a host of the gaming podcast Play on Target. He plays all manner of role-playing games and boardgames and continues to learn new games all the time (and new things about old games, too). Sam lives in Upstate New York with his wife and their game collection. You can follow him on twitter @DMSamuel.

21 Responses to “Reasons & Resources for Playing Pen & Paper RPGs Online”

  • Very nice post. Now a tutorial on setting up best of breed tools as a GMLESS & as a player would be in order.

  • Something you might find of interest.. Zak S. at Playing D&d with Porn Stars has been doing constantcon for about 6 weeks now. http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2011/08/6th-week-of-constantcon.html It has a ‘nsfw’ warning but other then the occasional ribald language he only very rarely talks about his players’ line of work. They use Google+ for the free video chat there and have been very happy with it. :)

  • Excellent list of resources for online gaming. Certainly a great way to get folks out there and looking at options available to them. Online gaming definitely opens up play possibilities for people – whether it be an issue of people not being close enough or having one of those difficult schedules.

    Just a couple of resources I noticed that might be useful. For an online dice roller, http://invisiblecastle.com/ is great for easy copying and pasting of results into a PbP. And don’t forget http://www.enworld.org/ which has some very active PbP forums, including several living campaigns which are well suited for Play-by-Post games.

  • This is a very useful post. It will be preserved in my SW folder & Evernoted.
    Thanks for the valuable information.

  • Thanks for the comments and links everyone!

    I will add them to the post this evening.

    Also, please note that I will be making a permanent links page for this information (in a few days). This will make it easy to find since it will have a tab at the top of the main RPG Musings page. Bookmarking that when I get it in place might be a good idea too!

  • That’s a great list of links, and a good run down of the pros and cons of online play. I have to say it’s been wonderful for me to keep up with my old gaming groups – that now span 3 continents.

    I’d like to add a pro for the tools – you can now automate an awful lot which can speed up tracking characters and referencing rules. Also it finally gives you the opportunity to show the players the beautiful maps inside adventures, as long as you have maps that can be dropped from an adventure into a virtual tabletop (something that’s getting more and more common).

    Thanks for the link to Fantastic Maps – I hope people find the resources on my site useful. I’d also add the Cartographers’ Guild (http://www.cartographersguild.com/) to the list of map resources – it’s one of the largest map repositories on the internet, and a great place for getting advice on creating maps for vtt games.

    Finally, if you’re interested in what a vtt can do, I’d recommend checking out the Breaking of Forstor Nagar – the first commercial maptool campaign for Pathfinder that I was project lead on. There’s an intro video on the page that shows off a little of what online tabletops can do these days: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=91269



  • Consider Play-by-post games. In a non-live game, players can participate throughout the week when it is convenient for them. Maps need only be hosted on an image site like photobucket and players and DM have the luxury of writing out a roleplay or box text as detailed as they like. Again, writing ability helps but it’s not necessary. The biggest downside is that this slows the game down significantly, especially if interest flags. I just ran Keep on the Shadowfell from the launch of 4e until this year. Player loss can be high and you won’t always know when a PC has gone AWOL. Recruitment is always a priority. Once you have a strong dedicated group, the game can move quite smoothly.

  • […] Reasons & Resources for Playing Pen & Paper RPGs Online from RPG Musings (rpgmusings.com) […]

  • @arcanegeek – YES!! I am actually running 4 play-by-post (or play-by-forum if your prefer) games right now; one 4e D&D, one Basic D&D, one Eclipse Phase, and one Hollow Earth Expedition. I also play in two games (one 4e D&D and one Pathfinder).

    I run them over on RPGGeek.com; The good thing about using their site is that you can upload the maps right into the thread AND they have a built in dice-roller.

    I put little more than a couple of links to some sites that allow/encourage pbf/pbp games because I feel like it is a different topic even than online chat/real-time text games, simply because the time is so different. It has definite benefits, yes, but it takes literally 20x as long to run a game. This could be good or bad, depending on your point of view.

  • I have been running and or playing in a VT game twice a week going on four years.

    Some other resources you may want to add is http://www.dundjinni.com/forums/default.asp the on-line store is gone, and the software unavailable, but it has a massive archive of battlemaps, tokens, and art that can be used to create maps in other software. The members are extremely helpful and will try to create artwork by request. Most of these users have their own sites with additional resources scattered about the web.

    On another not, your post is very accurate, bravo. I would disagree with point 6.

    6. The level of funny chatter and generic banter is much lower in a tabletop game because if two people talk at once no-one can understand what anyone is saying. This improves a great deal as the group gets to know each other and everyone gets used to the talking styles and cadence of the others.

    Where VOIP is concerned this may be true, but we consistently have excellent cross talk and banter via our chat window. Where this constant banter is disruptive in my family game, ie live at the table. It is less distracting for people not taking their turn (esp. dazed, stunned players) then it would be in a live setting. This is true for my group of 4 years as well as a group of brand new players I play with on Monday nights for only a few months.

    Can’t Get Enough DM Roundtable BTW Cheers

  • Yes – good point. In my online games there is lots of chatter/banter in the chat window as well – I did not note that in my post. This is an easy thing for some players to miss, too, especially if they are using a chat window in a VT and on skype (or other voice program) since two text chat windows is a bit tough to keep up with along with voice chat. But still, you are correct, thanks for pointing that out!

  • […] Reasons and Resources for Playing D&D Online: Amazing list by DM Samuel of online tools and links to programs that can be played online.  Wow! […]

  • […] at RPG Musings, DM Samuel put together a great list of reasons and resources for playing pen and paper RPGs online that’s terrific. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for a while using Google+ […]

  • Here is another great site that has a lot of How-To type videos for making props for your games. It’s not focused on online things, but is still very useful!


  • Excellent resource! Thanks for listing these.

    And I’m with anaxtogrind… I can’t get enough DMRT


  • I’d be amiss if I didn’t pimp my Play-by-Post website, d6d20.com

    We’ve been around for a number of years, it’s a small community but we always welcome new gamers.

  • Please add Find Gamers to your resource list. We’re a player finder site that also has a group finder and user driven convention listing. You can find gamers nearby by using your postal code either in the USA, Canada or Great Britain.

  • Done – it is near the top of the RPG online tools page.