Playing D&D... With your computer?!

Author: Andrew /

Yes, folks, you heard it right. It's a new age and yep, you can even play D&D via your computer. Now, I'm not talkin' D&D Online: Stormreach, the MMO. I mean doing good ole' Pen-n-Papering right over your very own inter-web-nets!

Some people have asked me recently what I mean when I talk about playing D&D online and I thought "You know what? That might be good to explain!" So I shall. So gather 'round and you shall hear the tale of... well... how to play D&D online.

Essentially, the main thing you need is (aside from a computer itself) an online game table. Some of these are free, others you pay for (usually a one time fee but that fee can be anywhere from possibly $15 - $40+). Most of these will include at least these three things (most of the rest is bonus stuff):

Digital White Board: This is a sub-window within' the program that usually consists of a scaleable grid that can be drawn on. Most programs have a "snap-to-grid" feature where you can have lines snap to the grid to be straight and whatnot.

Dice Macros: These are handy-dandy buttons that roll for you. There are some programs that have pre-made macros like the d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20 (Open RPG has these). These little buttons generate a number that pops up in the chat. So, basically, you click the d20 button and it generates a random number 1-20, like a dice (although sometimes you can just swear that the computer's gimping your rolls but I think that's just gamer superstition coming through. lol) Just about all the gametables I've heard of also allow you to make your own macros through an easy to use little window where you just fill in the name of the macro in one blank and the other with what dice command you want (ex: 2d4 + 6). This will do a whole roll for you and add the numbers up accordingly. Some will even spit out what the actual numbers were (ex: 1+3+6 = 10)

Chat Utility: This is probably the most important thing because without talking of some kind, you've got no D&D. This will simply allow you a group-chat window so you can all talk to each other. Most game tables give the option to create a name to use (I'd always pick my character name) and the DM can label themselves DM. Some gametables also have the capability to private-message the DM and have messages sent privately from the DM to you. This simulates passing covered notes, such as when your character learns of something that the characters around them may not know.

If you have those things, you can play. Anything else is just nice extra features.

The two I recommend are either Gametable 2.0 OR OpenRPG. These both contain the above three features in at least some degree. I like them both for different reasons.

Gametable 2.0 (Link:

Gametable is neat. It's a sweet little *barely* no frills package that's free and easy to use. The Dice Macros are cake to use; the really easy little "fill in the blank" window allows you to create a whole litany of buttons. (I have about 16 for my lvl 3 Goliath Fighter. One for every move he can do as well as skills he uses frequently, etc). The Chat is limited. This is the one feature that I am not pleased with but note that they (on the website) said that it's being worked on. The things it lacks is, firstly, Chat selection. You can't highlight any of the text, therefore making it pretty much impossible to log your sessions, which may put a kink into some of you who like the nostalgia of looking back on games. The best you can do is create character journals to record the sessions the best you remember them. They also are lacking Word Wrap. This is a minor nuissance but it just means scrolling to the right with the scroll bar. It's not that bad but scrolling down and only down would have been nicer. Lastly, there's the whiteboard. This, I think, is pretty well done. You can erase sections, you can import little "pogs" (little pictures to represent characters) as .png files. If you're photoshop savvy, this is fun and easy. You can even take Character Builder files, pull them into photoshop, trick them out a bit, put a nice border on them and then just save the file as a .png file in the folder for the game table. This is a very friendly whiteboard with marquee-style erasing too. To use this program, you need to use a Virtual LAN (Local Area Network) program such as Hamachi. One person on the VLAN can open gametable, go up to the network button, select "Host", create the game name, password if needed, etc (just a few little blanks) and bam, it's hosted. The others can open the program, aslo go up to network and select "Join". They just put in the info for the "room" that the host has set up and they log in. Nice and easy and, most importantly, FREE!

OpenRPG (Link:

OpenRPG is a little bigger. Amongst the online gametables, it's probably the biggest, or close, next to MapTools, and some other bigger tables that you have to pay for. The whiteboard for OpenRPG is really a pain to use. Drawing on it is easy enough but the pain comes when you want to erase. You must select each little thing drawn, right click it, and select delete. Imagine if you accidentally drew 50 separate lines.... Yeah, not fun. This, I feel, is OpenRPG's worst feature (which isn't a terrible thing if you don't use the whiteboard.) Second, the macros are easy. Namely, it comes with the default buttons (d4-20 as well as a d100 button) all right there waiting to be clicked. These are nice. As far as I could tell, a macro making utility wasn't there or, if it was, I missed it. That said, to roll, you can simply type "/roll 2d4 + 6" (without the quotes of course) and it would roll and report out the same way Gametable 2.0 does. Finally, the chat utility is great. I really like theirs. You can select text, you have word wrap, it's essentially as good as any instant messenger. (I'm not sure if it allows you bold and italic text but that's not a big deal). It also offers tabs so you can private message the DM and possibly other players, if the need should arise. Running a game with this is a little different because OpenRPG runs off servers. You start a server with your game name on it and you can set passwords and whatnot. Players then open up OpenRPG and browse the hosts and find the one they're looking for in the list. They then select it, hit "Join", put in any passwords needed and you're good to go.


ALRIGHT! After all that, you've probably got ideas rolling around in your head. This does open up options. There are other gametables, some REALLY elaborate ones with some incredible graphics, some come with really nice maps or map building tools, some are really complex, etc. Most of these cost a nice chunk of change. I remember seeing one that, for the DM license (the player license was cheaper) it was about $80 or so. Not cheap. Others tend to run between $15-$40.

This, in the end, breaks the "I've got no one to play with!" argument because, so long as you know some people somewhere who'd be willing to play, all you do is call 'em up, all download the same gametable, get whatever books you need at your desk and start playin'. It's not as good as being around the table for sure, but it certainly beats not playin' at all.

I hope this enlightened you guys and that you now have a new avenue to getting your game on! Thanks again to all you readers; the site just keeps growing! Keep talking to people and get the word out. Hope to have a new post up soon. Until then, check out Take-Talk and see if there's anyone on there to chat with! You can find me under there as, what else, "The D&D Take". Until next time, may all your rolls be 20's!



Magus Stragus said...

Ok, so, when do we play?

Now seriously, I think this is one of the best posts of the site. Why? Because it opens endless possibilities to those who, as you said, say "I've got no one to play with!".

Great post, Andrew.

Andrew said...

Thanks! It's certainly a subject that can open doors.

silent stone said...

I've been using Maptool for my battlemap, but it's designed to be an online game table (OGT). It's free, but it's hard to figure out how to use, because they apparently don't like documenting features (there are some videos on their site walking through basic use of the program, but they didn't help me much).

Adam said...

yeah let me know when gametime is, who's DM? 1..2..3...NOT IT!

also what do you think about the use of music in a game session as a topic?

Andrew said...

NOT IT! lolz (I just wanna give Silent a chance to DM because he seems to want to see some good player RP and I'm anxious to to that lol). I think that's a topic I'm gonna write down and do. Good thinkin'. Thanks =]

thanous said...

openrpg wont work on my windows 7 computer it wont let me open it it sais there is nothing that can open .py files so if u know anything that can open .py files could u please tell me thank u :)

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