Here's how to play Dungeons and Dragons while physical distancing

Apr 7 2020, 10:36 pm

You’re stuck at home, bored, and craving some social contact, but this whole COVID-19 pandemic has shut down basically everything.

And while healthy people with no recent history of international travel can still technically be out and about for a walk, a lot of people are finding it safer to just stay home whenever they can — which isn’t exactly the most exciting of prospects.

Failing being self-isolated with a group of roommates or the family, a lot of people will be looking for ways to pass the time and get some social contact beyond a phone call or a text thread.

Enter online Dungeons and Dragons.

Okay, okay, we get it, D&D might not seem like the trendiest thing to do with your time, but hear us out here. The communal role-playing game is an amazing way to watch four to five hours zoom by, while hanging out with your friends or some other like-minded strangers — and all from the comfort of your own home.

Most people think of D&D and picture a dining room table surrounded by people and covered with miniatures, and while in-person sessions are fun, there is an entire world of online D&D just waiting to be explored.

Here’s how to go about playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons while still physical distancing:

What you’ll need:

  • A laptop or desktop
  • A microphone (the one on your headphones or built into your laptop will work just fine)
  • A webcam (potentially optional)
  • An imagination
  • A few hours
  • The rules (can be found online for free here)

What you need to do

Find a group and a Dungeon Master

D&D groups can be as large as upwards of eight to 10 and as small as just two people — what’s really important is having a Dungeon Master, because they’re the person who creates the world (or presents an already created world to the players), voices and controls the non-player characters, and calls on players to make rolls for ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls.

The subreddit r/lfg (Looking For Group) is a great place to find yourself a party of like-minded adventurers, though if you’re hoping to be a player, you’ll have to be quick on the comment to jump in on a one-shot or a new campaign.

DMs who are hoping to get a group together will have a much easier time, as they tend to be in low supply.

You could also ask around your friends to see if anyone has experience playing D&D (you might be surprised) or would like to join you to try it out.

Figure out what platform you’ll be playing on

D&D is extremely versatile and well-suited for remote play because it can be played either through “Theatre of the Mind” or on a digital gameboard.

Theatre of the Mind refers to everything being played out in the group’s collective imaginations. Your DM will lay out the scene, and it is up to the players to picture themselves there and act accordingly.

Most D&D games incorporate a mix of Theatre of the Mind for roleplay-heavy moments, and then bring out a tabletop or digital gameboard when combat starts.

The rules for movement, actions, and attacks are a lot crunchier when it comes to combat, so a gameboard makes it easier to visualize exactly how many enemies will be hit by an area of effect spell, or just how far away that dangling escape rope is from your bloodied character.

Theatre of the Mind makes things technically easier for playing remotely (as all you need is a voice and/or video connection, such as Zoom, Skype, or Discord), though it requires a certain amount of trust and communication between players and their DM.

Those hoping to bring combat (or other encounters) onto a digital gameboard can do so by using software like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds.

Establish a line of communication

So you’ve found a party and figured out how to video chat during the game, great! But what happens when you want to get another game going with the same people?

Many players will know that the hardest thing about playing D&D isn’t battling Beholders or choosing what spells to prepare, it’s actually scheduling the next session properly at a time that works for everyone.

Establishing a consistent, easy way of communicating between all players and the DM will work wonders for both figuring out when you’ll all be free to play next, and dealing with any player issues that may come up as the adventure moves along.

This is as simple as creating a group thread on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or iMessage, or could be as complex as setting up a Discord server specifically for your new campaign.

Bits and pieces

The only two things that are critical for a player to have during a D&D session are a set of dice and a character sheet — but do not worry if you don’t have either of those, because the internet is a beautiful place.

You can either order blank character sheets online from Amazon or your preferred supplier, print them out at home, or even create them right there on your computer, without bothering to have a physical copy.

The same deal goes for dice — you can either order a physical set or find yourself a virtual dice roller online. If you are using either of the digital gameboard software listed above, you’ll have that resource built right in.

Though some of us definitely prefer the feel of rolling physical dice — but to each their own.

Related content

Dungeons and Dragons, or any other RPG, can seem like an intimidating hobby to get into, and while the rulebook is technically 316 pages thick, all you really need to know are the basics.

Any DM or experienced player worth their salt will be able to patiently walk a new player through the ins and outs of roleplay and combat with relative ease, and no one will ever expect someone new to the game to know exactly what they’re doing off right off the bat.

Just like the characters you’ll create and play, you’ll be gaining experience and learning new skills along the way through trial and (oftentimes hilarious) error.

But if you’re still not ready to try your hand at it yourself, there is plenty of D&D content out there to give you an idea of how it all works.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

Critical Role

Probably the most popular ongoing D&D content, Critical Role is currently in its second campaign, has an expansive viewing community, and hours upon hours of complimentary content for those who really want to dive in.

DM’d by Matt Mercer and featuring a cast of well-known voice actors, Critical Role episodes can be viewed for free on YouTube and live shows can be found on Twitch.

Not Another D&D Podcast

Created by College Humor alumni Brian Murphy, Emily Axford, Jake Herwitz, and Caldwell Tanner, Not Another D&D Podcast (aka NADDPOD …don’t sing yet…) is equal parts hilarious, ridiculous, and, at times, devastatingly emotional.

The Band of Boobs is currently reaching the end of their first campaign, and, as a podcast-only production, makes for a great example of Theatre of the Mind done oh-so right.

Dimension 20

Another romp into the world of fantasy featuring College Humor staples, Dimension 20 is actually a collection of campaigns all helmed by Brennan Lee Mulligan and available through Dropout. Whether you’re interested in the hilarious teen angst of Fantasy High or the dark mysteries of The Unsleeping City, you will not be disappointed by the top-notch production value and storylines found in these campaigns.

Many episodes are available on YouTube, though some are locked behind Dropout’s paywall (which offers a seven-day free trial).

The Adventure Zone

The McElroy family gather in a hilariously scattered campaign now in it’s sixth year. Join brothers Justin, Travis, and father Clint, as Griffin DM’s the troupe through comedic adventures that are guaranteed to have you in stitches.

Another podcast-only campaign, The Adventure Zone can be streamed for free at their website or an RSS podcast app of your choice.


HarmonQuest is a television show created by, as its name suggests, Dan Harmon. The show finds Harmon alongside comedians Erin McGathy and Jeff B. Davies on a D&D-like roleplaying adventure run by Game Master Spencer Crittenden.

The game is played in front of a live audience and the actions the characters take are drawn into animation for those watching at home. Each episode also features a guest player, with names like Aubrey Plaza, Thomas Middleditch, Gillian Jacobs, and Elizabeth Olsen being seen at the table.

Three seasons of the show are currently available through the VRV streaming service.

With files from Wyatt Fossett

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