Online Gaming vs. In Person Gaming

Even before the Covid pandemic hit the US officially in March 2020, I had been planning to shift my gaming routine from the tabletop to virtual online. I had a good gaming group and a great game room for physical play, but I had friends out of town where that wasn’t a viable option, and given the leaps and bounds VTTs had taken over the years, it seemed a no-brainer to engage the new technology. Despite my reluctance to learn a new skill and software. And that was really the main obstacle: I love gaming in person, have done it for decades, and I did NOT want to learn an entirely new suite of abilities in order to facilitate the same thing. Plus, I had a hefty amount of money invested in miniatures and models and maps for use at the table. Moving the operation online would invalidate all of that.

DECEMBER 2019 – Lost Mine of Phandelver

Now, at the time I was running Lost Mine of Phandelver. Well, running it for the second time; the first was at the beginning of 5e, but now I ran it for a new group of players, and it was better the second go around. They had even made it all way to the titular Lost Mine and weren’t too far from meeting the Black Spider when – you know. Pandemic happened and everything shut down. Pretty much permanently. Well, for the next 12+ months anyway. I don’t think any of us really saw that coming and just how long the isolation would last.

Anyhoo, my point of all this is that I had to make a drastic shift from in-person to online games practically overnight. I had a few gamers help me out who had prior experience with Roll20, so that was our go-to system. I even purchased Fantasy Grounds, but for some reason that VTT didn’t click in my mind as well as Roll20 did. I think it works fine for online gaming, and the automation is better than Roll20, but I just couldn’t get past the system’s quirks.

The first small campaign I ran was Forge of Fury from the 5e Tales of the Yawning Portal. This was just supposed to be a practice run and not an in-depth campaign, and at first that’s how it went. And yeah, the first two sessions were rough. I didn’t know how to navigate Roll20, the layers and lighting effects gave me an infernal headache, and I honestly didn’t think I was smart enough to wrap my brain around thing. It was depressing. I had lost access to my favorite hobby! Or rather, I now had a pale imitation of my favorite hobby.

Early first Forge session screenshot

Well, I had a better time the second or third session, but during the interim between games I practiced Roll20 about 4 hours a day. I wanted to run this game seamlessly, and I wanted to record it in such a way as I did my old in person games; snapping shots with a camera to edit and upload. I eventually installed a program called Sharex that allowed me to instantly screen grab whatever I needed with the touch of a button, and that let me tell the stories I wanted to much easier. In fact, once I got used to “covering” a 2D map, it was much easier to snap a screen than it was to take photographs of the physical game board. Of course, the 2D maps don’t have the wonderful 3D physicality of the game table, but they have something the table can’t remotely match: dynamic lighting.

I’ve read on forums that some people don’t care about dynamic lighting, or think it is overrated. To each their own of course. Some people also hate gaming with miniatures, and I think you mofo’s are crazy. Miniatures are awesome (but more about that another post). Dynamic lighting let me do things at the virtual game table I couldn’t replicate in person. I could have shadows and darkvision and realistic torches and lanterns and it could all be done visually and not require the player’s imagination.

Was this easy to accomplish in Roll20? Hell no. It took a lot of practice to work out the kinks, but the end result was very satisfying. I think any of the VTT’s that utilize advanced lighting code will have their own quirks to work through.

Forge of Fury – 60 foot darkvision example

So 2020 ended up with me diving into the deep end of Roll20 online play, subscribing to the Pro account and tinkering with codes and API and all that jazz. I will never understand coding but I admire those of you that do. Roll20 needs an overhaul in my opinion, and I’ve only been using it for over a year. Too much of the cool stuff is hard to access and harder to manipulate. But when it works it works pretty well.

On a side note, I have heard that Foundry is an excellent new VTT and although I have it, I haven’t mucked with the mechanics too much yet. I’m sure that will change.

The point of this post those is the transformation that took place the more I ran online games. I liked them. I REALLY liked them. And the more we played every week – multiple times week after week – my appreciation of the medium grew. Access to maps, tokens and props were all available at a few clicks of the mouse. I used to painstakingly print maps and cut and tape them together, roll them up and transport them to my destination. With online play, that’s all a thing of a past, and now I could indulge in fantastic color maps for mundane encounters with no combat needed whatsoever.

I still love gaming in person, but the perks and convenience of playing online can’t be ignored. I’ve had as much fun from the DM side of the screen as I ever did before. I still play with maps and props and miniatures and sound effects and voices and acting. None of that has changed. We don’t use cameras to see each other (that’s a downside) but the benefits of online play in the modern age are still fantastic.

I don’t think I will be giving it up anytime soon.

Level Up – Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2021

Coming Soon to a Game Store Near YOU!!!

I have to admit I’m somewhat excited about this. As a DM who has run 5th edition D&D since the beginning around 2014, while I do like the game, I feel it has run short of options and could use a new coat of paint. I’ve been slapping new paint on it for a while already, and it works well enough. 5e is simplistic in that adding or modifying rules doesn’t really unbalance it much (if at all) so you can house rule to your devious heart’s desire. But lots of people don’t want to take the time, or players themselves don’t trust someone’s house rules unless there is an official codified book they can turn to for answers and clarification.

Introduce A5e – Level Up.

From Enworld Publishing and Enworld, one of the world’s most popular websites for Dungeons & Dragons the past 20 years, Morrus and his team have been busy crafting Level Up with extensive feedback from gamers and playtesters. When released summer of 2021 it will be fully backwards compatible with original 5e (O5e) so you should be able to have a regular fighter and LU fighter side by side in the same party and not have any trouble.


There are far too many to list in this blog, but refer to the publisher’s page for a full rundown of changes A5e is bringing to the game. A few highlights include:

  • A detailed exploration system that utilizes a new Supply mechanic, so that PC supplies dwindle as they explore the lonely and forgotten moors and roads of their world.
  • Combat Maneuvers – to give martial fighting characters a wide range of options similar to spellcasters.
  • Knacks – which are akin to mini-feats that characters acquire as they level up.
  • Monster Legend & Lore, Signs and Behavior; traits the PCs can notice or learn or observe about a monster prior to meeting it or during an encounter.
  • Exploration Challenges, Boons and Monster Sign

And much more. That’s really just a very brief notation on things that Level Up will be addressing. So, if you are a DM or Player who has wanted your 5e game to be a little more complex, a little more challenging and a little more detailed, A5e might be right up your alley.