• Courtney Barkley

How To Incorporate Technology Into Your Next D&D Session

Dungeons and Dragons is experiencing a resurgence of popularity in recent years, and there's a lot of theories as to why that is. Indeed, the prevalence of real-play streamed games has something to do with it, being a low-level entry point for those who may have been vaguely interested but weren't sure how to get involved. The rise in popularity of science fiction and fantasy, in general, may also have contributed, as Dungeons and Dragons certainly helps fill that niche.

One of the prevailing theories about D&D's sudden spike in players is that people simply enjoy the opportunity to unplug. Instead of scrolling through social media or playing on a game console, you can have some face-to-face time with friends as you immerse yourself in imagination. However, being unplugged from social media doesn't mean you have to disconnect altogether! Below are some of the ways you can use technology to elevate your D&D game.

Create Soundscapes

Every Dungeon Master (we call them Quest Masters) enjoys creating a mental picture of the characters' surroundings for their players. We can describe what the player characters are seeing, hearing, touching, and even tasting. But why not take that one step further?

One way to help encourage immersion into the game is by indulging all the players' senses at once. Instead of describing what they hear, why not just let them hear it? One great resource for this is Tabletop Audio, a site that pairs music with ambient sounds like wind, rain, or a crowded city square to help you create the atmosphere you're looking to achieve.

If you want to keep it even simpler and just use music, that can work as well! Music is a great way to help increase the level of excitement, suspense, or any other emotion you might be going for. To make sure I can always find something tone-appropriate quickly, I keep playlists available that are labeled by the tone or setting I need: 'suspenseful,' 'fighting,' 'running,' and 'melancholy' are just a few that have been helpful in the past.

Play From a Distance

We all know the joke -- a gaming group is trying to figure out when they can play next, and no one's schedule syncs up. It sucks and often leads to long wait times between games. It can even cause game groups to drift apart.

Part of the problem is that, up until very recently, we've been restricted to playing with people who are geographically close to us. You had to find others in your town who were not only interested in the same type of game you were but also have schedules similar enough to yours that you can squeeze a game in every now and then. It's not easy, to say the least.

Thankfully, the internet has made it easier. With the use of platforms like Roll20, Skype, and Discord, you can play with people from around the globe in an instant. Whether that means you have an entire game that's only played online or just that you're able to hook your cleric up to a video chat when they're on a family vacation during a vital session, this kind of flexibility can help make your ongoing campaigns more manageable.

Take (and Share) Notes

If your D&D campaign is more than a few sessions long, chances are pretty good that someone at the table is taking notes to help keep track of all the loot, NPCs, and shenanigans that might be important later. While you as the Quest Master have your own notes that will likely never see the light of day, making sure your players can remember things they've done makes your job feel less tedious.

Once again, the internet is here to help. Using services like Google Drive, your players can share and compare notes after each session. If they have one of those coveted Bags of Holding, they can even have a document solely for its contents that updates in real time for each of them as it is edited. My players also use shared documents like these to do some between-session role-playing for discussions their characters would have while traveling.

You can use sharing services like this as well! Have a map of a city that doesn't need to be drawn entirely out on the tabletop map, but would be helpful for your players to see? Just upload it to the shared folder, and everyone can access it instantly on their phone, tablet, or laptop.

Make Dynamic Maps

I mentioned Roll20 up above as an excellent resource for finding online gaming groups, but it can also be an incredibly helpful tool to use for in-person gaming groups as well. As Quest Master, you've probably drawn out way too many maps by hand. Most of us have wet-erase markers scattered all around the house (and some of us have learned the hard way to keep the permanent markers in a separate area… whoops!), and if you've been playing a while, you might have even leveled up to having props like benches, barrels, and fire to put on the map.

All that stuff takes up a lot of room, though. Why not do it digitally?

Roll20 has a fantastic map interface. While it does require a short period to figure out how to get the best use out of the resource, you can create a vast range of maps, manipulate a fog of war to control what your players can see, and even use special effects like fireballs when players cast spells. To use it in person, hook a laptop up to a larger screen, like a television, and your entire party will be able to see it easily.

The fact that this means you can play while lounging on a couch instead of sitting for hours in kitchen chairs is a nice bonus!

Think Outside the Grid

It's simple to relegate Dungeons and Dragon to the analog world -- after all, the game has long been known as a "pencil and paper" game. But we've made great strides in technology in the four decades we've had this great game, so why not make the best use of that?

How do you use technology in your tabletop gaming? Share your tips and tricks below!

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