DMing 101 – Running Games Online


Ok, here is where I admit I needed some help, so a big thanks to my DM Eddie who has far more experience than I running tabletop games online.

Tim talked about Roll20 last week as a continuation to his previous article, have a read to get an idea of what features are available and how you can build some great scenarios, get a group together and run your campaign with friends wherever they are, for today though I will be going into how the differences affect your style of play, how you create and run your games.


It can sometimes be difficult engaging people when there’s such a distance between you, and the perceived barriers in online communication change the way we behave. This can have its’ downsides, but also some great benefits. Online platforms manage to recreate a lot of the facilities we use at home, handouts, music, and of course video and voice chat to bring everyone closer together, but the experience is different nonetheless.


Everyone in the group should have a fairly solid grasp of the software to make the most out of it, and of course to minimize distractions. Once everyone knows what they’re doing, gameplay can actually be made much simpler, character sheets and complex elements of combat can be converted to automatic reminders and macros to make life a little faster, a little easier, and a little less maths dependent.

Though some of the social elements of the game are lost, like the sharing of snacks at the table or the face-to-face interaction, this can actually be a boon to the game itself. People at the table have a tendency to separate themselves into smaller groups – especially if the table is full – which means a lot of information is lost. With everyone communicating via microphone or text, everyone remains focussed, and a lot more can be done in a shorter period of time.

Plus it helps that no one can leave their dice at home or lose their character sheet.

Creating Scenes

Good news! You needn’t learn to photoshop!

You still can, and indeed probably should, it’s a very useful skill to develop and has a great range of applications, but there are a lot of options available to you. For map building there are a lot of people creating free material for DMs that they make available for free download.

Space Tiles Contact Sheet

With a folder full of map tiles, tokens and texture packs you’d actually be surprised at the range you suddenly have available to you that you wouldn’t normally have at the table. You can rapidly assemble larger maps that can be revealed in an instant, or gradually uncovered via the “fog of war”, and you can design puzzles with moving parts that may take you hours to create physically.

By using transparency effects on tokens you can create changing environmental features like auras that can grow or vanish, luminous lighting that can be switched on or off, fluids that become opaque as the game progresses. Effects such as these could only really be created by acetate layers that would require inserting underneath miniatures.

It’s also much easier to switch between maps, say between the world and adventure map, or between two different scenes. Without having to draw, assemble or even unfold maps you can save a lot of time, but do be careful of creating your campaign too large! Remember to consider loading times, and maybe make each session into a single campaign so that the initial set-up doesn’t take too long. You can always create the next part as a separate entity.

The Future

This is something that fascinates me. Where does the format go from here?

Tabletop Simulator is a very simple physics engine with a great number of game boards and pieces to choose from, and this includes a set of simple fantasy miniatures and dungeon building terrain. You can draw on the table to create simple annotations (much as you can in Roll20) and create handouts and other features. While this format isn’t so dedicated and lacks many features that make online-play much easier, the miniatures are animated.


Does anyone recall a game called Eye of Judgement? It was a card game from 2007 released for the PS3 created with a view to bringing life to trading cards à la YuGiOh anime series but didn’t really take off. The times however, are changing, and with the rise of virtual reality, motion capture and other major gaming advances we may see some unexpected changes to the traditional gaming scene.

You heard it here first by the way!

What can I do for you?

Is there any advice I can offer as yet not covered by my previous articles? Any specific area where your game could use improvement, anything you’d like to subtly tell your DM he/she is doing wrong but don’t have the heart to say it to their face? Let me know in the comments down below.

And if you’ve enjoyed these articles and played more than a few games of your own, please check out my other site Quotes from the Tabletop, the place to share all your RP stories and unscripted moments.