How to Play Dungeons and Dragons Online

I could also call this post, “How to play D&D in your Pyjamas and Get Away With It.”

There are lots of ways to play Dungeons and Dragons (or other table top role playing games) online. With Roll 20, or Fantasy Grounds, or many of the other dedicated services out there. (If you have a favourite, please leave a comment!)

For me, I wanted to keep the game going that we’ve been playing weekly for the past two years. This is our final stretch for this campaign–the lead up to fighting the Big Boss. They’ve encountered her before, once, and it was the first time the party had no choice but to retreat. Since then, they’ve been chasing her tail trying to figure out how to bring an end to her absolute rule.

This game has been a combo of homebrew, Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. A war between the vampires and the Illithids–started in the early days of the campaign when the party found a machine that opened a portal to four dimensions and neglected to shut it off. This allowed both Illithids and vampires from their worlds to travel inter-dimensionally. Did I mention two of the characters are Time Lords?

Like many others practising social distancing, my goal was to get the game up and running as quickly as possible and to have it feel as normal as possible. In these times, a little normalcy is comforting.

What I needed:

(1) A way to show the battle map. I play D&D a little like chess, with 3D printed minis that represent the party and terrain pieces to immerse the characters into the plot.

(2) A way of handling my notes quickly and efficiently. I normally use my laptop, but for reasons I’ll explain below that wasn’t possible for my plan to work.

(3) Get the players (and me!) online in a way that we couldn’t talk over one another, and the connection would be stable and clear.

The resources I had open to me (where there are alternatives, I’ll mention in the longer explanation):

–my 2012 MacBook Pro
–A Raspberry Pi connected to my TV (normally used as a retro game console) running Raspbian
–an iPad mini and iPhone
–all the old-school D&D necessities, such as a battle map, minis, books, notes, dice, etc.

Longer Explanation:

(1) I chose Zoom as my “conference” tool to bring the players and myself to the “table.” It’s more stable than Skype, and is built for many voices to be present on it. I signed up for a basic account for $20 so we could play longer than 40 minutes.

–ALTERNATIVE: Skype, which is free, would probably still work.

The MacBook became my “host” computer that I signed into on Zoom. I started the meeting, and pointed the camera at the battle map. This was handy, as I could move the camera as needed, and point it anywhere necessary.

The battle map I used is actually two large pieces of laminated grid paper. This is my usual battle map, and works great with dry erase markers. (I also have one that’s three large laminated grid papers.)

I chose to sprawl this on the floor, so that the MacBook would have plenty of room to be placed around the map.

(2) For those of you unfamiliar with Raspberry Pis, these are tiny computers the size of a credit card. They can be programmed with Linux operating systems (to run applications such as Libre Office (an open source program comparable to Microsoft Word) or to surf the Web), or with operating systems such as Lakka to create retro game systems. Mine is dual programmed for Raspbian (Linux for Raspberry Pi) and Lakka.

I loaded all my notes with Libre Office and had them on the screen. (The example here is just an example. Not my notes, so as not to give away anything to my players who may read this.)

ALTERNATIVE: Obviously, paper notes. I had them as well, sprawled over the floor.

(3) My iPad mini also connected to Zoom was my way of connecting to the players. To avoid feedback, I made sure that the audio was off on my MacBook (it was only displaying video of the battle map anyway). Players could pin the MacBook display to their screen so they could see the game play, but for me I could see who was speaking as their photo displayed on my iPad each time they spoke.

ALTERNATIVE: You could use a smartphone instead. I chose to keep my iPhone free to look up any rules on Roll 20 that we needed clarified quickly. (What can’t be clarified quickly, I make a ruling on and we look it up later. My players are great at trusting my judgment.)

The game play started out feeling a little weird. I eventually realized I needed something comfy to sit on (I found a stool), but after an hour or so it just seemed to flow naturally. It wasn’t better than having everyone here, but it sure was a close second best.

After several days of solitude previous to the game, I found playing this way with my group was just healing and what I needed. Turns out, it was the same for them, too. We’re in weird, unprecedented times right now. Having something like this keeping our lives feeling somewhat normal is good.

Happy TTRPing, all.


Designing D&D Characters

I wanted to give 3D sculpting a try, so I found an open source program called Sculptgl. It has both a browser based app and a stand-alone app.

I found the app easy to learn and fun to use. My first project was a beholder from Dungeons and Dragons, which I then printed in black on an Ultimaker 2plus. After, I primed it in white, splashed it with shade, and then painted it.

I think it turned out great!

Free Three Spartans .STL Files

One of the fun things about promoting a book is finding fun and interesting ways to spread the word. For the last few years, I’ve been pretty involved in 3D printing at work (Richmond Public Library) and so I took those new skills and created some .stl files you can have in advance of the book release.

The Three Spartans is my first middle grade novel, and is a parody of the battle at Thermopylae. This was an epic battle of 300 Spartans against 10 thousand Persians under the rule of Xerxes during the summer of 480 BCE.

In the Three Spartans, we see Art, Lea and George gather up a small resistance to battle Zeke and his Immortals. It’s a story of overcoming incredible odds, and inspiring those around you to do the same.

This is a 3D rendering of a spartan warrior I designed using the beta version of Desktop Hero 3D. I’ve been using version 1 of this program (which is publicly available) to make Dungeons and Dragons characters, and have run library programs teaching teens to write character backgrounds.

So, when I was looking at a cool giveaway, I approached Andrew at Desktop Hero and asked if I could create an .stl for a free download. He agreed, and using V2 I made the above Spartan and a rendering of Art Demus, narrator of the Three Spartans, as seen below.

Andrew was great. He’s redeveloping Desktop Hero 3D into V2, and it’s amazing. I’ve used Hero Forge from time to time to create a character, but this new Desktop Hero 3D (it releases in December) will be my only source for creating figures.

The interface is easy to use and the files (they export in .obj) print nice and clean. I printed mine on a Makerbot Desktop Replicator, with .2 layer height, 100% infill, 2 shells, a raft and supports. (Examples to come in later blog posts.) You can download the files below and give them a try.

Workshops at the surrey public library

This past spring break, I had the opportunity to do six workshops for the Surrey Public Library system. Working with this library as an author is always a huge pleasure, as the librarians and library techs work so hard to make their programs a success. Plus, they are incredibly knowledgeable and interesting to chat with.

My first stop was Ocean Park Library, and a handful of teens all prepared to write showed up to learn how to come up with story ideas by making their own maps.

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I showed them all sorts of maps, including the 3D printed map I use in my Dungeons and Dragons game.

Second, I went to the Semiahmoo branch and met with a handful of teens ready to pen their own tales.

Next, I was at Strawberry Hill where I was met by Orlando Bloom (in a photo) and we each did our thing to encourage teens to read and write.

Him, holding a book so tightly as if to say “You can never have this book,” obviously to make you want it even more since you can’t have it. Me, teaching the one teen who woke at 11am during spring break to come learn how to create stories with maps and cartography.

Before going to the Cloverdale Library, I stopped in at the Rustic Rooster for some food.

And I took a selfie by the dinosaur outside the museum next door!

And then I went to work, talking story writing with the creative writing club. Librarian Carmen, who runs the club, came on her day off to participate in the workshop. Thanks, Carmen!

My penultimate stop was at the City Centre library, where we chatted about how Dungeons and Dragons inspires writing. We also wrote some stories, and drew some maps. One of the teens expressed disappointment that there wasn’t enough time to actually play a game of D&D!

City Centre Library in Surrey has one of my favourite library cafes!

My final stop was at the Guildford branch, where I taught the teens how to create multi-ended stories as a computer game using a program called Inkle. They picked it up fast and wrote some interesting tales!

Big Thanks!

Again, a big thanks goes out to the Surrey Public Library for hosting my workshops. All of you at the library who were so kind to me were absolutely amazing, and you do an incredible service to your community. Keep up the amazing work!

Dungeons and Dragons 3D Printed

Since July 2018, I’ve been running a Dungeons and Dragons game at my library. As a Digital Services tech, I’ve been trying to add digital content to the game wherever possible to make the game run smoother or to feel more immersive.

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A few weeks ago, I decided to 3D print a set of medieval and viking houses to create a village where the players were heading. At the moment, the players had found themselves in an alternate dimension where the world was engulfed with water and there was very few spots of land left. They’d just battled a creature known as the Yuan-ti, which are serpents that were once humans and now believe that they have a right to rule unchallenged.

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My players had mentioned to me that they wanted more of their character’s backstories to play a role in the game. So, as you can see from the grid paper and 3D printed items above, I began to put together a recreation of a town from one of the player’s backstories.

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Such as the medieval cottage and the viking huts. (At the library, we have Makerbot Replicator 2s and print with PLA.) The files for the buildings I found on Thingiverse, and the characters I had 3D printed were from Shapeways and Heroforge.

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This was the map when it was nearly complete. The town of Dellam is a piece of land that is slowly being swallowed by the rising oceans. Varis, an elfin ranger, brought the party here from the mountain where the Yuan-ti battle had happened.

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Of course, as what often happens, the characters decided to chase down a ship the Yuan-ti were using to escape. At this point the players had not seen the 3D printed map just yet.

So, there I was, drawing out an impromptu grid-map of two ships–one manned by the Yuan-ti and the other steered by NPC Varis and the players. They did manage to chase it down, wage a battle, and defeat the enemy. (Eventually their pyro-sorcerer unleashed a series of fireballs that sunk the enemy.)

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And that’s when they sailed into port, to the 3D printed village of Dellam. A mostly swamp terrain that is slowly sinking into the ocean.

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And what now? What comes next? The players enjoyed the ocean battle so much that they are now talking about commandeering their own ship. So, as you can see, I am 3D printing them one.

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And will sign off this post with a carton from the 80s:

Workshops at Surrey Public Library

Spring break is just around the corner, and if you’re a teen looking for something to do the Surrey Public Library will be hosting my workshops!

Registration begins February 25!

You can find the list of workshops here.

Story-mapping

Ocean Park, Mar. 22, 1-2:15

Semiahmoo, Mar. 22, 3:15-4:30

Cloverdale, Mar. 23, 2:30-3:45pm

Strawberry Hill, Mar. 23, time TBD

Do you sometimes get stuck while writing a story? This workshop will unleash your creativity so you can say goodbye to Writer’s Block through the design of maps–whether you write fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary, or romance.

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City Centre

Storytelling with Dungeons & Dragons, 12-1:15pm, Fri. Mar. 29th

Many of the best-known authors these days got their storytelling start through a game called Dungeons and Dragons. Learn how this storytelling game can unleash your creativity through character design, plot elements, map-making, and collaboration.

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Guildford

Writing with Inky, Fri. Mar. 29th, 2:15-3:30

Do you enjoy those books that have multiple endings? Would you like to know how to create one of those stories into a text-based video game? This workshop will show you a different style of writing that will have you writing your very own games for you and friends to play!

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Author Event at the Richmond Public Library

For you local folks, I’ll be doing an author event at the Richmond Public Library on October 3, from 4-5:00PM. Topic: Writing Dungeons and Dragons-style.
If you have the time, it would be great to see you there. Please consider registering!

You’ll have a chance to try out some of the techniques I use for crafting a story. And here are a few of the things I’ll be discussing:

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