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.


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.

8b664-hpim1034

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.

IMG_1048

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!

68990-___i___12

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:

IMG_1048

IMG_1749

IMG_1746

IMG_1743

IMG_1728

IMG_1733

IMG_1742

IMG_1710

Writing Workshop Coming to the Surry Public Library!

The Surrey Public Library has a young adult writing contest going on, and some really great writing workshops coming this summer!

You can find out about all the workshops at this link, and there’s a poster for mine below.

 

James McCann Poster

 

SD 43’s Annual MACC Writers Conference

When Cheryl A. of SD 43 asks you to participate in the annual MACC Writer’s conference for grades 6/7, the only response is to say yes and then figure out how to free your schedule. This year’s all-day event had around 300 students, and 11 authors teaching them the craft.

IMG_0141

From left to right: (top) Lee Edward Fodi, Sean O’Reilly, Richard Dal Monte, CC Humphreys, kc dyer, and Rob Taylor. (bottom) Pia Guerra, Denise Jaden, Me, Tiffany Stone, and Tanya Lloyd Kai.

I talked about one of my favourite subjects–Dungeons and Dragons. As a collaborative storytelling game, it really is the perfect training ground for young writers.

IMG_0137

But not all was school and writing and conference. I also stopped into a cafe along the way called, Coffee+Vanilla. If you’re in the Coquitlam/Maillardville area, this is a pretty sweet spot with very good coffee!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dungeons and Dragons and Creative Writing

Over the next few months, I’ll be running workshops that connect Dungeons and Dragons to writing creatively.

Writing Your Story Dungeons and Dragons-style

Whether you write contemporary tales or fantasy epics, the popular game of Dungeons and Dragons can make you a better writer. See how modern writers have been influenced through creating characters, maps, and collaborative storytelling to work through tough plot points!

At the end of this workshop, you’ll have the tools to say goodbye to writer’s block forever and get that novel written and polished.

What does that mean, exactly?

When I was 14 years old, I ran a weekly D&D game with my friends and had to come up with stories–sometimes on the fly. The purpose of D&D is that you have a storyteller, known as the Dungeon Master, who narrates the story to the players. This includes the setting, plot, and non-essential characters. The players are the ones who tell the Dungeon Master what the essential characters do–and as any writer knows, your characters can often screw up your intentions for the plot.

So now, many years later, I have been playing D&D 5th edition as a player and messing up the well-thought out plot my Dungeon Master has created. For the last month, I have been running my own game at the library as storyteller for a group of teens who continuously challenge me as a writer. There has not been a game where the teens haven’t forced me to rewrite the story and to accept the path the characters (whom they play) want to take.

20180227_190153

The teen D&D game uses apps.

20180227_211030

We also use 3D printed characters!

How does this translate into writing?

To create a story as a Dungeon Master, I had to write and create the following things:

(1) A map of the world where the story takes place.
(2) Maps of all the towns the characters may visit.
(3) Histories of the world and of the towns. Plus, of the spaces the characters may travel between towns.
(4) A plot that would get the characters (acted out by the players) to want to go from Point A to Point Z.
(5) Sub-plots that those characters would experience along the way. (Points B to Y.)
(6) Non-essential characters (played out by me) that would challenge the players. Some are friends, some are foes. Some who are friends, turn out to be foes. Some who are thought to be foes, turn out to be friends (the players had quite a bad turn here when they thought they were rescuing a farmer’s daughter from cultists, only to discover they were freeing an evil werewolf’s daughter from a group of warriors and wizards who could have saved her. Notice the past tense there…)
(7) Constant writing and rewriting of the plot week-to-week, and sometimes during the game, when other ideas surface either through the players or through my own ideas.

20180206_185210

The adults also play D&D at my library!

Those seven steps are essentially what it takes to write a book. And I’ve used this technique to write several books of urban fantasy, apocalypse, and contemporary tales.

IMG_5517

Last of these covers for Rancour and One-Eyed King!

I’ve taught workshops before where we played D&D to inspire our stories. I even created my own “Apocalypse Survival” role-playing game for classrooms, which I did for a few years while the apocalypse still seemed like a far-fetched idea.

How about you? Do you use Dungeons and Dragons (or other role-playing games) to inspire your writing? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 in Review

2017 had a pretty rough start for me, but it finished extremely strong. When I look back on the year I feel pretty happy about the accomplishments I have made. I’m almost done my lib tech course, I began learning the ukulele, adopted a dog, took some road trips, wrote a new book, started submitting my work to publishers, and I met a really amazing woman.

Here’s a list of my top 12 events. Some have links to longer blog posts or to other sites of interest.

  1. Manresa Castle in Port Townsend.

That time I spent a night in a haunted hotel, and woke up the next day with the entire town dressed in steampunk costumes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

2. Grinfinn the Pekingese.

That time I met a dog, and he chose me to be his caretaker.

20170616_132356

3. Friday Harbor, WA

That time I took a ferry to a town in the San Juan Islands, and met a couple at a cafe who turned out to be a good friend’s uncle and aunt.

48

4. Leavenworth, WA

That time I went camping in a town that does Christmas all year long.

20170620_175725

5. The Steampunk Festival in Belligham, WA

That time I went to a steampunk festival and wished that I was in a costume.

20170722_122748

6. Coupeville, WA

That time I discovered the beauty of just sitting by the ocean with a cup of coffee, a dog at my feet, and a notebook on my lap.

20170728_140148

7. Arlington, WA

I wound up here by accident after taking a wrong turn. Then, after a second wrong turn, wound up finding the BEST homemade ice cream place I’ve ever discovered.

20170825_13321520170825_133154

8. First book signing since Flying Feet!

That time Denise Jaden and Eileen Cook asked me to be a part of their summer signing.

YASummer

9. Digital Services Tech at Richmond Public Library.

That time a part of my job was to create a digitization station for digitizing VHS, LPs, and cassettes. (It now does SO MUCH MORE!)

20170721_134917

10. Chosen to be a part of the literacy quilt.

The quilt was 50 feet from my station, and it still took me weeks and weeks to notice I was on it. In fact, it was a patron who asked, “Are you the James McCann that’s on the literacy quilt?” And then when the quilt travelled to another library, I got an email from a coworker who realized I was the author of one of her favourite books as a teen.

20170720_130742

20170720_130752

11. Family came to visit.

My sister and mom came in July, and my nephew came in September. We took many road trips together and had an absolute blast.

DSC05470

My sister, Grinfinn, and I in Horseshoe Bay on our way to Whistler.

Hell’s Gate was one of the many trips my nephew and I took.

20170906_151726

My nephew, Justin, in Hell’s Gate, BC

12. Had a Nice Surprise

If you follow my Instagram, you may have noticed I’ve been spending a lot of time with a special someone, Jessica. Here we are writing at the Penny, a really cool cafe in Mission. You can read Jessica’s work on Wattpad.

JessieJames

 

And, I started learning the ukulele (as in actual lessons). I (almost always) end my blog posts with a song that fits the moment–so, here’s me playing the ukulele on week four.