Cyanomys’ Guide To Playing RPGs Online v2.1.0
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Introduction

Welcome to the new version of “Comparison of Alternatives to Roll20”!  As of April 12, 2020 I have renamed the document and completely revamped it in response to the new surge in VTT usage due to COVID-19.  In response to great demand I am now including Roll20 in this list.  Also, I’ve moved this from Google Docs to Dropbox Paper, which is better suited to very large documents and allows people to comment without being able to accidentally add suggestions. 

Please share the document with as many people as you can.  I did all this work because I know people need the resources right now and I want to help as many people as I can to continue to play games together during this dark time.

Follow Updates

This is a work in progress, so I will be maintaining a changelog at the end. If you want to be notified of changes, you can  sign up for the email list here, or if you are signed into dropbox, click the three dots menu in the top right, and select “Follow” (though be prepared for the latter method to send you a bunch of emails when I make changes or comments.)

Key

Here’s what all the symbols, ratings, etc mean.

Glossary

If you’re new to this and need help with all the jargon, go here.

Contribution

If you have feedback about any of the information presented here or want to add something, please contact me. If anyone is interested in helping administrate this document, contact me. 

Actually, before you contact me asking for me to add a feature, do a ctrl-F on this document and search for it by name. It might already be on here.

Discord: cyanomys#4686
Reddit: /u/cyanomys
Email: cyanomys@gmail.com
Dropbox Paper Tips
  • Mouse over the lines on the left edge of the screen to browse the table of contents. 
  • You can collapse entire sections by mousing over the section title and clicking the small triangle that appears to the left of it.
  • If you don’t like Dark or Light Mode, click on the question mark in the lower right-hand corner and you can toggle between them.

Quick Start

 
If you want to jump straight to the whole guide, just click the little arrow next to this section’s title to collapse it. 
This is a very lengthy guide, hopefully so that you can compare and contrast your options and make the decision that’s right for your group. However, you may not want to spend the time thinking about that.  So, assuming you trust me 😉, here my software recommendations for different situations.  I’m giving a couple recommendations for each group, ordering them from top to bottom in each category according to which ones seem to fit the situation best.  I’ve recommended multiple VTTs alongside standalone features in each category, it’s up to you to decide which categories are most important and if you want to choose an all-in-one tool or not.

Your casual D&D 5e group needs to get online with as little fuss as possible.

A/V Conferencing & Chat 
  1. Discord — free, less good for bad internet, great group text chat servers
  1. Zoom — $14/mo, better for bad internet, mediocre group text chat

Full VTT (All in one program)
  1. Tableplop — super simple, supports both drawing maps and importing them, Simple Fog of War, easy dice rolling, basic characters. But it’s new on the market and therefore reliability is unknown.
  1. Astral — intuitive UI, easy-to-understand character sheets, fancy map features, supports only importing or building maps from assets, RTS-style Fog of War only, well-supported long-term by developer
  1. Roll20 — Roll20 is not the most intuitive or user-friendly option on the block anymore, but it has a good feature set, and it’s more prepared to deal with the huge influx of users due to the pandemic than the other two.

A La Carte (Use individual tools)
Syncing Battlemaps:
  • Shmeppy — super simple, supports drawing maps only, tokens, Simple Fog of War, well-supported long-term by developer
Character Sheets:
  1. Dead trees — just keep your old character sheets.
  1. PDF sharing or Google Sheets — like having a paper character sheet but putting it on the internet, sometimes with nice autocalculation features
  1. D&D Beyond — D&D Beyond has gorgeous character sheets and character building, but it’s not super house-rules friendly.
Rolling Dice:
  1. Physical dice with honor system.