Like everyone else, I was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. I consider myself very lucky. The worst that happened to me was a year of isolation. However, when your main pre-pandemic social interaction was playing tabletop games in person, your pandemic options are limited. Here are the things I learned while navigating this past year as a dungeon master…
1. Technology Is My Friend… Well, More Like A Frenemy
Like many other Dungeon Masters during the pandemic, I turned to the internet to keep the game alive while social distancing. There are so many great apps and websites that are free to use! However, technology isn’t perfect (particularly when you aren’t paying for it). Crashing, glitches, and the learning curve for a group that has always played in person were consistent problems. Still, a game with technical difficulties is better than no game at all!
2. I Don’t Miss Travel Time
I live 40 minutes away from most of my players. Not having to commute to play has honestly been amazing. The ease of simply logging on at home as opposed to a long drive has been a game changer. No traffic, no gas used, no leaving my house at all… It’s probably what I’ll miss most when I get back to the physical table.
3. Increased Convenience Doesn’t Mean Increased Availability
In spite of the convenience of logging on instead of meeting up, players still flake out on sessions. That’s an unfortunate truth of consistent campaigns. I even had a long-running campaign fall apart and end over the pandemic even though it was easier to meet. I get it, though. It’s difficult to get a group of 30-somethings to be free at the same time. I just want to finish a campaign for once, you know?
4. I’ve Lost My Mind… And So Has Everyone Else
One month into self-imposed isolation everything seemed normal. You could catch up with friends over video chat before a game session. Three months in we found ourselves attempting to explain complicated inside jokes and memes that only made sense in our respective social bubbles. After twelve months, our grasp of conversational English and understanding of social cues has completely disintegrated.
5. Digital Map Making Is The Hobby I Didn’t Know I Needed
When running games in person I rely on dungeon tiles or a dry erase mat. But playing online allowed me to explore the world of digital map making! I’m a person who loves going over the top and map design is no exception. I’ll cram my maps with little details, even if I’m the only one who knows they are there. There is nothing more satisfying than the shocked look on a player’s face when they ask, “Wait… you MADE this map?”
6. It’s Hard To Avoid Interruptions
When having a game night at your house, you’re concerned with being a good host and players are concerned with being good guests. When everyone is playing virtually at home, they are… at home. This means multiple breaks, five instances of each person ordering pizza for themselves, side conversations between friends who haven’t seen each other in months, changing laundry from the washer to the dryer, etc. You MIGHT get to roll a dice in the first two hours of gameplay.
7. I Don’t Trust Digital Rollers
I learned that I require real, physical dice when playing. I can’t trust those online dice rollers. Three natural 1’s in a row? That’s not bad luck, it’s bad code. And where’s the ritual? I can’t put digital dice on a throne when they’re good and in jail when they’re bad! Give me a set of shiny polyhedrals any day.
8. One Shots Work Well Online
I’ve been the dungeon master to more one shot adventures over the pandemic than I’ve run campaigns. It’s been a great way to play with people in my friend group that can’t commit to a full campaign. Most of which I wouldn’t see otherwise until after the pandemic. And with limited lockdown distractions, I’ve been able to write the majority of my one shots myself!
9. I Can Be Nostalgic For A Year Ago
It was a simpler time. A time when you could all sit around a table together. There were communal snacks as far as the eye could see. You could grab a handful of chips and go back for more without worrying about who touched what. People’s noses and mouths were on full display. Yeah… That was only a year ago. Why does it feel like a scene from decades past?
10. I’m Ready For It To Be Over
I’ve enjoyed many aspects of learning to run role playing games during the pandemic. And now, I’m ready for things to slowly return to a state of normalcy. Maybe I’ll still run some online sessions in the future. But I’m hoping to play an actual in person game once everyone in my group has been immunized!