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I'm sad to say that I have absolutely no friends who would like to play D&D with me however I would love to play. I know about Neverwinter Nights and I've played quite a bit of it, but I'm looking for more of the pen & paper experience.

Is this even possible?

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Yes!

You can definitely play P&P games over the internet. There are basically two steps to the process.

Find a group

You can find a group anywhere that nerds gather online. Forums are a great source of people. You'll have the easiest time finding players for current editions of popular games, so if you're into Pathfinder or D&D 5e, you'll have no trouble. More obscure games or older editions will be difficult. For more information, see Where can I find other RPG players?.

Decide on an environment

Since you can't physically gather around a table, you need to figure out what works best for you:

  • Play by post: Played on a forum, this is a great option for people who don't have large chunks of time to devote to gaming. Everyone types out their actions whenever they have time, and then wait for the GM to answer their question or tell them if they succeeded or failed. These games can take a long time, though - the GM or the player whose turn it is might not show up for hours or days. See our questions for more.
  • Virtual tabletops: There are services like MapTool, , , or GameTable that give you a grid where you can place tokens. You also have virtual dice commands baked right into the software. These games are faster-paced than play-by-post games, but still take a while longer than true face to face games since people might be doing other things.
  • Chat games: I've seen games take place in IRC chatrooms, and there's no reason you couldn't use something more modern like Slack. The drawbacks are the lack of visualization that virtual tabletops offer, but there's less prep work for the GM that way. If a player is confined to a mobile phone (and doesn't want to burn data on video calling/can't talk because they are in public), this may be the best option. See our questions for more.
  • Video/audio call: Whether over a video call like Skype or Hangouts, or audio-only like Ventrilo, this is the best way to approximate a real life game. Don't be surprised if some online game players are too shy to do this, though - the hobby attracts all sorts. If your client of choice doesn't support dice rolls, you can combine this with a virtual tabletop client to model the dice and/or the game map. See our questions for more.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ One thing to add there: Roll20 is also often used for Chatgames and PbP games (seen that and done that there).Additionally it has also support for video/audio calls. Maybe you should consider a 5th environment there as a mix as there are surely others like roll20 there (fantasy-grounds and game table as far as I'm aware just give you the tools and not chat,.... but not sure there as I don't use those). \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas E. Apr 25 '16 at 19:35
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Yes the technology is called a Virtual Tabletop or VTT. It combines the following

  • A whiteboard that everybody can draw on or use to display image. Also used as a battleboard with token instead of miniatures.
  • a voice and/or text chat engine
  • RPG software utility usually including a dice roller, character sheet, and random tables.

Popular VTTs include

Roll20

This perhaps the easiest to try and get started with it. It can be used for free and has a subscription option that unlocks more features and increased on-line stores of maps and images. The features are centered around customizing RPG software utilities, and sophisticated whiteboard features like dynamic lighting for maps.

Fantasy Grounds

This is a traditional piece of windows software that you install. The referee will act as a server so this will require a little bit of messing around with your home router. The players will act as clients connect to the referee. There is no voice, participants usually use Google Hangouts, Skype, or other VOIP utilities. Fantasy Grounds has a subscription service and a one time purchase option with lifetime updates (to day). There are three levels of both, player only. Referee which can only have those with the player client connect. This is also doubles as a player client. Finally Ultimate which allow the demo version of Fantasy Grounds to connect to the referee as a player.

FG v. Roll20

Fantasy Grounds is has the most sophisticated software utilities of any VTTs. Partially because the programmers of FG have free reign as it is a traditional application. Roll20 is constrained by the web interface. However because of overall advancement in web technology is it rapidly becoming a non-issue.

Roll20 has a better social site surrounding it's VTT. Given your situation you will be able to browse the list of open games and pick one. Or you can post your own campaign and recruit people to join. Both have marketplaces where you can buy add-ons like tokens, maps, and most importantly rulesets for specific RPGs. Some are free and some are licensed. Fantasy Grounds has the Official D&D 5e license if that makes a difference for you. Fantasy Grounds is available on Steam which makes it convenient to buy and install.

Fantasy Grounds has the best dice rolling utility of all the VTTs. It looks and feels like rolling real dice.

The Others

There are other VTTs but that like saying there are other OSs for a phone/table than iOS or Android. Yeah they exist but those two are the two most important out there.

For a good list go to RPG Virtual Tabletop. They have a lot more information on the other VTTs than I can type here.

For a breakdown of games and the number of people playing on Fantasy Grounds look here.

For Roll20 look here. They release one every quarter.

So does it work?

Yes it works very well. It is playing tabletop RPGs over the internet. You use the same stuff, do nearly the same prep as you do with face-to-face. Some groups, including the one I game with, freely switch between FtF and the VTT. We play weekly on Roll20 and get together monthy for face to face gaming.

The downside is twofold, one it is a form of chatting over the internet like using Hangouts, Facebook Chat, or Skype. If you don't like this type of interaction then none of the VTTs will cut it. Second anything that you want to show you will need to get into the computer either as text or image. Now with Google search and inexpensive scanner it not hard to find stuff to use or get your own stuff. But it is the major difference between playing a VTT based campaign and a face to face campaign.

There is one significant upside to VTT is that a VTT can greatly enhance the use of miniatures (as tokens), maps, and battleboards. Nearly all VTTs have a straight forward method of handling fog of war and some do line of sight (like Roll20) as well.

Other ways of playing RPGs over the internet.

First off VTTs are the only way that is found to date that replicates how we play tabletop RPGs face to face on the internet. There are other ways of playing roleplaying games on the internet but they all involve compromises from how a game is run face to face.

There are MMORPGs and CRPGS like World of Warcraft and Skyrim where the computer is substituted for a human referee. Some are multiplayer, some are standalone.

There are play by post that unfold at much slower pace than a face to face tabletop session. However they are much more convenient to participate in for some.

You can use just voice/chat however the inability to see the dice and/or images makes the campaign less personal in some ways.

I can't stress enough that when it comes to VTTs it is playing tabletop.

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    \$\begingroup\$ No mention of open source?? Especially RPTools/ Maptool? \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Apr 26 '16 at 18:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I link to RPG Virtual Tabletop the The Other section \$\endgroup\$ – RS Conley Apr 26 '16 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just sounds like you are on payroll :) \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Apr 26 '16 at 19:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also worth mentioning is that in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, there are often dedicated roleplaying communities and servers. \$\endgroup\$ – Cosmos Gu Feb 20 '17 at 12:00
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Yes, it's possible to play RPGs like D&D (and GURPS, Fate, Cypher System, and even Amber Diceless) online, via posts on forums, email, chat, or dedicated game table systems like Roll20. There are a couple things to be aware of in doing this.

First, play by post is very, very very slow. I've been in a play by post GURPS campaign (most of the complexity of GURPS combat being behind the scenes and combat simplified a bit), and in almost a year, have played through only several days of character time. Play by email pretty well can't help being even slower than play-by-post, because of longer lags for message propogation and GM response.

Second, online tabletop play tends to attract players who'll play one session and bail, especially if you're playing a less well known system. The Roll20 Cypher System group I'm in has had four of six players bail between the first and second session -- two of them after confirming they'd be there for the game.

Worse, it's easy for players (and, I presume, GMs) to succumb to the internet phenomenon of losing certain social inhibitions when they've got a measure of anonymity -- the same thing that leads to flame wars. Though I haven't seen it happen in my play by post group(s), I can see it being a bigger problem there, offset by the fact that most of the players I interact with there are more mature, experienced role-players.

Not to say this doesn't work, but it's not a perfect solution. Better than not being able to play, though...

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Yes, it is possible to play something that looks like pencil & paper D&D online.

The first option is to find some people online - asking around in social networks, in roleplaying games specialized forums or in some sites made exactly for that purpose (we have rpgplayers in Italy) - and to play in videoconference. It will be slower than playing at someone because communicating is harder, but I've personally ran games on Skype, using the "show my screen" option to share a grid (nowadays, I'd use blackboard sites such as Scribbla, a google drive spreadsheet, MapTools or some app like roll20 directly on the g+ videoconference service).

The second option is play by post. Play by forum (where every player posts when it's his turn every day) and play by chat (where the players meet at the same time, sort of a conference without the video) are both good. I've heard about people playing by e-mail too (similar to play by forum).

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Yes, at the most basic, all you need is a communication channel. This could be some sort of instant messaging (IRC, some other form of text-based group chat, ...). You could do it using remote audio, of some sort (TeamSpeak, ...). You could do it using telephones and a phone bridge (although this may get expensive), or voice-over-IP (VoIP). You could do it using Skype, Google Hangouts or appear.in if you also want video.

There's also more specialised tools that allow things like "shared whiteboards", but as I have tried to show, the minimum you need is "some way to communicate".

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Yes, but it might not be as good of an experience as playing around a table.

There are services like Roll20, which can be used to play online with other people. It's handy when playing games with people you don't know because you can be invited/join a group of people without having the hassle of adding people on Skype or other voice services.

However, there are some issues you might run into when playing them. In real life, playing around a table, you can naturally differentiate between different voices from a combination of their position, volume and voice. On Skype/Roll20, everyone's voices are roughly equal volume and playing without positional audio, so it can be very difficult to play if there are a lot of people all talking at once. A session with 2/3 people works fine, but with more than that you will start to have issues. People also can't have private conversations with people next to/opposite them, as everyone hears it equally.

Although I have done some things over Skype/Roll20 and they have been better once everyone gets used to it, it isn't a perfect analogue to being around a table.

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If you can find friends willing to play, and have time to spare (After planning for DM/GM-ing.) Then yes it is possible.

http://www.rptools.net/

Is one of the best tools I have found for online DMing and gaming. Once again I warn you that you must have time and be willing to put that effort into this program.

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