In the era of the internet, tabletop games have gone long distance. You could always play thus using theater-of-the-mind, of course, with detailed descriptions, and a lot of trust in your party’s honesty about their dice rolls. But nowadays, you don’t have to rely on all of that.
Virtual tabletops abound for players and GMs alike! The fancier options look almost like videogames, with full immersion, perspective, and elaborate tools to upgrade your campaigns. And if you don’t want to pay a subscription, or shell out a larger one-time payment, there are plenty of simpler options out there entirely for free.
Chances are that you’ve already heard of Roll20, which is probably the most popular option. It’s a great site – but it’s always a good idea to check out your other options, especially when you can use them for free! Here are a few of those free options:
Tableplop is a fairly straightforward virtual tabletop with simple mechanics and software. It includes 5e DnD character sheets that are easy to fill out and use in a campaign, and even easier Fog of War tools than you get in Roll20 or other software that try to automate it. Creating the campaign is easy, character sheets are interactive, and you can click through an example campaign to get a good idea of how the whole thing works.
Theoretically, this tabletop could work for systems other than 5e, but it’s definitely formatted with that game in mind. Pathfinder or other d20 games could be ported into it with some effort, of course, but games that have entirely different mechanics might be a little too much effort. This is a fantastic option for DnD players, of course, but different games might call for different tabletops.
Check it out here: Tableplop: Digital tools for legendary games
A personal favorite, Owlbear Rodeo is a simple, easy to use option for players who only need one map at a time. It includes a die roller (with cute, animated dice), the ability to stream music to your players, and a few plain maps and tokens for you to use. Anything fancier or more specific you’ll need to upload yourself, but luckily your browser will generally remember what you’ve previously used unless you clear your caches.
Owlbear Rodeo doesn’t have any notetaking capabilities, or any character sheets, so you’ll need to have some way to track information outside of the software. It’s also geared toward d20 fantasy systems pretty heavily, with the premade tokens reflecting DnD monster types, and the dice roller being clearly geared toward similar games. But it’s still usable for different systems, provided you don’t mind putting in a little bit of effort.
Check it out here: Owlbear Rodeo
Unlike most virtual tabletops, Role focuses on video chatting instead of simply voice and text. It certainly has those options, but the ability to look your fellow players in the eye while you roleplay is definitely the main attraction for this option. On top of that, you can upload whatever pdfs, reference documents, and character sheets that you like. A few systems already have their basic rules and sheets in the software, and you can easily make custom sheets for any game that it doesn’t have. If you aren’t so sure of your ability to make a sheet, you can also borrow one created by another user.
The main focus of this tabletop is definitely video chatting. The rest of the software is just about standard, but fairly straightforward and easy to learn if you spend a little while clicking around and testing things out.
Check it out here: Games | Role (playrole.com)
Having just been rebuilt from the ground up, Beyond Tabletop looks to be gearing up to be a fairly straightforward, but still quite customizable, virtual tabletop option. It currently includes premade character sheets for 5e DnD and Pathfinder, and has a variety of tabs to hold enemies, NPCs, notes, and other information that a GM would find useful. It also includes an option for creating a custom character sheet for other games and systems.
It’s pretty easy software to learn, especially if you’re using a system that it already has available. The only frustration that I encountered was that the mapmaker is not very intuitive, and you cannot upload images into it directly. You’ll have to upload your maps onto an image hosting site, then copy the URL into the settings for the battlemap – not overly complicated, but still something of a pain.
Check it out here: Dashboard | Beyond Tabletop
Let’s Role is a virtual tabletop that doesn’t seem to favor DnD and other d20 systems as default. It functions relatively similarly to Roll20, allowing you to create a ‘table’ for whatever game you wish to play (with a variety of options to choose from, or the ability to make your own), upload whichever pdfs and tokens you want, and start playing relatively quickly. It also has inbuilt safety tools, with the ability for you to note what topics and events will and won’t be allowed in your campaign.
Most of the premade assets are behind a pay subscription, with a couple of different tiers. Paying that subscription will also get you different skins, which change the look of your dice and general play area. The screen is also generally a little more crowded than Roll20, and various other options. But if you like everything laid out in front of you, and not having to click through lists to find things, it’s a rather good format.
Check it out here: Let's Role · An immersive and easy-to-use Virtual TableTop (lets-role.com)
Have you ever used any of this virtual tabletop software? How did you find them to work for you? Let us know in the comments below!