Dungeons & Dragons Online

How to: D&D with remote + IRL players together

I DM for a group that has had some players in-person and some remoting in for the past year due to waves hands at everything in general. I just got vaccinated and realized that a lot of D&D parties are probably facing the difficult decision of when feels appropriate to get back in person. I think an easy solution to that problem is to host those who's been vaccinated in-person and have the others remote. Running this type of game is something I have a lot of practice with and I think I could help others try it out, as it is not like a regular fully in-person or remote game.

Two major points to consider is how to physically run it, and how running the game differs.

Physical Set Up.

TLDR; everyone uses Discord on their phones, can be upgraded with room mics, webcams, and spotify premium.

This part can be entirely free (assuming you have wifi and smartphones). Everyone downloads the Discord app. Everyone will play together in a Discord server for the party. The in-person players use headphones with microphone dongles (99% of headphones these days) and mute the playback of everybody in the physical room so they don't hear echo. Even better is if one person's microphone is capable of picking up more than one person. Limiting the number of hot mics will be important if you have a lot of people in the room.

If you run a physical tabletop: Prop up one of the phones in a way such that it can point at your maps. It may be useful to buy a cheap phone stand on amazon so you can easily point the camera downwards. Alternatively, have someone bring a spare laptop and then you can naturally just partially close the laptop so that the camera faces mostly down from some elevated position over the table.

If you run a virtual tabletop: EZPZ just share screens on Discord. I love Tabletop Sim for this purpose as the remote players can manually move their own mini, which is a nice level of involvement the remote players can regain. Present your VTT to the in-person players using a nearby computer monitor or TV. I run a tabletop TV laying flat so I can play animated maps and this works very well for this purpose.

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And boom, you have a (likely) free partial remote D&D setup. Now for some upgrades to make it really nice.

A room microphone greatly simplifies the mic situation. I have a Blue Yeti that I love. I set it on the room mic setting, put it in front of my DM screen, and the whole room is good to go. I play the remote players talking out of Discord out loud on my PC speakers and make sure I enabled Echo Cancellation in Discord so the remote players don't hear themselves. Nobody needs headphones, no volume balancing or mic limiting, super simple.

Webcams can be hooked up with long reaching USB extensions to opportune parts of your gaming room. I run two Logitech C920s, one is on an extendable mic boom and pointed down over my tabletop TV, and another is in an elevated corner of the room to see the full table and feel like you're sitting in the room. I then run Logitech Capture to see the streams of both cameras and share screens on Discord so the remote players can see both the maps and the table with a good view.

Spotify Premium is a nice-to-have for at least one person IRL and for everyone remote. Whoever is the DJ then starts a Group Session, sends the link to the party, and now everyone can listen to the same music assuming the IRL person can connect their Spotify to some speakers. You may need to edit the sensitivity settings of the mics in the room to avoid picking up the music when nobody is talking.

Fine tuning of wifi bandwidth use is going to be a big factor here. Laggy, robotic, dropping out voice is a recipe for disaster and people may just give up. Worst case scenario, limit the audio bandwidth use in the Discord server settings and eliminate all possible video streaming. An easy bandwidth gimme is to ask all players disable streaming their video besides just the video feed of the map. This isn't even needed if you're using a VTT, as remote players can already see the maps in-game. If you don't have enough bandwidth for video streaming the map, you can send pictures of the maps to the remote players and leading up to every turn of theirs, send them a quick picture of the current layout of the minis on the map. It'll be clunky but it'll work, and you can also try out some Theater of Mind type gameplay.

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If bandwidth isn't an issue, have players help out by bringing extra devices you can run Discord on. This way you can set them around the table and show the face of one remote player on each device and make it as big as possible. This will help the group feel even more together. Remember to mute their audio input and output if they aren't anything but a face-show-er device. Or even better, have the device showing an individual player have the audio output enabled for just that player, then their audio sounds like its coming physically from them.

How Running the Game is Different.

TLDR; Give your remote players as much spotlight as possible. Momentum and involvement is key to keep them involved.

As you may know from Zoompocalypse, when in a big web meeting whenever you start a sentence and get interrupted it's very easy to just shut up and forget about talking. The anecdotal stat is something like 20% of people do 90% of the talking in meetings and that is something we can't have in D&D (unless of course you have players that enjoy being quiet). So whenever you hear a remote player begin talking but get interrupted, let the IRL person finish their sentence but before the conversation moves, interrupt them and ask what the remote player was about to say.

In addition, even if they aren't getting interrupted, I highly suggest every story beat or so to check in on a remote player. "Hey what is Xanathar thinking about this? They've been hanging in the back for a bit, they up to anything?" Reel them back in to the story and you'll keep them engaged and excited to play. We mainly want to avoid them opening up social media and just tuning out. Keep them involved and on their toes.

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Lastly, momentum momentum momentum. Keep the ball rolling on the story in general and if people are joking around, its typically difficult for a remote person to engage in the conversation sharply and with wit, as their natural response delay can kill their moment. Keep the party a touch more focused than they'd regularly be so that the remote players can stay as engaged as possible.

Do the simple things as well like making sure everyone has their food and drink ready to go so no one person has to leave the game for a moment and risk getting lost and not want to interrupt for a catch up. Also, take bathroom breaks at regular intervals. This may sound extreme but I mean it when a cohesive and high momentum game is important.

What sort of tips do you have for others that could help them makes this transitionary period easier to play in?

If you liked this discussion and found it helpful, please consider subscribing to me on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/c/EverhearthInn where I post video forms of the content you see here, and other D&D content.


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