Online Dungeon Master’s Toolkit

The key to virtual play is crafting a online Dungeon Master’s Toolkit that works for you. Just like my physical dungeon master’s toolbox, the online one makes my life easier. It cuts down on prep time, creates robust visuals for battle maps and illustrations, and keeps me focused.

Adventure Prep

  • D&D Beyond – An online character creation and rules reference, as well as some experimental features such as an encounter builder and a map creator. I wish buying the print versions of a book automatically got you access to the online version. Since it doesn’t, I’ve made a few strategic book purchases, like Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse which features a bunch of new playable species as well as updated monsters from prior creature feature books.
  • Kobold Fight Club Plus – An excellent encounter builder for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. You can choose which sources you want to use (all of the D&D books, plus a bunch of third party ones like Kobold Press’s Tome of Beasts) and filter by challenge rating, terrain, and type of monster. It’s my go-to when building an encounter.
  • Dr. Eigenvalue’s Bestiary – An online repository of various monsters, played out in 5e-style stat blocks.
  • Pinterest – I use Pinterest to collect inspirational art for my campaigns, as well as to find and collect potential battle maps. Check out my Pinterest profile for examples of how I use the tool and the “Using Music, Art, and Props in Your Game” episode at Lair of Secrets for Pinterest-y inspiration.
  • Obsidian – All of my campaign notes are stored in Obsidian, which is a Markdown-based note-taking tool. Like a wiki, you can easily create hyperlinks between documents (great for cross-referencing magic items and NPCs) and it includes a graphic mode that shows you the connections between all of those documents. I store my notes on iCloud, which makes them available on all my devices (my MacBook Pro, my iPad Pro, my iPhone, etc.)

Battle Map Creation

  • Inkarnate – I played with a ton of map creators over the years, and beat my head against the wall when using most of them. I’ve never done that with Incarnate. There’s a learning curve, but it’s not as steep as other tools, and there’s a ton of great tutorials online (official ones by Inkarnate as well as fan-created videos). The only downside is that there’s not a dedicated sci-fi tool set (not an issue for Dungeons & Dragons games, but a bummer for Cyberpunk RED and its sci-fi kin). Fortunately, version 2.0 of the app – currently in beta – releases new sci-fi assets as well as a bunch of new and updated tools.
  • TokenTool – This open source, cross-platform tool lets you quickly create tokens for your battle maps. It’s been my tokenizer of choice since I started gaming online.

Virtual Tabletop

  • Roll20 – Our default tabletop, mostly because of inertia. It’s the platform we started with before the pandemic, and it’s the one we’re comfortable with. It gets the job done, but it’s quirks can be infuriating (like, say, figuring out how to configure a character’s aura so that everyone can see it)
    • Beyond20 plugin (Chrome / Firefox) – A plugin that integrates D&D Beyond, allowing you to send character, NPC, and monster dice rolls initiated in Beyond to Roll20.
  • Owlbear Rodeo – If we weren’t using Roll20, I’d probably be using Owlbear Rodeo. The redesigned, web-based virtual tabletop is easy to configure and easy to learn. It’s been my default for one-off games that aren’t D&D.
  • TaleSpire – Sometimes, a top-down battle map isn’t enough – you want the look and feel of a real-world, 3D battle-map. TaleSpire offers that and goes even further, creating a virtual battle map that’s more detailed than anything most DMs can create in the real world. Yep, there’s a rather steep learning curve, but the effects can be very impressive.

Featured Image Meta

Heroes battle demons on a battle map created for my Elemental Apocalypse campaign. Credit: Ken Newquist

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