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Play Paper and Pencil D&D Online With Distant Friends With Free Apps

Kannon Yamada 03-09-2013

Want to slay dragons old-school D&D style using cutting-edge technology? You and your distant friends can do that using video and audio chat, with the applications we are covering today.


After Wizards of the Coast canceled its long-awaited Dungeons and Dragons Virtual Table product line, gamers took matters into their own hands and created amazing products for coordinating active table-top gaming sessions. Forget about D&D the MMORPG Dungeons & Dragons Online MMORPG Re-Releases - Free! Read More !

What follows is three awesome products that will allow you to play D&D with friends all over the world.

Roll 20

Play Paper and Pencil D&D Online With Distant Friends With Free Apps roll 20 logo

I can’t go on enough about Roll 20. It allows Dungeon Masters (DMs) a simple method of creating their very own dungeons, complete with predesigned character models, music and maps. There’s even a completely free adventure module that you can start with. Additionally, there’s a paid module available for $9.99. It’s the complete package.

Play Paper and Pencil D&D Online With Distant Friends With Free Apps roll 20 example



  • Free: There’s additional paid content, such as adventure modules, but there’s enough free content to last a very long time. You can also pay to get more storage.
  • Artwork and music library: You can search a vast database of artwork, music and more that can be used as maps and ambient music.

roll 20 artwork library

  • Fog of war maps: You can choose to reveal only portions of the map to players at any one time.
  • Real-time updates: Everything the DM or players do is automatically updated.
  • Simulated dice-rolling: Roll Twenty even simulates dice rolls using physics. Activating the dice roller actually produces a 3D die, which rolls! All manner of die are represented.
  • Google+ Hangouts: There’s also experimental integration with Google Hangouts. This adds video and voice capabilities.
  • Macros: You can use keyboard macros to shorten play actions, such as attacking or moving.
  • Learning curve: Roll 20 is extremely easy to use. There’s a very slight learning curve for players and DMs to learn before getting started. It’s the shortest learning curve out of all the products reviewed here.


  • No mobile app: I had to think of something negative to say, otherwise I’d sound like a fanboy: I wish a mobile app existed for Roll Twenty. But you can’t have everything.



There’s no better means of playing D&D online. Combining a vast array of tools and features, including Hangouts support, Roll Twenty makes it possible to play Dungeons and Dragons from the desktop.


Play Paper and Pencil D&D Online With Distant Friends With Free Apps RP tools

MapTools is a general use (for any role-playing game system), open-source software used to create maps for D&D campaigns. To install, go to the download directory and nab the latest zipped installer.


  • Token movement: Moving “tokens” (which are NPCs or player characters) around the generated environments is extremely well done
  • Depth: There’s a huge amount of ways you can use MapTool. It’s capable of more than running just maps – it can run entire D&D sessions.
  • Complementary: You can run MapTool with any other online D&D tool. For example, you can just use the map creation and die rolling features of MapTool with Google Hangouts or Skype.


  • Limited artwork: There’s only a few pregenerated graphics available in MapTools. Which means you will need to import your own to properly use the map generation features.
  • High learning curve: MapTool takes a great deal of practice to learn how to use properly. Fortunately, there are a great number of image libraries available.


MapTool is a great means of playing online D&D. While it’s not as easy-to-use as Roll 20, it’s complementary with it and has a great deal of depth.

You can find additional information below:

  • YouTube overview:

Dragons for Dinner

Play Paper and Pencil D&D Online With Distant Friends With Free Apps dragons for dinner logo

Dragons for Dinner is a Google+ Hangouts app. You can read about Google+ and its extensive features, here A Guide to Google Tools: Tips and Tricks You Can't Live Without Find tips, tricks, and hacks that'll help you make better use of Google tools you already use. The guide covers five main Google Services. Read More . Essentially, Hangouts allows real-time audio and video communication How To Use Google+ Hangouts To Meet With Friends Google Hangouts is a key feature of Google+. If you are not using Hangouts already, you are missing out! Maybe you haven't yet joined Google+. Well, if you do have a Google account, then joining... Read More , in the same manner as Skype. The service is also infinitely extensible, and tons of add-ons exist. In particular, the Dragons for Dinner Hangout extension can greatly improve your D&D game’s efficiency by adding voice and video communication.


  • Video: This add-on can permit the display of maps, tokens and other elements required of a gaming session.
  • Low learning curve: As you can see in the video, Dragons for Dinner is extremely easy to learn and use.


  • Beta build: Dragons for Dinner isn’t quite ready yet for prime-time.


The jury is out on whether or not Dragons for Dinner is a worthwhile online tool for playing D&D online. From the early impressions, it appears to be intuitive and highly effective at coordinating team activities.

Other Online D&D Aids

There’s a lot more tools out there for those looking to enhance their D&D experience.

Play Paper and Pencil D&D Online With Distant Friends With Free Apps battlegrounds


There’s a lot of great tools out there for playing D&D online. Of these, Roll 20, MapTools and Dragons for Dinner stand out as being totally awesome. Of the three, Roll 20 provides the best experience, although MapTools and Dragons for Dinner offer competitive and complementary experiences.

Anyone else love D&D and want to play online? Let us know in the comments. No I’m not embarrassed.

Image Credits: Dice via MorgueFile.

Related topics: Google Hangouts, Role-Playing Games.

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  1. Byron
    April 6, 2015 at 1:48 am

    Fantasy Grounds barely mentioned, despite being FAR better than Roll 20, which is buggy and slow and extremely shallow, with a couple of neat twists. Fantasy Grounds is more expensive, sure, but works so much better, looks nicer, and has some really excellent features.

  2. James B
    September 4, 2013 at 8:01 am

    So when is the official MakeUseOf DnD hangout happening? You can DM, right?

    • Kannon Y
      September 7, 2013 at 12:38 am

      lol I've been slowly chipping away at it. I wanted to introduce you guys to a classic module, but I've been having to adapt one. It may take months from now. Very slowly chipping away at it.

    • James B
      September 9, 2013 at 9:44 am

      Aww, come on man, you don't need to adapt anything, we could just play a premade one! We'll make it a new podcast for Technophilia!

  3. Jeff T.
    September 4, 2013 at 2:06 am

    You could also try Neverwinter the free MMO. I still play on Neverwinter Nights (11+ years and running, validation server down, but many player mods still going strong).

  4. Chris Mathews
    September 3, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Sounds like something I would at least want to try. Mix it up with Google Hangouts and it'd be just like being there without the smells!