Tooling and technology for a newbie DM in the time of covid-19 and lockdown

I’d been a long time player of D&D but had never DMd a campaign myself before. I’d never really wanted to learn all the rules and stuff. However, our with covid-19 and our usual D&D group on hiatus I decided to take the plunge. Before I started anything proper I decided the following things:


Regular session length

I was only free after 8:00pm and I wanted my eldest son (who was playing with us) in bed just after 10:00pm. This meant sessions had a hard cut off at 10:00pm. I felt like this would also make people more likely to engage, as it didn’t feel like such a commitment.

Limited number

Our usual D&D group has 7 players and a DM and this is super fun … in person …. Having been in zoom calls for the last few weeks I know how tedious large zoom meetings can be and how hard it can be to keep concentration. I wanted 4 players maximum. This had the added benefit of making my job easier.

Primarily online

We are still not in a place where by 5 different households can freely meet indoors and who knows how long it will be before thats the case.

Guided adventure

I wanted to take an existing adventure and use it as the basis for mine. As such I choose the D&D starter set which comes with the ‘Lost Mines of Phandelver’ adventure. This cost me £20.


I wanted a choice of technology that was a minimal as possible, however, I didn’t want everything to be in the ‘theatre of the mind’. I know I like the tactile nature of moving miniatures around a complicated scene and ideally I wanted the players to be able to interact and move their characters where necessary.

I also wanted to retain physical dice rolls if the players wished. I much prefer physical over digital, and I trusted my players :)

I did quite a bit of research in this area, trying things like google docs to manage maps and players, and here is the stack I ended up with:

D&D Beyond

All players character sheets are managed in D&D Beyond. I made all my players sign up to the free version and helped them through the character creation process. I’ll go through this in more detail in another post.


All my players understand and use Zoom on a day to day basis it appeared to be the natural choice for our group for video chat. I have a paid for account which is £12 a month.


I used Inkarnate to create maps for the campaign, the recent battlemap update has been freaking amazing. I love drawing maps in this tool. I have a paid for account which is £5 a month.

Google Docs

I used google docs to manage notes and get people to write up backgrounds and otherwise generally share things. The fact you can share with individuals and/or everyone makes this a nice fit for a DM.


I used the free plan for Roll20. I tried other simpler tools, like collaborative drawing tools we use at work (ie. MIRO or Google Drawings) but they just didn’t have the toolset I felt I needed. Here are the key things I use in Roll20:

  • Locking objects, so players can’t move them (useful for map background)
  • Fog of war, so players can’t see whats coming
  • Layers, so I can show the whole map but still hide enemies
  • Player controlled movement, so they can move their tokens where they want them

I don’t use any of the other features of Roll20. I made signing up for Roll20 optional for my players, some wanted me to manage their movement, etc, so Roll20 was non mandatory.

No Tech

I managed everything else ‘offline’, combat, dice roles, health, etc, etc. I felt (before my first game!) that this would give me the maximum flexibility without a massive barrier to entry for my players.


So overall, my initial session had set me back £40 with an ongoing cost of just under £20/month to run the sessions. It is, of course, entirely possible to do this without this, I just wanted to outlay some of the things involved.