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Best virtual tabletop software in 2021: How to play D&D and more TTRPGs online

Best virtual tabletop software in 2021
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

You don’t necessarily need the best virtual tabletop software to have a good time playing Dungeons & Dragons or any other tabletop role-playing game out there. But it certainly helps. As a game master, I know how important it is to know which virtual tabletop works best for your group and for the type of game you’re playing. I’ve bounced around between several of them, so I can help you decide which is the best virtual tabletop software to use for your needs.

Of course, before you dive into what virtual tabletop software is best, we need to know what game you’re playing first. If you’re into D&D, we have a general guide on how to play D&D online. We also have specific guides for groups willing to get a little more personal, like our D&D tech tips: How to set up webcams page. But if you’re new to D&D, check out our guide of how to make a D&D character.

While D&D has had a wild surge in popularity in recent years thanks to shows like Critical Role, D&D is not the only TTRPG. There are plenty of popular and fun TTRPGs to play, like Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun and Blades in the Dark. A few TTRPGs I’m currently eyeing are The Witcher Role-Playing Game and the Altered Carbon Role Playing Game (I’m still grieving, Netflix). Right now, Valve may be developing a Nintendo Switch competitor — 'SteamPal' in the works, so it's possible that you can take your TTRPG games on the go with you.

After you’ve picked which TTRPG to play with friends, you can determine which is the best virtual tabletop software for you.

Amazon Prime Day 2021

Amazon Prime Day is right around the corner, which means it’s the perfect time to hunt for epic deals on the products you’ve been saving up for. There are plenty of great Prime Day laptop deals and Prime Day 2021 gaming laptop deals that are going to go live during the two-day span. That’s right, keep in mind that Prime Day will only last from June 21 to June 22.

If you’re looking for a simpler category of laptops, check out the Prime Day Chromebook deals. Acer, HP and even Samsung make some excellent Chromebooks, although you might pay a little more if you go with Samsung. There are also great Prime Day 2021 tablet deals if you need to focus on portability. 

If you’re hunting for more specific laptops, you can easily find Prime Day 2021 iPad deals and Prime Day MacBook deals. However, even on sale, Apple products can be relatively expensive. However, keep in mind that everything isn’t just about laptops and tablets. There are plenty of products going on sale during Prime Day.

You can also find amazing Prime Day 2021 monitor deals, which is perfect for people working from home and who need a more productive workspace. And treat yourself to some audio luxury with Prime Day headphone deals. If you need a new phone, we also got you covered with these awesome Prime Day phone deals.

If you’re not a fan of Amazon, you can also find great deals from the Walmart Prime Day sale and Best Buy Prime Day deals, as both companies are trying to compete. And if you’re just a hardcore gamer and don’t need any big tech, there are also plenty of Prime Day Xbox deals.

What is the best virtual tabletop software?

There are quite a few great virtual tabletop programs out there, but finding the best one for your specific game is more important than simply using the most expensive one. My personal favorite is Foundry Virtual Tabletop due to its customizability and relatively affordable price. It also smoothly integrates with content from D&D Beyond, a website for buying D&D 5e books and creating characters, and I love the way it handles its music player. However, if you’re looking for free, easy-to-use software, try Roll20, a popular virtual tabletop software.

Foundry Virtual Tabletop (Image credit: Foundry)

If you’re looking for something more unconventional and don’t mind spending a bit of money, Tabletop Simulator is a great software to host your TTRPG games. Thanks to its 3-dimensional nature, it feels more engaging than your average 2D software. You can even hop into this game in VR. However, for something similar to Foundry but for free (to an extent), then go with Astral, which is a great virtual tabletop software that gives you access to a ridiculous number of rule sets.

Those who like old-school TTRPG can try out Fantasy Grounds, a highly customizable albeit somewhat hard-to-use software. It can get pricier than the rest of the entries on this list, so keep that in mind. There are also plenty of virtual tabletop software apps that we didn’t get to mention on this list, like Tableplop and Let’s Role, which are also viable options.

1. Foundry Virtual Tabletop

Foundry Virtual Tabletop is currently my go-to virtual tabletop for my own home game. It’s a super customizable web-based software that gives you access to almost everything you need to create and run a TTRPG game. You can easily import maps that you create as JPEGs and it’ll layer a usable grid over the top so players can move their characters around during combat or judge the time of travel over long distances. One of my favorite features is the ability to layer music on top of each other, so you can mix an atmospheric track with an actual musical track. 

Foundry also has an active community that imports rule systems and templates for many TTRPGs including D&D. There’s also some crossover with D&D Beyond, and as someone who’s heavily invested in that service, Foundry is even more appealing. To use Foundry, you have to buy a license, which is a one-time payment of $50. The best part is that none of your players have to pay to use it.

Foundry Virtual Tabletop - a self-hosted, modern, and developer-friendly roleplaying platformView Deal

2. Roll20

Roll20 is arguably the most popular virtual tabletop software out there, and for good reason: it’s relatively easy to use and it’s free (kind of). Like Foundry, it is web-based so you don’t have to download anything (even as the GM). It’s also incredibly customizable and has built-in tools to easily run most TTRPGs. It doesn’t just focus on D&D either; Roll20 has rulesets for all kinds of games, including Pathfinder and Call of Cthulhu.

(Image credit: Roll20)

Keep in mind that while Roll20 is free, all of the juicy stuff is locked behind its market. Through its marketplace, you can buy games and art, including maps, tokens, objects and more. If you don’t have a lot of money, Roll20 can be tough to get into if you want to go all-out. There are subscription tiers of $5 per month and $10 per month that give you access to features like larger upload storage and custom character sheets. However, you can easily run an adventure in Roll20 without all of the extra bits.

Roll20 - Play games anywhere. Share them with anyone.View Deal

3. Tabletop Simulator

I’ve clocked 524 hours into Tabletop Simulator, so I can confidently say that I have experience using it. It can be the most engaging virtual tabletop software and the most annoying in the bunch. Unlike the rest, Tabletop Simulator exists within a 3-dimensional space. It isn’t inherently built to easily work with TTRPGs, so there’s some legwork you have to do and it takes a bit of getting used to. 

(Image credit: Tabletop Simulator)

Fortunately, Tabletop Simulator has a very active community, and on top of setting any TTRPG you want, it’s an easy way to play virtually any popular board game. All you have to do is dive into the Steam workshop to look at the mods people have created for the game. It’ll take time to set up a game, but once you do, you can interact with 3D miniatures and even 3D maps. It’s a lot of work, but if you’re committed, Tabletop Simulator can easily be the best virtual tabletop software out there. However, the game does cost $20 and it must be purchased by each player, although you will find the game frequently on sale for $10 so it’s not an expensive investment.

Tabletop Simulator - Create your own original games, import custom assets, automate games with scripting, set up complete RPG dungeons...View Deal

4. Astral

Astral is like a mash-up of Roll20 and Foundry VTT. It’s still web-based and runs on a similar model to Roll20 -- it’s technically free, but there are subscription tiers as well as a marketplace. One of the unique features of Astral is its dynamic visual FX. It makes your game more engaging than using your average static battlemap. There are even tabs to keep track of initiative and a tab for quick creatures that you can pop -- as a GM, this is ridiculously useful.

(Image credit: Astral)

Astral also gives you free access to a number of game systems, including D&D 5e, The Witcher Pen and Paper RPG and Vampire: The Masquerade. Of the virtual tabletop software apps, I found Astral was the easiest to not only set up a game on, but to start creating and run a session. Keep in mind that at the basic tier, you can only upload up to 1GB of content, which can run low quickly if you’re balancing high-res maps and waves of epic soundtracks.

Astral - The easiest way to play tabletop roleplaying games online, free.View Deal

5. Fantasy Grounds

Fantasy Grounds has been around for a long time, and unlike some of the virtual tabletop software on here, you have to download it. Out of all of my testing, I found it the most difficult virtual tabletop software to get into for several reasons. Firstly, absolutely nothing is free. There is a demo version for people to try out, but you can’t play with people unless you know someone who owns the $150 license. Secondly, it looks as old as it is, and for software first developed in 2004, that’s not a good thing.

(Image credit: Fantasy Grounds)

However, it is one of the few virtual tabletop software on this list with purchasable books built within its system. The software itself is still pretty customizable and presents a very retro RPG aesthetic, if that’s what you’re into. I’m not the biggest fan of Fantasy Grounds, but you can create some truly wild things with it.

Fantasy Grounds - with intelligent automation making your game easier to prep, more immersive for your players, and faster to run.View Deal