Tabletop gamers, comic book stores adapt to virtual setting 

Andreana Lozano, Life and Arts Reporter

During an engaging tabletop gaming session, Elise Smith recalls players jumping to their feet and pacing around the room while speaking.  

After COVID-19 forced meetings to go virtual, sessions meant reading lines of chat in a virtual setting or tuning into voice channels. 

“We did our best to move virtually,” said Smith, anthropology senior and president of Longhorn Tabletop Gaymers. “But people have been less engaged. I definitely lost some players. It is hard to replace the energy of being in person.” 

Tabletop role-playing games are games where players verbally describe and determine the actions of their characters within a given set of rules and context. When the pandemic shut down in-person meetings and comic bookstore socials that players frequented, UT’s tabletop groups were forced to play virtually. 

Canyon Mooney, Texas D&D president and computer science senior, said moving online allowed his organization to share resources more easily and use digital tools to make gameplay more interactive. He said players could create their characters virtually through character sheets, play music to add ambiance and create voice channels to communicate.

“Even when we played in person, virtual character sheets were popular and lots of people played with their laptops out,” Mooney said. “That was trending at the time, and I bet it will be more-or-less permanent now.”

Before the pandemic, tabletop RPG players in Austin could meetup and find community in local comic book stores. Chris Prymuszewski, the events manager at Dragon’s Lair, an Austin comic bookstore, said that COVID-19 impacted the store’s ability to host the local tabletop RPG community.

“It’s been tough,” Prymuszewski said. “We are known for our free community space and having that space is very important to us, so having to shut down and be closed completely for those two or three months at the beginning of COVID-19 was hard.”

He said the loss of community tabletop space also meant a significant loss of revenue.

“It was an organic thing,” Prymuszewski said. “People would come and learn and try out different games. If you liked a game demo, you could pick up a copy in the store. It’s hard for people to buy from a store when they don’t know what they are buying. Plus, we had to compete with online prices.”

However, Prymuszewski said the store saw an increase in requests for copies of certain popular tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer 40,000, especially from families.

“It makes sense,” Prymuszewski said. “These games are a great way for families to bond. It allows people to go on adventures without leaving their houses and without worrying about staying six feet apart. It’s great escapism.”

Dragon’s Lair worked hard to move many of its events online and to keep the community engaged, Prymuszewski said. He said tabletop RPG players can now reserve limited space to meet in store, especially as more people get vaccinated.

“We have been slow to reopen out of an overabundance of caution, but people want to come back and start hanging out again,” Prymuszewski said. “People want to move on from this past year while still staying safe.”