To branch out from my normal topics, I thought I’d discuss a new site I’ve recently discovered thanks to S. Roll20.net is a way of playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) (and many other systems) online with voice, video, maps, text, intergrated character sheets and a way of looking for groups.
Now, I’ve had quite a bit of tabletop experience, having been in a very long campaign at university of D&D 3e and more recently run Pathfinder in person and Changeling: the Dreaming. Changeling was run over IRC, which worked really well with being able to whisper rolls and secrets to my players that you just can’t do in person without suspicious note passing over the table. So I knew it was possible and could work well, but the main problem I found was combat. While I enjoy the ‘theatre of the mind’ and it works well in things like World of Darkness, for D&D where distances and ranges and positioning is vitally important to many abilities, everyone can be percieving events differently.
R20 provides an interface where GMs can put together maps and encounters with character and monster tokens, which players and the GM can move according to the various movement rules. This allows everyone to see what is happening and where everyone is, which greatly helps move combat on quickly. Combined with a initiative list (although slightly buggy as if you’re not clicked on your token you don’t come up in the order) and a character sheet that allows you to just click on the ability and have the dice rolled for you, this makes combat easy. It’s also nice that everyone can see the rolls (although it’s possible to do secret rolls to the GM) and there’s no chance of the dice falling off the table.
The abilities can be dragged into the interactive character sheet from the in-app Compedium (for D&D 5e anyway) which takes a few tries to get used to, and that fills in all the numbers and modifiers. You only have to fill in your stats (generated however your GM decides), level and class, and several things are filled in for you. Then it’s just a matter of building your character with the rules in the Player’s Handbook, ticking skills, etc, and you’re done. Again, clicking on a save or a spell will roll the dice for you, or show the ability’s text from the compedium if it’s not a damage spell. Any damage/healing spells will be auto added to your attacks list – again, this has been a bit buggy for me, but nothing major – and casting at higher levels is also automated as you can select the level you’re casting at. I did have a slight issue with the rogue in The Master’s Vault one-shot as it appeared to add the sneak attack damage to all my attack automatically, even when it wasn’t meant to be included, but that was easily modified in the sheet. There’s no room for some abilities, such as the background ones, which are not helpfully put in and I had to copy and paste, or the racial ones – at least the standard PHB ones would be useful; but as a lot of those are RP based or don’t need rolls, like darkvision, it’s not a huge issue. There’s also a decent space for bio and similar in the character sheet which is nice.
The actual UI of the browser app is good – the map can be hex or square grid, and the tokens customised to your character – mine are (so far) some artwork one of my co-players did of Gregori – my cleric – and some artwork I commissioned of Xanashirel – my warlock. The map can be changed by the GM from an over all world map to a area map for combat (both of which they can draw on to indicate useful things like spell areas or positions of things) and one square/hex can be various distances as needed. The rolls are clear, although sometimes damage seems to be auto-rolled and sometimes not. I haven’t figured out if it depends on if tokens are selected or not yet. There’s also the ability to add symbols to the tokens to show things like flying, prone, poisoned etc, as well as circles that can be used for health or similar. So far I’ve only played a couple of sessions, but so far it seems to work well and makes things like flanking and spell range so much easier. Well, except where Xan is flying and we need to know if the cleric can touch his feet to heal him – the maps aren’t 3D.
I’m planning on running a Vampire: the Masquerade game soon, which will probably involve a far different style of running, particularly in combat and I like the fact I can whisper secrets to players (especially those spot rolls and similar where only one person succeeds, or similar) and I look forward to seeing how that works. In the mean time I will be playing (and posting about) three D&D 5e games using R20 and hope you’ll enjoy hearing about them.
I will add that you can also get plus and pro memberships and currently I’m using free, because it seems to do everything I need at the moment. This does mean that I currently can’t play on my mobile unless the GM has a paid membership, but I prefer playing on the PC anyway. Maybe eventually I’ll pay if it continues being as good and continues improving, and the campaigns continue as well as they appear they will. For now, I’ll just enjoy being back at the [virtual] table and rolling the dice again.