Roll20 for Virtual RPG’s

 

 

I’ve discussed one way to play board games virtually, and we’ll get to other options, but today let’s look at Roll20 for virtual RPG gaming. Roll20 is a way for GM’s of many different game systems to host their online games, whether its a single shot game or a campaign. It allows the GM to set up their maps, and have the players create or insert their character sheet and link that sheet to a token (image) on the map, which will keep track of hit points and other often used data.

Roll20 is a free platform, with paid options for those who want to have access to things like dynamic lighting and custom character sheets. It supports D&D 5E and Paizo products as well as many other publishers. It hosts most of the newest D&D Adventurer’s League Modules, which you can purchase right from the marketplace within Roll20, and have all of the tokens, maps and other components necessary to run the event. Also, when you purchase modules, the text of the module goes into the journal sidebar, so you can read right from your screen. I have a little problem with that, because you have to switch between tabs on the sidebar to get to the chat window, to add tokens, and/or to look at the journal. There may be a way around this that I have not yet found. There is inline video and voice chat which works reasonably well. It has a nice feature that is available to all subscription levels called Fog of War, where you can black out a map, and reveal sections of it to your players as they go. You can see through it so you know what you are uncovering, but your players can only see what you uncover. Dice rolls are available in the chat window, so that everyone can see what the rolls are, which is nice. You can do this without much setup by using text prompts in the chat window, or, if your players have built their characters in Roll20 you can use shortcuts. You can also “whisper” to other players in the chat window so that only you and them can see the exchange.

I have had some difficulties using the search engine to find some things in the marketplace, and have had to follow links from outside the program if there is something that I have been notified about. Again, this may be user error. I have run 2 games using Roll20 and have spend some time fiddling around with the interface, but not nearly enough.

Like any RPG GMing scenario, the more time you put into the interface, whether it be pen & paper (drawing maps or building 3D dungeons, finding the right minis and coming up with good NPC’s) or virtual (figuring out how to use all the cool tricks of the interface, and find good e-tokens, upload maps and get your players up to speed) the more time you spend getting set up the easier the game will run. There are some great You Tube videos on how to use all the tricks in Roll20. It’s got a lot to offer if you have the time to spend getting up to speed. I was able to get up and running with a basic set up with only a couple hours of preparation. I didn’t really get the best use out of the character set up for my players, but if you are looking for a basic “Here’s the map, your character is here and moves there”, and let you players keep track of things like hp and spells and such, it’s do-able with a minimal amount of effort. Especially if you purchase a pre-made module within Roll20. We started our first game with pen and paper character sheets and just used Roll20 for chat/maps/character and monster movement. I would highly recommend starting by having your players create their character within the game. It gives you many more options that work automatically down the line.

Roll20 also has a decent amount of community content available. As of this writing, there is no way for someone to create a Roll20 “module” that a GM can import into the system to use. You can import individual pieces easily, and can search for community created tokens (character/monster/dungeon dressing) within the program, or buy them and upload them.  A couple nice ones that I have found are 2minutetabletop.com, which has a nice selection of inexpensive tokens and maps, and DM Dave, who has content within Roll20 as well as a Patreon where you can get A LOT of really nice content for a minimal price. He also regularly puts out free content which is well done.

The help feature in Roll20 works reasonably well. I have been able to find answers to my questions fairly rapidly. The Tutorial you take when you first log into a game takes a little time, but is well worth the effort as it explains most of what you need very well. However it IS a LOT to take in when you are just starting, and if you are like me, you’ll forget half of what it taught you by the time the tutorial is finished. I recommend giving your players a virtual “playground” starter screen where they can get in prior to your game time and kick the tires before they start play without messing up your finely crafted map areas.

Overall, you should expect your first several games to take longer than a normal game session as people get used to the interface. I have found this to be the way with most online RPG platforms. I would recommend if you are looking at a 4 hour play slot, that you pick a 2-hour adventure, or plan to split your normal adventure into two sessions. And be prepared to spend game time sharing platform knowledge as well as game information. “You see the giant ahead of you, he hasn’t noticed you yet…” says the GM.  “Hey guys, did you know if you type /gr /w [name] [message] that only you and the GM will see the message…uh…not that I just did that…” responds player A.

Overall, I like Roll20. It can get you up and running quickly, but has a lot of depth that you can explore to make your gaming smooth.

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September 2020 Minutes

Mindbridge Meeting Minutes Wednesday September 2, 2020 online using Zoom

  1. Call to Order
  2. Minutes – reading waived
  3. Treasurer’s Report about $3k less than last month
  4. Convention Reports Read More »
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Tabletopia

There are many ways to play board games virtually. Today, I am going to discuss my experiences with Tabletopia. You can access Tabletopia at Tabletopia.com, on Android devices, on ios devices and through STEAM (more on STEAM in a later post). I prefer to access Tabletopia online through the Google Chrome browser. I have found it quite stable and fast. Your mileage may vary. I have friends who say that they prefer other platforms because they have difficulties with the interface.

Once you go to Tabletopia.com, you will be asked to make an account. You will need an account to play games. There are three options available. The bronze level allows you to host free games, and play in up to two games at once (That means you have the games set up and active, not necessarily actively playing), and play in free and premium games hosted by other people.  The silver level is $4.99/month and allows you to host free games, host premium games for other premium players, and play up to 6 games at once premium or free. The gold level is $9.99/month and allows you full access to all the games, both for hosting and playing, allows you to have guests in your premium games who are not premium members, and have up to 10 games open at one time.

If you were using this at a game convention, this means you could set up the rooms for convention play ahead of time, so that you would just add the players once you got their information. You would probably need the gold level membership, since in a virtual convention setting, you can’t guarantee that the attendees would even have accounts before game time. On a positive note, making a Tabletopia account takes literally seconds and you can dive right in afterwards.

As of this writing (August 25, 2020), Tabletopia offers 1227 games, 50 of which are premium only. Premium games include: Wingspan, Everdell, Tuscany, Scythe and Mage Wars Academy. An interesting note is that they have several very popular games with the base game free, but the expansions premium. Scythe, Terra Mystica, Imperial Settlers, and Champions of Midgard, to name a few. The free offerings are very nice as well, with games like Roll Player, Secret Hitler, Tapestry, Santorini, Viticulture Essential Edition, and Architects of the West Kingdom and many more.

You set up a game by searching for the game or clicking on it’s picture, which takes you to the game’s page. You will see several options on the right hand side. Play Hotseat, Play online and Play Solo (if available). Play Hotseat means that one or more players will be playing on the same device, so your hands or individual player information will be hidden on that device when it is the other player’s turn. Play online is what you use when everyone will be playing on different devices. You can also access the game rules from this page should you need them.

Clicking “Play Online” will start the program creating a “room” for the game. You will see a screen like is shown here. It shows you as the host, and then has a bar where you can select “Invite Players” below that. I haven’t had much luck inviting players that way, but if you copy the code shown in that bar, and tell it to your players, they can search for the code and will show up on this screen. Once everyone is there, you can click the large “Start” button at the top. Note that here is also where you would set it up if you were going to run it at a later time, you just click the box towards the bottom that says “Schedule game for later”. If you click “Visible to other players” the game will show up and allow anyone to join to sees it while browsing for games. You can access the rules from this screen as well.

Once you hit start, you are taken to the game table. Depending on the game, you may be able to choose your seat. If there are characters or Individualized setups, they will probably be already chosen for you randomly. Some games let you change, some don’t. I don’t want to get too deep into this area in this discussion because each game is set up differently and some are better than others. Some have little “quirks” that you will need to figure out.

One of the things I like about Tabletopia is that the rules are easily accessible at any time by pressing a “page” icon at the bottom left of the screen. Right below that is a “help” screen with all the controls that you will need to do things like roll dice or flip cards. I’ll let you explore all that on your own in your favorite game.

If you would like to try out some games, you can go back to the main menu and click “Find & Play”. There will be a list of folks hosting games and looking for players. You can pick one and jump right in. This is where your game will show up if you click the “Visible to other players” button mentioned above.

As far as I can tell (although I could be wrong), Tabletopia does not have audio or video capability within the game rooms, so you will need to use a Discord, Zoom or other audio channel to be able to speak with other players during the game. It does have a text chat for the game that you can use.

With your account you also have the workshop available to you, where you can create your own game to add to their list. I won’t even pretend that I know anything about that.

I have found all the virtual board game interfaces to be a little clunky and slow, and this is no exception to that rule. Because the rules are readily available to all players, I would recommend this platform if you were trying to teach a game and want the players to be able to reference rules. If you don’t want them to have access while you are teaching, don’t tell them where the rules are until after the game has been taught. They still might find them, but can’t really look at the rules and the game board at the same time.

Overall, I have found Tabletopia through my browser to be a very stable platform, easy to use and understand, with a lot of really good games available. I have not purchased any of the premium levels, but have been able to host and play games easily. The interface is fairly intuitive.

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Thoughts from UK Games Expo

A silver lining in the Covid-19 cloud is the opportunities that virtual gaming and virtual conventions is offering us. Many of us love to attend our conventions in-person because it is where we connect, meet new people, and try out new games. And virtual gaming is a bit clunky most of the time, and it just isn’t the same when you aren’t together.

But have you ever had a convention you wanted to attend but couldn’t? Can’t get time off work, or just can’t afford plane tickets and/or the hotel costs? UK Games Expo was one of those for me. I always thought that I’d like to attend someday. Because of C-19, this year UK Games Expo went virtual, and offered free badges.  A friend and I got together on Zoom, then we “wandered” the exhibit hall. It was fun! We had the whole exhibit hall to ourselves and could browse to our hearts content, ooh-ing over that game and aah-ing over that accessory.

As we browsed we found a game called D6 Dungeon, which was a Kickstarter earlier this year. We hadn’t heard of it before, but it looked interesting, and we saw that they were doing virtual game demos and live plays. So we signed up to watch a live play on Sunday morning. We had a good time watching the live play and talking with the game creators. There were only about six people in the discussion so we got some nice one-on-one time with them. We decided to purchase copies of the game and made some new friends across the pond. And they were interested in doing some virtual live demos/plays at Gamicon in February.

This made me realize that C-19 is teaching us to step out of our boxes. When we get back to having in-person conventions, what great opportunities we will still have with the virtual gaming lessons we have learned. How will we be able to utilize this?  How many conventions will I still be able to attend in a virtual manner after the crisis is over? I hope a lot! There are a lot of additional benefits to in-person con-goers. Global access to guests we haven’t been able to access before, virtual demos and expanded online dealer rooms. And for those people who can’t attend our cons in-person, they could still watch live streams from the in-person con, attend game demos and live-plays with in-person attendees, participate in con events and have virtual seats at in-person tables, as well as access the dealer rooms for con attendee specials.

Though this isn’t the world we want to be in right now, it is great to see the gaming community coming together to create spaces that expand our access and can grow our conventions in ways we hadn’t thought of before. We should seize these opportunities and use them to create new spaces where we can be together, even when we aren’t able to be close to one another.

Our hobby is full of amazing people, and in attending the UK Games Expo I was reminded of how big our community is and how much we have to share.

Until we can be together again in-person, game on… virtually!

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