I started a game on Role-Play Online (RPOL).net, but while it worked sufficiently for free-form role-playing it made it difficult to describe what was going on in real time with seven different players in my group. We needed a graphical overlay that could support turn-by-turn moves without requiring real-time interaction. Enter Roll20.net.
One of my players recommended Roll20 early on but it took me awhile to truly investigate it. Once I started testing the waters with the program I knew I'd found the right one. What makes Roll20 so good? Perhaps the more important question is what doesn't it do?
- A completely editable grid? Check.
- A turn-by-turn calculator? Check.
- Icons from all over the web? Check, check, and check!
The one unifying rule for Roll20 is ease of use. What Roll20 doesn't have it lets you import. No need to buy or create specialized-sized maps, you can drag-and-drop it right into Roll20. Likewise, the system features for-pay icons, but searches the Internet for other free icons and supports drag-and-drop features straight from your desktop. This means the icon of your character and the profile picture of your character can match because they're the same picture.
In addition to the map layer there's a dice roller, fog of war feature, measurement tool, a jukebox full of background music and sound effects, macros, a customizable card deck, voice and video integration, Google Hangouts integration, and three-dimensional dice effects. Roll20 is a child of Kickstarter and it's filled to the brim with good ideas.
Although Roll20 isn't perfect – there is no mobile integration, the layers sometimes don't work quite right, and it's not entirely compatible with all browsers – the fact that it's offered for free is a powerful incentive. Even better, it recently left beta as I and my seven players migrated to this new platform:
Today we’re pleased to announce that we’re leaving our beta tag behind and “launching.” For us, that means we feel that the platform is mature and stable enough to start really pushing to expand our user base. We’ve been fortunate to grow our community tremendously just based on word of mouth in the online RPG ecosystem, but we want to go beyond that. We want anyone who’s ever given up on tabletop gaming due to distance, or lack of a thriving local community, to find a way to reconnect and find a new gaming group online. 50,000 users is an amazing number, but we think that there are 500,000 people out there who could be using Roll20 right now to get together and have fun.
Combining Roll20 with RPOL makes for an excellent, flexible tool that allows us to use it as a map on the slow days and play in real time on the one night we can all get together.
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