It has been a reasonable amount of time since I talked about the functionality of Roll 20 and a lot has actually changed since I did. I want to look at as many virtual tabletop software solutions as I can over the next few months and give a review on each. Todays blog will be the first look at Roll 20 but there will be more. It just has too many functions and options to cover in one post alone. So if you have been looking for a virtual tabletop software to run a game (be it an RPG or a pure tabletop war game or board game) then keep an eye on the blog over the next few months.
Let us start with the three types of backer levels that are available for the Roll 20 system. This will illustrate what is available in total and what is activated at what level of funding. Remember one thing, you can use Roll 20 completely free which is the base level, then there is the supporter and mentor levels. At each of these levels there are separate functions available to use in your games that broaden your ability to run your games. The following table was extracted from the Roll 20 website support page on 7 August 2013.
|This table details the functions of Roll 20 and who gets what!|
Just before we pull this all apart and have a look at the nitty gritty of the levels it is interesting to note that the level of the game that is played is determined by the level of the GM. for example, I run a lot of games in this system and I make a monthly subscription payment so I can be at the mentor level. I do use dynamic lighting (a lot) which is available for the supporter or greater level. But I have players that have simply signed up at the free (base) level that play with me. Roll 20 does not turn off dynamic lighting for them, they get to play with it turned on while in my game as I am paying for the service. So that is good to know. If you play with a regular GM then you could pool the $10 or so a month it is for mentor level amongst the entire group and apply it to the GM’s account. That way you get all the benefits! This is not “cheating the system” as Roll 20 was actually advertising themselves in that manner when I signed on (e.g. buy your GM a subscription!).
The base supporter level is completely fee free and allows you to have an unlimited number of games or campaigns on the go. As long as those campaigns and games do not breach the 100 MB storage limit that you have on offer. You can use the public forums and also can put up two posts requesting players for your games. Essentially this allows you access to a virtual table top without bells and whistles. You can upload maps and tokens (as long as they remain under 5MB per image) and gain access to the dice roller and main playing surface.
The main structure of Roll 20 looks much like this.
|The state of play at the end of last Reign of Winter game|
The largest portion of the screen is taken up by the map which is the “playing surface”. There is a floating toolbar to the upper left of the application that has functions on it that depend on if you are a player or a GM. The one shown in the image is my own and includes GM functions that are not included in the player version. This toolbar is recreated in a larger format here so I can explain the different tools that are located on it. The top arrow icon is the select icon. You use this tool mainly as it selects tokens. Clicking and dragging moves those tokens. Holding the click down creates a circle to radiate out so you can highlight areas and as a GM you can hold shift and hold the click so all players views are moved to the area of the screen you are highlighting. Both players and GM’s have this tool. As a GM it will only select tokens that are on the current layer you are on.
|This is the players view of the setting with dynamic lighting
on. This is what the red headed character to the left can see
Killgore FrostHammer (Martin):
The journal tab also contains the GM handouts. I use this a fair amount, keeping all the images of NPC’s and notes that the player can look at here. As the GM I can choose when to make them accessible by all players and I can also push them on to all players screens when they first meet the NPC or find the map etc. It is a really handy thing and the players can always go back and look in their journal and all of these images will still be there if the access is still allowed.
The next tab is a music jukebox. Roll 20 has a load of music included with it and you can go on here and select tracks to provide ambience to your players. There are some nice sound effects in there and if used well it can be quite atmospheric. The tune the GM plays is run through all of the players hangouts but I do not think that is the same the other way round but I can not say that with any certainty.
The penultimate tab is a spot for decks of cards and also rollable tables. I use the card deck on occasion but I have found the cards are too small (I was using them for Paizo critical hits cards). They also seem to be slow to load and hard to handle well. This may have been my internet connection (as I have recently upgraded to super fast) but I can’t really say for sure as I have not tried them since. The other option here is the rollable table. The table allows you to set up a number of entries and you can call a roll from it in the chat tab. When I did this initially it told me the number of the item that had been selected but not the description. This has now been fixed so it is a great tool to use now. If you add images it shows them instead of the description.
|Dynamic lighting from the GM’s perspective|
The final tab contains a mass of settings. The first of these are the Macros I mentioned earlier. You can develop other macros for use here and place them in the macro bar. It is quite easy to do as all you need do is put into a box the commands that you need to string together. Give it a name and then type #name in the chat bar and it runs or you can include them in a macro bar at the bottom. After the macros there is a raft of personal settings like what you want your name displayed as, 3d dice activated (you see them rolled on the virtual table) and a raft of other options. One of the most important settings here is the Video/Player Avatar Size. Those avatars take up a lot of screen space so the best option is to switch it all to names only and it gives you maximum screen space.
So what is left to talk about? Most of the features above, apart from dynamic lighting and the free token program is available for free. So what else do you get for a subscription. Well, first and foremost you lose the ads asking you to contribute! I am not an ad person but that is not the real reason I bought a subscription. You can put as many ads up for players as you want as well. The other thing you get at the supporter layer is the ability to have images of up to 10 MB and also a generous 1000 MB of storage space. Plus it also comes supported for the iPad and tablet like devices. That is right! If you want you can sit in the lobby of your favourite resort sucking up internet and play your favourite game at the same time. Or of course on your couch or wherever.
But wait, there is more!! As a mentor you get all of the supporter stuff, can have up to 2000 MB stored and your ads for players are highlighted too! Not only that, if you need help they give you an email address to contact support rather than having to log it in the forums. I have done this once and it was great, quick service and turnaround. You get full access to the Development Server! What is that? Well, it is the server where they trial all the new cool pretty toys and get us mentors to trial them for them. I have only moved all my games there today as I want the new cool stuff! I want to try it. There has just been released the Transmogrifier!!!! I so wish this was out a few months ago. What this allows you to do is transfer resources between campaigns! Maps, tokens, characters, NPC’s, handouts. Just a fantastic idea. It may sound like not much but believe me, when you have spent three hours getting a map just right layered with dynamic lighting and all the tokens in place and you realise you could use the same thing in your other campaign or you have two groups this tool is the greatest thing on earth. You access this from the settings tab or from where you launch the campaigns as well.
I have attempted to use a few different tools for a virtual tabletop but none that I have come across have such a broad range of stable features at the moment AND offer a native adaptation to Google + Hangouts. You don’t need to use it in the hangouts as it can be used from their site alone or you can put it through a hangout which is great.
Looking at costs of the programs the creators offer two methods of payment for supporter and the mentor program. You can pay a monthly subscription fee or you can pay an annual fee that is in essence the amount of 10 months subscription. I pay mine via a monthly fee as I actually want them to have the extra $20 per year to help them be able to keep up the fantastic work they are doing providing new and innovative ways to use the product. The supporter level is at $4.99 USD a month and the mentor is $9.99 USD a month to subscribe. They also have a handy bar on their site that shows their funding level as they have the goal of making it their full time roll. Yes, that is right, this program has been developed in their spare time to date. Imagine if it were their job!
|A complete map that I built up from a scanned map…|
In summation, you have to try Roll 20. Then you have to sign up for it. OK? Well, I use Roll 20 a lot and find it very functional with some excellent features. It has some rough edges like the card system but that is far overshadowed by the fantastic work that is the rest of the program. There is some room for improvement and I am sure they have some of these on their to do list but I would love to see things like character sheet templates for popular games (maybe even submittable by users) for the journal. Some tabletop skins like some of the mats I have seen on Google for Fate Core. Option to have tokens, like poker chips or something that can be used in games that have bennies and fate points etc. They have a great product but there are some good looking virtual tabletops being developed at the moment that could offer a real challenge. For now though, my money is with Roll 20 and I hope you look at it, consider it and maybe even sign on for it! I give Roll 20 four and a half dead ice trolls out of five… Keep rolling!