Tobold's Blog
Saturday, April 04, 2020

Social distancing has done it, and persuaded me and one of my regular D&D groups to start playing Dungeons & Dragons on a virtual tabletop with Roll20. Last Sunday I played as a player, and tomorrow I will start my own campaign as a DM. I will keep you updated on how that went, but here are already some notes about the preparation.

The biggest hurdle to playing on Roll20 is that you have to learn how to use the software. That is relatively easy for the players, but less so for the DM, because he has so many more options. I very much recommend CrashGem's Learning Roll20 series on YouTube. Of course the tutorial on Roll20 is also useful, but the videos explain stuff a lot better and in more detail. There are a lot of other Roll20 tutorial videos on YouTube, let me know if you have a favorite.

Once you know how to use Roll20, as a DM you need to create an adventure, that is to say a number of "pages" with for example maps, tokens, character sheets, and so on. You can do all that manually, but it is a *lot* of work. If you have money, you can Pay2Win the preparation­čśü, by buying a complete adventure module. I went for the Essentials Kit, with the Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure. This is basically the new D&D 5th edition starter set. The original starter set, Lost Mine of Phandelver, would also have been a good choice, but we already played part of that. If you buy a module, all your pages and maps are already set up, including dynamic lighting (more on that later), and you have the tokens and character sheets of all monsters and NPCs, the description of all locations, plus player handouts. Really massive gain in time and comfort, even if you probably still want to go through all of the stuff to really understand the preparation.

You can play Roll20 for free. If you take a $50/year "Plus" subscription, you get access to dynamic lighting, which is basically the one part where playing on a screen ends up being superior to playing on a table. With dynamic lighting each player's token "sees" only what he would see if he stood at that location in the dungeon with that vision and light. No more forgetting that the human in the party doesn't have darkvision, because the map will be pitch black for him. The $100/year "Pro" subscription adds scripts and a bunch of other stuff, but up to now I'm fine with the "Plus" subscription.

In addition to the subscription, you can buy a bunch of other stuff. The most expensive is buying the D&D books, like the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, etc., because you basically pay full price for them. I did that for some, but I was grumbling a bit, because I already bought the books as real world books, and on D&D Beyond. Having to pay full price for a third copy of the same content isn't great. But only if you buy the books in Roll20 do you have access to everything in them for your game. At the very least the D&D Monster Manual is an important purchase here. The other books improve the function of the Charactermancer, the automatic character sheet creation tool; which is cool, but on a budget you can survive by filling the character sheet out by hand. On the Marketplace you can also buy a lot of player-created artwork for your game, which tends to be reasonably priced. You can get things like sets of a hundred tokens for 5 bucks. Oh, and you can share the resources you buy with the players in your campaign, so they don't have to buy the Player's Handbook as well.

The D&D Roll20 Charactersheet is very useful, especially with the Charactermancer. You can create a character quickly, and then click on things on your charactersheet to make rolls in the game. Your DM asks you to make a Perception check? Simply click once on Perception on your charactersheet. Don't be an idiot like me, who tends to double-click, and ends up making two rolls. Initiative, ability checks, saving throws, attacks, spells, everything can be clicked on. You can set rolls to be public or be whispered only to the DM, but I have always been a "roll on the table openly and live with the outcome" kind of DM. No fudged rolls for me. But hey, you can on Roll20, if you set it up that way.

Theoretically you can play with strangers from the internet. That is about as good an idea as it sounds like. In a perfect world you could make new friends from all over the world. In the real world you already run into the trouble of different time zones, and then you find out that many strangers on the internet are not very nice, or at least not reliable enough to run a campaign with them. But for running a campaign over a distance with friends you already have, Roll20 is perfect. You can use Roll20 for voice and video chat, but I haven't tried that. We are using Discord for voice chat, and no video.


I've been a Roll20 player for a little more than a year and a DM on it for like 2 weeks. I find it very hard.

One of the perk if you have Dndbeyond : There is a Chrome extension that is called Beyond20 that let you roll from you dndbeyong sheet. So if you have everything on dndbeyond but are starting up in Roll20, you dont need to buy much stuff.

Running an official adventure sure makes it way easier. I might have to put my 2 campaigns on hold and start a new one with a premade adventure.

Tell us of your progess...

Off to watch that link you shared.
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