After spending a few weeks enamored with Roll20’s dynamic lighting and a lot of the virtual bells and whistles, then a couple more weeks plowing a ton of time into getting my adventures digitized for online play, I finally came to the conclusion that–for my games–the bells and whistles are more noise than signal. I have abandoned the dynamic lighting and video game-like token movement on the grid and returned to a more-abstract approach. This shift has been a largely positive one, with me managing to play more D&D in the past couple of weeks than I have in any 2-week period for probably any time in the 21st century.
Here’s how we’re currently playing it:
- Video and voice chat using MS Teams
- Maps and other session content (like images) on Roll20’s virtual tabletop
- All player and almost all DM dice rolls on Roll20
- DM’s “behind the screen” rolls for some checks on my desk with my dice
- DM reveals the dungeon map as players progress, similar to how the in-person player’s map gets drawn as the DM describes the corridors and rooms
- Everyone has their own paper character sheets and other notes
- XP, treasure splitting, rumors, news, leveling up, and other activity that can occur “in town” is handled via text chatting between gaming sessions
We have had great results so far, and I imagine that our online game will continue to evolve. I’ve long wanted to get a regular online game going, but it took a pandemic and a stay-at-home order to motivate me to learn how.
So far my sessions have been small with people I play with regularly, only family so far. The next steps will be to A) enlarge the number of players at once and B) possibly expand to new players (Gasp!).
Though I remain impressed with the vibe the lighting system in Roll20 brings, and will continue to explore ways to incorporate virtual bells and whistles into my game, the reduced workload of prepping an adventure and the streamlined play of “theatre of the mind” has really boosted things for us and I look forward to expanding the circle.
ALSO: I’m looking at ways to use Roll20 for some other games, including the Traveller starship combat game Mayday. I can very much envision this pumping up my Science-Fiction Adventure in the Far Future.
Another thing I’m thinking about is Panzerblitz. It seems to me that you could use Roll20 to do a lot of great things with a tabletop wargame like that. But I’m focused on D&D right now and the Eastern Front might have to wait.