Roll20 was a Kickstarter project back in 2012. It raised $39,651, well past its goal of $5,000.
Once funded the project team set out to create a free and simple way to play D&D and other roleplaying games online.
They created something that has been dubbed a virtual tabletop (VTT). D&D is normally played at a table, so when you play online everyone sits at their computers around the virtual tabletop.
What does that actually mean though?
First, Roll20 transmits your voice, video, and any typed messages you want to the other people you’re playing with. My group had already gotten used to using Skype for that, so we just stuck with that instead of using Roll20’s system, but its there nonetheless.
Second, Roll20 has a grid. You can draw on the grid or drop images on it to represent rooms, trees, rocks, or anything else that might set the stage for what’s happening in the adventure.
Images called tokens can be dropped onto the grid to represent different characters. One for your knight, one for your friend’s wizard, one for the evil giant, and five for the evil giant’s orc henchmen.
The tokens have health bars, so when your knight hits the giant with his sword the DM can mark down the giant’s health right on the token.
Roll20 let’s you roll dice as well. You just put in a command, like, “/roll 2d6+7,” to figure out how much you dealt to that giant.
That’s about all there was initially, but the folks at Roll20 have added a bunch of stuff since the initial launch.
These improvements were made possible by people like myself who paid a voluntary subscription fee in exchange for getting access to Roll20’s new content several months before free users.
With the money from these subscriptions Roll20 was able to expand their servers, hire a bunch of new programmers, run data collection about what types of games people are playing, and even sponsor a Twitch channel that shows off all the cool things you can do with Roll20.
Among the cool new features are:
Visual effects. When a fireball spell goes off I can now add a visual explosion of fire.
Character sheets. All the information that people used to keep track of on pieces of paper or another website can now be consolidated on Roll20. Even better, the character sheets can be linked to tokens to better track information on the board and on your sheet.
Music and sound effects. Roll20 is linked to a few music sites, most notably SoundCloud, which allows you to play music for all your players to hear.
Dynamic lighting. This allows you to draw lines on the map that block sight. The effect is that a player can only see what their character would be able to see. A great element of suspense for horror games.
Card decks. These can be quite useful for any games that use cards to generate random results rather than dice. Even better, you can add your own cards. I’ve even fully ported some old card games so that my group can play them when we aren’t in the same room.
3D dice. When you make your rolls you can now actually see the dice careen around the VTT and land on your fated result.
Macros and API scripts. I saved the best for last! These allow you to do sooo many things in the game. The possibilities are endless.
Macros are commonly used to queue up a bunch of die rolls.
Say your knight can swing his sword three times per round. You roll a d20+10 (twenty-sided die) for each attack and if you hit you roll that 2d6+7 that I mentioned earlier. If you roll a 20 on the d20 then you deal double damage.
That’s a total of six different sets of dice that you could be rolling every round with a conditional modifier that occasionally doubles one of the sets of dice.
Macros let you roll all of those dice at once, organize the information, and saves it so you can roll them all again with the push of a button.
Macros can also be used to add the occasional advantage you might have. For example, you might set the macro to ask if you’ve received a bonus to attack from your wizard friend during this fight. If you say yes, then the macro increases your d20+10 to a d20+12.
API scripts are little programming things that trigger on certain actions. A common one is to set a trap in the dungeon. When a player’s token passes over that location, “SNAP!” The trap door opens and they fall in. The script automatically reveals the hidden trap, halts the player’s movement, rolls dice to deal damage to their token, and plays a sound effect from SoundCloud of the character falling into the trap.
The API scripts allow you to do almost anything you can imagine in the game and recently I’ve been dipping my toe into the script writing pool.
This post is already a bit longer than I like my posts to be though, so I’ll sign off for now and explain the script I’m writing in another post later this week.