We used to play D&D when we were younger. Then we went away to college. We still played every once in a while, over the summer, or over the random holiday, but not that much. Years later, Protocon occurred. Despite Mike’s mislabeling of the 2011 event, we actually had 4 of them. Most Protocons featured some form of role playing game; one year it was Star Frontiers and for Protocon 4, we played about 3 pages of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
Sometime near the end of 2011, I started playing D&D again with some people I knew in college. It was fun. Then I moved. I realized that finally technology had gotten to the point where we could conceivably run some games virtually. We could all get on Google Hangouts and video chat at the same time. As a bonus, you can share documents and pictures in your session, so I could throw up a map or something and people could draw little icons representing where they were, etc. I talked it over with people and everyone seemed interested.
After moving, life was a bit hectic for all of us. Tom got married and Mike and Joe had just moved too. Things finally settled down after the new year and we scheduled our first session to test out video chatting and to roll up some characters.
Things were a little rough, but promising. I discussed (virtually) with everyone different options I was thinking about for maps:
- No maps like we used to play in 2nd edition — all in your head.
- Using a Google sketch document to place a background image and move around icons.
- Use a program like Maptool.
- Use a cross between the two above options, like Tabletop Forge.
Everyone seemed to want to avoid the first option for now and try out 3rd edition’s more tactical battle, which requires a map and miniatures. So we tried using a sketch document as a makeshift map. My take on that: It can work, but it’s a pain in the butt. It’d probably work better in a 2nd edition environment to indicate positioning, but with anything that requires more precise locations, like attacks of opportunity, etc., it becomes a bit of a headache. The number one problem is there is no way to lock the background image, so if anyone, player or GM, misses an icon and accidentally targets the map, the map gets dragged. Which is a drag.
We also checked out Tabletop Forge. It worked in the Google Hangouts environment, and provided some extra functionality over a sketch document and wasn’t as involved as a full-blown solution like Maptool. Unfortunately, it was still too early in the development phase to work (in my mind).1
Lastly, we tried Maptool. I had some issues getting the right ports open on my router in the first go, but Brian and Mike really liked the idea of the more sophisticated map. I didn’t exactly relish all the extra preparation that would go into running a game with Maptool, but it was duly noted how much they seemed to like the idea, so I told them I’d investigate it a bit more.
The next day or so, I stumbled upon Roll20. Wow! This was it. A nice clean easy to use interface, the ability to use it within Google Hangouts if you wanted (we don’t yet), and some nifty extra features like visual line of sights, fog of war, and keeping track of some simple stats like hit points. I started loading in maps right away.
That was about a month ago. We’ve actually had 2 or 3 playing sessions, and besides the one where Mike’s computer kept overheating and shutting down, it works surprisingly well. One game has been completed, A Dark and Stormy Knight, which was free from Wizards of the Coast. This past weekend, we just started on The Keep on the Borderlands, by request of Mike. It’s a pretty shitty adventure in many ways since there’s so little in the way of a plot actually in the module. Unfortunately, not only do to my lack the motivation to really make it good, my skills are a wee bit rusty. Hopefully it will turn out okay though. In a future post, after we finish it, I’ll put up some of the extra maps I drew for the game and do a post-mortem.
Shortly after I paid a small amount of money to have access to the newer betas of Tabletop Forge, the developer decided to merge efforts with Roll20. As a result, I get access, for life I think, to the Roll20 subscription features like dynamic lighting and ad-free play. I can say this about these features: If you play at least once a week, it’s totally worth the $5/month subscription. Especially if you can get your players to pitch in. ↩