A Look At Roll20

A couple of weeks ago I took a look at Tabletop Forge, a VTT for use in a Google+ Hangout. I used it to run a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG one-shot game. One of the comments on that post asked about Roll20, another VTT that has the ability to be used within a Google+ Hangout. I had glanced at the Roll20 VTT prior to that comment but that spurred me to take a closer look.

This week I ran another Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG game over Google+ Hangouts using the Roll20 application. Roll20 is in open beta and has a good sized features list. Roll20 can be accessed via a web browser and includes its own voice and video system. It can also be integrated into a Google+ Hangout as an application. The testing I did with it was as a Google+ Hangout application, so this commentary will not cover the integrated voice and video chat of Roll20.

Roll20 has several other features including a searchable art library to allow easily dragging tokens and such to the map, a jukebox to play background music to the players, built in text chat, dice rolling, macros, fog of war, turn tracker, drawing tools, health bars and more. Roll20 also allows you to prep a campaign file prior to the game and it will be there when you connect for your actual session.

For the game I ran I did some pre-game prep. Roll20 let me prep multiple map pages before the game. So on the first map I just dropped the module cover into the map. As players assembled in my Google Hangout and launched Roll20, they saw the initial opening image.

On the second map I used a player copy of the map from the adventure I ran and applied the fog of war to it. Since DCC RPG is able to be played gridless, I dropped a single token on the map to indicate the party’s location, but did not represent each character. I tested the revealing of the fog and it seemed to work great during my prep.

Fog of War in Action.

I also took advantage of the macros and setup attack rolls and damage rolls for each of the encounters in the module. This was a nice feature as when combat occurred I could just call my macro and get the roll I needed. It was relatively simple to setup.

Come game time I went to the Roll20 website and chose launch the campaign in a Google+ Hangout. That launched the Hangout, I invited my circle of gamers for this game and the Hangout was live. As players connected I had them go to the apps tab in the Hangout and launch Roll20 from there. All save one connected with no issue. The player with problems launching the app did need to reboot, but quite likely not fault of Roll20.

Page Selection in Roll20

Once the players were connected I moved the player ribbon from the start page with the module cover to the map I had prepped. The fog of war feature worked great and we used the chat based dice roller for our rolls. All seemed to work well and a good time was had.

I followed up with my players this morning and asked them what they thought of the setup and had overwhelmingly positive reactions from them. The fog of war received good reviews. Some thought the dice rolling was a little complicated for doing some of the multiple dice rolls needed in DCC RPG. Some of these issues could be minimized with a little more time with the tool I think.

Overall as a GM I found the Roll20 app a really solid product offering. The application easily integrated with Google+ Hangouts which is nice as Google+ provided me with the tools to meet gamers, schedule the games and then a place to play. The fog of war worked well for me to show a map as the players moves along and the macros were quite useful as well for pre-prep. I could easily see myself running more games over the Roll20 application.

VTTs have come a long, long way in a few short years. With a lot of my online gaming happening over Google+ Hangouts it is great to have two very strong VTT contenders. At the moment I probably give Roll20 a bit of an edge. But with Tabletop Forge’s kickstarter complete I expect them to close the gap in very little time.

I will be keeping a close eye on both Tabletop Forge and Roll20 going forward.

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A Look At Tabletop Forge

I have been following along with the development of Tabletop Forge since its early days when Joshuha Owen first started posting on Google+ about it. Tabletop Forge is a Google+ Hangout application that assists with playing tabletop RPGs via a Google+ Hangout. It includes mapping functions, whiteboard, dice rolling and integrated chat that allows aliasing and whispering.

I have played with several VTTs over the past few years. In the past I have tended to default to using MapTool and pairing with Skype for the voice end of things. MapTool is a fully featured VTT that when coupled with a framework for your system of choice is a pretty powerful VTT. Using a framework brings some complexity with the tool of course. Another possible con to MapTool is that one needs to host a server that the clients of the other players connect to over the Internet. For the technically inclined this is not a major issue, but for others it does cause troubles.

For those that are not aware, Google+ is haven of gamers. Do not buy the media headlines that Google+ is a ghost town, tap into the right circles and RPG gamers will find Google+ a wonderful home on the web for gamer discussion and meeting other gamers. Add in Google Hangouts for group communication and you start to have the makings of easy online gaming and an easy way to make connections with people that want to game online.

Then enters Tabletop Forge. As mentioned, it is an application that can be used from within a Google Hangout. There are not any servers to configure and setup and open holes in firewalls for. The application runs from within the Google Hangout and provides all the basics of a VTT application. It turns Google Hangouts into a one-stop shop for gaming online.

Tabletop Forge might not support all of the features that MapTool does, but it makes up for it in its simplicity and integration with Google Hangouts. The feature set for Tabletop Forge is growing and even in its current state provides everything to run games online.

I have toyed with Tabletop Forge a reasonable amount and found it easy to use and fully capable of running games via Google Hangouts. Most recently I played a game of Dungeon Crawl Classics over it. We primarily used it for display of images and for dice rolling. It handled the “funky” dice DCC RPG is famous for with ease. It did the job quite well and did not get in the way of the game.

I am prepping for a one-shot of DCC RPG which I am running via Google Hangouts which I will be using Tabletop Forge for. The game will primarily be Theater of the Mind, but I will also be using it for image display and dice rolling as well. The ability to draw up a few images if room descriptions are unclear will also be useful.

While I have talked about playing DCC RPG on Tabletop Forge, one of the things about Tabletop Forge is that it is system neutral. Choose your system and you have the basics to play a game on Google Hangouts with it.

Tabletop Forge currently has a Kickstarter running with about two weeks left to go. While Tabletop Forge is going to remain free, the Kickstarter will help enable the team to add some features and include some art packs with the tool. Plus it helps pay back the free time the current developers have put into it.

So swing on by Google+ and try out Tabletop Forge and see what it can do for your virtual gaming.

Review: Hero Lab Beginner Box

Developer: Lone Wolf Development
Price: Free
Tankard Rating: 5/5 

Lone Wolf Development, the makers of Hero Lab, released a free version of their character generation software for the Pathfinder Beginner Box. Being a current user of Hero Lab for main Pathfinder game I was anxious to download the tool for the Beginner Box and see how it looked. This was particularly good timing as I had run my first Beginner Box adventure last weekend for my son, which went very well.

Currently the software only runs on Windows 7, Vista or XP machines. A Mac version is slated for release early in 2012 for both the Beginner Box version and the main Pathfinder version. Luckily I still have a Windows box around and I downloaded the application from Lone Wolf’s site and installed it there.

The download and install were painless. I found it refreshing that Lone Wolf was not even making people provide email addresses and login information for their site. Just click the download link and off you go. The install went quickly and I was soon ready to start entering my son’s character into the software to see how it went.

First up after launching the software is a welcome screen prompting for whether you are a player in the game or the game master. Choosing game master unlocks a few more options in the software we will look at later. For now I chose player and entered my son’s character name – Dolgrim and his own name for Player name.

There is only one choice to make on this screen and there is a short paragraph on choosing one. Click the drop down and you can choose from Human, Dwarf or Elf. I went with Dwarf here and then clicked on to the Class tab.

Under class you get to choose from the classes included in the Beginner Box and the Player Option Pack download from Paizo. The choices are Barbarian, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard.  We went with Wizard as that is the character we had created last weekend.

Here is a look at the race and class selection screens.

Next up is the Ability Score screen. Here you are directed to follow the rules in the Beginner Box which use the 4d6 drop the lowest method. The option to use the built in dice roller is also noted. We had rolled our scores earlier so I put them in as we rolled them.

Moving on to the class tab, Wizard for us, though it will change title depending on what class you chose earlier in the process. Here we chose class specific items such as school of magic, populate the spell book and pick the spells prepared for the day. It was on this tab I discovered an error we had made last weekend and noted that we had shorted Dolgrim one spell from his spell book. Another reason I find Hero Lab a great tool! It always catches my careless mistakes!

We rolled through the next tabs pretty quickly. There is a dedicated tab for skills, feats, weapons, armor, and gear. Having chosen these this past weekend we just selected the items the character had. Painless. Dolgrim is also the proud owner of a new ring of protection +1 that he picked up on an adventure last weekend and we were easily able to add that magic item to the character sheet.

With the character created we could save it as a PDF or export a stat block which can be handy for online games and such. The PDF looks pretty good. They emulated the character sheet format the included sheets had in the Beginner Box minus some of the window dressing. The data is in very similar spots for people going between character sheets.

I tried out the interface from the GM’s side as well. Choosing the “I’m the Game master” option from the drop down brings you into this portion of the tool. It is nearly identical to the Player’s side except you get a few more options. One of the biggest is that you can choose monsters as a race. Even better you can add class levels to these monsters!

While in as a GM I also played a little with creating multiple troglodytes, adding a rogue level to one of them, and importing Dolgrim from the player portfolio I created earlier. This all worked quite well.

With multiple NPC critters and the heroes in the same portfolio I brought up the tactical console. With the tactical console a DM can use it as a combat board and also track hit points and such. You can also apply combat effects such as dazed, nauseated, and more to NPCs and characters on the tactical console to update their stats on the fly. A very powerful tool if you use (or want to use) electronic aids for play.

I am already a happy user of the full version of Hero Lab for Pathfinder, but this free release for the Beginner Box is an excellent addition to the line from Lone Wolf Development. It is an extremely easy to use character generator and the pairing with the Pathfinder Beginner Box makes a very strong combination. From the player perspective the tool provides a fast way to accurately create and level a character. With the journaling ability you can also track your gold and experience rewards from session to session.

As a GM, Hero Lab for the Beginner Box will ease your prep greatly and allow you to craft interesting creatures with class levels if you desire. Throw in the combat manager and ability to apply conditions on the fly and this can also be a very powerful tool at the table as well.

If you find yourself with the Pathfinder Beginner Box in your house this holiday season make sure to check out this free version of Hero Lab. I think you will be quite impressed with what it can do.

Tankard Rating: 5/5