Keep on Rollin’ Twenties

Virtual tabletops—online pen-and-paper roleplaying software—have been around since the late ’90s (and possibly earlier, if you include play-by-email and using IRC). I haven’t used a VT since Fantasy Grounds came out, back in 2004, since I prefer tracking down players to have a face-to-face session. But I know how useful they can be. And despite never having a good experience when laptops are involved in the game—they’re way too distracting, even when it’s just one designed for the GM’s jukebox, aid, and search center—the technologist in me can imagine glorious uses for VT software even in a real-life game… particularly if integrated with those awesome touchscreen gaming table tablets.

One of the newer, better releases is Roll20, a free and easy web-based system with great Google+ integration (and Google Sites/Drive). It’s dead freaking simple to set up, provide you have a webcam and mike already in place. It can search the web (and popular art forums, like Dundjinni and Campaign Cartographer) to find you maps, tiles, and creature tokens. It has a built-in dice roller… but unlike most dice rollers, it’s not weighed for d20 only. It can handle exploding/acing dice, White Wolf style target number successes (rolling 6d10 with a target of x+), 7th Sea/L5R style roll and keep (roll X dice, drop Y lowest), and it can even do FUDGE dice (4dF, the six-siders with the +/blank/- faces).

I’m pretty impressed. Some of the biggest problems I had with Fantasy Grounds was its d20-centric formulas, and its clunky interface for loading and storing props like handouts and maps. Roll20 is lightweight, powerful, INCREDIBLY versatile, both system- and user-friendly, and most importantly, it’s free. If I ever get that tablet I plan on buying, I’m tempted to use this as a real-time updater and GM aid. While some of my group are used to using smartphones to look at websites and such, few of them are the netbook/tablet crowd, so a lot of the cool features would probably go unused.

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