In Defense of Roll20

Roll20 LogoEarlier this week a blogger posted Five Ways Roll20 is a PITA. A rather inflammatory title and one that certainly caught my eye. I’ve been using Roll20 since about August of 2012 I believe. I run a weekly Dungeon Crawl Classics game on it with folks from a variety of geographical locations. I’ve also played in several semi-regular games during the same time period.

Roll20 has been nothing but excellent to my group and I. Unlike other VTTs I have used in the past we rarely have technical issues that prevent us from gaming. I can think of one instance where Roll20 didn’t work (it was right after one of their larger upgrades), but we played that session anyways. Beyond that one instance technical issues have been minimal.

I do run Roll20 integrated to a Google Hangout though. So audio and video relies on Google, my experience with Roll20’s audio and video is non-existent. Google Hangouts has that covered for us and has some cool low bandwidth options for one of our players or when someone’s cable connection is poor. I’ve played with Roll20 on slower 1.54Mbps connections all the way up 15Mbps connections.

Either case – I did want to address each of the five points in the Five Ways Roll20 is a PITA blog post. I do realize just because I don’t have issues, doesn’t mean others don’t. But if one person can paint their experiences with a broad brush, I can do the same. Of all the VTTs I have played on, Roll20 has been the best and it just sort of gets out of my way when we play.

5 – Really, I work in IT

I am always wary when things start out declaring credentials. But overlooking that, this sound more like computer issues than something to do with Roll20. The post says most of the issues are on the author’s side. He then says he only got in an hour of game time.

My sessions are two hours in length. We’ve never had a technical issue consume more than 5 minutes of time on anyone’s side. There was the one occurrence after the Roll20 upgrade, but we still managed to get 1h45m in of playing that night with ease.

With that said – for my weekly game, I do get logged in about 5 to 10 minutes ahead of time and make sure my headphones and sound work on the computer in general (largely because I switch headsets from the set the kids use to my nice set).

4 – Where is that setting again?

This looks to have been fog of war being enabled. And mention of the author’s kid messing with settings.

I just checked – fog of war isn’t enabled by default on a new map. So the setting must have been changed. I surely hope someone spoke up pretty quickly that they couldn’t see things. There are only a handful of spots to check settings in Roll20 (the map and the general settings). We could usually sort things out pretty quick in our early Roll20 days.

As for the audio settings. As I noted above, I run from a computer my kids use and swap headphones. I usually check things out about 5-10 minute before the game to be sure all is well. Sometimes I need to replug in the headphones.

3 – It’s not me, it’s you

I can’t comment on this one as we use Roll20 integrated with G+ for audio and video. My best advice here is to do the same. Frankly I think Roll20 should drop the audio and video option and focus on the VTT. Between G+ Integration which works great, Skype, Ventrilo, Mumble, etc, etc, there really isn’t a need to try handling that piece on their own. Of course as soon as they dropped it, I am sure folks would complain.

Either way – my suggestion for this is to use it integrated with G+ Hangouts. We’ve had good experience that way. (Just listen to the actual play recordings to hear it).

2 – If you just look right here

I don’t really get this one. Back to fog of war and comparison to meatspace. The handouts option in Roll20 is a great way to show props, bits of text, etc. Just click Show to Players and you are all set. For the Barrowmaze game I had a whole series of handouts lined up for the start of the session – a handout map, the scene of descending into Barrowmaze and some of the interesting structures inside. Roll20  facilitated handouts wonderfully.

1 – It’s all just a setup

There are lots of features to Roll20. Some complex, some not. But yes, it could be overwhelming if you feel like you need to use them all right out of the gate. Shoot – even now we don’t use all of the features. So start small! Fire up Roll20, and toss a map down. Skip tokens for now – or use them just to represent movement. Character journals and character sheets aren’t required, use them later if you want.

At this point my online group uses the map feature, fog of war, minimal token use, the integrated die roller, chat, handouts, and some of the drawing tools. That’s about it. It works great and if you don’t want to get hung up in too much technology the way to go.

Some might think what we use is too much. Use Roll20 only for its die roller if you want. Or die roller and a map. Roll20 can be very, very simple to use or become more complex. But your group makes that decision. Roll20 can facilitate either style of play.

Wrap Up

Either way – Roll20 has been great for my group. I’ve made lots of great friends online and had a great time gaming. I hope the author of the original post sticks with it and after getting used to the tool has an equally rewarding experience. I think Roll20 is an excellent tool for folks with busy schedules trying to game!

Chromecast and Roll20

chromecast-imageChromecast

Google entered the streaming media player market with their Chromecast product last year. Priced at $35, the Chromecast is slightly larger than a USB key and goes into the HDMI slot of your TV. It needs auxiliary power through either a USB connection or power adapter. Once installed (which is very easy) you can “cast” certain applications to it – Netflix, YouTube, HuluPlus and such. You can also “cast” Chrome browser tabs to the device from a computer. This opens up a few more possibilities for the device.

We have several streaming media devices at home as we cut cable/satellite years ago. We have an older model Roku that serves our needs very, very well. One of the TVs has Netflix built-in which also covers a lot of our streaming needs. And of course a PS3 that has the ability to stream various forms of media.

So why would I even consider the Chromecast (and the tie-in for this post to an RPG blog)?

Roll20 and the Chromecast

When I read a little more about the casting of a Chrome tab my thought went to gaming and could I cast a tab running Roll20. I did some quick Google searches and it seemed some folks had tried this. With an Amazon gift card I decided to try this out and ordered a Chromecast.

It arrived a couple of days later and I set it up on the main TV in the house. One of the first things I tried was casting a Chrome tab (after installing the Chrome extension). A normal web page cast with minimal issue, though there was a bit of lag between what was displayed on the computer (MacBook Pro) and the screen. Nothing particularly problematic.

The next experiment was to cast a tab running Roll20. This initially worked pretty well, but soon the flaws became more evident. As I worked in Roll20 (removing fog of war, using the drawing tool, etc) the lag became more apparent and the tab would become disconnected from the Chromecast frequently. Typically I could just reconnect – but during a gaming session I’d rather be gaming – not troubleshooting tech.

I have continued to play with “casting” a Roll20 tab and still had intermittent results. The initial page display is fine, but the longer the “casted” tab is used the more problematic the “casting” becomes with disconnects and such.

Conclusion

At the current time I don’t think the Chromecast is quite ready for the use I had in mind for it. I suspect things will improve in the future as Chromecast updates and Chrome extensions are further refined to make them less resource heavy (both network bandwidth and computer). But for the moment my idea of reliably casting a Roll20 tab is not ready for prime time just yet.

I will continue to use the Chomecast and watch as updates to it and the apps that can use it take place. But for the moment – if you were considering a Chromecast for the purpose of casting Roll20 tabs I would hold out just a bit longer.

Roll20 Launches ‘Rugged Reroll’

Roll20 has put out a press release regarding their major overhaul to the popular VTT gaming application. I have not had the chance to take it for a spin since the update – but I look forward to experiencing the updates!

ROLL20 LAUNCHES ITS “RUGGED REROLL”
Largest, most comprehensive update in the platform’s history goes live today.

Roll20 Logo

Wichita, Kansas (December 16th, 2013) The developers of the online virtual tabletop Roll20.net have maintained a rapid update schedule since their successful Kickstarter launched the platform in April of 2012. So rapid, in fact, that the developers found themselves with a unique set of problems.

“We’ve been pushing new content live so fast that we weren’t giving ourselves a chance to see how everything fit together into the bigger picture,” said Roll20 co­creator Riley Dutton. “Our subscribers get really excited about improvements, and we get excited about the challenge. But we had come to a point where we wanted to take our time and do some bigger features, and that’s what the ‘Rugged Reroll’ has been about.”

While Roll20 typically has operated on a three week update schedule, the Rugged Reroll was a planned ten­and­a­half week grouping of large improvements. These included a major overhaul of the system’s rendering engine to better handle sizable maps, the addition of “waypoints” to allow better shared strategizing between players, the often­requested ability to “split” a group of gamers between two locations in a single game, context­specific token actions, the ability for users to access character and journal features outside of the game space, and a massive improvement to voice and video chat powered by TokBox’s new WebRTC platformC. All of the changes were made available to Roll20’s Mentor subscribers to test and provide feedback on throughout the process and were unveiled to the community at large via regular developer blogs.

Co­creator Richard Zayas said, “This update has given us the chance to make substantial changes, in a way that engaged our community while really giving us something to be proud about as an undertaking. And we gave ourselves time to get proper help documentation for once!”

Roll20 began as an effort to keep developers Dutton, Zayas, and Nolan T. Jones in touch via long distance gaming. Since launching via Kickstarter, it has attracted over 345,000 users as a free service. The program continues to be funded by subscribers who receive features that assist advanced gameplay.

Roll20 Wins Tabletop Gaming Industry Award and Surpasses 250,000 Users

Roll20 has released a press release regarding their recent ENnie award for “Best Software” and surpassing 250,000 users! It seems like just yesterday I was posting their announcement of surpassing 100,000 users.

My comments regarding the press release follow the press release posted below.

ROLL20 WINS TABLETOP GAMING INDUSTRY AWARD, SURPASSES 250,000 USERS
Online Application’s Creators Attend Gen Con Indy as the Gaming Hobby Soars
Roll20 Logo
Indianapolis, Indiana (August 25, 2013) The development team of the browser based virtual tabletop Roll20.net was recognized last weekend as creators of the “Best Software” at the Annual Gen Con EN World Roleplaying Game Awards, known as the “ENnies.” The Roll20 program added its 250,000th user over the weekend since launching the popular gaming platform eighteen months ago.

Project lead Riley Dutton said of the ENnies win, “It is exciting and encouraging to be recognized as valuable to the tabletop gaming community. Some of the very best creators in the industry were recognized at the ENnies, and to be listed next to them is a true honor.”

Added co-creator Richard Zayas about the Gen Con weekend, “So much of what we do is online, so the chance to go to Indianapolis and see nearly 50,000 gamers– meet some of our users, play new games we haven’t yet gotten to try, and just enjoy the celebration of these hobbies was fantastic.”

On the subject of Roll20’s quarter million users, program co-creator Nolan T. Jones said, “We created Roll20 as a way for us to personally play games with our friends across the country, and knowing that we’ve been able to help so many others do the same is staggering.”

The Roll20 development team stated at panels over the Gen Con weekend that future updates will revolve around better methods to find gamers in their system, and that they are actively seeking to work with major publishers to bring their content to users in easy-to-use formats.

Roll20 began as an effort to keep developers Dutton, Jones, and Zayas in touch via long distance gaming. Their project became public with an eighteen day Kickstarter campaign in April of 2012. Since then it has attracted over 250,000 users as a free service. The program continues to be funded by subscribers who receive features that assist advanced gameplay.

 

I thought the “Best Software” award was well deserved. While I was torn between wanting Roll20 and Purple Sorcerer’s Crawler’s Companion to win this category with 250,000 users it is little surprise Roll20 ended up with the gold.

If you haven’t checked out Roll20 yet and have any interest in online gaming with a virtual tabletop, you owe it to yourself to take a look. I have been running a DCC RPG campaign over Roll20 for the past year. The software has pretty much just worked. We lose no time sorting out connection difficulties or anything typically associated with a VTT. Though their features have increased over the months, one can still just use it to display a map for a more theater of the mind game keeping complexity to a minimum.

Roll20 has certainly allowed me to get a lot more gaming in over the past year than I would have otherwise.

In regards to surpassing 250,000 users, it was January 21, 2013 when their press release went out announcing surpassing 100,000 users! Here we are in late August with a 150,000 user increase! Very impressive! That is quite the player pool to work with when looking for a new game to play or group to play with.

G+ Event Banners Redux

At the end of March I posted six banners for G+ Events (they work well for Facebook cover pages and Twitter banners too). Recently G+ updated and increased the size one could use for G+ event banners making the ones I posted at the end of March unusable.

Bigger banners for events are cool! So here is a new set of banners for use in your G+ Events that work with the new larger size.

To use these banners for your own events right click and save the image to your own computer. When creating your G+ Event you can choose Change Theme and select the Upload option. Drag the uploaded image to the box or browse to the location you downloaded the map banners to.

Enjoy!

G+ Event Banner 1

G+ Event Banner 2

G+ Event Banner 3

G+ Event Banner 4

G+ Event Banner 5

G+ Event Banner 6

G+ Event Banner 7

G+ Event Banner 8

 

 

G+ Event Banners

I started converting some of the maps I have drawn into G+ Event Banners for my own games. I think they came out looking pretty good and more banners for use in scheduling your RPG related events is always a good thing!

To use these banners for your own events right click and save the image to your own computer. When creating your G+ Event you can choose Change Theme and select the Upload option. Drag the uploaded image to the box or browse to the location you downloaded the map banners to.

Enjoy!

G+ Event Banner 1

G+ Event Banner 2

G+ Event Banner 3

G+ Event Banner 4

G+ Event Banner 5

G+ Event Banner 6

Roll20 Outage Aftermath

Roll20 LogoSaturday evening Roll20 had a service outage. I typically do not get to play on Saturday evenings as most of my gaming takes place on weeknights as that is what fits my schedule the best. However, I started seeing the tweets about it on Saturday evening even though I was not playing. Then earlier this afternoon the good folks at Roll20 posted a note on the previous evening’s downtime.

Technical problems happen with anything that involves tech. Anyone that owns a computer, smartphone, or any tech device has been troubled by a technical issue at some point. Even the big companies like Amazon or Google’s Gmail have the occasional outages and they have substantial amounts of money invested in avoiding these outages. Hitting 100% uptime is very difficult, even for the big players.

A key differentiator between different companies is how they communicate with their users during these outages. I must say, Roll20 handled things very, very well. Let’s look at how Roll20 handles keeping folks up to date on their availability.

First, they maintain http://status.roll20.net/. This is the method they provide to check the current status of their servers. If there is an outage, it should be reflected here. The historic availability is also available for the past three months on the status site. This is a handy resource for Roll20 users if they are experiencing some issues. It provides a quick easy way to see if it is a server problem or a player having isolated technical issues.

Next, Roll20 maintains an active Twitter presence. If you use Twitter and play in Roll20 games, you should follow them. Looking back at their Twitter timeline from last night you can see they were up front about the issues and were tweeting updates about the problem keeping people informed. While tweets do not fix the problem, communicating about the problem really helps people know what is going on and that the issue is being worked on.

And finally, after the outage last night Riley posted on the Roll20 forums more details about what happened. He reassures the community Roll20 takes the downtime seriously and goes on to describe what is going on to help minimize these issues in the future. I have great respect for companies that post these post-problem updates publicly.

I am quite happy to see how Roll20 handled the outage and communicated during the outage. Technical issues happen, it is how the companies handle them that differentiates them from the others. Kudos to Roll20 for handling last night’s brief outage like professionals in an open and forthcoming manner.

UPDATE: Crawler’s Companion Released

Crawler's Dice Roller

UPDATE: 2/6/2013

The iOS version of the app has been released through Apple! You can now download Crawler’s Companion from the Apple App Store. Go to the bottom of this post for my iOS experience with this app.

Last summer Purple Sorcerer Games ran a Kickstarter to help fund their Crawler’s Companion app. They were looking to port it to a large variety of mobile devices increasing its usefulness exponentially to Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG players at the table.

The application has been available in beta form for some time. This weekend the app has slowly been rolling out through the various app stores. The application is currently available through the Amazon Marketplace and Google Play stores. It is currently awaiting approval from Apple and Nook app store. The application is free and its increasing availability in the app stores for the different platforms will be a boon to DCC RPG players.

The Crawler’s Companion puts funky dice rolling,critical hit charts, fumble charts, spell lists, and other rule lookups at your fingertips. On charts that require a roll to determine effect the user can either choose to let the app roll the dice for you or use lookup mode to enter in the result of an actual die roll.

Crawler's Spell TabI have the app installed on a Droid X2 and the application is quite snappy! Having all of this information at my fingertips is going to be great for my weekly DCC RPG game. No more flipping through my printed cheat sheets to see what the results of the most recent spell check or critical hit are.

The released version of the app that just hit the app stores in version 1.0. Purple Sorcerer Games is already at work on the 1.1 version which will include a batch dice roller, initiative tracker, hit point tracker, a new options screen, and the ability to change dice colors.

If you are a Dungeon Crawl Classics player or judge, be sure to check Crawler’s Companion out. Even if you aren’t a DCC RPG player, you might find the dice roller worth the download for quick rolls on your mobile device.

Updated: I still have a generation 1 version of the iPad. Application support is slowly growing more limited as my device ages. Purple Sorcerer Games worked hard on making this app run on generation 1 devices. This work helped make for an app that ran well on the generation 1 iPad and quite efficiently on the newer devices. So far the app has done great on my test drive of it on my iPad. A great application for DCC RPG fans who own iOS devices! You can’t go wrong with this free app from Purple Sorcerer Games!

Roll20: TSR Endorsement and Tabletop Forge

Roll20, the virtual tabletop, has been having a busy couple of weeks. Last week they released a press release announcing they had surpassed 100,000 users. This week Roll20 has released a press release announcing their endorsement by the newly launched TSR as their “official tabletop”. This week’s press release also announces Tabletop Forge ceasing development and joining in with Roll20!

My comments, particularly on the Tabletop Forge news, follow the press release presented here in its entirety.

ROLL20 GAINS THE SUPPORT OF TSR, TABLETOP FORGE
Application solidifies its status as the preeminent long distance gaming solution
Roll20 LogoWichita, Kansas (January 29th, 2013) – This week two major announcements regarding the popular online roleplaying program Roll20 became public.  The first involved the newly launched TSR company endorsing Roll20 as their “official tabletop,” the second pertained to the lead developer of competing game space Tabletop Forge announcing he was halting production on the program to instead help with future enrichments to Roll20.

“The most flattering part of all this is that they both came to us,” said Roll20 co-founder and lead developer Riley Dutton.  “It really helps make us feel like we must be doing something right.”

The new TSR was formed by Jayson Elliot to cover multiple aspects of gaming, beginning with the launch of “Gygax Magazine” next month.  Elliot was one of the first adopters of Roll20 in the Kickstarter phase.  Additionally, a feature by Roll20 co-founder Nolan T. Jones’ brother, Nevin P. Jones, will be in the initial issue of Gygax Magazine covering Nevin’s first roleplaying experience which was accomplished using his brother’s application.

Tabletop Forge was begun as a Google Hangout application by Joshuha Owen with the purpose of helping the vibrant Google+ roleplaying community to better realize their games.  The Google+ page for Tabletop Forge boasts over 11,000 members, many of whom supported the program’s KIckstarter last year.  However, Joshuha decided that the community would best be served by a single HTML5 solution.

“There are lots of options for roleplaying over the internet, but it became redundant to have both Roll20 and Tabletop Forge, as in many ways they were serving the same community and had similar features including a common goal of being lightweight and easy to use,” remarked Joshuha.  As such, the creators of both programs say they will be treating all Tabletop Forge’s Kickstarter backers as if they had made their pledges to Roll20, migrating Tabletop Forge assets to Roll20, and be working with a multitude of RPG artists to bring their content to the platform.

Roll20 began as an effort to keep developers Dutton, Jones, and Richard Zayas in touch via long distance gaming.  Their project went public with an eighteen day Kickstarter campaign in April of 2012.  Since then it has attracted over 100,000 users as a free service.  The program continues to be funded by subscribers who receive features that assist advanced gameplay.

The news of the TSR endorsement from Saturday’s Gygax Magazine unboxing has been out there for several days already. The TSR endorsement does not come as a big surprise to me. Roll20 is very easy to use and has remained so even as they continue to add more features. I have had very little trouble getting people connected and up and playing with Roll20. Congrats to Roll20 on this endorsement though, it can only grow their player base.

The Tabletop Forge news is the big item for me. My first experiences with VTTs in a Google+ Hangout environment was with Tabletop Forge. Several of my early G+ games were done over G+ Hangouts and Tabletop Forge. TTF development moved at a very rapid pace in the beginning. When they ran a Kickstarter for TTF I pitched in and I pointed several people to the Kickstarter to help support them.

Since then things slowed down from the TTF side. Development appeared to have slowed, art assets were slow to get released, etc. My groups ended up playing on Roll20 and really did not look back.

Joshuha Owen did a good job of communicating in the aftermath of the Kickstarter. Several of his developers who had been helping him left, leaving him with the Kickstarter ball. And though the process was slow, he did get the art assets to people via Google Drive, even if they weren’t integrated with TTF.

I think this move to bring content that was Kickstarted to Roll20 is a good move on Joshuha’s part. It seems like a very eloquent way to bring the TTF Kickstarter to a close and attempt to make everyone happy in the end.

This move will also likely benefit Roll20 rather significantly with an influx of art assets, map tiles, and such that were funded as part of TTF. And it will likely bring them an influx of more users as word gets out that Roll20 is the VTT that will continue moving forward.

Roll20 Passes 100,000 Users

Today the folks at Roll20, the Virtual Tabletop, put out a press release announcing they had passed the 100,000 user mark! Here is the press release in its entirety:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASERoll20 Logo

ROLL20 “VIRTUAL TABLETOP” PASSES 100,000 USERS

Wichita, Kansas (January 21st, 2013) Just under a year ago, Wichita, KS programmer Riley Dutton had grown envious about the gaming joys of his former college roommate Nolan T. Jones, now of Las Vegas, NV.

“We’d talk on the phone, and he’d talk about how much fun he was having getting back into tabletop roleplaying games. And I realized how much I wanted to play with my friends again, but we were literally spread across the country. That’s when I had the idea, and tried to get Nolan to talk me out of it,” said Dutton.

But Jones talked Dutton into pursuing his idea, and with the help of another former roommate — Richard Zayas of Arlington, VA — they started testing a system to play table based games online. After two months of testing they took their program to Kickstarter, an online “crowdfunding” platform where entrepreneurs pitch projects for funding to users that only expect a working product and input in return for their investment. They made over $39,000 in an eighteen day campaign at the end of April 2012. By June they moved the program into an open beta test and in September declared Roll20.net to be in regular service. Today Roll20 has logged its 100,000th account, with over one hundred and fifty-four years of gametime amassed by their users.

“We knew we were filling a need– both in reuniting people across long distances and giving potential newcomers to tabletop gaming a safe way to try these games from home. But I don’t think any of us knew this would become so popular so quickly. The community that’s rallied around this program has been incredible,” said Zayas.

The system is free to use, but has subscription options for those who desire more advanced features. The creators say that the most popular games used in Roll20 are various editions of “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Pathfinder”, but the system is capable of handling a variety of popular card and board games. Currently the group is working on expanding the social elements of their website along with making game setup faster.

“Our success to this point has been based in being easy to use– which is a result of us building Roll20 for our own use. We intend to keep using it, so we intend for it to keep getting easier to pick up and play,” said Jones.

Contact: Nolan T. Jones
620-230-5434
nolan@roll20.net
http://www.roll20.net

Congrats to the folks at Roll20 for this milestone! I have been using Roll20 on a near weekly basis since about July or August of 2012. It has been a wonderful tool and has done a marvelous job of lowering the technical barrier to effective play over the Internet.