David and I play D&D with a group of 6 people including the DM. One of the people does not live in the same state as us so we have been trying various ways to make sure that they can still play. For a long while we were using Google Hangouts with some decent success and having multiple computers set up to show various angles. One for the camera to the whole group and to show us the distant player and then others for the DM and to show the board for battles. This was often complicated and we were having to move the board camera around so that the person at a distance to see where their character was in relation to everyone else. This worked, but was not a great system.
Recently, the DM discovered a service called Roll20 that allowed you to have a map where players could actually move their pieces and the DM could move the enemies all online. This at first just seemed like a great way to be able to do the combat or additional map features, but as we looked more into it the service is much, much more. Roll 20 allows for a completely online gaming session including video chat, group and private text chat, shared map, extra DM features, saved handouts, saved character sheets, and more. Now the base offerings are free and there are some added features if you want to go with a paid subscription. The base offerings are great for a single campaign, but some of the paid features might be worth it for someone investing in multiple gaming platforms. The greatest thing is that Roll 20 is for any d20 based gaming system and not just D&D specific.
I have to say the mapping feature is probably one of the great things about this service. it allows each player to move their own figure on the various maps and allows the DM to hide areas until the players reach those sections. These are not pre-made maps, but ones that the DM has created, but the flexibility to create your own maps is pretty amazing. One thing that we have not tested, but think will be nice is the ability to map out our area of effect spells and powers. This way if we are hitting everything with a 3×3 area we can mark out exactly where that area is hitting. The other part is that everyone is getting the same view and experience with the map because we are all logged in to the system. At the same time each player has control of how they are looking at the map. If two parties are exploring different areas of a map or if someone likes the view more zoomed in or out. All of these are options that can be utilized.
Character Sheets and Dice Rolling
Now another cool feature is the ability to add information from your character sheets into your campaign and for the system to roll dice based on either your character sheet or numbers you enter. Now having the character sheet in the campaign online to be easily referenced by yourself and the DM is pretty nice. So far we are liking the dice rolling, but I do feel a little lacking of not feeling the dice in your hand and hear the sound of the dice roll. They do have this partially dealt with by being able to have a visual that shows up with accompanying sound whenever you roll a dice. It is a nice touch to try and convey the more tactile experience of rolling even though it is the computer figuring it out. The nice thing is once you have entered your information into your character sheet you can roll for various check with the click of a button and it adds in the necessary modifiers automatically. We have not gone through a combat yet, but believe that this has the ability to make it move much faster.
Video and Text Chat
The other feature that makes the whole system work for doing complete gaming sessions is integrated video and messaging. It does work with Google Hangouts, but the integrated video chat worked seamlessly for us when we tested out the system. This means that in all of our busy schedules we can play from our own homes instead of having to pack up and drive somewhere else. Making it potentially easier to play in what otherwise might be an odd time. Along with the video there is a text chat going on that you can have save between sessions. This allows you to see what happened during the last session or older. The nice thing about the text chat is that you can private message or whisper to other players and the DM. This way if you want to be able to have a side goal that no one else knows about you can do that. It is a great way to add a bit more intrigue to the game. It also allows you to send messages if everyone else is chatting making sure that you can either get heard or at least notify another player of some piece of information.
Roll20 is a service that I would recommend to any gaming group. Especially if you are a group of adults who either might not live close to each other or might find it difficult to find time otherwise. It is easy enough to use that most people should not have too much of an issue and allows for some flexibility in how you want to interact. It also is not specific to a certain type of game allowing for flexibility in what campaign you might want to use it for. We will see how it goes as we have only used it once, but so far I am finding the service a great bonus to our gaming experience.