Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Minimalist Roll20 DM - A Mechanical Look at Our Weekly AD&D 1e / OSRIC Campaign

We didn't get a game in last night, as half the group was either sick, on a date or MIA, but we did get a chance to get most of our usual pregame BSing in for nearly 2 hours, which isn't bad ;) Afterwards, I started thinking about our use of the Roll20 interface within G+ Hangouts and it became pretty obvious that we are "minimalists" when it comes to using the many feature of Roll20.

Tokens - we don't use them. Back when we used TableTop Forge, we would occasionally use tokens, but we never worried about facing, attacks of opportunity and the like. Then again, we were playing ACKS and later AD&D 1e, where the tactical grid takes second place to "theatre of the mind". We are playing AD&D 1e / OSRIC (exploring Rappan Athuk) on most Saturday Nights these days, and TotM has been out bread and butter.

Fog of War - the best thing about FoW is that I no longer have to sketch out the dungeon by hand for my players in real time. Instead, we go with "reveal and repeat". What can the party see and state your move if you want to see more. Sure, it makes some issues with traps and secret doors, but by carefully using the "reveal" feature you can compensate for that about 80% of the time.

The Grid - I turn it off by default. If we're not using tokens it just interferes with the grid present on the map already. If there is any part of Roll20 that I've not been able to get to work to my satisfaction, it's matching the in app grid with the grid on the uploaded maps, so I stopped trying. I read the tutorial on how to do so, didn't help. If I could get it to work to my satisfaction, would I use the grid and tokens? Perhaps. The great thing about tokens is you were always able to catch the player that was otherwise distracted, as his token would always be 100' or more from the rest of the party ;)

Handouts - I use them sparingly, and more for "roleplay enhancement" than as actual clues for the party to study and such. That might change as the campaign goes on. Actually, it has changed, as in the beginning of the campaign I never used them.

Dice - Roleplaying characters live or die based on their die rolls. I have a few basic die rolls added to the macro, but anything complicated comes up so rarely I'd have to parse it out in real time anyway. I still roll wandering monster checks using real dice on my real desk top - there is nothing like the random sound of dice rolling to get players on their toes.

Character Sheets - my players use them for as much or as little information as they want. I suspect most of them keep accurate paper copies and much less accurate or detailed "in app" copies, which is fine.

We know there are a crapload of other features that are neat and fun in Roll20 (line of sight, I'm looking squarely at you) but we've consciously limited ourselves to what we actually need to run a game. The OSR is pretty solidly in the realm of "Theatre of the Mind" and if we were to stray from that path, we might just as well run Pathfinder, which is a fine game but WAY to heavy for our tastes ;)


  1. Pretty much how we use Roll20. I edit my maps with GIMP before uploading them, getting rid of all the stuff the players shouldn't see. Makes using the Reveal function a lot simpler (angled rooms and passageways are still a pain though).

  2. #1 I create my own maps for most of my adventures so I always do a DM and Player version for mapping. I learned my lesson trying to white out the secret doors of Quasqueton and my kids could tell there was a door there because it was cleaner. the FOW was got me into MapTools and Roll20. Removing the hand mapping and just revealing stuff as the players go made gaming even faster.

    #2 I agree with aligning the grids.. I've gotten close and so far most of my modules i've used with Roll20 have been small so the creep is livable. But with a larger dungeon the differential would end up being an issue.

    #3 I admit to becoming a token whore and getting too used to the tactical feel from D20 and 4E so I always use them. In fact I'm not sure how to NOT use them now. But even with tokens the fights still go much quicker in a OSR scrum.

    #4 I mainly use Roll20 as a mapping tool when playing live games so rolling the dice isn't an issue but I played a BFRPG Roll20 game with Chris G as the DM and hearing him clattering dice on his definitely kept us on our toes.

  3. I've only used Roll20 a couple of times so far, but I actually find the tokens kind of helpful. While I wish there was a builtin way to control their movement they are otherwise inoffensive, and it takes me back to the way those first war gamers must have felt when they played. I've generally found the available tokens unacceptable, but with my collection of OSR and WotC PDF's and Tokentool I've been building hoards of yappy dog kobolds and pig faced orcs.



Tenkar's Tavern is supported by various affiliate programs, including Amazon, RPGNow,
and Humble Bundle as well as Patreon. Your patronage is appreciated and helps keep the
lights on and the taps flowing. Your Humble Bartender, Tenkar

Tenkar's Tavern Discord Server Events - link - - Click to embiggen

Blogs of Inspiration & Erudition