The wife and I missed our tabletop session last weekend because we were otherwise occupied, which was a bit of a disappointment. However, thanks to the wonders of modern technology I can still let my sperglord flag fly thanks to the fact that it’s now easier than ever to play role playing games over the internet.
For a long time you were pretty much screwed if you wanted to get together once a week and play some Dungeons & Dragons for a couple of hours but couldn’t because of scheduling conflicts, lack of gas money, or crippling agoraphobia, as your only real recourse to getting a little RP in would be walking around the Goldshire Inn in World of Warcraft and hope some draenei with a cuttlefish for a penis didn’t try to rape you in the outhouse. Sure you could do the play-by-email or forum post thing, but you’d have to wait for what could feel like forever just for another player or the GM to actually respond to your latest post. Chat rooms were another option, but without the ability to roll dice or see and hear the other players it’s kind of a sterile experience; you can mitigate this with die-rolling programs and voice chat or webcam programs like Skype but it can be a cumbersome experience. Besides, if the game your playing requires a tactical grid to represent character movement you’re pretty well screwed.
Or at least you were up until recently. Now, there are web-based programs out there that combine all these things (video and voice chat, die rolling, map tools) into one single “virtual tableop” package, and I have to say that while it can be a little buggy, it can work actually well. Not only that, but I don’t even have to put on pants.
There’s a pretty good online tabletop role playing web portal called Roll20.net, and it works pretty awesomely. Some friends of mine have been getting together for a couple hours once a week to play a modified version of Little Fears inspired by the Secret World MMO, and it’s so much easier to organize a group of four people to sit down at their computers than it is to schedule a face-to-face meeting – especially since three of the players live down on Long Island and I’m still out in the wilds of southeastern Pennsylvania. With a new daughter on the horizon, the ability to take two hours out of my week and get in some play time is going to be absolutely integral to my mental and emotional health, and it’s something I’d never be able to do with a newborn if my only option was to attend a tabletop game in-person.
I was very pleasantly surprised by how versatile Roll20 actually turned out to be, especially the die roller. The game mechanics for Little Fears are not exactly complex to grasp, as actions require you to roll a certain number of six-sided dice and then add together your top three rolls. In other words, if you roll 7d6 and roll two 5s, a 4, three 1s, and a 2, you keep the two 5s and a 4 for a total of 14. The Roll20 die roller can handle you telling it to roll 7d6 and keep only the top 3 rolls instead of just rolling all seven dice and adding up all the numbers, which was a lot easier than picking out the top three manually. On top of that, Little Fears features a mechanic called “exploding” dice, which means every time you roll a 6 you get a free re-roll and add both die results together; if you keep rolling sixes on these additional dice, you can keep adding these free re-rolls ad infinitum, and Roll20 also offers players an exploding dice option as well.
I know it doesn’t sound particularly interesting or noteworthy, but being able to write a one-button macro to roll 7d6, re-roll any sixes and add the results as a bonus, throw out all but the top three die rolls, and automatically add them all together is a massive help in an online environment. In fact I wouldn’t mind having a mobile app that did the same thing and bring it to face-to-face tabletop sessions in lieu of dice – though there’s something visceral about actually picking up dice and rolling them in person that I would only use a mobile app if I forgot my own dice by accident. Old habits die hard, I suppose.
Still, if you’re the kind of person that has a serious need for some human interaction but can’t get out of the house for any reason – whether it be caring for a sick family member or a newborn child, a lack of gas money, or being too far from your fellow RP grognards to make a face-to-face game practical – a virtual tabletop like Roll20 seems to be a great option. The only thing missing from your tabletop experience is the smell of your parents’ basement.
Interested? Check out this YouTube video for Roll20: