Running a Roll20 session has become one of the regular highlights of my week, but it isn’t something that is easy to run without a little preparation.
By far the most important element from a visual point of view is making sure that any encounters are properly mapped. The free graphics available through the site are useful for tiling most terrains, but it can feel like a chore when setting up indoors encounters. What I prefer to do instead is employ a two-part process.
The first part is to use what I refer to as my map painter on the Pyromancers.com website. There’s enough flexibility to paint both regular and irregular shaped floorplans that can either snap to a grid, or be drawn freehand. I then export that from the website as a jpeg file and upload it as a graphic to Roll20.
The export process allows me to define the pixel values of the grid so that aligning and resizing the graphic as a background layer is relatively simple. I then dress the background with other elements and tokens. In painting terms, it’s like using one site to block out the colours and outlines befire using the second to do the detail work.
I tend not to do anything too complicated with the monster tokens beyond setting up metatags so that I can more easily search them by encounter key or common terms. Certain key npcs will have a full block of statistics to ease things through, but I’m lucky to have a lot of the physical reference books for v3.5 Dungeons & Dragons to hand.
As an alternative set of references, I also keep www.d20srd.org and dndtools.eu/rulebooks/ bookmarked. These allow me and my players to paste URLs referencing rules and references in the Roll20 chat sidebar through the session. Their use tends to be generally positive rather than being conducive to rules lawyering munchkinism, but if you have those issues with players these two sites can help level the playing field.
After that it’s down to you and your players. Getting the sound levels right between microphones and headsets is essential, but using Google Hangouts has eliminated a lot of the problems we’d had to overcome using the native chat client. With eight of us round the “table” it’s a relief to find it still basically stable, but there is still the occasional cutout when everyone tries to talk at once.
Getting into the habit of taking turns and letting people finish isn’t just good manners but an essential session management skill. Give it a go because running a roll20 session isn’t as complex as it first seems. Get out there and enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we are.