Running a Roll20 Session

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 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 and 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.

3 thoughts on “Running a Roll20 Session

  1. generaltangent 09/06/2014 / 2:20 pm

    Thanks for another insightful post Tim. I was wondering what sort of tokens you use for the maps and where you obtained them from?


    • Tim Maidment 09/06/2014 / 11:12 pm

      I tend to use the top-down models freely available through the market, in particular the packs made available by Devin. I’ve bought a couple of packs for a couple of quid here and there, and invested in the Lightning Rail pack for sale in the market. I did consider going the route of making my own ones based off portraits, and the website has a few nice open source tools available if you want to go that route, but the range of graphics available free has so far kept me using what the community has gracefully shared…


      • generaltangent 10/06/2014 / 10:32 pm

        I’ll admit Devin has saved my bacon more than once when I had to find a token to use at a moments notice.
        I’ve also purchased some from the marketplace mainly zombie tokens for a modern day zombie apocalypse game as there wasn’t any suitable free tokens to be had.
        I looked at the token tool from the link you mention and after spending some time playing about with it I came to the conclusion that its not for me. I dislike the fact I can’t get an image with a transparent background and I was much happier using the GIMP to make tokens.


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