Roll20 is bringing official Dungeons and Dragons adventures to its online “pen and paper” role-playing platform.
Gamers are all familiar with role-playing (RPG) video games. This genre is highly popular. In 2015, IGN awarded The Witcher 3 “Best RPG of 2015,” with Fallout 4 as a runner-up.
Older gamers are well aware of the origins of the RPG genre. They know that it was not games like the Final Fantasy series that started it all as some younger players may think. They also know it was not Zork or Rogue, old text-based RPGs from the early 1980s, that fathered the modern RPG.
No. If you are old enough, then you know that the father of the RPG genre of video game originated with a tabletop game played with pencils, paper, and a set of dice. There were several flavors of tabletop RPGs 30-40 years ago, but few would argue that Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons was the most popular, if not the father of them all.
This early precursor to the video game RPG was played by groups of people sitting around a table and developing the story on the fly, guided by one person known as the “Dungeon Master” or “DM.” When computers became accessible and affordable, several early game developers created RPGs for the computer, similar to Dungeons and Dragons, and the genre evolved to what we have today.
Pen and paper RPGs declined in popularity over the years, but Dungeons and Dragons still has a strong following. Because of this dedicated demographic, old-school RPGs have survived. In fact, one might say that the pastime has thrived, if only in its little niche. Wizards of the Coast is still publishing rules and adventures for tabletop gaming, and new companies spring up now and then trying making a buck off the old form of entertainment.
One such innovative company is The Orr Group, LLC, more commonly known as Roll20. Roll20 is a pen and paper role-playing company with a digital twist. The company provides a “virtual tabletop” on which classic gamers can play out their adventures. The company hosts all of its tools on its website.
Roll20’s website offers a complete role-playing experience with no need to download software. Everything runs straight through the browser using HTML5. The site has character building tools, including the character sheets and the “dice” to roll the character’s attributes and play the game.
Roll20 claims to be “system agnostic,” meaning that it does not matter what line of classic RPG you prefer, it supports them all. Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder or any other tabletop system can be played using Roll20.
The tools allow you to draw your map beforehand and then set up a “light radius” for the characters that will be playing. Players who have hosted Dungeons and Dragons sessions know what a pain it can be to draw the map incrementally on graph paper as players traverse it. With Roll20 this is eliminated because it takes a pre-drawn map, and using the light radius entered, shows only the part of the map that the characters have visited.
Roll20 also allows for voice and video chat while playing. This feature is important because so much of the fun of tabletop gaming is spoken word. Typing out the adventure, chat-style, would not only be cumbersome, but players would lose the fun of talking in their character’s voice. They would also miss other subtle nuances that can only be perceived via voice or body language.
Roll20 offers many other features, but the big news is that Dungeons and Dragons is officially coming to the platform.
According to Engadget, “Wizards of the Coast is now selling officially licensed Dungeons and Dragons modules on Roll20 starting with the fifth edition starter set adventure, ‘The Lost Mine of Phandelver.'”
As mentioned earlier, player’s have always been able to play Dungeons and Dragons adventures on Roll20. However, it was the DM’s responsibility to set up the game before starting the adventure. Even if the quest is an official D&D module, a lot of it still needs to be prepared within the Roll20 environment. Drawing maps, distributing materials, and all other DM responsibilities can take days.
In the following video, some players get together on Roll20 to play the beginning of “The Lost Mine of Phandelver.” The video does a good ob of showing some of the Roll20 features and gives a small taste of the new Dungeons and Dragons adventure.
Warning: This video contains spoilers for “The Lost Mine of Phandelver” and some adult language.
With Wizards of the Coast officially selling Dungeons and Dragons modules specifically tailored for Roll20, much of the setup work will be done.
Engadget states, “Native content purchased on the Roll20 marketplace, like the new D&D module, is just a lot easier to work with.”
With the Dungeons and Dragons modules, the DM can relax a little and just invite players to the game without the hassle of entirely setting up the game. Modules will have all the documentation, character sheets, rules, and maps needed to play. The maps will be a big plus because not only will they be pre-drawn for the DM, but they will be high-quality, high-resolution, artist-render masterpieces, rather than the crudely-drawn, but functional ones that service most tabletop game sessions.
If Wizards of the Coast has taken notice of Roll20 and starts pumping out Dungeons and Dragons content for the platform, you can expect Roll20 to really take off. The company has done well for itself before this development, but this type of official backing could launch it to a whole new level.