This is something of a review, because one area I must criticise 4th edition D&D on was the support it received online.
Enjoying 4th edition places you in something of a minority, but it had it’s truly beneficial features. Stripping away to the bare bones of the system and starting again from scratch was a bold step better executed this time around, but in so doing Wizards of the Coast learned a few valuable lessons. However, for players new to the format the at-will/encounter/daily breakdown of powers, spells and abilities made for a readily comprehendible set-up for combat that was easy to grasp, and for DMs it made the process of creating new monsters, traps and various other key elements much easier.
Still I have come to appreciate 4th’s failings, and it’s hideous decline into Essentials – VAMPIRE IS NOT A CLASS YOU ~cough~ – anyway, and I can almost fully understand the outrage many of the die-hards and old school players felt during the releases. I’ve refuted some of it’s so-called weaknesses, espoused it’s strengths, admitted graciously it’s failures, and recognised how the mistakes I made as a 4th edition DM have hardened me into a far stronger practitioner.
But that’s not what this article is about, no edition wars in the comments please!
Wizards of the Coast offered up four pieces of support to subscribers to their Insider services: The Dungeon and Dragon magazines offered supplementary rules, errata updates and useful lore to DMs and players respectively, the former with regular dungeons and/or mini-campaigns, the other expanding on class, race and character options.
The Character Builder began as an excellent tool for… well building characters, and better yet it was a piece of downloadable software you could continue to use long after your subscription had ended, but could only be updated while you’re subscribed, seems reasonable. But when Essentials came around the software became restricted to in-browser only, and there were no more updates. Alright, not a great loss, right?
Adventure Tools started life with a catalogue of monsters that the DM could filter by level, role, and keywords, as well as searching by name. It allowed for easy encounter building, and also included a fantastic monster-building tool that did all the essential maths on your behalf, as well as offering up necessary guidelines to help prevent over- or under-powering your creations. Like the character builder it was available to download and update to subscribers, but subscribers never got the one thing they wanted most from the adventure tools, any other adventure tools. The software lived and died as the monster compendium.
Mini rant out of the way, now credit where credit is due.
5th edition began life as a series of .pdf files that were freely available to everyone with a request for as much playtest feedback as possible so that they could refine the game into a cleanly finished product that could be enjoyed by all, and it worked beautifully. What’s even better is that they have not finished the process.
If you have any kind of internet-capable mobile device that is able, get the Dragon+ app or get it straight to browser, which features a free monthly magazine with news, articles, lore, podcasts, and even better, new character options that are in a constant state of playtest. For example, the Mystic class – a psychic of many talents that falls somewhere between monk and spell-caster – is currently in its second iteration after a few months of being trialled, and is still subject to change as a final version may never reach a published book, and only ever appear in the hands of those who read regularly. The same is true of some Eberron-specific races like Shifters and Warforged, available somewhere in the archives of Dragon+, I forget where.
Free core rules are readily available for anyone to download including basics on character building for players and a limited selection of classes, races and spells to pick and choose from (although 114 pages is most of the Players Handbook, so you’re not losing all that much), and for DMs a collection of monsters, how to build encounters with them, and some magic items to hand out afterwards. Without spending a penny you can have enough to dabble into the full game, but they’ve given just enough to make the books well worth buying. If you own the books already get these downloaded onto your phone or tablet though, it helps when travelling light, or for sudden and unexpected gaming situations.
So that’s it, right? All the core rules and a nice little collection of extra supplementary material for free. They can’t give any more away, surely?
No, hypothetical reader, I am not done! And stop interrupting me!
If you’re a stalwart of the WotC flagship product then there’s a few other online tools you’ll be familiar with that some consider an absolute must for play. The virtual tabletops Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 are both now fully endorsed by Wizards and have official support for new releases, making it easier for people who prefer to play online – or are forced to by time and distance – to join in and get a richer experience. Granted that support isn’t free, but there’s a limit as to how much can just be handed out.
The DMs Guild powered by the DriveThru team who support content creators for RPGs is a dedicated platform for writers wanting to generate content for D&D within the official guidelines laid down by WotC. That may sound limiting, especially when you can just use the normal DriveThru RPG platform and make money the same way, but if you play by their rules Wizards might just pick up your content to go official, and the chance to have your work appear alongside the official staff writers. It’s a great way for Wizards to source the best material straight from the fan community, but it’s also a great way for writers to make money and get publicity at the same time.
There’s more, there is so much more, from the fan site toolkit, the Podcast (which featured the writer of Rat Queens one time and I squealed like a fangirl), the Open Gaming License, to associations and respective nods to other major companies, many of which fan-made that have grown to industry giants, some of which seemingly unrelated… like My Little Pony… just, click that link, you’ll be richer for the experience. Is it all perfect? No, but it is a huge step towards improving company-customer relations, and one that a company like Wizards sorely needs in order to keep revenue flowing. Those books aren’t cheap, but when you feel like your money is put to good use it all suddenly becomes a little more worthwhile.
Dammit Hasbro, you cunning puppet-masters, you made me love you a little bit.
Ok, here is where I admit I needed some help, so a big thanks to my DM Eddie who has far more experience than I running tabletop games online.
Tim talked about Roll20 last week as a continuation to his previous article, have a read to get an idea of what features are available and how you can build some great scenarios, get a group together and run your campaign with friends wherever they are, for today though I will be going into how the differences affect your style of play, how you create and run your games. (more…)
I’ve briefly discussed the website Roll20 on here in the past, but I’ve never looked at the system for running or playing on a campaign. Recently, I have been getting involved in a Numenera campaign with some friends. Whilst I won’t be showing anything that’s happening from that campaign, I will show you what Roll20 does and how you can make the most out of the amazing tabletop platform.
Roll20 was designed to allow people across the world to have a virtual tabletop. Unlike Tabletop Simulator, Roll20 aims to provide an easy way to integrate your camera and microphone, as well as an environment fit for running an RPG campaign. It’s used by tens of thousands of people and the community is really buzzing, full of wonderful campaigns and rooms ready for people to jump right into.
To play a game in Roll20, you have two main options: Form a group with your friends, as you would in real life and have one of them be the DM, or use the Looking For Group system. This matchmaking system simply allows you to find and select a game to go and join. Of course, DMs can decide not to put their game on the LFG system, so it’s not like you’ll always be running a campaign and some random person shows up!
Okay, but what about for the DMs and the players? Thankfully, whenever you need to do a roll, you can do this within the Roll20 Campaign itself, by simply going to the chatbox and typing in /r d20. That will roll one 20-sided dice, which is useful to know, but as you can imagine, just rolling one 20-sided dice alone isn’t particularly useful. Instead, you can do combinations of things such as /r 5d6 to roll five 6-sided dice. It’s an intuitive system and you can have 3D dice appear on your screen to accommodate it, should you want so see something physically rolling. You can also make macros of your spells and abilities. For example, if I said I wanted to use Firebolt, which was 2d8 with a 50% chance of burning, I could have it so my character says out loud: Firebolt! Rolls 2d8 and immediately after rolls a d2. This speeds up the flow of gameplay, allowing you all to focus more on the story.
In the world itself, you can build up your campaigns by managing the three layers: Tokens, Maps and Tiles, Portraits and there’s also an Everything option. This allows you to search the internet for specific things. For example, in the campaign I’ve been building as an example, you’ll see Pikachu and Dugtrio standing on Kanto. The Kanto map was put into the Maps and Tiles slot, whereas the Pikachu and Dugtrio are on the Tokens layer.
It’s very possible for DMs to set up the whole game before it becomes available. Do you see the Meowth just above Pikachu, who is somewhat transparent? He’s like that because he’s on the DM layer, a way for a DM to set up a game before his party comes to play. When that Pesky Pikachu comes just close enough, Meowth will emerge from the shadows and start off a Pokemon battle… I mean RPG battle.
Not only this, you can put music in your game, to make it that much more epic. Of course, for this Pokemon themed adventure staring Pikachu who wants to go and defeat the infamous Dugtrio trio (How do I ever think these things up?) I chose a battle theme absolutely befitting this situation…
Along with this, you can build up characters, including their character sheets, so the game itself can reference these characters. It’s particularly useful to build up your characters before you start playing, as otherwise you’ll have to make them when playing your campaign: and no body wants to sit there and wait for you. Whilst an impromptu character is of course different, if you have main characters, prepare them before your campaign starts and the whole experience becomes seamless and almost interruption free. Unless you’re like me and you happen to keep playing music at people…
Okay, so I’ve given you a rather cheesy look through the Roll20 system. You can add music, you can add materials and now thanks to the way they’ve continuously developed the system, you can choose from the start a template for your campaign. This means you can build a game off another game, or you can just use the free template character sheets. You select all of these extra options back when you’re making the campaign.
To see more with Roll20 please do go and check it out for yourself – It’s free to use, but you get more features such as the powerful scripting API, if you become a mentor or a backer at some level. it seems that since I last wrote about Roll20, there have been numerous things added in (Such as the built in character sheets, for one!) It’s apparent to me there is a great community behind Roll20 so please check out the wiki for more information on using it. Do you use this service? What do you think about doing a tabletop RPG over the internet? As always, please put your comments below, over on Facebook or Twitter and let us know what you think of this awesome web platform.