View Full Version : Running Live Games Over the Web w/Roll20 - What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

2013-04-04, 09:10 AM
TL;DR - I need your tips and ideas for how to run a live game over the web via video chat/Google Hangouts/Roll20


Soooo, it seems that I've once again let my enthusiasm get ahead of my brain, and I've volunteered to run what smells like a 5-6 person game over Google Hangouts (http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts/)/Roll20 (http://roll20.net/).

I'm planning on running a Pathfinder game in the homebrew world I normally use for tabletop. The players are all very experienced gamers, and have years of experience with either 3.5 or Pathfinder. I'm going with Pathfinder because that's what I've been running most recently, and all the necessary resources are available online.

I haven't used Roll20 before, and though I'm excrutiatingly familiar with Skype, I've only been in one Google Hangout before. I've just created a Roll20 account, and on first blush, it looks pretty great for setting up games. Pretty dang great, actually, now that I've been through the tutorial video.

The players are tech savvy and most are Google Plus junkies like me (yes, yes, I know), so I don't think we'll be tripping up over the technology too much.

What are critical things to note about the interface that you've encountered?

Assuming we all have at least 16mb/s connections, is the video laggy or choppy?

As a DM what should I look out for that I might not think of the first few times around?

Are there any neat tricks you've found to take advantage of the interface?

In short, I need your success and fail stories!

Many thanks in advance,

Totally Guy
2013-04-04, 09:15 AM
I played in my first online G+ Hangout game on Sunday.

It was pretty good. I kept finding myself looking left or right when talking to the guys either side of me... I don't know why.

Headsets are a good idea so nobody gets feedback.

2013-04-04, 10:11 AM
All of my games are run over Google+ hangouts due to the fact that I'm in NW Missouri, another guy is in the Kansas City area, one is in Cincy, one is in Cali, another is in Akron... you get the idea.

Most of the time it works really well. There are days where the video or audio get a little laggy, and there will be occasions where people get disconnected, but it's often a situation where my son is playing on the XBox and someone else's kids are watching Netflix, etc..as a result, the bandwidth usage at the houses are often sporadic. If each person is the only one using 16Mbps of bandwidth at a location, the quality should at least be decent. The one major drawback is that if two or more people start talking at the same time, it's impossible to tell what anyone is saying, let alone the person who needs to be talking at that moment, so everyone will have to work on waiting until their turn, or at least until there's a pause in the discussion.

As far as /Roll20 goes, I haven't messed with that. Most of us roll actual dice and report the raw roll and the modified roll to the DM. There is a chance of someone lying about a score, but there's no real reason for suspicion on my end.

From a DM perspective, I like to set up the camera so it hangs over the map. There's occasional glare on the map due to the lamination (I bought two blank maps that I laminated at Office Depot and use dry-erase markers to label everything). The larger a space to set everything up, the better. That way, any DM materials you're using can be off the screen and the players can focus on the map.

As far as using the interface, you can share your screen with others if you want to show a map or diagram that's on your computer, or you can play some dramatic music at a peak moment (as long as everyone can still hear each other).

Hope that helps some.

2013-04-04, 10:54 AM
That helps a ton, Balldanor! Thanks for sharing your experience and techniques. Yeah, I'm kind of waffling on whether it'd be better to use Roll20/G+ or use something like Skype or GoToMeeting and just share my screen.

Luckily, none of our kids are older than 2 (mine), so we don't have to worry about bandwidth draw.

Thanks for the suggestion about wearing headsets, Totally Guy!

Any experience where a couple of the players might be in the same room and on the same webcam while on the hangout? It's looking like my player group might consist of 3 married couples. They've all got their own laptops and such, but I could seem them wanting to cozy up around one computer.

2013-04-04, 11:09 AM
Any experience where a couple of the players might be in the same room and on the same webcam while on the hangout? It's looking like my player group might consist of 3 married couples. They've all got their own laptops and such, but I could seem them wanting to cozy up around one computer.

We almost always have 2 or 3 people sharing a computer. It actually would make it easier because of less bandwidth usage and less interference when multiple people are talking. G+ hangouts tend to slow down if there are more than 4 people in the hangout (of course, that could be the usage at everyone's house also), but most people are rolling live dice as well and just reporting the results. If you're using an online RNG and screen sharing, it may be better to have the individual computers...something I haven't had to worry about at this point.

2013-04-04, 11:44 AM
A persnickity thing but incredibly useful for the DM in Roll20... if you're going to have them roll inside roll20, the typical roll looks like
/roll 1d20+4

and you get to see the result. In combat/skill situations your screen will be filled with rolls, and you'll tell someone to roll, look down and see some numbers and think they've rolled when they haven't (or wait for them to roll when they already have). At least I have this problem. They can label their rolls

/roll 1d20+4 attack 1
/roll 1d20-1 attack 2

which makes it a lot easier to keep track of what the rolls on the screen are for

Joe the Rat
2013-04-04, 12:00 PM
Married couples cozying up around a computer? That's crazy talk.

On Roll20:
If you are running the game, you may want to pony up the $10 (if that's still the rate) to go ad-free. Otherwise you'll want good banter while switching maps. If you want to add handouts, atmospherics, etc., they have a home for it. Don't overdo the laugh tracks.

Which reminds me: get your maps set up and loaded ahead of time. tokens included. Roll20 lends well to map-heavy play.

There are a lot of widgety things you can do, including the character sheets. Macros are handy. I prefer to custom mine rather than use canned stuff. The visual die-roller gives you the satisfaction of seeing your rolls at work. It even does the "looks like an 18...18...18... clunk! Nope, 2." Try to get everyone to pick a different color indicator - it's easier to track while watching. Results post to the chat window.

Our group is playing sans cameras, but you have the option. Sound is where we've had issues - Having to log in and out a couple of times before your audio hooks up is fairly common for us. Plus side for couples: you can mute the other person's audio to avoid the double-talk. downside for couples: it only works in-game. You can turn the audio off and use Skype or whatever, and simply keep it for your mapping and rolling.

I will have to fiddle with G+ at some point.

2013-04-04, 12:13 PM
It definitely sounds like I'm going to have to do a lot of practice with the macros and such in Roll20 ahead of time. Thanks for the tip on labeling rolls!

I'm definitely the sort who has all the maps and character images put together ahead of time, so it's good that I can have all those and the music loaded up ahead of time.

The 3D dice roller seems like it should almost be mandatory! How can you have the tabletop feel without the heart-palpitating moments of everyone wondering how the dice are going to fall?

Joe the Rat
2013-04-04, 12:17 PM
One more thing: It's nice enough to show a wireframe silhouette of the die rolled behind the number in chat (in addition to the formula/roll command used), and shades them for 1s (red) and max roll (green). 20 is your friend.

2013-04-04, 04:22 PM
That is pretty slick. :smallsmile:

Any estimation on how time consuming it is to plug variousPCs and NPCs into the interface?

Bling Cat
2013-04-04, 05:21 PM
I've just started running a campaign over Roll20 myself, and so far plugging PCs in has been easy. You create a character in the same section as handouts, and then assign that character to a player. You can then select to assign a token to that character from the interface of each token. It works reasonably well.

Two things to bear in mind are that the one failing I've found is that when you pick up and move your token it doesn't measure the distance it's moved. You can do this manually using a different tool, but it would be nice for it to be integrated.

Also, something I've found helpful is to make use of the GM layer to write notes on the maps. For example, I have the DCs for doors and such written down in the GM layer next to the door, and treasure in each room (If any) written down in the room. It saves me leafing through notes all the time, and it's a feature I really enjoy.

2013-04-04, 09:31 PM
Nice! Those are great ideas, Bling Cat - it sounds like there are all kinds of useful ways to use the GM layer. Particularly useful if there are a couple weeks between when I set up a map and actually get to use it.