Sunday, September 8, 2013

Roll20: Just Like Starting Over

Last weekend I embarked on a test run of Roll20, a kickstarter project that developed into a free online RPG tool. It’s pretty cool, even in the limited capacity I used it; incorporating map creation, real-time chat and audio links, tokens and dice randomisers, plus the ability to pass messages on to players, ‘hand out’ notes and accessories for play, and take care of a lot of pretty routine but necessary stuff that you’d otherwise need space for in a usual game. Best of all, it woks without borders, so our test run was played on either side of the Equator, with player Paul sitting comfortably in his study in the UK on the morning of the very same day the other three of us were playing a relative eleven hours later. My teenage DM self would have had his mind blown by this.
Not that Roll20 is as sophisticated as World of Warcraft or any other multi-user online games; it’s not that kind of product. Instead it’s a tool with optional add-ons if you sign on for bigger deals. Did I mention it’s free otherwise? In the end we ditched the video link and used Skype to see if we could reduce the bandwidth cost (which this seemed to do), and to be honest, we didn’t lose much that way. Our game was a good old entry-level basic D&D scenario of my own devising The Beast of the Broch, with about six PCs and a couple of NPCs, setting the party on a short quest to a ruined broch to uncover the sinister presence lurking within its rounded walls. As it happened, and as it was a test play, the party barely got down the road, didn’t make it to the broch and only achieved one encounter before real-world events forced a sudden close of play. But weirdly, that’s how my first D&D experience was as well. It was 1984, I was in my third form year with a school mate (a boarder) on an overnight stay at our place, and together we with three other friends and my brother had a go at our first game TSR’s B5 adventure Horror on the Hill. Like the Broch gaming our party was a broad range of character types and alignments, and due to fumbling our way through the rules and regulations of play, we didn’t venture too far before Friday night curfew brought the crunch of parental car tyres on our gravel driveway and with it the end of the game. Our party, the Old Guard of Guido’s Fort, had collected some treasure and magic items, encountered some hobgoblins, wolves and ogres, and finally retreated after one of its main fighters (Argorn) fell prey to a giant centipede, becoming too sick to go any further. Twenty-nine years later it was an angry, invisible Redcap that threatened to decimate our party (that and our play making a little too much noise). If the party had actually made it to the broch they’d have certainly been slaughtered!
Still, as a playtest it was a success, and there’s room for streamlining yet. In fact, it seems the ideal tool to use for concluding the longest game I’ve ever run, Dwarven epic Bargigazl. With luck, this will happen very soon. In the mean-time, a return trip to the Broch awaits...

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