Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Roll20 Headaches

We wrapped up our online game on Sunday around 10:30 pm. We'd been aiming to wrap up at 8 pm. But our combat extended and accounted for a good 2 hours of that overage.

Usually I'll gripe about players taking a long time. But generally folks were pretty prompt. Roll20 provided us a lot of slowdowns.

- grabbing the "tail" of a token to turn it isn't always easy; sometimes it gets covered by the other display buttons.

- it's not well-suited to GURPS in its choice of status icons, inability to lay people down across two hexes (I may need to find some "dead" tokens), and so on.

- Sometimes rolling took a long time. We'd click . . . and wait . . . and wait. Actually, as much as I like the character sheets, often people had to click around a few times to get to the right "roll" and then make it, taking more time than just a basic macro'd 3d6.

- The behavior of the interface drives me nuts. I can't ever tell if I'm on pointer, reveal area, cover area, the Map Layer vs. the Token Layer vs. the GM layer, etc. So I'm eternally cursing and clicking and clicking and clicking to move things or modify things. I'll have an icon on the GM layer because the NPC is not visible, then click to move it to the Token Layer, then I need to go back to the Token Layer, then re-grab the token and do things.

- As the GM I have control of all of the tokens (and need it), but that means in close combat (or just close combats) I constantly need to pick up every token and move it aside to get to the one I need or use the interface to swap who is on "top." It's clunky and slow.

- Moving figures is slower because people need to click, drag, drop, turn, etc. to get around while demonstrating their path of movement.

- And not for nothing, but why do I have to give a token sight? Why is unsighted the base standard?

- Finally, if there is a Help command to spit out the command list, I can't find it. ? and Help don't work. So I suffer from a skills deficit on Roll20 and it's tough to find the time to practice so I can whisper, emote, speak to, etc. Or even just do very basic things besides talk and roll.

We also had some Zoom problems (and we're using Zoom because Roll20 just didn't work well when we tried it the first time.)

But the effect of all of this has been that combats are taking much longer. We judge it to be about 20% longer for a given fight, or maybe a bit more. We can't easily do mapless or semi-mappped fights because it's harder to keep track of where people are with a mix of video and phone-in. So everything is tactical in an interface that goes slowly and slows down tactical combat. It's really making it harder to have set-piece fights that don't drag out for hours. That worries me as I see a few set-piece fights coming up and I don't want to dumb them down, shrink them, or otherwise make them less of the fun that they are just because Roll20 is likely to make it take longer.

So we're struggling a bit here. It's been a game-saver but also is making the game run longer.


  1. I feel this post on such a spiritual level. I started running a hex crawl in roll20 about three weeks ago and I find dealing with roll20 eats up a bunch of time and mental bandwidth. We're going to stick eith it because it seems the best option we all have access to, but man they need to work on some stuff.

    1. I looked at Fantasy Grounds, which Doug uses. But it's so pricey to even try it out, and I'd need "Ultimate" to let my players join for free AFAIK, which is past annoying. Plus, there are two versions, so I'm not even sure which one would actually be the right move.

  2. I've found the need to simplify the tactical nature of combats I'm running in roll20, but I run 5e, not GURPS.

    To quickly rotate an icon, click it and then press the E key and you can use your mouse-wheel to rotate.

    Using this method with an apple magic mouse is not easy, since there is no tactile feedback.

    You might look into this browser plugin:


    If nothing else, it displays the current layer right on the screen so it's bleedingly obvious which you're in at the moment.

    1. Thanks. A couple of us use laptops so there is no mouse-wheel for us. Sigh.

      I'll try the plugin. Any little bit will help!

    2. Ugh. You can probably swipe on the trackpad while pressing E. I work on a laptop all day and I have to have a mouse.

      There's also a roll20 API script called "Facing" that puts a big honking graphic indicator around tokens to indicate facing. You still have to click on the handle, but it does make the handle more obvious. API scripts are for PRO members only though, so maybe not of use to you.

      Roll20 aside, I really enjoy your blog. I've always played D&D, so it gives me a totally different perspective on RPGs. After discovering your blog I even bought the DFRPG boxed set, not that my group will ever switch. Still, I'm always looking for ways to improve my game.

    3. Ah, yeah, I don't have Pro. One of my gamers does, so we'll have to see if I can GM with his Pro account.

      I'm glad I've been helpful to your gaming! It means a lot to know that what I write, mostly for my own sake, helps other people's gaming improve.

  3. I wrote this for a facebook thread then added to it for another, I'm adding to it again as I repost it here.

    The big 3 as I reckon them are Roll20, FG and Maptool and I've used all 3 fairly heavily as a player, Roll20 and Maptool extensively as a GM.
    Roll20 is by far the easiest to use, but the most feature limited (unless you want to pony up some cash every month). One cool feature it does offer that the others don't is that each game gets it's own forums. Also, there's automatic backup of your work in the cloud. That said, you don't really own your content. If you make a cool map in Roll20, it's hard to get back out if you decide to change VTTs or if Roll20 closes. It's completely useless without internet, so that can be a limiter for face to face value. When Roll20's service experiences downtime, so will your game.
    If you play on a Friday night during quarantine, you'll notice performance hits too. Lag, errors and a sudden need to reload.
    Its performance can also start to suffer if your map gets too large (both in terms of image size and hexes).


  4. FG has a framework ready to roll made by Brian Ronnle and others that's pretty comprehensive. It's probably the most expensive option in the short term (but Roll20 will surpass it in price if you pay monthly for a while). The learning curve is steeper than Roll20 (unless you choose to use all those paid features like vision blocking). FG also has an important caveat: there's a new version coming soon (it's in beta right now) that will change a lot of feature offerings. FG Classic and FG Unity also have different licensing, so make sure you know what you are buying if you make the plunge. You at least own your own campaign files, but I don't know how hard it is to pull data back out if you decide to change platforms. If you learn how to write for their scripting language you can do a whole lot. That said, until Unity is available, FG has by far the weakest map handling, it's very bad at building a map in the tool and its vision blocking and lighting tools are almost non existent compared with MT or paid Roll20.

  5. Maptool has a steeper learning curve than the other two but is completely free. You own your content, but that comes with the usual caveat: you have to back up your own stuff. It's also entirely run by volunteers, so it gets new features in fits and starts, and sometimes a bug can stick in the program for an annoyingly long time. Sometimes (like right now) features and bug fixes come out at a really fast pace too. If you are willing to learn some of their scripting language, you can make the thing do almost anything. It's map handling is by far the strongest, with great performance even on huge maps. The free built in vision blocking is phenomenal. If you watch a video tutorial or two, you can build a fantastic looking map in very little time in the tool. If you build the map start to finish in the tool the performance is excellent even at square miles of 1 yard hexes. But if you build a map that way, it's hard to move to another platform. Vision blocking is the most fully featured of the three, including support for facing, lighting and even tokens that block vision. All the images and data for the campaign is stored in renamed zip files, so you can take the whole thing apart and get your data out in a very direct way if need be. It has a dated look and feel and requires some network savvy to get ports forwarded for networking, which can be tricky for a lot of people.

    There are also a few up and coming alternatives like Astral, FoundryVTT and a couple others I can't remember now that I don't have any experience with, but that I've heard good things about. Heck, from time to time, I hear about people using Tabletop Simulator, which doesn't sound great to me, but some people love it.

    1. Thanks for the detailed information Kyle! I appreciate you taking the time.

  6. Paid Roll20 supports Kindle which I think is really fabulous. I have started learning to DM with Roll20 which is kind of fun

  7. Yeah I ran my second DF session on Roll20 last night. The audio is super crash-prone, and it kicks me out of the game every so often while idle, or when I scroll the mouse too aggressively. I’m getting better at using it, and as long as you use say Google Hangouts for audio it’s useable. FYI, both Gort and Lucky Pete are volunteering for the PCs in my campaign, and Lucky Pete is usually referred to as “Stinky Pete”, and is represented by a Morty icon. Good times. :)

    1. Oh man, that's awesome. I'm so glad they have a life in other games after dying in Felltower. Gort should probably reminisce about his adventures in Felltower in your game, too. :)

      We use Zoom for the audio and video, and even then Roll20 is a bit wonky. I'll have to mess around with MapTools a bit and see how that goes.


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