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Moving Your Tabletop Games From the Physical Realm to the Virtual

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Bunny
Roll20 Team
Hello there!  Several of you out there are new to playing online tabletop games, some of you are seasoned pros. I would love to make sure that some of the great advice and suggestions out there for moving from in-person games make it into everyone’s toolkit.  A few handy resources: The extremely long and VERY useful Roll20 tricks thread The Roll20 Crash Course over on the Help Center The Pro forum post that originated this (it is locked to Pro users though, so hopefully I can get folx to repost their advice here!) The Roll20 YouTube is chock full of guides, tutorials, walkthroughs, actual plays, GM preps, and more for a variety of systems as well as Roll20 features. The TTRPG Safety Toolkit curated by Kienna S and Lauren Bryant-Monk Do you have suggestions for those coming in and playing for the first time at a virtual table? Drop them here!  Is there a best practice you wish you’d known when starting out on Roll20? Please share!   From the more tech-heavy advice to focusing solely on navigating the virtual social interactions, anything that could help make playing online easier and more fun is fair game.
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Sydney S.
Roll20 Team
Discuss hard and soft "no" items ahead of time.  Generally I'd recommend doing this anyway, but especially when we can't read each others' body language as easily, it becomes extra important.  Make it known to your players that if they have a problem with something content-wise, they can send you a private message asking to pull away from it.  Another thing you might want to check out are RPG consent checklists, which include most of the things that people frequently find objectionable and lays them out.  Depending on your group, you might need to adapt them for suitability, but they're a good jumping off point. Run a session zero .  I realize everyone wants to get to playing, because that's the fun part, but running a session zero helps make sure everything goes smoothly.  Things to make sure you include in a session zero: Hard and soft "no" items (as mentioned above) Iron out technical issues like video chat or character sheets Create your characters ahead of time, and if you get a little time at the very end, just shoot the breeze for a moment in character. For more information about how to run session zero and why it's so useful,  Geek and Sundry has a good article on it. Also, maybe consider ordering pizza or takeout together.  I've done it with a few parties and it feels nice to have pizza with the party.' These aren't really all that specific to playing virtually, but the importance of safety and togetherness only gets boosted by playing online.
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keithcurtis
Forum Champion
Marketplace Creator
API Scripter
My top tips: 1) if you get technical glitches, or some feature is not working right or as expected in the middle of the game, fall back to an easier, quicker method. Don't try to troubleshoot in the middle of a game. DL giving you headaches? Switch to regular fog of war and keep the game going. It's simple, but almost completely bulletproof. Problems connecting through video chat? If you can't resolve that in 5-10 minutes, switch to Discord or Skype. Just keep playing, and don't frustrate yourself in the middle of a game. Roll20 depends on a lot of pieces working together, a good number of which they have no direct control over. If something breaks, fix it between games if you can. 2) Take time to find or develop some good macros or API tools that fit your needs. Keep a notepad near your computer at game time and jot down any pain points as they occur. Then in between games try to figure out how to avoid them. Ex. A character decides to switch from a torch to a bullseye lantern they found, and you spend 10-15 minutes in game looking up the rules, and then how to implement them. A good lighting macro with labeled buttons or drop down choices can help there, or an in-game link to the lighting rules. By the next game, you are ready. 3) Ask questions: The forums or the Roll20 Reddit or its Discord are great places to ask how to do something, or why isn't something working the way you'd like. There are lots of folks who are eager to help. The Wiki and the Help Center are also great resources, both available in the header of the site.
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For GM's: 1. While marketplace modules are huge time-savers, consider taking the time to build at least a little bit of a module first (perhaps a one shot, or a single dungeon) before running a complete campaign. Taking the time to build something yourself and then seeing what happens when you run it is one of the best ways to learn the various parts of the platform. How does Fog of War (or Lighting on plus/pro) work? You'll learn it. How do you size a map to the grid? You'll learn it. How to set up mooks (hey, why does it subtract health from all of my goblins when I change it on one?) and characters in the journal and as tokens? You'll learn it. How does the art library or compendium work? You'll learn it. 2. Session zero is especially important when moving online from an in-person game, because you need to talk about expectations and the digital learning curve. If you have someone in the group who already knows the platform, have them take a little bit of time to walk through the various player functions of Roll20 so everyone understands how to play. Talk about how the first few sessions will be different than what you are used to in-person, that even with video body language and social queues are different, and that it will take getting used to. And talk about how you as GM are learning a new system, so please understand there may be a few technical glitches here or there as you play. 3. Don't compare yourself to anyone else's games. Remember that the best gaming is the kind where everyone is having fun. You don't have to have all (or any) of the bells and whistles to play a great game session. Roll20 gives you lots of tools, but you don't have to be a master of them all at once or try to make the most amazing game ever. Keep it simple to start, and add things as you get comfortable with them. 4. Run Roll20 in an incognito window. This often makes it run better. Make sure you and your players are only using Chrome or Firefox as your browser, these are the only officially supported browsers on the platform. 5. At some point, people in your group will question the randomness of the dice. Show them this page to help understand what is happening. 6. If you are playing the Forgotten Realms, this map might be helfpul. After years of running online games, quite a bit of work editing work, and tons of research, I made an updated version of the free Sword Coast map that WotC made available here . This new version of the map is spoiler free and suitable for players, while providing DM's (especially VTT DM's) the ability to easily add spoiler locations through transparent png files. In addition, it significantly expands the locations included on the original map to include more locations in the Moonshae Isles, Amn, The Nelantehr Isles, Cormyr, The Dalelands, Cormanthor, the Dragon Coast, and more. You can learn more about it here:&nbsp; <a href="https://www.reddit.com/r/DnD/comments/gabiey/map_map_of_the_sword_coast_5e_revised_and_expanded/" rel="nofollow">https://www.reddit.com/r/DnD/comments/gabiey/map_map_of_the_sword_coast_5e_revised_and_expanded/</a>
For players moving online: Finding a game as a player can be difficult because there are significantly more players than there are DMs. It can be incredibly competitive to get into a game because of this imbalance. And many DM's have made application processes more thorough because of this deluge of applications. Here are some ideas on how to try to stand out. Apply for games that are (a) either newly posted with few applications or (b) scheduled for several weeks out. It is very unlikely that DM's who have 25+ applications will even take a look at your application if you are applying the same day as the game. They already likely have talked with applicants and narrowed it down to a shortlist, and aren't likely to add you to that list. Follow application instructions as closely as possible. DM's put time and effort into their games, including the application process (because trust me, there are some truly terrible players out there, and having an application process helps weed out a lot of them). Usually the hoops they are asking for are to show if you are someone excited enough about the game to actually take the time to care about what you are doing. If you can't take the time to complete an application, then most DM's don't see you as a type of player who will take the time to do other things for the game once it gets going. DM's want buy-in to the hard work they are doing, and this is your first chance to show that you are happy to do your part. Write in complete sentences, and be clear with your answers. This is kind of a second part of the previous answer, but demands it's own call out. You would be surprised how many complete applications come in, but are just one word answers, short sentences, or just generally grammatically poor. Think of this like a job application almost, and put your best face forward, including being on your best writing behavior. Be interesting and succinct. DM's may ask for a lot of information in an application, including perhaps a character concept. Be creative with this, but don't go overboard. A strong three sentence paragraph that is evocative will likely get much more traction than a huge backstory dump of multiple paragraphs. This is your time to pitch the character, not fully explain it. You don't even know if that character will work in the campaign, so don't waste everyone's time by fleshing it out beyond making it an interesting idea to explore. Don't be annoying. There are a bunch of ways this can happen. For instance, don't private message the DM asking for special treatment (caveat: if you have a private situation such as a medical condition you would prefer not to discuss on a public message board when applying but would like to alert the DM to). Don't post an application that looks nothing like what the DM asked for. Don't lie on the application or in follow-up conversations. In general, follow the rules as outlined by the DM. Every time I (as DM) have allowed a player who asked to bend my rules into a game, I have regretted it almost immediately. As a result, I now have a zero-tolerance policy for this, and will instantly choose not to invite that person into my game based on past experience with other players. Be prepared for there to be multiple steps to the application process and for it to possibly take several days or even weeks. A DM might want to do a voice call over Discord to discuss the game if they are considering you to be one of the players. Be open to this process - the DM is trying to put together a good game, and if you make it into the game this work was for your benefit. Be prepared to have to apply to lots of games. The odds are against you, but the more you apply, the better your chances of getting into a game. Check both the LFG Tool and the LFG forum. Watch for pickup games on the LFG Tool and try to jump into one of those. Check out reddit (r/lfg r/roll20LFG r/lfgpremium) as other sources for searching for games. If you get into a game, be a good player! Be on time, know how your character works, be respectful of the other players, engage with the story, and be excited about being at the table. Be aware that even if you get into a group, there is still the chance for it to have issues. Most groups will lose at least a couple of players within the first couple of sessions. It is also not that unusual for a DM to decide to cancel a game if they aren't having fun or feel that it isn't living up to their expectations, or if unexpected life things happen. Sometimes group dynamics just don't work and personalities never mesh. Sometimes people ghost, sometimes people will give notice. Sometimes there is a bad player who ruins it for everyone. Sometimes the game will be great and go on for the next two or three years. Just be ready to roll with the punches and be watchful for people you would like to play more with. Bonus - Become friends with them, and eventually you'll have a full group from people you have met as you've played. Some other options to think about: Consider paid games. There are usually less applicants to deal with, and the players who are willing to pay are usually also into a game for a long haul, making a generally steady gaming group. If you go this route, look for games that either offer a free session so you can meet everyone and get a feel for what the game would be like, or that have videos or audio that you can watch so you understand what you might be signing up for. Consider game systems that are not D&amp;D. Smaller game systems are more niche and there are less players, so DM's are often looking to fill their more unique game with players. Consider being the DM. As the recurring theme suggests, there is a shortage of DM's, so players would be happy to play with you, even if this is your first time doing it. Choose something fairly easy like Lost Mine of Phandelver (the D&amp;D starter set) which is built to help DM's learn how to DM. It might take some time to learn what you are doing (both as a DM and the functionality of Roll20), but most of your players will be new too and will be excited to be playing.
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Bunny
Roll20 Team
Finding ways to help you and your group communicate is key. Expectations up front are best for everyone. Some people want to game and just game, others want to chill and hang out before, during, or after. Sessions zeroes (as everyone else has said) are KEY but so are ongoing check-ins. Sometimes a campaign or story will start taking a turn different than what tone you all agreed on at the beginning and it's important to keep that communication open so the game continues to be fun for everyone. And with the state of the world, a topic that had been totally fine to dive into weeks ago may be a no-go zone now for someone at your table. There is a curated TTRPG Safety Toolkit that has a large number of resources for various safety systems, if you'd like to find one that works for you.&nbsp; NOTE: anyone can bring up safety tools to try, not just the GM. It's YOUR table, no matter your role at it. Landing pages are dope. Landing pages can be campaign overviews, they can be places for the players to draw a mess on, or even virtual "snack" table. These aren't necessary, but I find them 1. incredibly fun to make and use 2. great to help set the tone. If it's a "snack table," people know they can just hang out and chat, maybe play a card game or something. If it's the campaign overview or the opening of a new quest or mystery, that can help people get into the game headspace. You don't need to use every feature . For real, you don't. Use what works for you. If it's just the whiteboard and dice roller -- great! If you try out one of the free modules (like The Master's Vault for DnD5e, The Lightless Beacon for Call of Cthulhu, Torment and Legacy for PF2e, etc) and decide you love having all that info set up for you -- also great! I do highly recommend trying out one of the free modules just so you can get a better idea of the possibilities for those games. I actually make splash screens for the non-movement tracking games as well. So my Kids on Bikes game has some random pictures combined with specific playlists for each page to help set the scene, even though the players won't be moving tokens. Theatre of the mind is surprisingly easier for some people when they have atmospheric input. There are a serious number of amazing features at your fingertips, and while I hope you get to try them all out, go at your own pace.
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I make sure to have everyone do a microphone check so they can adjust their mic volume if it is too loud for others, and discuss microphone etiquette, because, if more than one is speaking at a time, or someone is chewing on crunchy food, nobody hears anything. Also, part of the sound check, if you use background music or sound effects, is to make sure the volumes of the jukebox tracks aren't overpowering (except for the ones that should be, like a bomb or explosion - but they shouldn't hurt anyone's ears).
Awesome post! Thank you. I'm a vintage D&amp;D gamer, and I'm learning how to transition to online D&amp;D using this platform and Discord
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Amber C.
Roll20 Team
I have really enjoyed starting with games like For the Queen , The Quiet Year , Fiasco , Dialect and some homemade board game conversions because its taught me how to navigate around Roll20 without feeling the pressure of impacting a longer term campaign. Video chat etiquette articles have some nice reminders too- I don't consider them hard and fast rules, but it's nice to be conscientious of things that might distract your fellow players or improve their experience like wearing headphones, muting, not multitasking.
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Kraynic
Pro
Sheet Author
I think most things I mentioned in the thread on the Pro forum has already been addressed. I do want to emphasize what Bunny mentioned about not needing every feature. Back in my day... I started playing AD&amp;D with friends of mine when I was 12.&nbsp; All that required was dice, a couple books (that we shared), paper, and whatever you used to write your character out with.&nbsp; We didn't have character sheets, but we created them with whatever layout our minds could imagine in notebooks or on loose leaf paper.&nbsp; If you were being real fancy, you might write labels in pen and everything that might change in pencil.&nbsp; There were no miniatures, and there were no maps provided to use by the DM, unless there was a rough map of a world or region.&nbsp; Players never saw maps of dungeons and buildings, but we were expected to draw our own (at least a rough sketch) from descriptions we were given if we didn't want to get turned around in a large, complex place.&nbsp; The entire game was a few notes on paper, some dice for random chance, and whatever images our imaginations could provide.&nbsp; I should probably say that until playing on Roll20, I had never played/used any published adventure or used miniatures in any tabletop rpg. What has changed over time?&nbsp; Most of these games still only take dice, a place to hold character information, and imagination.&nbsp; Moving online hasn't changed that at all.&nbsp; In the end, we are still just playing games of make believe that have some rules for structure.&nbsp; How complex (and difficult) we make things for ourselves beyond that with images, automation, sound effects, etc. is totally on us and only "necessary" as a factor of the tastes of the people playing the game.&nbsp; It is totally possible to run an immersive and fun game using no tools but a character sheet and dice. Basically, don't make things so complicated that you lose the fun of running (or playing) a game.
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Landing Pages I keep the date, time, weather and phase of the moon on the landing page and update it after every session. I also record the party's current location and objective. It's there for them to see whilst they are in the "lobby" waiting for everyone to arrive and the game to start and helps get everyone back on track. I also put visual reminders of the previous game on the screen - NPCs, monsters, treasure items, mini-maps, anything! Over time these overlap and the older ones get covered up in a growing collage. Finding out what new tokens/images I have put there is now almost a mini-game for my players, and helps remind them what happened last session. Player Journals I can't remember who originally posted this to credit them, but give your players their own journals with full edit privileges. Let them take their own notes and record them on Roll20. It will save you doing it for them! &nbsp;Especially if your game is role play heavy. Want to remember the name of that barkeep in the previous town - well did you write it down? I am currently running Waterdeep Dragonheist which is really content heavy. I warned the players up front that they would need to take good notes, and now they are. Much better than doing an intelligence roll or similar to see if they can remember something. Names etc can be initially sent to chat and copied from there, but of course Chat disappears off the page fairly quickly.
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Bunny
Roll20 Team
Ooo -- Owen H just reminded me of something else (thank you!). For every handout and character sheet and everything, there's a space for GM notes. I use that to include secrets about the players (either from each other or even themselves, assuming the player has asked for that), list out any rollable tables I want to use (say if it's a tower and I want a random puzzle or trap or reward for each door they ope, etcn). For NPCs I'll use the GM notes to put down any information, affiliation, loyalty, the character may have -- I even use that to track loyalty points if it's an NPC that's romanceable or adventurable so I can remember how that person was feeling about the party as a whole or individually. It's just a handy trick to keep track of the things you may not want players to know but would like quick access to. EDIT: Also by having those handouts accessible to every player, they can write their OWN notes on it with their perspective and what they remember.
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One thing that made a huge difference to my online game after coming from in-person was encouraging people to use webcams. I get not everyone wants to be on display, but like in person, being able to see the other person and connect face to face makes a huge difference when it comes to interaction as a group. I noticed a huge difference in group engagement after encouraging it. I don't force any of my players to use it though and even have some that don't use it all because not everyone is comfortable with it online. To reiterate the stuff said above though, my other list of things that make online games better are Session 0. So much more important online. Please do it. You won't be disappointed and your players will all know what to expect. Landing Pages are an easy "default" page and a way for GMs to display info when needed without jumping from page to page. Skip over technical glitches. Deal with it later. Anything that slows the session down tends to be bad. The new thing you found might be cool, but if you've spent more than 2 minutes trying to fix it move on and deal with it later. Ask a player to help you outside the session if needed Finding APIs/Macros. There are loads and they help so much to smooth the game out. Use them. Post in the forums for help or Google. Make sure to test them as well. This links into point 3 above a little. Remember to also ask your players what would make their life easier. That question can sometimes add a whole bunch of stuff that makes life easier, or stop you from going down a rabbit hole for no reason.
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Joshua G. said: One thing that made a huge difference to my online game after coming from in-person was encouraging people to use webcams. I get not everyone wants to be on display, but like in person, being able to see the other person and connect face to face makes a huge difference when it comes to interaction as a group. I noticed a huge difference in group engagement after encouraging it. I don't force any of my players to use it though and even have some that don't use it all because not everyone is comfortable with it online. To reiterate the stuff said above though, my other list of things that make online games better are Session 0. So much more important online. Please do it. You won't be disappointed and your players will all know what to expect. Landing Pages are an easy "default" page and a way for GMs to display info when needed without jumping from page to page. Skip over technical glitches. Deal with it later. Anything that slows the session down tends to be bad. The new thing you found might be cool, but if you've spent more than 2 minutes trying to fix it move on and deal with it later. Ask a player to help you outside the session if needed Finding APIs/Macros. There are loads and they help so much to smooth the game out. Use them. Post in the forums for help or Google. Make sure to test them as well. This links into point 3 above a little. Remember to also ask your players what would make their life easier. That question can sometimes add a whole bunch of stuff that makes life easier, or stop you from going down a rabbit hole for no reason. I agree with all the points! In particular landing pages are a great way of preparing content that will be made available to players throughout the game!
Flutters Guide to branching out: Playing PFS Online - Google Docs &nbsp;&nbsp; How to make a roll d20 table - Google Docs Written for pathfinder society but 99.44% applicable to any game. These can get you onto the learning curve.&nbsp;