A little more than two years ago I played my first game on Roll20. So what’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of roll20? Am I still as enthusiastic about online play as when I wrote that it had changed my life?
I can’t say that I didn’t have some luck. The group I hooked up with was dedicated and fun to be around, even if they’re definitely on the pulp, if not gonzo, side of Call of Cthulhu, where I’m more on the dark and brooding. I’m still running every Sunday evening at 5pm with the same folks. I’ve added a weekly Dungeon Crawl Classics game and an irregular, very dark, I’ve also run my own games, both one shots and a longer Dracula Dossier campaign, and I’ve been out there as a player with a few games as well.
The good is the tabletop and character sheets. The core of roll20. As when I started, it all feels natural and easy to use. The convenience, particularly for someone who would have to drive a good distance to find a game, obviously can’t be beat. There’s no way I could game two or three evenings a week in real life.
That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. One of the features of roll20 is that character sheets are editable by the public, who can upgrade and enhance them, or create ones for new games. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out well. The Call of Cthulhu sheet, for example, worked perfectly, but someone who apparently didn’t like the bonus/penalty dice revised it to remove them, making it effectively useless for a month until he was browbeaten into fixing it. I’ve also had new bugs show up. On the other hand, I’ve also seen new features that are quite useful and if you post (or whine) on the message boards, people will step up and fix things.
What’s bad? It can be hard to recruit reliable players. For me, that’s mostly been people who never showed up to games. Out of 8 players for a new session, maybe 6 will fill out character sheets, and only 4 will actually show up. The strangest of these was a very engaged player who spent a great deal of time coming up with a very developed character with a back story and the whole nine yards. I logged in a few hours before the game and they were filling out additional details on their character sheet and I thought I had a real hardcore player who could anchor a group. When I logged in at game time, they’d deleted their account and disappeared as if they’d never existed.
The other aspect is that I think it’s fair to say that most people playing on roll20 don’t have oodles of time. Schedules change and online just isn’t as sticky, so people are more likely to just say “can’t make it anymore” rather than try to readjust the overall schedule. So longer campaigns, even when that’s been the plan all along, can take longer and require more substitutions.
The downright ugly is the audio-video system in roll20. It’s never worked well and we lost faith in it entirely and don’t even bother trying anymore. Of the games I play, most use Discord which for almost everyone just plain works. Some others have used Google Hangouts or Skype. It seems to be a doing a little bit better, but at this point, I think most people have just lost faith in it.