roll20conRoll20, a popular browser-based virtual tabletop for online RPG play, is having its first convention Friday, June 3rd, called Roll20CON. It will be 24 hours of delicious online gaming action, with concurrent panels and games being streamed on Twitch with great guests. Viewers will have several opportunities to donate to CyberSmile, an organization that works to support victims of cyberbullying, but the entire event (and as usual, use of Roll20) is free! Even better, starting on Friday, May 27th, Roll20 is opening up its Plus-level Subscription features to anyone setting up a game for Roll20CON through the end of the convention: midnight Pacific Time, June 3rd. Let me tell you a little about the convention details and using Roll20 to run, find, and play games.

Roll20CON Panels and Guests

roll20conScheduleFirst off, for those wanting to just sit back and enjoy some entertainment, Roll20CON is streaming a bunch of games and panels with fabulous guests, like this year’s Gen Con Industry Insider Jessica Price and Guest of Honor Michael Pondsmith, as well as Roll20’s usual Twitch gamemaster guru, Adam Koebel. There are a bunch of great game designers attending, like Luke Crane of Burning Wheel, Kira Magrann of the cyber-witchy games in the amazing new zine Resistor, and Chris Perkins of Dungeons & Dragons. I can’t do justice to the accolades of all these people, so do scroll through their short bios.

There are three Roll20 specific panels: API Tips & Tricks (a Pro-level subscription feature that’s quite powerful), Advanced Roll20 and LFG (not quite sure what this will dive into), and GMing on Roll20, which sounds exciting. Playing online with a virtual tabletop is palpably different than an in-person game, though that difference can manifest both in challenges to overcome and in perks to the storytelling experience. I’m sure these experienced GMs will have some great advice. If you want advice of this nature before the con, check out Gnome John Fredericks’ advice on The Online Tabletop: Preparing for Your First Session.

Even if you’re not on the Roll20 bandwagon, the panels Being a Marketplace Creator and Publishing in the Digital Age should be really interesting, especially given these new DriveThruRPG-powered community content publishing options for Dungeons & Dragons, the Cypher System, Cortex Plus, and Mongoose’s Traveller.

Roll20CON Registration: Signing up as a player

As of writing this, I found 69 Roll20CON games that are currently looking for players! There are diverse RPGs, such as Numenera, Fate, Mouse Guard, Epyllion, Pathfinder, and more, in addition to board games like Arkham Horror and a card game, Shadowrun Crossfire! More will certainly be added (cough, including my own), so keep checking back.

Roll20CON Registration: Creating your own game

Roll20 Game CreationIf you’d like to run a game for Roll20CON, and thereby get free access to those sweet, sweet, Roll20 Pro features, simply log in and Start a New Game. Make sure the Roll20CON 2016 box is checked to be listed in their lineup. Here you can give your game a name, add tags, and below you can assign the game a character sheet template for the game system you’ll be using. Over on the right, you can also choose to run a module, like several adventures from Rite publishing and Monte Cook Games, or pick a set of ready-made tools for certain games, like the Quiet Year or the free Strange RPG Starter Pack.

Once you hit Create Game, you’ll be taken to the main campaign editor interface, where you can create pregens, handouts, tokens, put up images for maps, roll dice, and all that good stuff. However, if you want to edit your game settings, go back to the main Roll20 site, hover over Games and click My Games, and click on your recently created game’s title. From here, you set the date and time of your game, the game system you’ll be using (if it’s an established one), and give the game a description.

Roll20 Game Settings

To assemble players for your game, you can either play with people you know via the Invite Players on the right, which allows you to invite folks via email or by sending them the game link, or list your game in Looking for Players. The Looking for Players entry requires you to have a date set (specifically June 3rd for Roll20CON entries), and will let you specify things like the primary language of the game, the required number of players, whether the game is friendly to new players, and whether it contains mature content. Be sure to give it an enticing pitch!

Getting Comfortable with Roll20

Roll20 has a lot of available features, but it’s a tool that you should feel free to use as deeply or shallowly as you like. I’ve played Fate games where the feature we used the most was the dice roller in the sidebar and the map area just for taking notes that everyone could see. On the other side, I’ve played in some games that really make use of the tokens, macros, dynamic lighting, and more, to great effect! It’s up to you.

Luckily, Roll20 has a lot of great documentation and video guides on their website. I first recommend checking out the short Getting Started guides, which come as videos with transcripts! There’s a Getting Started for GMs and one for Players. For GMs wanting to dive a bit deeper, play around with the Roll20 Crash Course, which contains information on dice rolling, map making, character sheet and token management, music playing, deck building, and voice software options (you can use Roll20’s built in software or launch Roll20’s app from within a Google Hangout, which can be a little finicky these days).

Roll20 Plus-level Subscription Features

For Roll20CON, you’ll have access to Plus-level subscription features between May 27th and the end of the con. This includes a higher upload cap for uploading higher-quality images for tokens and maps (like this guy who scanned a bunch of his own hand-drawn art into Roll20 maps and tokens), tablet support, external access to character sheets and handouts, the ability to move documents across campaigns, and Dynamic Lighting.

With Dynamic Lighting, you set the players’ tokens with a certain light radius and set up a map with walls/barriers of some sort. As player tokens move around the map, on their individual screens certain elements will be hidden until their light source reveals them. Jason Levine ran a D&D 5e Roll20 campaign for me that made excellent use of this feature – the tension of exploration was quite heightened, especially with the differences between what individual players can see until they’re all through a doorway.

Although some of the really powerful features, like Roll20 API, are still restricted to Pro subscribers, there’s no better time to check out what the Plus level features have to offer! Subscribers help Roll20 keep developing cool new features, and keep Roll20 afloat for people to use at the base level for free.

Are you running any Roll20CON games? Do you have any of the subscription features already, and have advice/opinions? Any advice for running games using virtual tabletops?