Roll20 is a great option for playing TTRPGs online and the best part is that it is free but that is not the only upside. Roll20 is capable of supporting some board games and card games. Finding a game and players is essential to playing any game and if you can’t meet in person you will need an online option.
Roll20 does a good job of making their looking for game interface straightforward and easy to navigate. There are many options to narrow down the search results to find exactly what you want. Searches can be filtered by the game, matching keywords, games that welcome new players, age rating, free to play, start time and day, game type (TTRPG, board game, and card game), if it requires audio or video, preferred language, and how often you wish the game to repeat. You can also create a game with these same filters.
On the Find Games page you will see upcoming Pick Up Games. These are games you can instantly join without waiting for approval.
Making a game is easy. All you need is a name, optionally a picture, and to pick what system you are running. There is only one issue and that is if you can’t find the system you want to run from Roll20’s database it becomes harder to recruit people. However, it is not impossible. Most people select a system that closely matches what they are running and then name the game according to what they are actually running.
Managing your game is easy. Head over to my games to see a list of games you are playing in and what you created. You can give them tags to make it easier to search.
When it comes to managing the game you are running you can promote any number of players to a game master or kick them. Promoting someone to a game master gives them all the permissions needed for a GM to manage and run a game. Every filter I mentioned in the find game page you can change after the game has been made. Each game also comes with its own forums. One forum is on the game’s advertisement page and the other is only visible by players who join the game.
The compendium is used for looking up rules or the adventure for the game you are running. You will have to purchase most of the content for the compendium but on the bright side you can share it with your players.
Pictured below are the custom markers I got for Witcher. It is very easy to swap out the token markers and create different sets, but making custom tokens depends on your own artistic skill and the program you use.
The character vault is receiving a lot of updates lately. In its basic form it is used to store character sheets from your games, create characters, and in an odd roundabout way it can be used to transfer your macros. Kind of like how DnD Beyond works. However, they only have this feature rolled out for a few popular systems and other partners. Hopefully in the future they make it available for all systems and make a more logical method for transferring macros.
Macros for those of you who don’t know are the extra depth a player and game master can use to automise their games. It is easy to roll a d20 but for more complex dice rolls and modifiers it becomes vastly easier to set up a macro for it. Most character sheets have built in macros to already roll a d20 + Strength bonus + 1 for being magical and at advantage. Macros are for those niche things the character sheet did not cover or something just too difficult to type out each time.
For example when I created a macro for Old School Essentials to speed up the quick equipment selection process. In this process I had to reference a table based on the race/class I selected, make rolls to determine some random equipment, and then reference those tables. To make it easy I wrote a complex macro that just asks what race/class I am playing as. Then it drops all the important information into chat with all my rolls made for me. Pictured below are the macro, the dialog box that pops up, and the end result. I would highly recommend learning macros.
Audio functionality is rather simple. You can upload your own audio or search using their database. You can create playlists to keep things organized. I haven’t utilized audio that much for my games except for the occasional star wars alarm sound and Mighty Nien opening theme.
Once again your experience running or playing a game in roll20 will vary based on how well built the character sheets are and the amount of prep work you put into learning and optimizing everything. This is in addition to your regular game master prep if you are running a game. This may sound like a serious issue but it isn’t. Just make sure you try out the system before running a session one.
Using tokens is probably the most annoying thing you will have to do outside of getting fog of war to work. However, just recently they made it slightly easier on everyone by allowing you to click a token and open the character sheet associated with it. Why is this a big improvement? Well if you have a lot of actors it can take a lot of time to look up the actor’’s sheet in the sidebar. I used foundry vtt solely because I could open a character sheet associated with the token just by double clicking it. Additionally, another issue is with how roll20 handles duplicated tokens. If you want an army of goblins with their own stats or health tracking you need to adjust the token or duplicate the character in the journal section. On the other hand, in Foundry VTT it is a simple check box.
Tokens have many bells and whistles you can edit to add some optimization to your game. The bars can be used to store (typically) the health value and armor class of the token. These values can be linked to a character sheet so they auto update to match the values between the token and the sheet. You can also toggle different display options to determine who sees these values. Lastly you can get really fancy by adding aura, light source, and change token vision.
On the right side of the screen is chat, art library, journal (actors and handouts), compendium, jukebox, collection (macros, dice, and cards), and setting tabs. Personally I would like it better if they separated handouts and actors into their own tab because it gets really cluttered even when you organize them into folders.
Maps are located at the center top area. The most common things I see GMs and players struggle with are token permissions, fog of war, and occasional errors. The only error I encountered was that my HP was not updating correctly on my token but it worked fine in my character sheet. Freshing the game fixed this. I only mention it so that you can notice the error and not how to fix it but it won’t stop me from using Roll20. Most other issues I have encountered just seem to be a lack of expertise with the system.
The art library tab is used to quickly search for art assets you need for your game. When you find something you like you can just drag and drop it into the game. This is also where you find things you have previously uploaded to roll20.
In the upper left corner you will find the select, hand, draw, text, ruler, combat tracker, and dice. Players will likely use the drawing and measure tool the most to plan their movement and goof around. The text tool is useful for game masters who want to label things or write notes on the battlemap. There are three layers to a map for the map. The token layer is for playing the game and is the only layer players have access to. The GM layer is for all your secrets. Players won’t see anything on this layer but you can adjust the opacity on it so you can see it or not. The light layer is for controlling the dynamic lighting. Lastly, the map layer is exclusively for the game or anything you don’t want moved around as you play.
Free and Paid
If you are just playing or running a few games you should be able to make do with just a free account. If you are a GM that runs in more than 4 games it might be time to consider a subscription. Subscriptions are primarily needed for storage space for uploading pictures (battle maps and tokens) to Roll20. Once your Roll20 storage space gets full you will have to delete things and this has led to me misplacing a few assets.
Managing your online storage space is kind of a pain because I have uploaded duplicated pictures before on accident and deleted the wrong one leading to me having to do a little extra work to put everything back. Pictured below is my current storage space state from running four games and playing in a few.
Another good reason to have the subscription is for Mod API Access, Custom Character Sheets, and compendium sharing. Mod API Access and Custom character sheets access are for designing your own character sheets. Which can be a huge help to the rest of the community so much so that that should probably be free considering how uncaring Roll20 is on supporting non-popular game systems. I have encountered several outdated character sheets that were either broken or just lacking features.
Compendium sharing is useful for the Game Master to share copies of the TTRPG system they bought on roll20. I also feel like this should be a standard feature considering you have to buy the TTRPG system from Roll20 in order to share it in the compendium. Just fyi I have never paid for a Roll20 subscription or bought any assets. Which should tell you that you can get by just fine on a free tier for almost 3 plus years of TTRPG gaming.
I can’t review the entirety of the forums or player base but I have played with several great game masters and players thanks to roll20. I have run into some problematic players but the good ones make up for it. It is worth playing with strangers if you can’t convince your friends to play with you. When I needed help making a macro I was able to find answers in the roll20 forums and when I ran Only War the character sheet I used was made by the community. The Only War character sheet had a lot of useful things programmed into it that made playing the game easy.
Lately the Roll20 team has been rolling out a lot of updates to improve their digital table top experience and improving the website. I have made a few complaints to them and it does appear they responded by making updates. Hopefully the downsides I have pointed out will be resolved by the time you happen upon this review. Without considering the potential updates, rest assured Roll20 is your best option for hosting a free TTRPG game online and finding players.
The bad thing about roll20 is it focuses too much on popular systems. You will see vastly more features and community support for a system as popular as DnD5e. While other less popular systems may not even be listed in the game search. Which is something you definitely don’t want from a platform that is all about hosting TTRPGs. Roll20 companion app is currently only for dnd5e and that really needs to change.