I’ve been a roleplayer for more than a decade now, having discovered it in university and never looking back. I started with D&D, moved on to Star Wars and Vampire, then had my first GM experience in a seven year long World of Warcraft campaign, moving on to many other games and systems and GMs and groups.

The one constant in all those years was that we played around a table, be it a coffee one, or the one in the study halls, or even a dining room table. Sadly, I’ve moved to another country, and so our group has split. I thought I might have to find new people, but now thanks to my friends, I found a new way to keep in touch and keep our games going.

It’s Roll20.net, developed by the Orr Group.

I want to thank Nolan T. Jones for taking the time to answer these questions.

Enjoy!

roll20_logo

First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. It’s a pleasure to have you.

Thanks for the invitation!

For those who still don’t know, what is roll20.net?

We’re an online “virtual tabletop,” allowing you to play pen-and-paper roleplaying games– or even board games– with people all over the world.

How did it come about? Can you tell us about that and yourselves, the Orr Group?

Well, there’s three of us… myself (Nolan), Riley Dutton, and Richard Zayas. We’ve all known each other quite awhile now (Riley and I went to high school together, even)… but near the end of college we weened ourselves off of crippling World of WarCraft addiction by starting to play Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. But we ended up moving away from each other, and honestly losing some touch.  I started playing some roleplaying games in my new city of Las Vegas, bragged to Riley in Wichita, KS and Richard over in Arlington, VA…. and Riley said he might be able to program something that would allow us to start playing together again.  After a few sessions, we took our little game platform to Kickstarter to see if anyone else might want to play long distance games, and apparently we weren’t the only ones!

 

What sort of RPGs can be played on Roll20? Is it D20 focused or does it support a variety of games?

Loads and loads– 13th Age, Savage Worlds, Dungeon World, Pathfinder among the many games played.  We named our program “Roll20” because we had basically played just D&D and wanted our name to say, “win!” in the way a critical hit does.  But when we were making DESIGN decisions, we never programmed for one specific system, instead focusing on what you would need to play any game at your living room table… but online instead!

Counting players, GMs, and marketplace sellers; how large is the Roll20 community?

At this exact moment… 479,698 users strong and growing!

How does the Looking for Group feature work?

Our Looking for Group feature is designed to put you in touch with others that want to play the same games as you and have similar time availability. You can either advertise yourself as an available player, or as a group looking to add a few more folks!

Roll20.net uses a subscription model. Can you tell us what benefits come with each subscription level? 

There are two levels of subscriber… “Supporters” that get expanded storage space, Dynamic Lighting (which makes for really cool “dark” encounters), an ad-free experience, mobile support, and a few more perks.  “Mentors” get all of the advantages of Supporters, plus access to our Development Server to try out new features AND an Application Programming Interface, allowing them to really customize their games. Most of our users are free users, though– and our free version is really powerful, so we can’t blame them!  That said, only the person running the campaign needs to be a subscriber for EVERYONE in the party to get the benefits of the subscription, so it’s worth it to pitch in and get your Game Master a paid account!

You have a big update releasing soon, Data Delve. What can you tell us about it? 

It’s massive.  The three main areas are:

1) Character Sheets. We have a community contributed list of gorgeous character sheets (created with HTML and CSS).  This will make playing in Roll20 easier than ever before, and we’re excited about it.

2) QuantumRoll. You ever been at the gaming table, and someone gets suspicious that their dice are cursed, and grabs another set? Well, on Roll20, when someone is having a rough night rolling, they assume the program is broken. Which, while somewhat humorous, isn’t quite right… so we’re doing two things to help clarify our rolling engine for people. First, there’s going to be a leaderboard showing an overview of what’s happening with current rolls– when you can see ALL the rolls happening, and not just the ones happening for you, you’ll better understand that you’re simply having a rough streak… which can happen at a physical table, too!  The second part, though, is we’re upping the formula we use for random number generation.  We’ll now be using entropy based on the fluctuations of a split beam of light. Try topping that with your plastic dice!

3) Our servers are getting upgraded, giving an overall faster gaming experience to everyone playing.

 

Will character sheets become a new product type on the marketplace?

Nope! There will be a standardized process for approving community-contributed sheets, which everyone will be able to then plug into their games.

Are there any other cool features in the works right now, for future updates? That you can speak of, of course. 

Well, I had a bunch of meetings last week talking to module creators that have some fantastic stuff in the works… but to really make their creations sing, we know we’re going to have to clean up our card system a bit. So if you wanted to make some guesses on what we’re looking at working on this summer…

On the development side, what’s Roll20 built on? (Java, .NET, PHP, third-party plugins & technology, etc.)

Roll20 is written via JavaScript (which is not the same as “Java,” for those of you who might have an older sense of internet applications!) and Ruby to be presented in HTML5. There’s a lot of cool things going on behind the scenes. For example, most online content goes to a server “in order” of command, but we use a real-time sync server– Firebase– that allows everything to happen at once.  For a full list of everything we utilize, check out our wiki.

As the developers, this might be a difficult question, as Roll20 is your baby after all. But for each of the Orr Group members: what is your favorite roll20.net feature? Also, are you usually players or GMs?

For speed’s sake, I’m gonna cheat, and guess a little for my cohorts…

Me, personally, the Marketplace is my baby. I love working with creators… and the idea that users are buying their content and supporting the artists’ ability to create more puts a huge smile on my face.

Riley likes being able to try new things on the programming side. 3D dice, our special effects engine, or even porting our dice commands into a bot you can use on reddit are the sort of accomplishments he’s really proud of.

Richard likes seeing it all grow. Tracking the numbers, checking out livestreams on Twitch, and so on. That said, I think he’s most happy about all of us having something to work on together!

We’ve all jumped in as player and GM… it usually depends on how busy we are in “real life” as to what role we’re taking when sitting down to have fun.  That said, we’ve been soooo busy this winter and spring that we haven’t gotten to play nearly enough. We’re trying to make certain we get to try some new systems soon!

Final question. Are any of you currently running games on roll20.net and, most importantly, are they open to the public such as new users trying to learn how it all works?

We’ve been playtesting a couple rule sets, like Simple System; a whole game type that was actually developed using Roll20!  We sometimes livestream our games to let people see what we’re doing, but I’d also suggest checking out resources like GM Academy and Table Topping if you’re wanting help learning all the ins and outs of the system. One of the wildest things about Roll20 is because we’re designed to mimic a table, the solutions for how to play particular games that our users come up with often amaze the development team.

Once again, I’d like to thank Nolan for answering these questions and give us a better understanding on how roll20.net works. I leave you with this video overview of the platform:

 

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