How Roll20 got me back into DnD.

I played my first game of Dungeons & Dragons in 1999. I knew about it, had a vague idea what it was but I had never played before. Not really. There was a moment in elementary school when one of my friends tried to introduce it to a group of us with no idea how to actually play the game. But my actual first real game was with my friends in our little apartment. We sat on the floor mostly or crowded around the coffee table. My best friend had a bunch of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books and pulled them out and said “We’re playing. Now.” I was all for it. I love fantasy and Sci-fi so it was right up my alley. We took the time to make characters, got a brief explanation of the rules and we were off. 

This was shortly after Star Wars Episode I came out so of course my character was as close to a Jedi as I could make him. He was a monk with a double bladed sword. I loved that character. He was epic. I threw him into deadly situations with great abandon. Situations he really shouldn’t have been able to survive and yet somehow he did. I suspect this was the result of some dice fudging on the part of the DM. 

I fell in love with the game. Some of the stats were completely incomprehensible to me. What is Thac0? What is that? Why is that a thing? But the shared storytelling, the connection with my friends as we laughed and played this game together, was something I hadn’t experienced before. Sure you can play video games with your friends, or watch a movie. But there aren’t many activities that let you all build a world and create a story together. This was one of the main reasons I fell in love with this game and other roleplaying games like it. 

The campaign didn’t last very long, maybe 4 or 5 sessions. But then we played Vampire: The Masquerade, a very gothy horror themed game. And the Wizards of the Coast edition of the Star Wars RPG. I was hooked on these games. But like all things as people grow up, move away, get girlfriends or wives any number of other complications and distractions, the games were set aside. But I always held a place in my heart for D&D. Always remembered the fun I had playing and wanted to get back into it. And that’s how it was for almost 20 years. 

5th Edition

5th Edition Starter Kit. Everything you need to start a game.

When Wizards of the Coast released 5th Edition I was intrigued. I had a son and daughter, who admittedly were young but soon enough they’d be able to play, I had nephews who were a bit older. Maybe I could entice them to play an imaginative game filled with magic and monsters with me. I had no one else that I knew who would be interested in playing, or so I thought at the time. So I bought the starter kit. It contained some pre-made characters, an adventure and a copy of the basic rules as well as a set of dice. This purchase set me on a track to throwing myself into the game. Before long I had bought more dice, I started buy the gorgeous hardcover books. I was reading blog posts about it, watching YouTube videos. All without rolling a single dice. I was in effect immersed in the game without actually playing it.

My son was still a little too young to really grasp the game, though we did try a session of Wizards’s Star Wars RPG. He seemed to enjoy it but it required a lot of hand holding on my part. He still didn’t grasp the “do anything you want” nature of RPGs. So I had to guide him step by step and offer ideas of what he could do.

During my quest for knowledge about the game and playing without playing I discovered Roll20. It was a revelation for me. A way to play without having to do the leg work of asking everyone I knew if they wanted to join me in a game that to many still had the stigma of ultimate nerdom.


The Roll20 Virtual Tabletop

I signed up for an account on Roll20 without really knowing what I was getting into. I looked around the site, read some of the forums and had a look at the Looking For Group section. DMs posted the games they wanted to run and players would apply and hopefully get a spot at the virtual tabletop.

Roll20 isn’t just about D&D. There’s all manner of systems played on tabletop. Pathfinder, Vampire: The Masquerade, and Star Wars, to name a few are all being played. But I wanted Dungeons & Dragons. I wanted to throw myself into this fantasy world. But I didn’t know where to start. I needed to figure out what day and time I wanted to play, when I could play. I settled on Friday evenings and started to look for a game.

I searched and searched for a game that would suit my needs. I needed a game that allowed beginners, a game that played during the appropriate time and a game that looked interesting enough for me to want to get involved with. The problem with this of course is that Roll20 is full of players and a limited supply DMs (a DM is the arbiter and main story teller of the game. He/She plays many characters, describes the environment and acts as a referee). For every game that is looking for 4 – 5 players there are approximately 20 applications. It’s hard out there for a nerd.

I managed to find my game. A first time DM was running Lost Mines of Phandelver (the adventure included in the starter kit), and at the right time. This was perfect. Being a newbie player it made sense to try to get involved with a newbie DM so they wouldn’t get frustrated at my inexperience nor I theirs. I was accepted into the game and created my character and waited for game night. I played a halfling rogue, an archetypal character and class. I didn’t want to start thinking too outside the box for my first character. I needed to learn the mechanics of the game and the mechanics of the VTT (virtual tabletop) before I started getting too crazy.

When we started playing I was instantly drawn in. This was a first time DM but he new the game well and was helpful with me in figuring out rules, mechanics and the site. The other players in the game and I got along well and we had a blast. Alas like many games on Roll20, with people spread out all over the continent, and the world, it ended up falling apart. I had to be absent for a month, a couple of the other players ended up not showing up without saying anything. And so the DM called the game in part because he had things going on in his life too. This seems to be the norm for playing online. Even though the group may get along well, without any real connection to each other it’s all too easy to just leave a game or drop it and not care what happens.

And so I was left with no game. But I wasn’t going to give up. I was still in contact with a couple of the players from that group and we decided to forge ahead. This time I was going to take on the mantle of DM. And I had no idea what I was doing. But that’s a story for another time.

In the end Roll20 reminded me what I love about the game. Connecting with people over a table and sharing a story filled with magic and adventure. I still play 2 games weekly and bi-weekly and I DM both of them. And I’ve made friends across the continent. And even into Europe. It has a different energy from sitting face to face with your friends and playing and the accountability of ghosting on a game is lost, but if you find a good group it comes very close and is still a lot of fun.

Roll20 has the advantage of putting you in touch with people who share the same interests, and have much the same sense of humour and attitude as you. Sometimes there are some growing pains, you have to weed out the players who don’t quite mesh with your group, put up with players leaving unexpectedly and games that just fall apart because life gets in the way. But that would be much the same as playing in person.

In the end Roll20 got me back into D&D in a big way. It’s now a creative outlet for me as well as a source of entertainment. If you’ve ever wanted to play, aren’t sure where to start or don’t have anyone to play with I would suggest giving Roll20 or any other VTT a shot. You’d be surprised at the kind of experience you’ll get out of it.

Have you ever played D&D on a VTT. Let me know what your experience was like in the comment section.

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