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How to use Roll20

Roll20 is an excellent tool for both gamemasters (GMs) and players alike. It’s a free-to-use service with customizable dice engines, automated character sheets from dozens of Tabletop Role-Playing Games (TTRPGs), maps, tokens, free storage, and much more. As devotees of TTRPGs can testify, getting players and GMs together can be as frustrating as herding cats. That’s where remote role-playing applications like Roll20 come in.

You could use a videoconferencing app, roll dice, and go full “theater of the mind,” but Roll20 makes it easy for everyone to roll the dice themselves, manage their character sheets, and share rulebooks to make the gameplay more smooth.

Intimidated? Don’t know where to start? Here’s how to use Roll20 and enjoy your first Roll20 role-playing experience.

How to create a basic GM/player account on Roll20

Want to get rolling right away? Thankfully, signing up for Roll20 couldn’t be more straightforward and painless. For starters, head to the Roll20 homepage and select the Create an Account button.

Image of Roll20 Homepage
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

Next, provide your first and last name, email address, and password. You can also choose to receive a Roll20 newsletter with tips and tricks included.

Image of Roll20 Create an Account Page
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

Select your preferred language and your display name. That’s it! Feel free to start world-building and character development, and get cracking.

Image of Roll20 Basic Account Settings
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

How to find a game on Roll20

Both GMs and players can search on the Looking for Group page by game, edition and keyword, and by whether the group accepts new players, is free to play, and features content for adults 18 years old and up. Available tabletop role-playing game editions and character sheets (both custom-made by Roll20 and those direct from publishers) include, but are not limited to, D&D 5e, Vampire: The Masquerade, Dungeon World, Chronicles of Darkness, Cypher Systems, Call of Cthulhu 7e, Blades in the Dark, Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader, Pathfinder 2e, and GURPS. However, it should be noted that it’s impossible to turn off advertisements in basic accounts. Even then, the benefits far outweigh that drawback.

Image of Roll20 Looking For Group Page
Image used with permission by copyright holder

On the subject of mature content, no matter how great your current group of players is, almost everyone has dealt with “that guy,” wrecking their collective gaming experience to a greater or lesser extent. For that reason, Roll20 has no-nonsense moderation and general guidelines policies to deal with trolling, spam, explicit content, passive aggression, and other offenses to both gaming and general decency. No one wants to play with a broody edge-lord whose character “stares silently and says nothing” in between bouts of rule-lawyering, roll fudging, and attacking innocent NPCs without provocation.

That doesn’t mean Roll20 has no place for those who prefer the path of the murderous wanderer or occasionally want to play something where they’re less invested in the outcome. Regardless, Looking for Group and Roll20’s policies help ensure an enjoyable experience for all where GM and player expectations are clear.

Image of Roll20 Moderation and General Guidelines
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Designed to be “system agnostic,” GMs can use Roll20 to access an impressive variety of tools applicable to any TTRPG when creating their campaigns. Roll20 is accessible from any web browser and even comes with an app for iOS and Android, which is currently being redesigned. Campaign settings include adjusting the game’s default image in Looking for Group, page, and token settings; selecting Compendium resources to be used in-game; and changing the chosen character sheets if needed.

Character sheets come with built-in macros for calculating attack rolls and damage dice, and they auto-update to reflect increases in modifiers and ability scores from leveling up. Players can also customize how dice look and roll. For this article, we created a D&D 5e campaign based on the recently-released Explorer’s Guide to Exandria and a V:TM 5e campaign based on New York by Night. If you’re itching to start creating your campaign, just follow these simple steps, and you’ll be world-building in no time.

How to GM and save a D&D 5e game on Roll20

Roll20 also offers a vast selection of purchasable modules for those who would prefer to play a written campaign with premade maps, tokens, notes, characters, and other resources. From the Roll20 homepage, select Games > Create New Game. From there, you can decide on what TTRPG system you’re using, the name of your campaign, tags for Looking for Group, and whether you want to include premade character sheets.

Image of Roll20 Start New Game Page
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

Once concluded, you will be able to access your campaign homepage — you’ll be able to add/remove content, advertise on Looking for Group, adjust add-ons and settings, participate in discussions, schedule sessions, and set a display image. Perhaps most importantly, click Launch Game to access the Virtual Tabletop Tool, where the +1 Tools of GMing reside. Once you create a game, it will be saved under the My Games tab until you decide to delete it.

Image of Roll20 Campaign Homepage
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

How to GM a Vampire: The Masquerade 5e Game on Roll20

Follow the steps above, but consider the title and tags as displayed in the image below. You’ll also need to select the appropriate character sheets.

Images of Roll20 VTM Campaign Page
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

How to use Roll20’s Virtual Tabletop Tool

Logging in as the GM grants you access to the impressive suite of Roll20 tools and features, giving you total command over the app and letting you know everything that’s happened in your campaign. Players can only see what you want when you want, which is good — foreknowledge of impending doom robs you of joyfully crushing their hopes yourself. Roll20 also provides GMs with a guided tutorial on how to use and access Roll 20’s Virtual Tabletop Tool (VTT), a seemingly simple area of white gridlines. This tool is where Roll20 sets itself apart from other tabletop simulators, and you can work creative wonders to your heart’s content.

As a live application, there are no edit or play modes — any changes you make to the settings or objects in the VTT are visible to the players and GM alike. Players can view the VTT, but not control it by default. Tools include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Instant drag-and-drop and resizing features for files such as maps, tokens, and documents.
  • Drawing tools, including draw shape, freehand, polygon/line, and text.
  • A searchable art library and compendium filled with images suitable for creating maps, tokens, and even portraits for your players to enjoy.
  • Customizable tokens to provide information on characters, including enemy health info, status effect icons, and ammunition trackers.
  • Measurement tools that let GMs and players calculate distances, attack ranges, and spell area-of-effects ensure your brilliant or foolish tactics are mechanically sound.
  • Layers to determine what your players can see and interact with on the VTT, including token, GM, and maps and background. Players can see and interact with the token layer, while the latter two are the GM’s purview — players can see the background while not interacting with it. In contrast, the GM layer allows for notes, hidden enemies, traps, and anything else you want to keep secret, along with additional premium account features.
  • A genuinely expansive suite of built-in chat and communication features including pinging map locations, an HD shadow box to examine tokens at high resolution and share them with players, integrated audio/video powered by WebRTC and compatible with Google Hangouts and other third-party VOIP services, text chat with reviewable archive, whispers and emotes, tab auto-complete function for long PC names, GM-specific chat commands, dice rolling commands, and more.
  • A page toolbar to organize notes, move players from map to map, and navigate settings, content, locations, and time.
  • The journal function to keep handouts, character sheets, and folders neat and tidy.
  • A jukebox for sound effects, battle music, and much more with an impressive audio library and adding custom audio via SoundCloud URLs.
  • Turn-tracker for ensuring everyone knows what their initiative order is.
  • The ability to create macros for easy rolling or texting, and a macro library if you’re feeling lazy.
  • Customizable decks of cards for every game imaginable.
  • Modifiable rollable tables randomly generate tokens or determine results from a weighted list, which is excellent for developing monsters like shape-changers or picking randomly selected enemies.
  • A settings menu for each player to determine how their dice appear, control their master volume, select avatar size, and access keyboard shortcuts.

How to use Roll20 character sheets

After selecting the Launch Game button on the Campaign page, the VTT will activate. Select the Journal icon at the top of the right sidebar and click Add+ > Character to create a new character sheet (VTM 5e in this example).

Image of Roll20 Create a Character Sheet
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

A new window to edit your character sheet will appear where you can select the character’s name, avatar, tags, default token, how they appear in character’s journals, and who can edit and contribute to the sheet. Select Save Changes once you are satisfied to return to the journal. Click on the character’s name to fill out the sheet.

Image of Roll20 Edit Character Sheets
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

Users can either select the core Character Sheet provided for a traditional layout of stats, traits, abilities, and skills, review the character’s Bio & Info, or use the Attributes & Abilities tab to make quick changes without scrolling through the entire sheet.

Image of Roll20 Character Sheet
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

How to customize your dice on Roll20

Roll20 offers basic and advanced dice rolls, saves and displays your last 10 rolls for convenience, offers 3D dice to simulate rolling them yourself, and lets you roll custom tables with ease. For those who want genuinely random dice rolls, Roll20 switched from RNGs to a “‘true random’ source of entropy, based on the fluctuations in the power of a beam of light” powered by a QuantumRoll server with cryptographic signatures that verify any rolls that are wholly random and remain untampered with by GM or player.

Players can select the button’s next skills and abilities to automatically roll attacks and calculate damage on a hit or heal their party members, but they can also do so via the chat box. For example, enter the command /roll 2d10 + 3, and everyone in the chat will see the results of the dice roll and any critical failures or successes, unless the roll has been “whispered,” in which case the player and GM see it, but no one else.

The GM can decide if 3D dice are enabled and automatically rolled. Still, each player can choose whether to use these features themselves and, in my humble opinion, Roll20’s 3D dice come about as close to the joy of rolling genuine dice as you can get. These instructions apply for both GM and player accounts. Dice color can be changed by merely clicking the small colored square in your VTT nameplate and choosing a new color.

To enable 3D dice, simply enter your game’s VTT and select the My Settings button that resembles a gear in the top of the right sidebar. From there, you can toggle options, including Enable Advanced Dice, Enable 3D Dice, and Automatically Roll 3D Dice.

Image of Roll20 Dice Settings Menu
Daniel Martin/Screenshot

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Daniel Martin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Daniel Martin is a technology expert, freelance writer, and researcher with more than a decade of experience. After earning a…
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