The new role of the virtual table service will soon enter early access. Here’s what to expect from the service and how it compares to existing competitors.
The hardest part of playing tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons online is finding the right virtual table service. The newly launched service role could potentially fill gaps left by existing services like D&D Beyond and Roll20. The role will enter early access soon, with some Kickstarter backers already able to try it out.
Role’s Kickstarter focused on ease of use. The team highlighted three main pillars in the previews: integrated video chat, secure and accessible tools for organizing a new group, and an integrated market for DRM-free content. The team also promised codeless character card tools to support different rule sets and homebrew content. Added support for tokens and whiteboard functions in response to Kickstarter’s comments. Most importantly, after early access, Role will be a free service for all, with an optional subscription level for additional features.
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According to Role’s early access announcement post, “it will open with a full suite of video chats, character cards, dice, cards, and resource management tools” that will run on desktop and mobile web browsers. Content creation and customization tools will not be available immediately, but will be added for free in the following weeks. Early access to the role will natively support Dungeons & Dragons 5e, as well as indie TTRPG like Massif Press’s mech battle game Lancer and superhero game for teenagers Masks: a new generation.
Role’s closest competitor, Roll20, is free on desktop browsers and officially supports it D&D 5e, Pathfinder, Dungeon World and more. Roll20 has many features for customizing games, such as macros, rollable tables, and fog of war. However, the custom character sheets are only available to Roll20’s paid subscribers, while the role promises them for its free tier.
Although the many features of Roll20 can improve the game, in practice they are often cumbersome and not very intuitive to configure and manage. Its virtual whiteboard and pantry sheets are universal features of the service, but they are just as difficult. For example, only one person can type in a sheet’s text box at a time. All of these issues present difficulties for inexperienced players, who must learn the quirks of Roll20 at the same time as a new system.
To mitigate problems with time and usability, Roll20 offers officially licensed content for D&D and other large TTRPGs. D&D the content costs the same as the physical book, but it does not launch the same day or provide a full version of the book. Instead, it is broken down into the Roll20 module and compendium system. For games with a smaller audience, publishers have sent out community-created character cards or approved versions made and tested by paid subscribers. As these sheets are not officially handled by Roll20, they carry some risk of breaking due to feature updates.
Group feature search on Roll20 works well, but it can take some work to find groups with similar play styles or that don’t charge a fee for a paid DM. The mobile web version of Roll20 is also stuck behind a paywall and does not work well on mobile devices. The easy-to-use and intuitive user interface Role showed in the previews, especially for custom character tabs and playstyle-based grouping, would be a welcome improvement.
D&D Beyond, on the other hand, is the official digital service of Wizards of the Coast. Like Role and Roll20, D&D Beyond also has a free tier that offers access to the ground rules. It also allows players to purchase only the content they are using. This system is more flexible than Roll20, especially for players who already own physical books. When players purchase a source book on D&D Plus, they get an HTML book and the same content in a searchable compendium. However, aside from a digital dice roll, D&D Beyond has no shared tabletop functionality.
Once Role is fully launched, his team promises exclusive DRM-free market content, such as system-independent adventures, modules for Mothership is Lancerand even entire games. Certain tiers of Kickstarter supporters will have automatic access to this content as soon as it is released. Players can also use content purchased on D&D Beyond or physically with a virtual role-playing table, combining the two systems. If Role keeps its promises, it could become the virtual table of choice for existing TTRPG players and provide an easier learning curve for new ones.
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