How to Playtest? #4: Roll20

Last week, we took a journey to the Friendly Local Game Store to explain why you want to keep your local board game scene involved in your designing.  This week I want to explore the sprawling world of Roll20, a browser-based application primarily used for running tabletop RPG games.  While focused on the RPG space, Roll20’s toolkit has some great flexibility for budding game designers.

The Ups

Roll20’s focus on RPG players and game masters makes it a great fit for anyone looking to set up quick playtests with little more than pictures.  All you have to do is upload images for the game elements you want to use, adjust a few sizing and grid properties, and before you know it you have a fully functioning, if crude, game.

The other major upside to Roll20 is that it is completely free to create content for the platform and to play on it.  Simply create an account and you’re ready to go.

The Downs

One major flaw that Roll20 represents is its focus on the RPG genre.  While limiting in scale, it does provide a fair amount of flexibility within that genre.  The deep customization provided by Roll20’s focus on RPG’s also provides a rabbit hole that can be difficult to drag yourself out when hours of work have gone by with no signs of stopping.

I also find Roll20’s payment model strange in that you wind up paying for assets and modules.  While these have some value to those who are interested in RPG’s, there is almost no redeeming quality for designers hoping for custom pieces.

The Final Word

Roll20 provides some great, free tools for designers looking to make RPG systems or board-focused games. The depth of the engine helps you find just the right balance of flexibility and structure.  It is also phenomenal at making testing an easy experience, provided you sink the time into setting the stage for your playtesting.

The Verdict: 4.25 Crit Confirms out of 5.

The tools and systems of Roll20 really do provide quite a challenge for someone like myself who spends a little bit of time on everything without diving too deeply.  I would love to further explore the engine when I have a bit more time.  Next week I’ll be moving on to talking about assembling your own groups to playtest.  In the meantime, how do you test your RPG creations?  Do you use a virtual tabletop like Roll20 or have a group nearby?

Charles Weigand

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