The GROGNARD Files

Table-top RPGs from back in the day and today.

Hot on the heels of Virtual GROGMEET, we started two simultaneous, online games of TWO HEADED SERPENT (the world-spanning, two-fisted, Pulp Cthulhu adventure) last night. Playing online has revolutionised our gaming over the past couple of years. We are often asked “how do I get started on Roll20?” 
Thankfully, Steve Ray (@OrlanthR on Twitter) has come to the rescue with some useful tips and his experiences of thawing out after the deep freeze.
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All that remained after The Great Purge. Even with the few new additions, it’s a wretched sight.

My emergence from carbon freezing was triggered by a request from my daughter that I run D&D for her over the Christmas holidays. I’d gone into the carbon freezer, Han Solo-style, over 16 years previously. Before that, like most Grognards, I’d gamed with the people I’d grown up with but time had its way and RPGs fell out of favour. In the years since, I’d done a lot of wargaming but never thought of once of picking up an RPG.
In response to my daughter’s request, I remembered that I still had an old copy of RuneQuest second edition in the attic and I decided to use that rather than buy 5e. As soon as I held the book in my hands, the memories came flooding back and I knew I had to play again. My daughter had of course lost interest immediately as teenagers do, so my rediscovered enthusiasm had no outlet. Searching for podcasts to feed my craving, I found the first Grognard files episode and that was it; nostalgia had me in its grip, and I was hooked.
Of course, I now needed someone to play with. I determined to start small by contacting some old friends to see if they were interested. But their lives had moved on too, and I wasn’t able to lure them in. Deflated, I was stuck with rereading old rulebooks and buying far too much stuff on pdf than I’d ever be able to use. Whilst working through the Grogpod back catalogue, I came across the discussion between Dirk and Blythy regarding Roll20.
That was three months ago; I’m now running a fully-fledged short RQ classic campaign and fully intend continuing to play online. As Dirk says, “play’s the thing’ and whilst face-to-face play is superior it’s better to game online than not at all. If you’re reading this and are thinking about taking the plunge into online play (Roll20 or otherwise), I’ve put together some thoughts that may help you (or prove to be complete bobbins; you can judge)
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Strange things are afoot in the Starfire Ridges, and our Heroes are none the wiser thus far….but they have found the stolen cattle!

 • Get into an online group as a player: as with so many things in life, the best way to learn is to watch someone else. Finding a game to play in on Roll20 is dead easy, particularly if you plump for 5e or a similarly popular system. If you can, pick a GM who has lots of experience on Roll20 (next to the GM’s name will be a number showing how many hours they’ve played for; my first GM had over 1000 hours of play under his belt) . Whilst you’re playing, take some notes as to how the GM uses the Roll20 interface (tokens, handouts, maps, combat, etc). For example, I struggled with the concept of showing pictures to the players (on the desktop or via handouts?) until I saw someone else do it.
 • It’s still role-playing: Don’t worry too much about the bells and whistles to start with. Some of the things that virtual tabletops are cool, but you can spend ages learning to do something that you’ll never use (trust me, I’ve done it). Instead, focus on some basics and run the rest as you would any other RPG. Most importantly, do the preparation that you would for any other game (cool story, NPCs, etc) and the rest will come with time.
 • Use Twitter to find a group: This was one of the brilliant benefits of online play compared with live play that I didn’t expect. With my mates in the ’80s, I was really stuck with playing the sorts of games they wanted to play. Now, with the internet, if you really want to play that obscure game that almost no-one has heard, of you’ll probably find two or three players somewhere in the world. As long as they’ve got the hardware and the connection, you’re good to go. Twitter has been great for this; there’s a thriving and not-too-grumpy group of old school gamers that have congregated around The Grognard Files on Twitter, so that’s a good place to start.
 • Be clear about what you’re offering: Along with finding the niche gaming experience you’re after, it’s a good idea to be up-front about where you’re coming from; ‘managing expectations’ we call it when we’re at work. In my case, I said that I wanted to run a version of Classic Runequest that was going to be very relaxed, run about every two weeks and that I was a GM returning after 16 years (so no Critical Role level gamesmastering!). This way, everyone goes in with their eyes open.
 • Start small: Related to the above, start with just a few players (two or three) and commit to running for a few sessions to start with. I said I’d start with six sessions and we’d review once we got to that point. Again, it means you have the chance to bow out gracefully if you find online play isn’t for you after all.
 • YouTube is your friend: as with everything in life, YouTube full of videos about Roll20. There are some really good tutorial videos out there, and can really help to solve problems as well as to show what’s possible. I’d recommend Roll20’s own channel for the basics, as well as as the ‘Taking 20’ channel for some of the funky stuff.
So that’s it. If you do decide to give Roll20 or another online platform a go, hopefully the above will give you some pointers. For me, as I travel a lot for work the opportunity to run and play games when away from home certainly beats the prospect of sitting in another identical hotel room watching TV. I expect to play more this year than I ever did back in the 80’s, and most of that online. If you’d like to ask me any questions or share your experiences of online play, please feel free to get in touch via Twitter on @OrlanthR
Good luck!
Steve Ray
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3 thoughts on “Now&Then: A GROGNARD’s Guide to Roll20

  1. nfbenson says:

    Excellent advice there Steve. Hard to believe it’s only 3 months since you discovered Roll20, you’re running RuneQuest on there like a boss.

  2. Rog says:

    I’ve got to say i’m pleasantly surprised! Played in it for the first time the other day and it’s good and immersive, like you say you lose the nuances of interaction you get round the table but the game still ‘came alive’ in my imagination and we had some good player interaction which will only get stronger as we get to know each other a bit more. Cheers.

  3. @mangozoid says:

    Am seriously contemplating climbing back into my GM boots and getting a bit of “ArrPeeGee-er” love going among our boardgame regulars… I’ll have to start them small though, with 20-minute micro-sessionjs, before building up to those classic 3hr+ mega-plays I used to enjoy as a kid… oooh-errr, missus… 😉

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