A New Light

The Roll20 Team

The Roll20 Team


At the start of 2019, we helped Roll20 Get a New Look with an update to Advanced Fog of War. While our data showed that the changes made the system run faster for many users, it also highlighted structural problems with the original design and architecture of that feature.

It became clear that we couldn’t bandage up this feature. We needed to rebuild it from the ground up, leveraging modern tools and designing with an eye towards our users’ needs. Thus began work on the project we called “A New Light.”

Today we’re ready to unveil the results. Meet Updated Dynamic Lighting, a completely refurbished Plus and Pro subscriber feature which integrates all the functions from our existing lighting system with one streamlined name and future-ready code. It runs faster, supports more use cases, and represents the single biggest Roll20 upgrade since… well, the original Dynamic Lighting.

The old system (Legacy Dynamic Lighting) will run alongside the new system (Updated Dynamic Lighting) at first, to give you time to adjust, and then the old system will be retired later in 2020. We’ll give you lots of advance notice when its retirement party is coming, but for now, just know that you can switch between systems when you’re ready to try out the new update.

Because of its size and importance, we have a lot to say about Updated Dynamic Lighting. We front-loaded the features list for those of you who want to get right to the point, but read beyond that for a more robust explanation of what changes we made and why.

Overall Features:

  • Performance boost
  • Plus and Pro subscriber only
  • More robust technology that will work with modern hardware and browsers more efficiently
  • Change in tech will let us deliver more, highly requested features

New Lighting Features:

  • Light radius and Vision radius are now two separate settings
  • Dim Light and Bright Light are individual settings
  • All Light can be seen by all players’ tokens with Vision
  • Tokens can now have “Night Vision” that doesn’t require light

Explorer Mode Features:

  • Replaces “Advanced Fog of War” with a toggle
  • Reveals in a radius around a token (no more grids!)
  • Saves revealed areas that a user has seen for all tokens they control

Visit the Roll20 Forum Bug Thread for more details and known issues about Updated Dynamic Lighting! We’d love to hear your feedback.

Parallel Systems: Legacy and Updated Dynamic Lighting

Currently, 51% of Roll20 games use some form of Legacy Dynamic Lighting or Advanced Fog of War. With a feature that touches so many of your lives, the last thing we wanted to do was make a sudden switch on you. Therefore, we’re introducing Updated Dynamic Lighting feature as an opt-in feature that will eventually (but not for some time yet) replace Legacy Dynamic Lighting. These systems will remain active side-by-side until we feel confident that we’ve met your expectations and given you enough time to switch.

Please be aware: Legacy Dynamic Lighting WILL be going away, but not until later in 2020. Given its structural problems, it would be untenable for us to support both versions of this system going forward. So we encourage you to try out the Updated Dynamic Lighting as soon as you can! We’ll make sure to give you a reminder well before the final change takes place.

We’re also confident that you’ll like it. The new system leverages WebGL, the same system that Legacy Dynamic Lighting always used. What’s new here is that the feature set from Advanced Fog of War has been integrated into the same system, and rebranded as “Explorer Mode,” a new setting for Updated Dynamic Lighting. In essence, this means that if you can run Legacy Dynamic Lighting, then you can run Updated Dynamic Lighting with the benefit of new features and substantially faster processing time.

We chose WebGL because it leverages the power of your computer’s graphics processor instead of taxing your CPU. We measured, and 99.9% of Roll20 users already use WebGL, and if you’re not sure whether that includes you, you can check with this webpage.

As with all Roll20 features, Dynamic Lighting has been designed for use on our officially supported browsers, Firefox and Chrome. You will need to use one of these browsers for the features to perform correctly.

What Happens When You Switch?

If you already have Dynamic Lighting barriers drawn on your Dynamic Lighting layer, those will stay. The new system uses that same layer to create line of sight for your map. However, if you were using Advanced Fog of War to remember where your players have already explored, their memory of revealed portions of the map will not carry over to Updated Dynamic Lighting. For that reason, it’s best to make the switch when moving your players to a new Page.

But don’t worry: if you want to switch back, you can. In essence, both Updated and Legacy Dynamic Lighting have separate memories of where your players have been, so what’s revealed in one system will not be revealed in the other. When you switch back and forth between them, however, they will each retain their individual memory of areas revealed while that system was active in your game.

As mentioned above, the feature set from the old “Advanced Fog of War” system has been integrated and renamed “Explorer Mode” for Updated Dynamic Lighting. It functions in the same way: as your players move their tokens around the play area, those sections of the map will be revealed and remembered. You just need to toggle Explorer Mode on.

Several other features have been rebranded for Updated Dynamic Lighting. You can read more about them on the Roll20 Help Center. Lots of newer GMs told us they had trouble understanding how the different pieces of the lighting system interacted with each other. We hope that the new names help shine light (!) on those issues, but hey! Let us know your feedback on the forums.

How to Turn on Updated Dynamic Lighting

Updated Dynamic Lighting will exist alongside the old systems for now, but you can’t use them both at the same time. When you enable Updated Dynamic Lighting, the old system will be disabled - but don’t worry! It only applies to the page you change the setting for, and you can revert if you wish. Make sure you read the “What Happens When You Switch?” section above for more detail on changing systems!

How to enable Updated Dynamic Lighting on a map or page:

  • In the Page Menu, click on the Gear Icon for the Page you want to edit.

  • Find the section in Page Settings labeled Updated Dynamic Lighting and switch it on.

  • Optional: If you want your players to retain visibility of the Map Layer after they have left their vision radius, turn on Explorer Mode (replaces “Advanced Fog of War”)

  • Optional: If you want to avoid placing lights, or it’s an outside, sunny kind of adventure, turn on Daylight Mode (replaces “Global Illumination”)

  • Click Save on the Page Settings

How to give an object Vision on an Updated Dynamic Lighting page:

  • Select the object (such as a character token or a pet controlled by a player)

  • Make sure that it’s Controlled By the correct players

  • Navigate to the “Updated Dynamic Lighting” tab

  • Turn on Vision

  • Optional: Turn on Low Light Vision radius

  • Optional: Turn on Night Vision radius

How to Light up an object on an Updated Dynamic Lighting page:

  • Select the object (such as a torch or character with a flashlight duct-taped to their head)

  • Navigate to the “Updated Dynamic Lighting” tab

  • Set the Bright Light radius to the distance that bright light should be emitted

  • Optional: Set the Low Light radius (usually larger than Bright Light)

  • Optional: Set the Angle and Starting Degree of light emitted (for a flashlight, etc)

Voila! Or “que la lumière soit,” if you want to get fancy. As long as you have Dynamic Lighting barriers set up (and you can learn how to do that on this Roll20 Help Center article), your page is ready. You can also check your work by selecting a token and hitting Ctrl + L to see what that token would see.

Support for Roll20 Marketplace Products

When you switch over to Updated Dynamic Lighting for your existing products from the Roll20 Marketplace, you may notice that some areas of your lighted maps have light leaking through corners and around walls. We’ll be fixing this for all products (including Marketplace Creator products) with future patches to Updated Dynamic Lighting, so please don’t worry that you will need to correct this by hand for all your maps!

What’s happening here: Updated Dynamic Lighting is far more precise about detecting the exact length and placement of barriers on the Dynamic Lighting layer. In places where the lines of a corner don’t join up 100% precisely, light will now shine through that small gap. Sometimes, Updated Dynamic Lighting, you do your job too well. We’re scoping out some tweaks to close those gaps moving forward!

You can still start or continue playing on existing maps during this time, but we recommend checking for light leaks before you let your players loose on them. The last thing any GM wants to hear is “Uh, I think I can see the boss through this corner?” Keep your secrets hidden, and we’ll keep you posted on the patches that will correct this problem in the future.

The Future of Dynamic Lighting

So what’s new in Updated Dynamic Lighting? Everything! And nothing. Under the hood, the code has been entirely refactored. Although the whole system is smoother and more efficient, we designed it to parallel the existing feature set of Legacy Dynamic Lighting. Explorer Mode (previously Advanced Fog of War) has gotten huge performance upgrades that are really cool if you’re the type of person who gets excited about the fact that it now renders revealed areas in a circle instead of a square. (FYI, we’re the type of people who get excited about circles instead of squares. CIRCLES, everyone! Round happy circles!)

Even if you don’t care about circles, the new system opens up a whole range of possibilities for the future. With A New Light complete, we can add more graphics features: specifically, the Layer Up update that was delayed last year and remains the most popular user request of all time. We also have a ton of exciting user ideas on the Suggestions Forum for lighting improvements that are much more doable with the added power of WebGL.

We also did some tinkering under the hood to add new features. One of the requests that drove us to embrace the need for a new system was our users’ desire to have lighted objects be visible outside a character’s immediate vision radius - like the glow of a faraway campfire, beckoning you through the dark. The old system made this possible through some twists and contortions, but Updated Dynamic Lighting allows any object with Vision to detect any object with Light. Simple as that.

This is just the beginning, and we’re excited to shine A New Light on Roll20’s future. Please give our new Updated Dynamic Lighting a try, and let us know what you think on the forum!

The Roll20 Team Roll20

Roll20 is the all-in-one solution for organizing and playing tabletop games online, allowing you to play your games anywhere and share them with anyone virtually. With the ability to choose from a number of popular titles built ready for your virtual tabletop, your adventures are limitless and you can get started playing with little to no prep. Dive into advanced features like Dynamic Lighting or explore macros and APIs to add some extra depth to your game. Roll20 lets you play your tabletop games, your way.