GenCon Quickstart Guide: The GM Expansion

TK Johnson

TK Johnson

Customer Lifecycle Specialist

Last week, we published a guide for new-to-Roll20 players. After all, Gen Con will be here in less than a month and there are so many opportunities to try new games. Today, we are going to focus on those new to GMing on Roll20. Maybe you’re a long time GM going virtual for the first time, maybe you’re running organized play for a publisher at Gen Con, or you’re a player who has always wanted to step into the GM seat. Here’s the info you need to get started GMing for free on Roll20.

Make sure to create a free account before scrolling down to the next step.

Creating a Game

Creating your game is as simple as heading to your Welcome Page or selecting Create a Game from the Games section of the Header toolbar.

Once there, you just need to name your game - that’s the only necessary step!

However, if you know that you want to play a specific game system, such as Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, you can select the system using the Character Sheet dropdown. This will immediately load the Compendium for that game system into your game, provided it’s available on Roll20 and you own the Compendium.

  • If you select a system with a free SRD, such as D&D 5E, it will automatically populate your game with the SRD, even if you do not own any additional D&D Compendium Expansions.
  • If you own a module or adventure, you will have the option to select it on the right side of the screen for your game.

Once you’re ready, create your game!

The Landing Page

Once you create your game, you’ll be on the landing page!

  • Creators of the game have immediate GM status and the power to determine Compendium Sharing and API script modification (for Plus and Pro accounts).
  • They can also create a listing for our Looking for Group tool or tweak any additional Game Settings from here.
  • GMs and Creators also have the option to install Addons from the landing page.

Go ahead and click Launch the Game to enter the virtual tabletop!

Inside Your Game

Now is a great time to create character sheets for your players - they won’t have access to character sheet creation with you.

  • Navigate to the Journal, an icon on the right Sidebar that resembles a folded newspaper.
  • Click +Add and select Character from the dropdown and add permissions to be seen, edited, and controlled by the player who will be using this sheet. If you don’t have players yet, just make it available to “all players” and sort it out later - you can edit permissions at any time!
  • Go ahead and go to the Art Library, as well - its icon looks like a photograph. From here, you can upload character art into the game or navigate to Premium Assets and select purchased tokens.
  • Many adventures and modules include a token pack with the purchase. These will also be available in the Art Library. Tokens placed on the virtual tabletop can be moved by dragging with the mouse or using the arrow keys.

The Journal also holds specific information for any adventures or modules that you’ve added to the game. All of this is available in handouts, character sheets, and notes specifically designed for the GM’s eyes only - your players can’t see any of it until you permit them.

Once the character sheets are created and you’ve checked out the Journal, you or your players may wish to add a few things from the game system that aren’t readily available in the Journal, such as spells, items, or monsters.

  • Select the Compendium from the right side of the screen. It resembles an “information” icon; a lowercase ‘i’ inside a gray circle.
  • The Compendium contains all the information from the assigned game system that you have purchased and enabled on the Game Settings page.
  • Many items in the Compendium have drag-and-drop capability. Need to add a healing spell or a shiny new shield? They’re only a click and drag away.
  • Monsters added from the Compendium to the Journal are only visible to the GM until made visible to the players. Think of it as a lovely surprise.

Maps and the Tabletop Toolbar

After determining who and what will be in the game, it’s time to set the scenery. GMs will have access to a 10-icon left-hand Toolbar and a button that resembles a page with a folded corner on a blue background. Select this button to navigate between maps on the Page Toolbar.

  • Maps can be duplicated, deleted, or have their settings edited here.
  • Need a map? Upload one using your Art Library or select maps from your Premium Assets.
  • The icon with a cube is how you navigate between layers on the virtual tabletop itself. Enemies and other surprises lying in wait for an ambush can live on the invisible GM Info Overlay, Maps that lie beneath the grid stay on the Map & Background layer, and the Object and Tokens layer is where players…well…play!
  • Don’t want your players to see every part of a scene but don’t have Dynamic Lighting? Click the icon shaped like a cloud on the Toolbar. This is Fog of War: It can be enabled from the Page Settings and used to hide large areas from players who like to peek!
  • Not sure if a map already includes Dynamic Lighting? Click the icon shaped like a flame (this is the Dynamic Lighting layer). If you see colored lines on the screen, this map includes Dynamic Lighting. You simply need to ensure it’s turned on in your Page Settings. If not, you can add Dynamic Lighting yourself by drawing “walls” with straight lines - think of it as “blocking” your players’ line of sight!
  • If you’re using Dynamic Lighting, make sure that any players with the ability to see in the dark have that ability enabled. Double click their assigned token, navigate to Dynamic Lighting in the popup, and give them Vision with either the ability to emit light or the ability to see in the dark. Not sure if it’s working? If you’re the GM, click the token and use the command Ctrl+L to see everything from your player’s point of view!

The left-hand toolbar will only display six icons for your players, none of which have any long-term effect on the game: Select, Draw Shape, Zoom, Ruler, Roll Dice, and Help. Similarly, players do not see or control the Page toolbar. That’s just for you as GM!

Audio, Video, and Jukebox

One of the most immersive parts of Roll20 is the ability to see and hear both your players and the world around you.

  • WebRTC video/audio settings are located in the Settings - navigate to the right side gear icon and scroll down.
  • The Jukebox has a playlist icon and from there GMs can add music and sound effects to their games, audible for all players with volume sliders for easy listening. You can create playlists here and even include automatic play on your Page Settings to ensure that every scene comes alive.

Rolling Dice

Here it is: The moment you’ve been waiting for! Rolling dice in Roll20 is as easy as the push of a key, click of a button, or swipe of a mouse or finger.

  • The left-hand toolbar includes a dice rolling tool. Click it to roll dice on-the-fly or save your favorite rolls.
  • The chat also has dice-rolling functionality! Simply type /roll and the type of dice you’d like to use, as well as any numerical bonuses you need with a + sign (ex: /roll d20+5). Want it to be a secret from the players? /gmroll will trigger a roll that only the GM can see.
  • Many character sheets, including Dungeons & Dragons 5E, have rolls that can be triggered directly from the character sheet. Click the name of an ability or attack that lights up under your cursor and it will automatically roll in the chat for you - no math required.
  • If you have a Macro Quick Bar active (accessible from the Collections menu, with a bulleted list icon), you can drag your favorite rolls for abilities and attack to the bottom of the character sheet, which will turn them into persistent buttons on your virtual tabletop. These buttons can be renamed and color coded for ease of use.

That’s all you need to begin playing on Roll20! For more in-depth guides, be sure to check out our video tutorials and Learning Roll20 series.

Roll20 is a set of virtual tools designed to help you play tabletop roleplaying games, board games, and party games! It is primarily a free experience - but, if you’re eager to create an immersive experience for your table, you can’t go wrong with the Plus and Pro perks, such as Dynamic Lighting, which updates line-of-sight in real-time, or API, which can be used to modify your games to your every whim.

We’re excited to roll dice with you!

TK Johnson Customer Lifecycle Specialist

TK Johnson is a speculative fiction author, narrative designer, editor, and eldritch horror. They are also a cast member of the Roll20-sponsored comedy stream team, Indoor Recess, on the official Dungeons & Dragons Twitch channel.