Tome of Tips: Dynamic Lighting

The Roll20 Team

The Roll20 Team


Welcome back to the Tome of Tips! It’s good to see you again. It’s been a while. Are you comfortable? Need something to drink? Coffee? Tea? Cocoa? Good. Let’s get started. Today, we’re talking about a favorite topic around these parts: Dynamic Lighting.

What is Dynamic Lighting?

Let’s start with the most basic question.

Dynamic Lighting is, as the name implies, a lighting system for your virtual tabletop. Basically, it’s a way to update players’ lines of sight in real-time, as you play. This means that a player’s view can be obstructed by obstacles and shadows or illuminated by daylight or other light sources.

It’s not just about light and dark, however. Dynamic Lighting opens up new possibilities for your games. You can hide new mysteries around every corner in your dungeons, or you can gather unseen ambush parties while your players are clearing out an abandoned village. In many ways, Dynamic Lighting is best thought of as a unique and advanced way to keep information hidden and discoverable during the course of your games. Start thinking about it that way, and the possibilities seem endless.

Normally, Dynamic Lighting is available only to Pro and Plus subscribers, but if you’re reading this at the time of publication–the week of July 12-17, 2021–then good news: Dynamic Lighting is currently available for everyone to try out, regardless of subscription.

How do I get started?

If you purchase a Dynamic Lighting-ready map on the Marketplace, either through a module or a map pack, you can jump right into the virtual tabletop, make sure you’ve set the Dynamic Lighting toggle to On in your Page Settings, give your players’ tokens with sight, and start playing.

If you’re playing with your own maps, though, you’ll need to draw lighting barriers on the Dynamic Lighting layer. These barriers “teach” your tabletop the layout of your map, and they’ll define where your light can reach. You’ll want to outline all of the barriers, trees, columns, walls, and anything else that could restrict your players’ sight.

If you want a more detailed description of how to set up Dynamic Lighting, check out our newly revamped Dynamic Lighting FAQ on the Help Center. It even includes a checklist to make sure you’ve got everything covered.

Once you’ve got the basics, you can really dig into everything Dynamic Lighting has to offer. Like any kind of game prep, the best advice we can give you is to use what works for you and your games. Every campaign is different, and every playgroup is different.

With that said: We’ve got three tips for you today–this is the Tome of Tips, after all–to help you make the most out of Dynamic Lighting in your games. Let’s go!

Use Dynamic Lighting to…

Use CTRL+L to See The Table From a Selected Token’s Perspective

We’ll kick it off with a basic tip that’ll save you tons of time.

CTRL+L (or CMD+L) is one shortcut you’ll want to remember. If you select a token while using this hotkey, you can see the tabletop from that token’s perspective. It’s a great way to check your work as you set up Dynamic Lighting barriers.

It’s useful, then, to always have a player token on the table, even if you’re setting up maps before you set up your characters. Make a little goblin friend, and have him join you during your game prep.

Thank you for your help, Mortimer.

Of course, CTRL+L works during your game sessions, too, allowing you to peek in on your players’ perspectives. Beyond making sure they’re seeing what you’re describing (or that your light barriers are working), Stepping into a player’s shoes can help tremendously when setting the mood. Does this forgotten inn look gloomy, and drenched in shadow? Or does the glow from the abandoned hearth make it feel like a welcoming refuge from the storm? CTRL+L lets you see what your players see.

Use the Tint Color Effect to Give Your Night Vision a Distinct Look

Whether you’re spelunking in a forgotten cave or plumbing the depths of a dark dungeon, Night Vision is one of the most useful abilities to have in your arsenal. It’s also a pretty common use-case for Dynamic Lighting, with its own toggle on the Token Settings page.

When you give a token Night Vision, you can set the range as well as the effect–you even have an option for Nocturnal vision, which simulates the rules for Pathfinder and 5th Edition, where Night Vision and vision in light don’t overlap. But what about that Tint Color box?

Setting a distinct color for your Night Vision is a great option for characters who see light in different shades, like how Tieflings see in red. But it also has a more practical use–by setting a tint color, your players can better recognize when they’re seeing in Night Vision vs. when they’re seeing in normal light. This is especially useful if you have Nocturnal enabled, where your Night Vision will bleed around the edges of your vision in light, since they don’t overlap. Even just a grey tint can help players better measure the boundaries of light in a scene, which can make all the difference during some dungeon dives. Just be sure to communicate with your players and ensure that color blindness isn’t creating an issue.

Use All Three Drawing Tools to Create Better Lighting Barriers

Our last tip today is about set-up. We mentioned earlier that you need to draw barriers on the Dynamic Lighting layer to set the boundaries for your light sources. Like any artistic endeavor, drawing these lines gets easier with practice, but here’s one simple level up for your line-laying process: Use all three drawing tools!

The Draw Shape tool allows you to create rectangles and circles as Dynamic Lighting Barriers. Rectangles are useful for quickly putting up barriers around large structures that don’t have any entrances or exits. Circles, meanwhile, are great for columns, trees, and more. If you’re setting up a map filled with outdoor man-made structures, like the ruins of an ancient temple, the Draw Shape tool will be your go-to.

The Freehand tool is fairly straightforward, too. It simply draws a barrier wherever you click and drag your mouse on your map. It’s a great way to sketch irregular or otherwise unique lighting barriers. If you’re drawing over a lot of vegetation or other natural obstructions, you’ll be using the Freehand tool a lot.

The Polygon/Line tool works a little differently; instead of automatically creating a shape, it creates lines between two or more connected points on the VTT. The Polygon/Line Tool is the best way to set up walls in structures that have entrances, exits, or windows, as you can create straight barriers with as many connected points as you need. This tool is at its most important when setting up rooms and buildings.

When you’re creating your Dynamic Lighting barriers, make sure to utilize the right tool for the job. Mix and match to make your map shine.

There are so many ways to unlock new possibilities in your games with Dynamic Lighting. These tips just scratch the surface of what’s possible.

If you want to learn more about setting up your own maps, take a look at some of the Dynamic Lighting ready maps on the Marketplace. If you’re reading this the week of July 12, 2021, you can redeem a free, Dynamically Lit copy of The Camp Clearwater Massacre from DMDave. Take a peek at the Dynamic Lighting layer on that map and get a feel for the way the lines have been set up.

And if you want to know more about using Dynamic Lighting in your games, check out our quick tips playlist on YouTube, which shows some of the tips we talked about today in action and more.

Have a topic you’d like to see for the next Tome of Tips? Tweet at us and let us know!

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.