Friday, July 15, 2016

VTT Rant: Port Forwarding and my Love/Hate relationship with Roll20

A few Five years back I ran a D&D campaign using MapTool, which I'd still be using if I hadn't run into port forwarding errors. Being behind numerous routers because my roommate has unique internet use demands meant that configuring port forwarding correctly was a complete and total pain in my ass.

Nothing like pestering the roommate at 11pm because a firmware update fucks port forwarding up and your gaming group can't do jack shit until he adds it back into the router.

(In fact, I wrote about having the same port issues over two years ago- my internet situation hasn't changed in that time.)

Maptool's macros were handy, the line of sight feature was nice (although sometimes buggy), and generally the program did everything I needed it to.

Compare to Roll20. Roll20 is browser based, locks line of sight, Fog of War, and the more powerful features behind a pay gate, and has really clumsy controls (I hate reflexively using just the scroll wheel in an attempt to zoom in on the map and having the entire page scroll).

Roll 20 Pros:

  • No Port Forwarding
  • Everyone and their grandmother has a compatible browser
Roll 20 Cons:
  • Have fun paying $100/year for macro functionality Maptool provides for free
  • Browser controls are funky
Other solutions exist, like Battleground's VTT, which is ~$100 for a permanent GM license + five players, which is way more reasonable that $100/yr for me.

But then I stumbled on this looking at Battlegrounds:

I'll skip a licensing process and a cool $100 that might smack into port forwarding bullshit, thanks. Maybe it's been fixed in the last ten years of development (Update: nope), but I'm not exactly brimming with confidence. That money could also be spent on a large pizza and a hardcover copy of GURPS: High-Tech, which is far more likely to give me lasting warm fuzzy feelings inside.

So for now, I'm still looking at alternatives to Roll20. Of course, getting maps suitable for use with any VTT is also a complete and total pain in the ass, and I wish I still had the mapping objects .zip that was floating around back in 2011 that was really nifty. 

Although it's nice to see that Tiamat Mapper has resurfaced lately.


  1. Might want to keep an eye on Mote. It's a MapTool fork, but they plan on using headless servers. They plan on having a service available called Sandstorm that will host servers for a small fee. I'm no network expert, but I don't think you'll need to fiddle with port forwarding to connect to an online server. Unfortunately you'll always have a fee of some sort with this kind of solution because server hosting costs money.

    1. Mote is one of the more promising options I might investigate.

  2. How much do your games depend on map and die roll functionality? I've been running a game recently over pure video chat, and then Google Hangouts: no lock-in, no software installation, no port forwarding, no cost. But also no maps or die rolling.

    1. For Agency 17 and Prohibition Mob, I haven't used VTTs at all- skype has been sufficient. For the next campaign I want to run however, I want to use tactical combat rules, which requires a map.

  3. Are you still tangled up behind the spaghetti routers? If your situation has gone back to one router, I recommend going back to Maptools. It's only gotten better over time, although like always you will still need to forward your port. But if you're in a more normal networking environment, you do it once and forget it.