Roll20 Optimal Series – Zones

Fourth in a series.

The main reason to use grid maps is for situations where positioning and spatial relationships really matter, primarily combat. There are some well-understood ways to handle this when you don’t want to use grids, but simply keeping track in your head gets to be too much or you just think a visual representation would be helpful.

Abstract maps

Abstract maps occupy a spectrum, like most things in life. For example, in a highly complex battle, you might think about something like a battle board:

By Chris C.

I’ve also used zones to good effect in DDEX3-5 “Bane of the Tradeways“. In that adventure, a chase occurs and the DM tracks who is behind, alongside, or ahead a particular caravan. So I divided the “map” into four zones: those three, plus “out of the chase” (e.g. crashed and fell all the way back). Using Roll20 meant I could still make it look nice with grass textures plus tokens for the wagons and horses and various characters.

Others have written very helpfully and extensively about using Fate zones in various games like D&D. I think my good friend Dan Gaston uses that basic technique in most of his games. Roll20 can do all of these, and ironically the best tool here is using the grid.

Gridded Zones

Much like the battle board illustrated above, we can use a grid to set things up. For our purposes, I’m going to stay on the same page with the scenes, but you don’t have to do that, depending on your needs.

I often have clashing groups with melee in the middle and ranged folks on either side, which is almost the simplest possible setup. So let’s do that!

First, go back to the Page Toolbar at the top and select the settings for the page you want to use. Then enable the Grid checkbox; the rest can stay as-is.

Now our page will immediately look something like this:

“Orzhov Guildgate” by John Avon. (c) 2017 Wizards of the Coast.

I’m going to swap back to the Map Layer (and quickly clean up the alignment on the scene token just because I need to do that), and select the Draw tool (third from the top on the left-hand toolbar). Then we pick “Polygon/Line” and select the white color.

As the hover text indicates, we’ll hold Shift to snap to the grid and draw some white lines for Ranged / Melee / Ranged. Make sure to right-click after each line so it ends that particular one and you don’t get diagonals everywhere.

Add some text if you like, but now we’re going to hide (not remove!) the grid. Go back to the Page Settings and move the Opacity slider in the Grid area all the way to the left.

Now the grid is still there, but you can’t see it. This helps if you want to align or size other tokens later.

Some aesthetic part of me doesn’t like the proportions here, but I hope this illustrates the idea here.

In the next (and potentially final?) post, we’ll move away from talking about the pages and onto other things that Roll20 can help you with: handouts and music.

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