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How to Set up a Tabletop RPG Map in Roll20

Dungeon Master, player, consumer, and lover of several "DnD" games, both my own and streamed by others.

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How to Add Maps to Roll20

Roll20 isn't the easiest website to learn, but once you get the hang of it your tabletop games will go much smoother, with every player knowing exactly where they are and what they're fighting. To make the learning just a little bit easier, here's a guide to making your first map on Roll20 and adding your player's tokens.

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Step 1: Creating a Game

The first two pictures are of the Roll20 homepage. When you first go to the website you'll find something similar. It shows all the games you've played in and all the games you've made (or you will make.)

To make your first game you'll click Create New Game.

A new page will load for you to title your game and choose what, if any, system you're using.

For this example, I'm using Dungeons & Dragons 5e.

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Along the side, there are some modules you can buy in the market place, but we're not worrying about those. If you choose a known character sheet an example will appear under the option.

If everything looks right we'll go ahead and click I'm Ready, Create Game at the bottom of the page.

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Ta-Da!!! You've made your first Roll20 tabletop game! You can add an image to the top to personalize the home screen for yourself and your players, and this is where you'll add the players and schedule dates.

But we're looking to make a map, so we'll need to get into the actual game itself. To do that we'll click Launch Game.

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Step 2: Using the Editor

Here's the intimidating part. A big blank grid with tools you don't know. Scary. But don't worry, we'll make that big blank grid into an easy to look at map. To upload your map you click on the little photo picture in the top right corner.

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These are your assets. Your pictures, maps, character tokens, player tokens, basically anything you might want to add to the map. Let's go ahead and add the map itself. You can find free maps on google or various map creators. Or you can make one on Roll20 with just a background and some assets. But we're new here, so we're going to upload a map.

For this tutorial, I made a really simple map using http://pyromancers.com online dungeon painter. The online version is free but they have a version on Steam too. I love their painter. It's so easy to use I made mine in less than a minute.

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To upload your map you'll click on My Library, then Upload. Once you chose your image and it uploads it will be hanging out under Recent Uploads.

Just click and drag onto the grid now.

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Oh no! It's super tiny!

That's because at the moment it's only a token. Tokens are generally used for Players, NPCs, Monsters and the like. For it to be the map it was born to be we need to move it into the map layer. (We could have moved into the map layer before we dragged it, but then I'd have to explain the toolbar before we got pretty pictures on our map and that wouldn't have been as much fun.)

To change what layer any image is on simply right click the image and hit Layer.

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Step 3: Using the Layers

Roll20 has three different Layers for DM's to play with. The Map Layer, the Token Layer, and the GM Layer. The map layer is static. Players can't do anything with images placed on the map layer. The token layer is more fluid. This is where player tokens go, as well as monsters or NPCs or items. Players can move tokens if permitted by the game creator (that's you!) The GM layer is the fun one, however. This is the layer you place everything you don't want your players knowing about. Traps, spies, ambushes, secret doors, that magic item they need a crit 20 to find.

At the moment, however, we're just gonna move our map into the map layer where it belongs.

However, now we can't click on it. Drat!

Don't panic, it's not lost forever. It's just on a different layer than we are. We need to join it on the map layer to play with it again. To do that we need to visit that scary toolbar over on the left. Don't worry, I've got a torch.

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To change layers we just hit the little cube. Again it gives us the three-layer options. I'll teach you the rest of the tools as we need them but at the moment we just need to hit the cube then click Map & Background. (This is what we should have done before dragging and dropping the image.)

Now we are visiting the map's layer, so we can interact with it as much as we want.

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Step 4: Removing Grid Lines

Now that we've got the map up it's time to do some tweaking. Notice how the grid lines don't match up? That'll cause all sorts of confusion for both you and your players. Nothing spells immersion quite like having your player stand in a wall. There is a way to make the grid on the image line up with the Roll20's grid, but I've found that to be complicated and not very helpful. So we're just going to turn off the grid entirely and use our own. If your map doesn't have a grid than feel free to skip this step and just use Roll20's.

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To remove the grid lines we're going to have to click the little page icon at the top. When you do a sort of shelf will come down.

I know another toolbar thing, but don't worry this isn't one you'll need often.

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These are pages. Pages are separate maps inside one game. For example, when the players leave this little dungeon we've created they'll likely go to a town. That town may have a separate map. For that separate map, I'll make another page just like the one we're doing now.

The little bookmark that says Player tells you what page the players can see. Players can't navigate between pages, you have to drag and drop the player bookmark to whatever page you want them to see.

But we've only got the one page right now, so that makes things easy for us. To find the settings for our page click the little gear that appears when you hover over it.

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You can do several things on the page settings tab. You can change the size of the page as a whole (not the images on the page) if you find you have more or less space than you need. Change the scale of the grid, or turn it off entirely. We'll get to that neat little Fog of War button later but right now we're just going to turn off the grid.

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Ah, much better. Now we can place things wherever we want.

So now we've got a basic map down and we're good right? Well, we could be but that's not going to help the players much. Where is everything? Doors? stairs? monsters? their characters? Let's help them (and ourselves so we don't forget) out.

We'll start with doors and stairs since they'll stay on the map layer.

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Step 5: Finding Assets

Using the search feature of our image gallery we may be able to find images to suit our needs. Simple things like a door or stairs are easy to find this way, but more complicated assets may require you to upload your own.

The first section is the ones you already have. For example, I've got a secret door icon I've uploaded from a site called https://game-icons.net/ They have thousands of free icons for you to download and use from a door to a werewolf. And they're customizable.

The middle sections are premium assets, which you have to pay for, so we'll skip that one.

The last is just a quick google search of similar icons. There are plenty of doors there so we'll find one we like and drag it to where we need doors. We'll do the same thing with stairs.

Remember we're still on the map layer so don't accidentally move your map.

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You can add anything you don't need your players interacting with on the map layer. But for now, we'll leave it with doors and stairs and move on to the things your players will interact with. Like character tokens and monsters.

To do that we just need to move back to the token layer the same way we moved into the map layer. Via the second button on the toolbar to the left.

Step 6: Using Tokens

Tokens are a lot less likely to be available in the easy search bar provided. Especially character tokens. While you may find a generic elf with a sword, players like custom tokens. This can be an image they find or something they've drawn. All you have to do is upload the picture and move it on the grid, just like we did for the map.

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Aren't they cute?

I've chosen to keep them outside of the map a little bit near the entrance, that way the players can determine the travel order so their tank can fall in the traps rather than the squishy rogue.

Character tokens should be about the size of one square on your grid. If you chose to keep Roll20's grid it'll resize automatically. Otherwise, we'll have to do it ourselves.

Now for the things trying to kill them. You can place monsters anywhere on your new map. but remember the token layer is for monsters you want your players to be able to see when they first enter the room. Save your ambushes for the GM layer.

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There we go, looking livelier already. I've even added an NPC surrounded by vampires for the PC's to rescue and get important plot details from.

Now's time for the sneaky stuff. Traps, ambushes, secret doors.

That's right we're going to the GM layer.

Step 7: Using the GM Layer

The things we place on this layer players can't see. Period. If they walk into the trap you've placed in the GM layer you'll have to move it to the token or map layer for them to discover it. This is also where you can make notes to yourself that your players can't see.

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For example: on the toolbar to the left is another icon we may need.

The paintbrush lets us draw on the map, (sadly not touchscreen compatible) but we want to change it to a text box for ease of use. When you hover over it one of the options on the tooltip is text. That's what we'll click on. You can change the font, size, or color as you need and make a textbox anywhere you need.

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Anything sitting in the GM layer will be see-through so you always know what you're players can see and what they can't.

So here's what our dungeon map looks like with all the traps and ambushes in place.

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Step 8: Adding Fog

There's one last thing I'm going to show you, and that's fog. You see we could use the map as-is and it would be a perfectly acceptable map. But when the characters walk into a dungeon do they really know where that tunnel to the left leads? Or what's behind door number one? Nope and neither should our players.

Fog is how we hide the map as a whole from the players and show them only the parts they should be able to see. Paid versions of Roll20 have fancy dynamic lighting but we're keeping this free.

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Remember when I told you about that neat little Fog of War button? This is what it's for. When you click it your whole map will darken just a bit, showing you the parts that are visible to players. Which at first is nothing. That's right, they're looking at a blank screen, fun right? Well, it will be don't worry. Now we've got to go back to that toolbar on the left again.

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The little eye is the fog button. When you hover over it gives you more options, most are self-explanatory. We're going with the reveal button and we're going to reveal the entrance to our dungeon where our players start their dive. Click and drag a box around the entrance to reveal the area.

You'll do this as your players move about the dungeon, showing them new pieces as they explore more.

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And there you have it. You're very first map in Roll20. There are plenty of advanced features you could fiddle with if you wanted, map scale, background music, character sheets, but making the map itself is the base foundation for any map-based tabletop game you want to play. And now that'll be a breeze.

Here's a final look at the map we made together, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions. I'll do my best to answer either via comments or by editing the guide itself.

Enjoy and make a hundred maps.

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