2020-03-20 Skype and Roll20

OK, so today I was a player in DM Peter’s game and due to the COVID-19 problem we can no longer meet in person. Peter picked Roll20 and Skype!

We started half an hour early, finding our old Skype accounts; I realized that I didn’t want to install a Microsoft RPM on my GNU/Linux machine; Skype-for-Web complained about my browser (Firefox 68.6.0esr); the phone worked (until it eventually ran out of battery and I had to switch from the iPhone to the iPad, quickly installing the app mid-game...) – in short, the technology was a drag, but eventually it worked.

Roll20 was also tricky to start: Peter wanted to play background music and it was too quiet for some and to loud for others until we discovered that there is a way to change it; we found the settings to make sure no video and audio got sent via Roll20 as we were using Skype; Peter created our characters and we played with the settings allowing us to display only the names for the characters (as we had video elsewhere); how to drag characters onto the map took a moment; how to point to locations took a moment; switching from moving tokens to measuring distances and back took a moment – and I’m sure Peter spent quite some time preparing suitable backgrounds and pictures for the game. During the game, some people figured out how to create macros (mine) and others didn’t, which was weird.

As we played, we all ended up putting on headphones. I used the regular Apple headphones with the integrated microphone and it worked very well.

Peter never got his Skype camera to work, so it was weird to have no DM face: all the players were visible, but the DM was “in our heads”. An interesting experience!

But all in all, it worked. We can work with this. It felt personal. We managed to not talk over each other too often. 👏

But what about Jitsi? Yes, what about the Video Conference server I installed recently? When the game was over, we talked for a bit and I asked them to give it a try, on their laptops. Sadly, the experience wasn’t too smooth:

  1. it worked fine for Peter, including his camera which hadn’t worked with Skype!
  2. the Mac user had to switch from Safari to Firefox
  3. another user had not managed to give the right permission at the very beginning and had to restart the browser in order to get another chance at granting the necessary permissions
  4. another user simply didn’t manage to get it right
  5. We all agreed that it was serviceable but we also felt that the audio quality was slightly worse than Skype

All in all, it was not a great experience. I understand the problem of permissions, and I understand the problems of apps being able to track you where a browser perhaps cannot – but clearly the user experience of these players wasn’t great and we’ll be using Skype and Roll20 again in a week.

What people really liked about Roll20 – and this is something Jitsi alone does not provide, so we’d still have to use some other application for it:

Roll20 and Skype it is!



I am happy to help troubleshoot the jitsi setup further if you want. UTC -5 over here. Just say the word. I will DM you my (Signal) number in Mastodon.

...at this point we should have done that anyway. 😝

PresGas 2020-03-21 18:22 UTC


– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-21 19:15 UTC

As for Roll20, I’ll note that I hate the user interface. So much stuff to do. So many settings to tweak. It’s slow. I can’t upload any images. Perhaps it’s the browser that’s no longer supported? I don’t know. That makes it hard to set up stuff. I need to set up characters one by one, and assign them to players. I immediately picture all of us trying to figure out how dice rolling, macros, avatar uploads, and so on will work. And thus half an hour is spent dealing with the technology instead of playing the game.


For my own games, I still think Jitsi would be nicer because it’s simple.

Essentially, everything except for audio chat is optional. A camera is cool but when I think back I don’t think I looked at the camera all too often. The Burning Wheel game I played such a long time ago used no camera. I’m still hoping that we can go about rolling our own dice. Just tell us what you rolled. Or point the camera at it! 🙂

That’s how I plan to start, in any case.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-21 20:17 UTC

I used it today with @PresGas and it worked fine over the Atlantic... But we did have a lot of issues:

  • I had not realized that my laptop microphone hat its input level set to practically zero so he couldn’t hear me
  • Once I had that fixed all he could hear was static
  • When we tried a different server, audio worked but video did not
  • I decided to try my external microphone, the browser and Jitsi didn’t know about it and couldn’t access it; I had to restart Firefox such that I was asked for permission to the microphone again and that’s where I could pick the external microphone
  • When video didn’t work I realized that my webcam was listed twice and this permission dialogue is what allowed me to pick the “other” same camera and then it worked

All of this makes me think that it is super important to only grant permissions to the microphone and camera temporarily. That way you will always get asked for permission the next time you use it and you will therefore always be able to pick the correct device.

Later the same day I tried to use Jitsi with the in-laws and apparently their Internet Explorer or Edge or whatever they were using is not supported. So we used FaceTime to call each other and just clicked through the gallery in parallel. How to send them the right link, on the phone or by mail, and do they manage to open the link in their desktop mail client and not their phone client, or do they have to copy the link manually from their phone and type it into their desktop browser address bar... Truly, the populace in general is not computer literate! Anyway... FaceTime worked fine.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-22 16:40 UTC

It was great getting together with you to look things over!! We are about to game ourselves (over Zoom with our University licensing). I think when I take over as GM, we are going to try Jitsi again.

I would still blame IE/Edge for most of that. Remember the days when people only coded websites TO IE only? Now it is the one out in the cold!!


PresGas 2020-03-22 16:52 UTC

Had my Jitsi test with the RPG group and it went well. One player has a desktop with a loud ventilator; he’s going to use his phone; we’re using the laptop at one end of the table and an external microphone between me and Claudia (the one I bought for my podcast a while ago) – that’s far enough from the laptop to not cause an echo, and far enough for the camera to get both of us; the other couple is using a conferencing microphone and they’re both sitting in front of the same laptop, no problem.

I think this is going to work! 😀

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-22 18:58 UTC

Yea!! I am so glad it is working in your favor. Your desktop person may have the machine on the same level as the rest of the gear (perhaps on top of the desk?).

I would suggest that they move it to the floor if that will help and they can do so.

PresGas 2020-03-22 19:31 UTC

I’ve been using Discord + Roll20 for over a year and it’s worked great for audio and whiteboarding/maps.

Recently, I’ve been using awwapp.com for a free whiteboard when I didn’t need all the bells/whistles of Roll20.

I don’t use the video aspect, but if/when I do, I use Hangouts.

Anonymous 2020-03-22 20:18 UTC

Used Roll20 and Skype again. Roll20 on the Laptop, Skype on the iPad, and it worked quite well. Apparently you can only subdivide the Skype window into four panes, so when we had five and six people in our call, you couldn’t really see all of us at the same time. It worked well enough, though.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-23 22:55 UTC

I had mostly good luck with Jitsi in recent days. Using Chrome (or Chromium) seems to be the easiest path, and it lets the user change permissions and input devices in a running call by clicking the info icon at the left of the URL bar.

Paul Gorman 2020-03-28 18:45 UTC

Thanks, Paul. I’ll pass it on! 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-28 18:53 UTC

Great to “see” you, Paul!! 👋 Plan on posting in your blog anytime soon? We miss you!

Glad other people are working out things on jitsi. Are you self hosting there or using one of the central ones?

PresGas 2020-03-29 14:14 UTC

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