Those who follow me on twitter will have seen a few comments about Roll20. It is in essence, a program that organizes encounters, images, story telling, and game mechanics in a browser based system to allow DMs and PCs the ability to play online. While people have been using skype, email, and chatrooms to hold D&D games online for years now, this all-in-one program has brought a number of key elements together. Roll20 allows video, voice, and chat communication between long distance players and a shared battle grid where players can move and update the stats of their own characters.
My group has been a revolving door of players. We’ve had as many as seven and as little as three players at the table. Two of those 3-7 players are also long distance, and have skyped in for every session since they moved to the other side of the country. Roll20 is still within a closed beta period and won’t be out for a few more months but it is quickly becoming a viable option for my party and the obstacles we face.
Right now my biggest problem with the program is a lack of tile artwork that lets me piece together encounter environments. Though you can scan and upload your own tiles and artwork there is a limit as to how much you can put up on your Roll20 account. Roll20 will be free to use in the future, but if you require more space to upload tiles/artwork it seems you will have to pay a fee. The other option around this is developing a large art community around Roll20 where people create custom tile pieces.
Small shortcomings aside, this looks like a solid, simplified idea that could become a staple for the pen and paper community and may prevent the deaths of many fledgling campaigns with players that are moving to new places.
A good overview video of the program can be found here.
Their main website and more details can be found at http://roll20.net/