When I decided to transition from tabletop to online gaming I had no idea how I was going to go about it. I had plans to invest in Fantasy Grounds, but what I really needed was a system with less bells and whistles. My players are adults with jobs and children with highly irregular schedules, often dictated by said children. This meant we needed to be able to a play a game that could be asynchronous as needed and then, if need be, ramped up to real time play later.
Role-Play Online (RPOL) is something of an old-school site. It’s not fancy, but it’s free, and it’s flexible enough to allow for a wide variety of role-playing styles. I didn’t join RPOL for access to other online games; that’s a draw for some players it wasn’t for me. What I was looking for was character management, and RPOL has that in spades.
RPOL allows you to create, assign, and divide up characters into groups so that you can communicate with them in whatever combination you like. If RPOL has a flaw, it’s that it offers too many options. You can: assign each character a group number from 1 to 10 and communicate only to that group, embed personal messages to certain characters in a public post, send private messages to characters, and then use “rmail” to send…more private messages. Presumably the difference is that private messages are for the game and rmail is to other players.
RPOL provides plain text for character profiles, so a tool like Google Drive is necessary if you want to display character sheets in a format appropriate to the game (PDF probably). You also can’t upload your own icons for your character, but rather select from a discreet list of pictures. There’s a reason for this that I’ll discuss below, but the search is robust even if the pictures aren’t quite as accommodating outside the fantasy genre.
The dice roller is surprisingly detailed, supporting a variety of gaming systems. It also conveniently lets you indicate what each die roll is for, as well as roll secretly.
RPOL is free and proud of it. The one thing RPOL does not offer that seems obvious is an email subscription service. The reasons given for this by forum members is that it is a server load challenge and a security issue. This is likely why pictures cannot simply be uploaded to the site either.
As a result, RPOL is occasionally frustrating. It conflates the term “bio” with “signature” and adding new players and characters drove me temporarily insane. It uses acronyms without explaining them (figured out later that RTJ is “Request To Join”), and there is no one single place to easily edit characters, players, and groups without jumping through a series of pages.
But once you get the hang of it RPOL works smoothly and, for a free service, is surprisingly effective. I’m running my online Shackled City campaign on it at least part of the time and, although the board structure can get a little messy, it does the job well.
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