The pandemic has led many tabletop RPG players to search for new ways to play their favorite game. Whether you’re confined or just living away from the rest of your party, the growth of Virtual Tabletops has been a great way for new and old RPG players to come together and play.
Role is a new system that primarily focuses on ease of access for all players. Founded in 2020 by childhood friends Elle Dwight (CEO) and Ian Hirschfeld (CTO), Role’s focus on inclusivity and accessibility makes it an exciting new platform. I took a look at it and even though I haven’t played with people on it yet, I’m very impressed. If you’ve been intimidated by other ATVs in the past, this one might be for you. I find the layout intuitive and really easy to use.
The main goal is to be able to see your friends and have a closer experience of actually being at a table, so there aren’t as many tools to get in the way of that as other platforms, but what exists works very well. They are working all the time to get new games and systems available for more streamlined play and to partner with game creators to bring you even more content. They even create their own system called Chromium which will be a free-to-play horror and cyber-noir RPG that looks pretty cool.
Dwight was kind enough to answer a few interview questions about Role and herself. I’m happy to share this interview with you here and I can’t wait to play games on this new platform.
TTRPGs have seen a huge resurgence in popularity and growth, what has been your favorite part of the new generation of TTRPG players?
One of the best things about all of these new players and creators joining the space is all of the new ideas and playstyles that are emerging. Many of these players are breaking free from the conventions of “classic” role-playing and embracing new story-game formats that suit them and their needs. This led to a huge wave of game design and storytelling innovation. Story play is a new frontier for imagination and collaborative play, and it feels like it’s just the beginning.
Do you have a favorite system to play?
I’m personally a huge fan of Monte Cook Games’ Cypher system. I really like that it’s simple enough to be approachable, yet layered enough that long campaigns and more experienced players can really get into it. The stat pools and the way you wager your points as you roll add a nice risk/reward mechanic that simulates real effort in a very clean and convincing way.
We’re also big fans of the Panic Engine here at Role, which made Mothership famous. We love the OSR style of play and the rules-on-rules flow of play that this subgenre encourages. The Panic Engine has such a sleek pressure layer and entertaining chess built on top, which really makes for fun one-shots and short campaigns where losing is just as enjoyable as winning. We used this system as the basis for our first original game, CHROME.
What do you look for in a TTRPG when looking for something new to try?
I’m mainly looking for a system that’s easy to understand and quick to get started. While I love my massive library of heavy RPG books, it can be tedious to learn and memorize such dense material. We know this is also a barrier for many new players and creators to this medium, so I really appreciate a game that’s fast and clear to get started. The layering of depth and complexity beyond that is a bonus. A test I like to think about is ‘could I teach someone this game in under 30 minutes?’.
The pandemic has really shone a light on digital platforms for playing TTRPGs, what do you think is missing from these spaces that you hope Role can provide?
We have always believed that the “MTB” (Virtual Tabletop) style of play is often too complex and inaccessible for the average new gamer. When we look at the popularity of streaming shows like Critical Role, Dimension 20, Transplanar, etc., we really see that what people value the most is face-to-face interactions and live storytelling. It’s less about rules and juicy figurines and more about looking your friends in the eye and having a real human experience through the game.
At Role, we focus on a people-first approach. That means everything should be simple, easy to learn, and focused on getting back to the conversation. We’re video-centric, more like a Zoom or Discord call with game elements intuitively hidden in the margins. We also pride ourselves on having a robust suite of no-code drag and drop authoring tools so anyone can create content for their games in the easiest way possible. We don’t see the role as an “ATV”, but we like to say that we are a platform for “social narrative play”.
What do you think makes Role more inclusive than other online systems like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds?
On the one hand, our systems are designed and manufactured to be as accessible as possible. We want it to be something that everyone can quickly learn and enjoy, even if they have very little gaming experience. Secondly, we pride ourselves on being a platform for any game, not only for popular big names. Although you can technically play any game on other platforms, there are often many technical hurdles to jump through to get there. With Role, we’ve seen a huge influx of indie titles and homebrew games as people use our tools to play the games they want to experience.
This is especially important for marginalized creators, who need a quality home for their games, a place where they can easily get native support to play online, and where their community can play safely. We continue to work almost exclusively with POC and LGBTQ+ creators in the industry to support their content and help them grow. As a predominantly POC & LGBTQ+ business, we want to see more people like us succeed in this space – and we’re excited to see it working!
Are you working on any new features for Role that you can talk about?
We just released a huge update that adds screen sharing to every game on Role. This is important for our players, as they can now seamlessly share any accompanying material, external applications, etc. in their playroom. This opens up more possibilities for innovative and creative styles of play when people bring in the materials they want to use for their games.
We are also working on a distribution update in the very near future, which will allow game creators to package and sell their Roleplaying games in a way that goes beyond PDFs and images. We want game creators to have an all-native digital gaming experience that’s immersive, easy, and fun for their players – all packaged and easy to find on Role.
What inspired you to create Role?
Role-playing games have been a passion of ours since childhood. We often say it’s the most accessible way of game design – because all you have to do is write! We wanted to bring the joy of role-playing and creating to the world. With over a decade of experience building in-game technology platforms, we wanted to apply our expertise to create something modern, accessible, and powerful in a way that we felt would help open up that community. to more people around the world.
You’ve been friends with your co-founder since you were a kid, what’s one of your favorite gaming moments with him?
Creation has always been the cornerstone of our friendship. When we were teenagers, we used to make game websites and custom video game cards together. At some point we really got into customizing and creating entire campaigns and pseudo-RPGs using the Starcraft editor. Role actually started as a mobile app that we created together in 2015, a small project based on our mutual love of role-playing games. Going back to that love now, designing Role from the ground up for today’s gamers has been a dream come true.
Finding live streams of TTRPG games has become very easy, what do you hope Role can help provide to streamers that other platforms don’t provide?
As a video-centric streaming platform, we’re one of the only places a streamer can go online and simply point their stream at us without the need for complex overlays and edits on their part. We continue to add features to make game rooms more immersive, including custom art and skinning. Our drag-and-drop builder tools also help steamers easily set up and run their games without the cluttered UI getting in their way. Overall, running a game on Role is quick and easy, which means streamers can build a seamless, high-quality experience with more confidence with us.
We are also actively involved in partnering and funding new content from streamers. Specifically, we focus on shows from POC and LGBTQ+ creators, marginalized voices who deserve a significant boost in the gaming community.