The first hurdle to tackle in playing RPGs with your friends online is how to collaborate on battlemaps — it is, after all, what most VTTs were created for. Some of the following tools could technically be considered VTT’s themselves, but since they don’t offer the comprehensive features we’ve come to expect from such a program, I consider them better categorized as map-sharing programs.
Theatre of the Mind
This option is best for low-prep GMs and tables that play less tactical RPGs like World of Darkness, PBTA, etc, though it can work for most D&D and PF encounters too! In all seriousness, running Theater of the Mind is something many game masters never even consider, when it can open up a whole new realm of possibilities (and time for the GM!) Stop and ask yourself: do you really need all those maps you use? Almost definitely not!
Video Chat Whiteboard
Video conferencing software like Skype, Hangouts, and Zoom often have whiteboard functionality built-in (or available via extension.) For many tables, this may be all they need to jot down a basic battlemap. Some of these whiteboards even allow placing images, which greatly increases their usefulness as battlemap sharing software.
Completely free to use, basic online map-sharing tool. It has tokens, dynamic lighting, layers, health bars, and even a dice roller/chat. It basically apes the most basic functionality of Roll20 — but you’ll need to bring your own character sheets. As an added bonus, it runs much faster than Roll20 because it’s so lightweight, and it’s incredibly easy for new GMs to learn to use.
Completely free, open source, and self-hosted. It supports tokens, dynamic lighting, fog of war, and health bars. It takes a bit of know-how to set up correctly (though a windows .exe just came out) but once you get it going, it runs butter-smooth and is simple to learn and easy for your players to connect to. There is no dice roller, and as with Standard Action, no character sheets here.
Kassoon Grid Map
This is basically another simple, free Roll20. It’s not gorgeous but it gets the job done and even has dice macros and fog of war.
This product is specifically designed for people who use projectors and TVs at a real table. It supports tokens, fog of war, handouts, and map linking. It’s available not only on Steam, but also for Android and Apple products. Most innovatively, you can even use chromecast to cast it to your TV! Though I hope none of you were using Roll20 to play on a projector anyway — this application is just one of several better options.
Similar to Infinitas, Masters Toolkit is for tables that play using a TV or projector. It not only does maps, but it can do audio too, and it has a neat ambient effects library and built in dual screen support.
Literally sit and roll dice at a literal virtual tabletop. Caveat: all your friends have to have oculus rifts.
❧ Creating Battlemaps
You figured out how you’re going to share your battlemaps — now how are you going to make them? Most past Roll20 users should already have a tool they used for doing this with Roll20 (which can technically be used to build maps, but not well) — but the average user probably still doesn’t . Well, here’s your chance to upgrade!
An automated map generation app for IRL; FoundryVTT or Roll20 which includes for VTT - dynamic lighting layer content as well.
There are artists, and then there are most people. If you’re most people, you might find it easiest to let the artists do the work and just search the internet for maps that vaguely fit the scenario you have in mind.
Draw and Scan/Capture
Grab some graph paper. Draw some shitty trees and ruins and shit on it, maybe even using different colored markers if you’re fancy. Scan it, or use your phone to capture it (you can use a phone scanning app to make it clearer and less potato-like.) Put it on your map-sharing tool of choice (or don’t! Use it as a reference for theatre of mind play.) This is by far the easiest (and probably least impressive) way to make maps. Bonus points: Use your shitty mouse coordination skills and MS Paint, or draw directly in a Video Chat Whiteboard.
Need old school dungeon maps that take five minutes to make? This is your answer. It even has a theme that apes that Dyson’s Dodecahedron crosshatch look.
Ye Olde MapMaker
Easily make maps of taverns, inns, buildings, and small dungeons.
DwarvenForge Map Maker
Easily make semi-photorealistic maps.
This program is more full-featured than the previous options, with layers, tons of assets, tinting, and more. Like photoshop for making battlemaps. Has a really neat feature to import generated maps from donjon.sh! There’s a more limited free version called DungeonPainter Online as well.
This is a lot like DungeonPainter Studio, but whereas DPS is better at dungeons, MapForge is better at natural landscapes.
I haven’t tried these and can’t vouch for them yet, but they’ve been suggested by the reddit community.
Illwinter’s Floorplan Generator