Fantasy Grounds is a system that I have been using for many years. It is my virtual tabletop of choice, and since switching from Roll 20 almost a decade ago I have not found a system that pleases me as much as Fantasy Grounds does. I have certainly investigated several new systems as they appear, but none seem to work for me as well as Fantasy Grounds does. I have even posted about it here several times. But it is now quite some time since my last post and times have changed a great deal since then. So what keeps me coming back to this system? I have rewritten this post several times now because it is such a huge topic. I have decided instead to break this post up into three posts. The first, this one will be about playing the game and the features that make me want to use Fantasy Grounds. The second will be about running the game and how its system suits me as a game master. Finally, I will add a post about developing the game, and the experiences I have had dealing with less prestigious games in the system.
Leading Virtual Tabletop designed from the ground up for gaming
Fantasy Grounds is a Virtual Tabletop program designed for you to play your virtual tabletop games over the internet with friends. Prior to the spicy cough, this was something that brought gaming to players that struggled to find in-person games. It was also something that enabled older gamers with families and busy schedules to better-fit gaming into their schedules. Once the spicy cough came along it was largely the ONLY way to get a game. Fantasy Grounds is almost twenty years old. The man behind the company, Doug Davison, must be a psychic, because he had seen the popularity that this product was going to build and started work on it.
From a broad perspective, Fantasy Grounds has features that can excite a gaming group. If you are a gamer who uses some of the major systems in today’s market, there is likely a dedicated system built for Fantasy Grounds to support it. The following image is taken from their home page showing you, in logo form, the game systems that have modular content to support the game. The link to the home page, should you be interested in this program is above the first mention of Fantasy Grounds in the introduction. It is an unaffiliated link, and I point that out specifically because I have affiliate links, but I care enough about this product to promote it without reward. Affiliate status is something that I will discuss in the third post, and I will give my reasoning for not using the links in that post.
Beyond official support, there are a ton of community-supported modules for other systems as well. If your system still does not have support, there is a BRILLIANT system called MoreCore that does a good job of covering playing systems without support. It is actively supported, and revolves around your catch-all idea of different dice systems and control for the GM. I love left of centre games, and so I have a lot of experience in the MoreCore realm.
What does support get you?
OK, the supported systems, particularly the officially supported systems give you a highly polished system. Combat rolls can automatically detect situations from the rules based on token placement and apply rules. Flanking in Pathfinder works automatically, Crit table rolls and fumbles in Dungeon Crawl Classics are rolled at the time. This kind of support is aimed at giving all players a break from having to thumb through the rulebooks to find that rule, slowing play. Some of the systems even come with the full text of the rulebook in the library modules. Official supported material is fantastic. Community supported can be as well, but it all depends on how invested in the development the designer was, and if they have kept it up to date.
Fantasy Grounds offers some great functions in the handling of maps in particular. Dynamic lighting was in its infancy in virtual tabletops and Fantasy Grounds picked up a gentleman who had created his own Kickstarted virtual tabletop called Tabletop Connect. He had started to use the Unity Engine to deliver fantastic three dimensional maps and great lighting. That stuff got integrated in to Fantasy Grounds after the buy out. Sure, three dimensional maps fell a bit to the wayside, but the lighting effects. Wow, today they are detailed and rich and very easy to use. I love the fact that as I am building my maps I can put down a candle in a room and when the players see it the light flickers like a real candle…
The shift to Unity brought modern capabilities to this system
Fantasy Grounds moved to a much more modern format as it incorporated the Unity system. My criticism of the game ten years ago would have been that it felt old. Once you got the system, to make it work in the older days often required Port forwarding. Something that not everyone is going to be comfortable with. For those of you that do not know, port forwarding involves getting in to the software that controls your modem and setting up some guidance for the device on how to handle the software specific traffic. It can be frustrating for an expert and it should not be a thing in this day and age. I can tell you, though I will not label them, there are other newer, popular Virtual Tabletops that this still has to be done for.
Fantasy Grounds Unity (as the newer format is branded) uses a web server based connection system that avoids all of this. the reason being it connects the traffic much like other traffic to a web browser, so no need to tell it what to do with a specific, different type of traffic. There are still things that feel a bit dated to me, but they are changing. Fantasy Grounds is an actively developed and supported system. It is updated, in my experience, on a weekly basis, often times more. Each update brings continual improvement, new features and new content.
How to get it?
One thing I love about this system is the licensing for it. In this modern age everything is subscription, right? I personally HATE subscription services. Pay for something that you may or may not use and then forget about the subscription at times and just throw away money. For some people subscription works, not for me though. Fantasy Grounds does it right. You can subscribe to Fantasy Grounds and get the product. You can also buy a lifetime license for the product and never pay a subscription for it. The choice is yours. Anyone can download the demo though and here is why.
Players, play free for Ultimate users…
The reason for a paid version is largely so the Game Master with an Ultimate license (Judge, DM whatever) can run content for players. As a GM with a license I can direct ANYONE to go and download the demo and they can join my game and play. If they are only ever going to play, they do so at 0 cost to them because I have the license. That is commitment to gaming and I love it. If you only have the standard license this does not apply though. With the Standard license a player also needs a license to join your game. I have used this to get players many times and I have no issue paying the price I do. Some of my regular players have chipped in when I got supported content to assist, but I never expect that.
Free Play weekends
Keep an eye on Fantasy Grounds social feeds, because they often run weekends where you can try out different systems at no cost. If you are worried about investing in a game, you can hop in and take a look on a free play weekene and get a feel for what you might be getting. This is well worth the time to do, especially if you are not certain that the system you want to use is the right one for you.
To add the supported systems you pay a fee for the content. It is priced reasonably and provides a great addition to your game. Supported content covers everything from Systems, to modules, to tokens, maps, sourcebook material, custom dice and the list goes on. Once you have bought this content, it activates in your system and you can use it. As the GM you can share the content to players, so if you have a module in your purchases, the players also do not have to have it. You can flick a switch in the system and it shares the content you want to with the players. It even tells the system for your player when they log in what should be loaded at the time.
Where to get it?
You have a couple of options here. I for one will always deal with Fantasy Grounds through their own store. But you do have another option. Fantasy Grounds is also available through Steam and has been for a long time.
I could go on and on about this system. Honestly, even with this first post to highlight it there are probably another ten thousand words I want to write about it. But, I tend to be a bit wordy at times and I hope I got that enthusiasm across.My next follow up post will be less general and more specific about how I use the system as a Game Master. I will discuss what my prep looks like and how I use the system in game specifically. I will also talk about some surrounding systems that I use to elevate my game. Until next time, keep rolling…
Just a final note, I have started a Patreon. If you feel you could support this blog with as little as a dollar a month (and a couple of other tiers) please take a look at the page here and join if you can. The Patreon is about keeping the blog going. There are no secret posts, or hidden posts if you do not join. Just a way to help me to keep the blog going into the future. Thanks for considering it.