Time to get into the side of Fantasy Grounds that I most interact with. I have to preface this because I am not a Fantasy Grounds expert. I use it because it gives me what I need for the most part. There are functions hidden inside this system that would make my life easier. Being a hands-on kind of person I do not use them. I try not to watch a dozen official tutorials on video streaming services, nor do I spend hours trawling user guides. I use what I can see and operate. The tutorials and guides are out there, and I encourage people that like that content to become much better at this program than me. It would not be complicated. But this post is about how I use the system, and it may strike a chord with you if you do not like watching tutorials on how to do things also!
I will be talking about Fantasy Grounds Unity in this post and so the first section will deal a little with the technical side of the program. Classic can still be used but it is an older system and shows its age. One of those things that show age is the connection method. Unity uses a system that transmits data over the web in a standard format. It uses “ports” that are regularly used for communication. I know this is tech speak, but it matters. It matters because you do not need to do anything technical-minded from a computer perspective to allow the program to work and allow your players to join. The program brokers you, and your player’s connection in a web interface when using it. This is a great step forward from the classic version of the program and one that I feel they targeted with the new format of this program.
Unity is not just a name also, it is an engine—quite a famous engine for making games. Full-blown AAA games get made using this engine, which gives the program’s base some power to handle visuals very well. There are a number of advantages to the Unity engine but it was initially selected for Tabletop Connect (that Fantasy Grounds purchased) because of the visuals and 3D modelling that it could provide.
Everything has a place, a function and a label. It makes creating games or running modules easier to understand. Characters have a section, Images have a section, Story has a section etc. These are all clearly visible and labelled. If I am thinking, about what happens next or if I need to add the next bit to the story I go to that area and find it or add a new part to continue the design. I have never had any issues in navigating too much of what I need. Each of these sections can have subsections added to them. As I am creating images for my Dungeon Crawl Classics game I separate them by creating subsections like Taverna Maps and assigning the images to them. When looking for one I highlight that in a drop-down menu and it shows only those things assigned to it.
The text stream dominates the left of the screen. It is here, as a Game Master/Judge etc. you will find all the bits you need for this kind of interaction. You can select who you are talking to (MPC etc) and what language they are speaking. If you are doing dialogue by text alone then selecting Giant as a language and typing the chat will display perfectly for characters with that language and unreadable to those that can’t. Of course, most people will use Fantasy Grounds alongside a voice or voice video program so these functions may not come into play option but they can be fun.
Dice exist along the bottom of the screen and they are generally the 7 dice commonly associated with role-playing. Some of the games that use different dice that have some kind of official or well-done unofficial module will replace these with the dice they use. These dice can be modified to show the colour you want (block colour) and if the numbers are displayed in black or white. The store for Fantasy Grounds has started to sell more custom dice “elemental dice” and the like, that can be chosen. They can be associated to do certain damage and are flashier than the regular ones, but they reek of micro-transactions to me. There will be a market for them, but that target market is not me. If I am going to spend money on dice I am going to be able to hold them and roll them in reality.
I am disappointed with the Fantasy Grounds implementation of Dungeon Crawl Classics for the reason of dice. Dungeon Crawl Classics utilises a dice chain and adds in a number of extra dice to the system, 13 dice to be exact. The implementation of this is Fantasy Grounds shows the 7 regular dice and to get the others you need to find the custom dice by right-clicking on the dice and finding them. They are not logically placed (to me) and a whole lot is lost when they play the animation of the wrong dice rolling, it gets a high number and you look to chat and see it is a 2. Super annoying and disappointing. If I am going to pay a premium for a fully supported system, I would like to see the dice. As it is, when I play I have the actual dice on my desk so I can quickly tell a player what they need to roll. There is a modifier that can help with this at the bottom left, but it does not change animations and the wrong results show.
Everything may be compartmentalized in its own area, but it is the interactions that work well in Fantasy Grounds. Creating an encounter you note the number of combatants and traps etc in the encounter and you place them on the maps if you use them. Then when the encounter happens you press a button and everything appears on the map and the combat tracker. Travel a bit further forward, when combatants die they leave death markers (blood pools) on the map. Fast forward a bit more, when the encounter is done and the looting begins, you can have a package ready that can go to the party sheet, be assigned to the players looting and then automatically added to their sheets with a short press of a few buttons. I use my maps as the driver of the story. Each notable section of the map has a story section attached to it which I pin to the map. As the players approach I click the pin and up pops the section.
On each of the stories, you can link to anything! Images, packages, encounters, and other story sections. It is very interactive. because it is so interactive it can be customised to work in whichever way you want it to. It means, no matter how compartmentalized your sections to the right are, that you may never even need to go into those segments if you work with the flow of how you run a game. The automation and interaction of this system are second to none and once you find your sweet spot you will wonder what you have been doing until now.
The only thing I do not like, interaction-wise, is when I add an image from my computer to the Fantasy Grounds folder for use, it does not show. You have to get out of the session and back in to be able to use it. So this does mean that you need to be well prepared as last-minute images will not be easily added to a session.
Lighting and Maps
I have not come across a system that is as easy to use as the one with Fantasy Grounds. I recently made the faux pas of revealing a map that had no lighting template attached and the map was revealed to the players completely. It was a BIG map and they saw it for a little. In between games, I thought it was going to be a massive task to add the lighting. I got to it and around ten minutes later I was done. Ran the game and it was flawless. The system for lighting and vision is excellent and easy to use. Admittedly, I had to go to YouTube to find out how lighting works with Fantasy Grounds, but once that initial hurdle was over we are in full swing.
On this site, I used to draw a lot of maps for encounters. These could easily be added to the system and lighting set up in moments ready to be used. It is intuitive, clever and easy to use. Doors and windows can be added that can be opened during the game directly affecting what the players can see. Down to the portion where sections that the player has seen, but can’t see at this point are greyed out and appear as they remember them, even if things have changed.
The lighting and maps is my favourite thing at the moment. I found a fantastic map builder (Dungeon Alchemist) that integrates directly with Fantasy Grounds. You make the map and populate rooms/caverns with the assistance of AI. You add in lights and doors etc and then export it. Magic happens and you get the image and the lighting file ready for direct importing into Fantasy Grounds. It goes in and acts like it is made for the system. It is, coincidentally, why I don’t map often with pen and paper anymore. Not enough to bring them to a finished form anyhow. These maps look fantastic and just work where I need them to.
I love Fantasy Grounds. Is it perfect? No. Does it annoy me at times? Yes. There are things that I feel should be upgraded when you are paying money for a product (the dice thing from above). Also, other products they promote, like the custom dice, are creeping down the microtransaction avenue which I am not a fan of. It is actively supported and has an active team producing content regularly. They are continually working on improvements as well, and are very forthright about this. In short, if you run games virtually I cannot recommend a system more than I would this one. Try it out on a free play weekend or grab the Ultimate version if you can and start playing! Keep rolling…