Reviewing Fantasy Grounds, the Virtual Tabletop

I try to stay on top of what the internet has to offer in the way of virtual tabletops to run my game on.  I do it because I like to have the best that I can offer in this regard for usability and the like so I was excited to have the opportunity to try out Fantasy Grounds and see what it had to offer me in this format.  I have to say that I was not disappointed either!  I do have to say that I did not get to testing this software with a player on board though.  All of the features that I will mention come from myself playing with the software by myself (that sounds so lonely and sad, but I had fun).

Even the welcome screen makes me want to play!

The interface is the one thing that I really love about this software.  It is lush and feels like a tabletop to me.  I realise that may be a ridiculous statement to make, especially because it looks nothing like a tabletop but it just feels like somewhere that I want to play.  I can imagine my players around their tabletops on their computers and it feels like a game in real person view.  The reason for this is the interface is skinned beautifully.  The load up screens have an old style map to them and then once you get to the tabletop there is a beautiful dragon silhouette that really makes you feel like you are about to game.  I never really thought about this skinning as being an important feature but it does make other virtual table tops I use feel like software as opposed to gaming spaces.

The accessibility of all portions of the product from the main desktop is very nice as well.  There is a simple menu down the right hand side of the main screen that allows you access to combat tracking, character sheets, story material, images and maps, NPC’s, items, notes and a rules library as well as a host of customisation material.  Each of these options brings up a floating screen allowing you to reference material as you need it and move it to where you want it.  When you are done you can close it down and focus back on the main screen again.

The product comes with support for D&D 3.5 Ed., D&D 4th Ed. and Pathfinder up front but support for other systems can be purchased from the store.  These other systems include;

Choosing a character to play…

  • Savage Worlds
  • Mutants and Masterminds
  • Basic Role Playing
  • Call of the Cthulhu
  • Iron Heroes and more

Included in the store are a bunch of material for each of these games also.  Modules, token sets, source books for your library and more are all there to purchase for your games.   They seem reasonably priced to me and it looks like there is a strong policy of sales and the like from the store itself.

Speaking with Doug of Smiteworks who makes Fantasy Grounds I found out that the product is designed to largely be used in combination with a voice or video client over the internet like Skype, Hangouts or something similar.  While it is possible to have a game utilising only the text chat function that appears down the left hand side of the main screen it is unusual for this option to be used these days.  The number of players that can be attached to a particular session is pretty much determined by the bandwidth of the host (generally the GM) but it easily handles 6 players and a GM quite often I am told!

The character sheet

There are a number of licences available when you purchase the product (all prices are in USD).  Each licence has a different price and functionality available to it.  The Full licence costs $39 and it allows the full functionality of the product as a GM and a player.  With this licence the players of your game (if you are a GM) will need a full or lite licence to connect and play the game.  The Lite licence costs $24 and is there for players only.  You can not utilise a Lite licence for GMing a game.  The final licence is the Ultimate licence and that costs $149 which gives you the full functionality of the product and also players do not need to pay for a licence to play in the game.  All they need to do is load up the demo version on their machines and it allows them to join in on the game being run by the person who purchased the Ultimate licence.

Images and maps easily added

The company is in the process of rolling Fantasy Grounds out to Steam also so you will be able to have it integrated with Steam on your computer.  For users that have already purchased the software when this occurs Steam will identify the Licence you have purchased when you load up the free version in Steam and it should run based on the Licence already applied to the software on your computer.

The other functionality I liked were the dice on the virtual table top.  3D modeled dice that are easy to combine in the roll menus across the bottom of the screen.  I often look at my tabletops and wonder how easy it would be to run a session of Earthdawn with it (which integrates a lot of different dice often in the one roll) and with this system I have to say it should be pretty easy.  Mind you, with modifiers it can become a little tricky to repeatedly roll the dice.  The dice seemed to look like something I could naturally learn about but in the end to use them properly I had to go to the wiki.  There are a couple of options available on the wiki that I would not have been aware of on how to use them if I had not gone looking.

Prepared module material straight into chat!

I was also going to say that it looked like there is no support for a FATE/Fudge style game with the tool either but while I was on the wiki it showed that there was meant to be a Fudge die available for use.  The Demo version that I was playing with did not have this dice included so I asked Doug about it and he has told me that FATE is coming.  It is currently in the works and he sent me a screen shot of it as well.  Looks good so fingers crossed.  The good thing about the system is if it supports the character sheet of the game you can actually make the rolls from the character sheet.  That means that all of the mechanics are factored in and all you need to do is drag and drop it in the chat window and it rolls the correct dice and modifiers for you!

The interface for joining a game is a little different to some of the other Virtual Tabletops with Fantasy Grounds requiring a network connection based on IP address.  This sounds scarier than it is as the welcom interface allows you to see your local machine address and the address that the players will need to put into their version of the software to join your game.  This is not too much of an issue I imagine if you have a static IP (always the same) but may require a little more work (getting together online first) if you have a dynamic IP address.

Rolling dice is easy from a character sheet or the main
interface.

There are a heap of features that I am not talking about here and that is so we can keep this blog to a reasonable limit.  We have touched on character sheets but there is a bunch of other features like calendar control, cards and decks that can be incorporated.  You will be able to drag in your own tokens so if you are handy with a digital editor you need not buy any other token packs.  Prepared module text (yours or purchased) can simply be dropped into chat so the players can go through the information later on.  New content is arriving all the time in the store and it is a vibrant well supported virtual tabletop that has an established group already using it.

So, what are my final feelings about this product?  I like it a lot while just playing about with the demo version.  It has gotten me to the point where I want to buy a licence and I will likely do so in the next week or so.  I also want to get it running in a FATE styled game to see how it performs as well.  With Steam integration coming and the wide variety of modules and systems available for this I really do think it is well worth your while considering it when you are looking for a virtual tabletop.  The prices of licence are not trivial but they are one off payments and therefore no further subscription required, no ongoing fees.  This might be a lot more on some peoples wavelength than other systems.  So, go to Fantasy Grounds, download the demo after watching the intro video and start to have a play!  I guarantee you will be intrigued.  Until next time, keep rolling!

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