A couple of weeks back I got a very polite email through my contact form on the website. It stood out amongst the spam that I normally get from our contact form! I reproduce portions of that email below because it is so well worded, how could I say no?
My name is Joe Moskie and I’ve been following you on G+ for a while now. My friends and I love your blog posts, and have actually run several of your encounters in our own weekly games.
My friends and I have been playing online, in VTT’s [ed. Virtual Table Tops], for over a decade now, and we’ve been working on a website that facilitates the creation and sharing of RPG “assets” such as maps, and lets users make NPC/Monster tokens, complete with art, “collections” of such assets to create encounters
I would love to sit down with you in a G+ hangout and show you what our stuff can do, or better yet run a quick PFRPG session for you and your friends. I know you’ve just pledged allegiance to Fantasy Grounds, but we’d love for you to take a look at what we have to offer!
Well, I shot off an email. I knew Joe Moskie from some comments on the blog and also my stream in G+. I am also always happy to take a look at material where I can and plug it if it is something that I think some of my readers would enjoy. To that end we set up a meeting on G+ and I took a look at it yesterday morning with Joe.
The Virtual Tabletop is called SyncRPG and is actually an offshoot of Map Tools virtual tabletop. They took the base code and started to enhance and expand the ideas behind that. He asked me if I had ever used or heard of MapTools and I replied I had heard of it but had never found a stable copy that would run on any machine I used. There was then a funny moment when he asked if I was technically skilled in which I replied I have a University Degree with Honours in Computing! He laughed and said that was not great for MapTools but then lead me through the process to install his VTT and it worked with no fuss.
SyncRPG is in an open Beta test at the moment and does have some bugs. For example, as Joe was showing me one of the tokens he used was appearing in GM view and not the player view (note this later turned into a Joe brain fart and it was a lighting problem – not a bug :). That said, they are totally aware of this and are using this period to clean the program up. The focus of this VTT is, and this is what truly differentiates it a lot because I could clearly see this focus in the three quarters of an hour we talked, focussed on collaboration and sharing. It may be why I was targeted as a blogger due to the fact that I give a lot of my material out for free for the community. It is also interesting because it is a hybrid system. It runs from your computer but much of the functionality (besides connecting to other players) comes from interaction with the SyncRPG website.
What are the features? There are plenty but lets have a look at a list;
- Fully supported interactive lighting system
- Macro support with many, many macros already available
- Community created content
- There is a pre-made Pathfinder base campaign field ready to play about with
- Map tiles by Kristian Richards are available for building your own maps
- Space for character sheets (Pathfinder I know, not sure about other systems) to be saved and shared via Google Docs
- Core Pathfinder rules, bestiary and tokens ready and available
- Pre-made characters available
- Bunches of ready made maps
- Plenty of community driven work even though it is only in Beta!
The interface is (amusingly for me) a bit of a mixture of Roll 20 and Fantasy Grounds. I am sure it has been similar to this with MapTools but it is new to me. You have a central area that contains the main view of the VTT and surrounding it you have buttons that you can use for your macros and the like. There are a number of modes that you can use in the main VTT section, each offering familiar tools like layer control, fog of war, drawing tools, template tools (not sure what that does but will have fun finding out) and the “Vision Blocking Layer” or interactive lighting if you will.
The first “WOW!” moment for me comes when Joe showed me that you search the website for a token (I looked for a goblin) and it brings it up on the website. To use the goblin all I do is grab it on the web page and drag it into the map! Bang, the goblin is there. But that is not just it – it is not just a token. The goblin I grabbed was not just a goblin – it was a CR 5 Goblin Leader. Even better yet, the token got transferred with all its stats that then map to the macros in the tool. I use a button with a fist on it and up in the chat comes the result of a roll using his attack – brilliant. He then shows me another pane that can be activated which covers all of the spells and special abilities that they may have – I did not have a spell caster so I went and grabbed a Drow Noble and tossed him in and took a look at it! Super cool.
The next wow moment was the point at which I realised that they had a dynamic lighting source. I grabbed a PC from the website (I grabbed him at level 3 but had the choice of level 1 or 2 as well – very nice) and put him in. I then got to select from what source of lighting they were using and an aura came up around the figure. With a quick Control-i press the map updates and shows me what things look like from the player perspective. I could then move him around for a bit and it would auto update but after a while I hit Control-i again and it starts up again. The really, really nice thing about this was the fact that it did not remove the area that you had previously walked through and thus the player has a record of where they have explored.
He then showed me how to quickly build a map and how fantastically fast the lighting effects are to apply. Of the maps that are available on the site, inclusive of Kristian Richards brilliant map geomorphs, the lighting detail is built into the map! That means the two to three hours I used to spend on Roll 20 making the fiddly dynamic lighting work is now reduced to about a 5 second process at the end of building your map. I am totally in love with this idea. Mind you, I do wonder what it takes to do this from a map I create and upload.
Character sheets use a standard sheet on Google+ that is applied to the PC tokens. You can update that sheet in play on the Google Docs site and refresh the PC on the Virtual Tabletop and it takes effect immediately. The mixture allows a player to have their character sheet open in their web browser and with good use of alt-tab or a second monitor to be right up to date all the time with the character. I did not play too much with this functionality but the stuff Joe showed me looked impressive. He used a bloodrager (it was his brothers character) who when he rages he enlarges. Sure enough, when setting the detail on the character sheet and refreshing the token, the token grew large and the effects on Stats were applied. Changing him to out of rage and refresh his token shrinks and the stats disappear. Fantastic.
There is a lot to love in this tool and it is only in Beta. I asked Joe what would be happening post Beta. How were they going to fund the project as it stands out notoriously as not having run a Kickstarter which is kind of refreshing (for my wallet). Joe replied that everything I had been shown is going to be available free of charge. There will be a subscription (about $5 USD a month) that people sign up to that will help them continue making content (and keeping Kristian Richards working on tiles) but it will be voluntary. They do not want to hold any of the functionality back from any player or GM and they have not yet decided what will come with the subscription. I gave him a few ideas about what I liked from the Roll 20 model that did not restrict the product, but these choices are theirs to make. It is brilliant to see them not restricting the tool for anyone. “Dynamic Lighting for everyone!”
With all of these wow moments there are a few issues. First is this is a beta and some things are not fully functional yet. I mentioned the token that did not appear above and then later when I was by myself I had a “What does this button do?” moment and when I pressed it I got a never-ending loop of error messages and actually had to restart my computer to get it cleared. Sorry Joe, I don’t remember which button it was 😉 The other issue here is the thing that I find troublesome with all VTT’s. Screen real estate is at a premium. I really think the ultimate set up for this kind of tool is a two screen minimum. VTT in one screen and for this particular tool, the website and character sheets in another. That makes it difficult for me as I have relied on a laptop only set up for around ten years now and having to have an extra monitor is painful, but perhaps necessary. I find this to be a major issue in Fantasy Grounds and Roll 20 as well.
Finally, I intend to play test this tool. I have got four names that are willing to help me and we are going to play this Sunday in a small Pathfinder game. The tool itself kind of promises to work on Mac, Windows and Linux (in fact I have a copy of it running on my Elementary distribution – Linux – right now) as it comes with a bat file, an executable JAR file and a .sh file as well. I have had some errors trying to transfer material to the Linux version but that may be because I am behind a proxy at the moment, but I will try it later tonight and see what happens. Once that play test is completed I will return with another post next week and let you know how a game runs using the system.
This tool really has a great communal focus. The ideas that Joe talked about are a combination of professional modules up for sale and personal creations being communally available. If I make an NPC and put it up with some artwork and stats etc. and that NPC will become available for others if I want it to. That is great! Character snapshots are taken each level and so as you go up in levels you can see how your character has developed and offer it out to the community to play as well – fantastic idea. The product has a clean, fresh feel and offers a lot to a group looking to a Virtual Table Top. I am looking forward to giving it a try. Keep rolling!