Well, That Was Fun!

I have had a funny couple of days surrounding the Fantasy Grounds appearance of the module I have been working on.  I attended the Fantasy Grounds Convention online to run the module that I had promised to a friend that I would write.  I wanted to run it and learn about Fantasy Grounds again as I had seen a video that had made me realize I missed a lot of the functionality the first time that I trialed it.  I know I have pretty well put my thoughts on online conventions out there but I wanted to give Fantasy Grounds a go again and it was the perfect situation to do it.

I say it has been a crazy couple of days but in fact it has been a bit longer than that.  On Tuesday I was going to email the Fantasy Grounds convention coordinators and pull the game as I had only gotten 2 out of a possible 6 player spots filled.  By the time I got to work and I was about to write my email I found an email from the team in my mailbox telling me that I had two more requests to join and by the end of that day I had 6 players!  I had been holding off on the development of the final sections of the model as I did not believe that I was going to get enough players.

The next few days had me working flat out, day and night to get the module and some pre-generated characters ready for the game and by Saturday night I had things pretty much at a point that I was ready to put the material into Fantasy Grounds.  In essence that meant that I had 6 hours the next day to get all the material I needed into the program that was the focus of the convention.  I was feeling OK though as I had sat in on a session with Damian Hupfeld detailing how to use the tool as a GM which gave me a good heads up on what I would need to do.

Not in live circumstances but here is a screenshot after everyone had gone!

I can tell you now that this is one of the great things about this tool.  If you have the material prepared (maybe a PDF or a word document) it is really easy to get that material into the tool.  I had 28 pages of notes and maps in my word document for the game and the moment I woke up I hit the computer and it really was a case of cut, paste and link the content to one another.  The user interface for this is beautiful but at times can be a little counter intuitive so I was very happy to have invested the hour and a half into the GM session.  It really cut down a lot of time.

I had to also create tokens in that time frame and I did a pretty good job in this but not everything got completed.  You see, I had some NPC’s made up in Hero Lab that I had initially intended to transfer via the conversion tool.  But as far as I can see what happens is you can only transfer characters this way.  That means they become visible to players and I did not want this so what I did was transfer only those that were definitely going to be used into an NPC sheet which is pretty time consuming and left some in my notes.

I was still working to the very last minute as well.  as the players were entering the voice chat and the game was open to them they started to enter the game as I was getting the last few links set and the maps laid out.  In short, I had become very devoted to getting this game up and running.  I had really hoped to get some extra time to add some nice evocative images in but I could not find the time.  I had hoped to have a little bit of time to even export the game but I did not get that either.  Time came and we got under way.

One of the players failed to make it.  He was a guy I had invited too but he could not get Fantasy Grounds to install and so he had to pull from the game.  Of the remainder I knew two of the players and it was the first time gaming with the other three.  I have to say that I think I lucked out with the players.  They were a really nice bunch of players who impressed me with the way that they added identifiable personalities to their characters.  I had really thought that running the game with Teamspeak and the Fantasy Grounds was going to be difficult because I am used to Hangouts.  I knew I was going to miss the visual cues of video of my players and I thought it would be hard to identify the character and player.  But their focus and characterization was awesome and I found that not having the visual cues was quite alright.

The module I had written had turned out to be a lot larger than I had actually planned and I did not know how far we would get in it.  I let it start slow too as I wanted to see if the little town of Crossroads I had created was enough to generate interest in the players and if the hook I added would grab them.  I have to say that in both cases it worked out well.  A lot of the color of Crossroads came from my understanding of the dynamics involved though and I feel that I may have to beef that up a little before I seek to get it published.  Despite the slow start the players did really well to get as far as they did.  They made it almost through the first level of a house that I mapped a couple of months ago and were well on the trail of what was going on in Crossroads.

When the game finished I let the players know where the module was headed and we had a great discussion on where I needed to improve the module and what they found fun.  I really appreciated the time and candor of these players and hope that one day I am able to have a game with them all again.

Fantasy Grounds caused me some confusion as I was using it as I realized that I was familiar with the building tools in the game but when it came to actually running it I was a little feeble.  Some of the players had more experience than I and they helped out so I muddled through in the end.  What I loved about it was the amount it automates for a game like Pathfinder.  In combat it would target the figures and add in things like flanking to rolls.  It would automatically determine hits and misses of attacks and it was just fantastic.  I found the character sheets to be brilliant and even the player who was pretty much a Pathfinder noob was playing with confidence by the second or third hour.

I know that this tool has a lot to offer me.  Combats are so much swifter than they have been in any other virtual tabletop I tried for Pathfinder.  I have confidence in the tool and its measures and really do appreciate the work that has gone into it.  I really wished that I had taken the time to watch the combat tutorial again though as there were things that I had definitely missed for the day and there was a bit of me dithering trying to get the tool to do what I had seen it do but I did not know how.

Fantasy Grounds
This is a screenshot of the tool in use taken from the official Fantasy Grounds website

Some of this dithering was because some of the interface is very counter-intuitive.  I would try things that is how I expect them to work but it just would not be what I needed to do.  It would be done in a way that I never thought of and probably could never stumble on either.  I kept right clicking on things but was often more frustrated by this as it never seemed to come up with the options I wanted or needed.

The thing is though that I know a lot of the functionality is there.  I need to invest my time and up skill myself in Fantasy Grounds through video tutorials.  A lot of the material is in forums too but I am not going to do well (sanity wise) trawling the forums so if a quick search does not help immediately I will need to use my contacts to find out.  I want to get so good at it that I can actually generate a Pathfinder combat tracker tutorial to show you what I mean about this tool.

The “Wow” factor in this tool is the shaping of systems.  The ability to tailor your own systems and the automation of popular systems.  There are things that I really want this to have that it doesn’t like lighting effects and better controls for a fog of war if they can’t.  I did see an awesome use of the fog of war in the GM tutorial but he was not teaching us about the sneaky bits he did so I know I need to learn more.  This tool is developing though and they are looking to use a new engine in the future that may change the way things are presented and may introduce some of my want list.

As a GM I really do love this tool.  I have an Ultimate License which I purchased around a year (maybe less) ago and I am glad I paid the lump sum for it.  I do hope to transfer my Pathfinder games to this in the longer term but it needs some work yet as I have a player that does not meet the minimum requirements for the tool.  Even if it means I might need to send him a laptop!  That is how much I think this offers me.  Now, with their subscription payment too it has become even more affordable for everyone.  I think it is about $9.99 USD a month to play with the features of an Ultimate License.  So if you can organize a game with six people playing and you share the cost then one year of gaming is yours on a great Virtual Tabletop for $19.98 a year each!

With everything I did over the week I would have thought to run into a lot that frustrated me.  As far as functionality went there were a couple of things.  I made a Summoner and his Eidolon in Hero Lab but the character converter would only give me the statistics for the summoner and I had to dodgy up the Eidolon.  I made a Cleric character last and attempted to convert it into Fantasy Grounds and although it told me (multiple times) it was successful the Cleric just never turned up to play so to speak.  If I had time I could have created him manually but as mentioned above, time was not on my side.

In short, I have to be really, really picky to complain about the things I have.  I am tired from all the work I loaded into the game (even a day after it was run) but that was my choice.  There was frustration by me that I could not remember everything from the combat video and could not implement everything I wanted, but wow it was fun.  I have a new appreciation for this tool.  Last time I was a bit luke warm about it but now it has me fired up.  I really think that this tool needs to be used more, especially among the more popular gaming systems that may have a lot of rules that can be automated.  I am kind of keen to see how 5E shapes up on it.  So get out there and give it a go.  Find someone with an ultimate license and see if they will show you a session or two.  I promise you will be impressed.  Keep rolling!

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