I have played Table Top Role Playing Games for 4 decades. That includes D&D, and a bunch of others. In all that time, the tools for playing them have advanced little beyond pen and paper, and various character generation tools may of which have been clunky, buggy, incomplete or home brew.
I have used roll20.net over recent years to play in an international Traveller campaign, which was quite successful. I have also run a couple of campaigns in roll20 for D&D 5e. I find it possible, certainly. Also quite taxing on me as a DM. Even as a player, I find it irritating often frustrating. Roll20 has let’s say, a few quirks. I can’t tell you how often I have clicked on initiative on my character sheet, and then remembered that I need to select my token first.
Then a friend pointed out a sale on Fantasy Grounds for their remote tabletop system. It looked interesting, and my frustrations with roll20 were enough that I didn’t want to spend money on them - much though I laud their efforts.
I did some more investigation and here’s what swayed me to give it a shot.
- It is a standalone program - no monthly subscription or company server required.
- Although it is a Windows program, it runs on Wine (and that is how it would install on a Mac).
- Only one person need pay for the program. Players can join a game with the free version.
- It supports all versions of D&D, and has both ruleset modules and adventure modules made by major companies.
- It was on sale.
I checked the various subscriptions and licenses, and opted for the “Ultimate” one time license at US $75 with discount. That allows me to have any number of games, and any number of players connected to my game without them paying for anything. I bought the “Classic” version, becuase the “Unity” version is still an active beta, and reportedly is not working all that well right now. Plus I had successfully installed and run the demo on my Linux box - which is a major victory in my books.
Here is what I learned.
- It installed using the terminal instructions, first time, without hitch.
- It runs well - I have never experienced a crash.
- The community is very active on Discord, and a couple of questions I had were answered promptly.
- I experienced a bug when my players uploaded their character sheets: The sheets loaded, but on my end their stats were all set to 10. Community help suggested the player “retype” those stats online - and that fixed the problem.
- I imported some 2-minute tabletop maps, and some Dungeon Fog maps and the process worked more or less smoothly, and the maps worked on the tabletop.
- Active support community.
- Pretty comprehensive rule support.
- Game automation (initiative, attacks, damage, HP tracking, effect tracking, movement, invisibility), loot parcels.
- Logical organisation - Story, Encounter builders.
- Multi-platform support (Windows, MacOS, Linux).
- Stand alone (no company server required).
- Supports several game rulesets including D&D 5e.
- Rules and data can be manually entered if needed.
- Quirky interface
- Circlular “clock face style menus”.
- Steep learning curve (powerful features).
- Couldn’t convert characters from roll20.
- Does not support windowed multi-monitor (and will not even in Unity version).
- will allow single full screen or window that spans multiple monitors.
- Classic version likely to become unsupported some time soon (but see stand alone above).
- Some users report laggy performance issues.
- I did not experience this.
- Reports associate this with the loading of numerous extensions/modules.
- Out of the box support of rulesets usually requires buying additional packages.
== First session report.
We held a first session last night. It was a bit of a hot mess. Here is what we “got wrong”.
- Didn’t give all players enough time to get set up in advance. This was partly on me - one player I didn’t have their phone number, and we had a new player join us from 2 days before.
- Only one player had their character entered up in advance of the session (and then we encountered the stats set to 10 bug).
- We didn’t have icons prepared for the players (I needed to copy their icons into a “shared” folder deep in the bowels of the .wine-prefixes dir).
- I couldn’t figure out (in the heat of the game) how to “target” creatures either as a DM or as a player.
- I had “hide die rolls from players” on, so they couldn’t see my rolls.
- I had individual initiative for my NPCs which I found confusing,
- I had auto numbering on for NPCs which did not match my token numbering so damage allocation got mixed up).
- I didn’t put “dungeon furniture” on my map, so I had to do some last minute drawing, which these tools are all weak at.
Since the session, I have figured out all these things, and I expect session 2 to go a lot more smoothly.
So my first impression: a very useful tool. I consider it to be my future gaming platform. I plan on making an entire gaming setup with a flat screen mounted horizontally on a table as the map (with a small form factor PC running it). I would DM from a laptop, and my players could use tablets or slim laptops.