Experience/Suggestions for Virtual Tabletops

I’m looking for any thoughts on virtual tabletops. I might start DMing D&D for my cousin and some of her friends on the East Coast, so I started looking at roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. So far, all I can tell is that roll20 is cheaper and more flexible, but with a steeper learning curve. Fantasy Grounds is older and more expensive, at least for the DM, but is better set up for specific properties. The ability to take a mod from DMs Guild and upload it into FG is appealing and I think FG has more official 5e stuff available. Any advice, or should I just consider Skype, an extra webcam, and some paper maps where I move everything as directed?

If it matters, I’m hoping to run Adventurers League legal. One, so they can port characters and two, I want the DM rewards for my own use.

I played in an online gaming group (4E D&D, Pathfinder, and the d20 Star wars system, among others) for many years. We started out so long ago that we were just using AOL Instant Messenger chat rooms, either not having a map grid at all, or (a bit later) using Google Docs to create a shareable grid using a spreadsheet. We eventually moved to MapTools for a number of years, then Roll20. We looked at Fantasy Grounds, but balked at the price, as well as the fact that GMing duties in our group were spread across a number of us, meaning that most of us would have needed the (more expensive) GM package.

My experience with both MapTools and Roll20 was that both programs had a lot of features that could really speed things up (such as macros), but those features required a fair amount of adeptness on the part of not only the GM, but the players. And, set-up for a game (we primarily ran “organized play” adventures from that era, like Living Forgotten Realms and Pathfinder Society) could take the GM several hours (importing maps, resizing maps, creating tokens and macros, etc.)

Far too often, IME, the VTT was an impediment to the game: players couldn’t connect, players didn’t have their tokens / character sheets updated, players didn’t understand how the features of the VTT worked, etc. It was not uncommon at all for us to spend a half-hour or more of a game session hassling with connectivity and the VTT, rather than actually playing.

If you have a group of players who are all really computer-savvy, and who like fiddling around with things like macros, you might not have some of the same issues we had. But, for me, and for a number of the people in our group, the VTTs were more trouble than they were worth.

Well, we’re talking children here. Probably all in the 12-13 range. (She’s the child of an uncle who was in his mid-50s at the time with a much younger second or third wife.) So cost is an issue, but it’s one I’d be willing to bear as the 20+ years older DM, assuming they’ve got actual computers they could run the base client on. I realize that’s close enough to the COPPA minimum age that using such a system, or any other social media client, could be an issue.

As for computer savvy, who knows. Just because people near their age can use particular types of software doesn’t mean they could handle trouble with a VTT.

I feel like Roll20 has a pretty robust feature suite that PREVENTS you from needing to be excessively savvy if you’re running a well support game (Like D&D5). If you’re NOT, then yes, issues abound regarding features being tricky to use. The learning curve for D&D should be pretty mild.

That said, unless you really NEED the features these platforms offer, you might be better off with Google Hangouts, shared documents for character sheets, and a shared dice roller (if you even care and don’t want to trust what people say they rolled.). Roll20 brings a bunch of maps and stat tracking and stuff that you might not even want.

My experience is basically the same as kenobi 65 – I’ve used MapTools, OpenRPG and Roll20 (and a couple of other online mappers that probably don’t exist anymore), but nobody wanted to pay for Fantasy Grounds (at the time, it seemed like a ripoff to pay for an electronic version of a rulebook or module I already own in dead tree form, but maybe I’m misunderstanding how it works/worked). Roll20 was probably the simplest in the sense that I didn’t have to mess around with port settings or whatever. If you’re just using it as a dice roller and map, it’s relatively straightforward (IMO).

Oh, lordy, yes, I’d forgotten about that issue with MapTools. We had some people in our group who couldn’t act as GM, simply because they couldn’t figure out how to configure their firewalls to let the other players port in to see the VTT (since, in MapTools, it’s being hosted on the GM’s computer).

Based on what you’re telling us about your group of young players, asterion, I tend to agree that a Google Hangout or the like, and a video link to the game map, is probably the way to go.

The downside of the “Video of the game map” plan is that you’ll need a relatively fancy setup if you ALSO want to have video of yourself, which I do recommend.

I’ve never used video chat while using a virtual tabletop, only voice chat (which worked fine, in my experience). It might have cared more about video if I were looking at my uncle instead some random neckbeard, I suppose.

I feel like the visual queues of being able to gesture, seeing who is trying to get a word in but can’t, and who has wandered away from keyboard are all very important.

All of that is less important for the DM, though, so you could have the DM’s camera pointing at the tabletop and everyone else’s pointing at their faces. And in the role-play-heavy situations where the DM’s facial expressions etc. would be more significant, the tabletop is less significant, so he could just re-aim his camera for those bits.

I’m thinking of the following:

Get myself a copy of Manycam, so I can run multiple feeds into something like Skype. Get a HD webcam for the maps and use the MacBook for at least the camera for talking and RP, even if I use the microphone on the webcam. Get her to gather everyone in one place, set up a HD webcam with a good microphone for them running through somebody’s laptop, and ideally output everything on both ends to decent sized TVs. I’ll run maps on my end with various minis, tokens, etc. as directed. Hopefully it’s big enough for everyone to see easily, gives better communication among the players, are one-time costs, and has fewer possible technical issues.

That sounds like an acoustic nightmare on their end. My personal experience with this stuff is that you’re just asking for piles of background noise and feedback if using anything other than a headset mic. Your mileage may vary though.

Also, Chronos raises a good point – your map and your face aren’t really likely to be relevant at the same time very often, so if you’re willing to repoint your camera occasionally, you can probably get by with one. That would still necessitate getting one that’s NOT built into a laptop though, 'cause good luck pointing a built-in webcab at a battlemap. :wink: