Our once a week static group has been gaming together for over 8 years. Amazing. These people are a core part of my gaming world, and I love having the opportunity to try new things.
Oddly, we’ve never played pen and paper Dungeon’s and Dragon’s together. Considering the amount of geekdom we have between the six of us, I can’t believe it has taken us so long.
Part of the problem has been geography. Most of us are in different states, and a couple of us are in a different time zone. We didn’t just want to get on Skype and roll dice. We wanted something more dynamic.
Virtual tabletop’s come with their own set of issues, and I wasn’t sure how well it would actually perform. Fantasy Grounds has been around for a while, but I had never given them a try. I saw a great video showcasing the many ways you can use the software.
*Please be warned. Wear your headphones around little ones. It’s adult gaming. Bad words happen*
I really wanted to give it a go. Zeff agreed to DM. Everyone else seemed to be on board, and emails were flying back and forth between us with ideas.
Fantasy Grounds can be used for free (in fact I think 3 in our group are playing this way). Zeff has an ultimate license for $9.99 a month, one of us bought the player license for $39.00, and another is doing the player license monthly for $3.99. There are plenty of ways to try out the software before plunking down any money.
We set up Zeff first. I can only say setting up the software made my head want to spin off. It involved hacking my modem, port forwarding, setting permissions in firewalls and other assorted tomfoolery. I am not super technical, but I refused to give up, so I spent the better part of a day getting this working. Once the DM machine was up, we left it running so everyone could connect and start making their characters.
About this time, we discovered the Ultimate License wasn’t all that wonderful. Considering the $149.00 price tag up front or the $9.99 monthly fee, it should include the sky, the moon and the kitchen sink. We tried making characters and couldn’t. Turns out all the license gets you is the basic DnD rule set, but if you want to actually USE the software without buying the Players Handbook, Monster Manual and DM’s guide, you are going to need to pay for it. $70.00 bucks later, Zeff and I were the proud owners of the PHB (which we already owned in hardback), and a module.
I want to be clear, because nothing on the Fantasy Ground webpage is, you can manually enter everything yourself out of the books you own, but it’s laborious. And some of the functionality won’t be available to you.
People connected to the game on and off for a week, and I could hear Zeff talking people through setting things up over Skype. At first I wanted this software to have voice chat. HELLO!!! In the end, though, I was ok with using Skype. Microsoft has voices coming through crystal clear and you can control everything. It's really not a big deal.
Fantasy Grounds has a set of fantastic videos, but the software itself has no tutorial. It was not intuitive, and I was glad the DM was in my house, so he could see my screen. We experimented a lot before we felt like we understood how to make a session work with the characters, die rolling, maps, text, combat panel, and party sheet. There is a lot of goody in Fantasy Grounds, but you are going to have to dig for it.
Finally two weeks after trying to get this all going, we set down to play our first round. Everyone was able to connect, and we were off on our adventure.
Of course like any other adventure, it took us 101 minutes to get everyone’s characters sheets straight, inventory sorted, spells slotted and the like. This felt just like every other DnD game I’ve ever sat down to play.
The five characters met in the local tavern, hoisted beers, talked smack and generally reminded ourselves how much fun roleplaying can be. After getting us all hired by the local caravan, we set off to protect the 3 wagon’s from evil. Not terribly exciting, but you have to make a living.
We are playing the D&D 5th edition module “Lost Mine of Phandelver.” I will try not to spoil much here for those who may want to try it for themselves.
By the way, I am playing a female gnome monk. Hilarity. Honestly, I just run around with my quarterstaff thinking about whacking evil in the kneecaps.
That’s right, I am a total badass!
We all take our positions on or around the wagons. Not much to do but keep the road dust from clogging your face, and sidestep dung. Ahead something lays in the road. As we get closer, we realize its two dead horses.
One of the cool features in Fantasy Grounds is the map. It has a fog of war, so the DM can reveal it piece by piece as your discover the landscape. You can see the two dead horses, our parties tokens, and Zeff’s inking of the roadway.
As we drew closer we could see arrows sticking out of the horses. Things are not as they should be, and the party begins to spread out in defensible positions.
We see some goblins pop up. There in the middle of the screen is our combat tracker. Our main muscle went down to a well-rolled critical hit from a goblin, and spent most of the fight bleeding out on the floor. I was moving between hitting goblins with my stick, and smacking them in the face with my fists. Somehow, the halflings and gnome ended up being the front line, with the Dragonborn and elf watching our behinds.
You can roll almost anything straight from your character sheet. The rolls show up in the chat window. The Initiation rolls and hit points are on the combat tracker. Only the DM sees the goblins, but he has a whole sheet to track on his end as well.
We ended having one of our longest nights gaming in many many sessions. I think we were just under four hours. Overall, it was a hit I think. We still have some things to learn. I need to really study up on monks. I might have skipped an unarmed attack in my rotation. One of the character sheets has a mistake in it, and we haven’t found the culprit yet. There is a ton of stuff for us to figure out, but I can say this is the most excited we have been for Static Group night in a while!