How We Role: Our Virtual D&D Setup

Because not all of us live in the same place, when we decided to start a D+D campaign, we knew it would have to be a virtual game. It took some trial and error for us to work out the kinks, so this post will cover what we settled on and why.

Virtual Tabletop

Roll20

At first we tried Roll20 because it was the only option I was aware of at the time. Roll20 is hugely popular and is a great tool. It’s easy to pick up and start playing quickly and there are some great, dynamic tools. Below is an introduction video for players to give you a quick rundown if you’ve never used Roll20.

Fantasy Grounds

Then I stumbled upon Fantasy Grounds and decided to give it a shot. I will say that it was not as easy to pick up and run with immediately and there were some technical hurdles for us to sort out. That being said, I am not a super techy person myself and I was able to get figure it out. There’s a lot of information on the Fantasy Grounds forums that will help get you up and running. Below is an overview video for Fantasy Grounds.

So how’d we decide which to use?

There are certainly pros and cons for both Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. Roll20 has several features that FG lacks, like dynamic lighting, integrated audio files, and built-in video chatting. Despite the extra features in Roll20, it was FG that eventually won us over.

A huge factor in deciding which to use, is the marketplace. Both virtual tabletops allow you to create your own content, but as I was working in Roll20 to build maps, it became extremely time consuming and tedious. We had decided to take on Curse of Strahd, which wasn’t available in the Roll20 marketplace. So I did some more researching and found that it was available in the FG marketplace.

Another huge factor was that FG was more cost effective in the long run. Both have free options, and both have different levels of cost beyond the free account. The difference is that with FG, there is a one-time purchase option. The price tag is a bit higher, but you just pay once. I act as the DM over here at TLN so I also purchased the rulebooks and Curse of Strahd bundle from the FG marketplace and it has been worth every penny. The built-in rules and automation have made tracking large combats SO MUCH EASIER. There are player and DM versions of maps so you can have your notes quickly visible and still have a version to show players. You can add your own images for tokens and maps and build your own notes for reference.

There are also different themes/skins for the software so you can change the way it looks depending on your preference. For example, you can see in the screenshot below that I’m using the offical Wizards of the Coast theme with one of the Curse of Strahd decals.

Audio/Video Solution

Since we decided to use Fantasy Grounds rather than Roll20, we needed another software for audio/video chat. Skype was an easy and simple solution. I also love Syrinscape for background music and effects. I found a post over on the Syrinscape forums about setting it up to run through Skype for online play. This took a bit of effort for me to get working properly for us and has been touch and go. If I find a better solution, I’ll post an update.

Bonus: Digital Dungeon Master’s Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds Comparison Video

This is a really good video and helped me a lot with identifying all of the pros and cons of both options.

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