RPGaDay2020 Day 18: Meet – during lockdown – a review of VTTs we’ve tried

The RPGaDay2020 prompts in a map by dunroaminpress

Yesterday in RPGaDay2020 I looked at comfort zones.

Today the theme is Meet….which is something Covid-19 has put paid to with lockdown…

Our last round-the-table session was in March, and since then we’ve been kept apart by the pandemic. So we’ve had to explore other options to keep the games going, which means ways of meeting virtually.

When I started investigating options, two clear front-runners came up in my search – roll20 and Fantasy Grounds, so they were the first I tried.

Both allow you to upload maps and characters/NPCs and then have the players move their characters around. Both manage hit points and resources and visibility.

In my investigation, Fantasy Grounds looks nicer and more thorough, but this made it more complicated, and after wrestling with it for a week I gave up and fell back on roll20 for our first couple of sessions.

This is a simpler interface, and I managed to get their arrival location and encounter set up in time for the first virtual session.

I found the map creation/editing sufficient but not scintillating. I created the basic room in DungeonFog, then combined it with a cavern I had lying about (which I didn’t use in the end because the main encounter turned out more challenging than I expected), and added the characters and some monsters.

We ran the battle in this (two sessions) and also the session where they got taken to the guard station (art by Heroic Maps) – that worked quite well.

Once we returned to the house, though, it really started to creak. We had 5 levels for them to explore – Basement, Ground, First, Second and Attic, and I just could not manage the transition between scenes. I always seemed stuck on a single scene and the only way to change it was to reload roll20 – I eventually resorted to abandoning roll20 altogether, opening up Affinity Designer (a drawing package), sharing my screen in Zoom and just sketching the rooms.

That was not the first time I had struggled with the roll20 connection – it seemed very flakey. I might get a few minutes when it would cooperate and then it wouldn’t respond to anything I was trying to do and I would have to reload. But that was the final nail in the coffin.


I’d come across FoundryVTT while it was in Beta and joined the Patreon, and this turned out to be the answer to my needs and the solution we still use today. Like roll20 and Fantasy Grounds, it lets you set up scenes with characters and line of sight and so on. Unlike roll20 it just works (apart from the time I went crazy installing plugins and managed to install a combination which broke things), and it proved much easier to get my head round than Fantasy Grounds.

The payment model is also much nicer. It’s a one-off $50+VAT flat fee for the GM, as opposed to the $10/month for Fantasy Grounds or $50/year ($5/month) for roll20 in order to run a game.

On the down side, you have to arrange hosting yourself – fortunately that was not an issue for me since I already have my own server, but they do have instructions how to set it up using an Amazon virtual machine.

It has dynamic lighting and line-of-sight (here you can see what Reed can see). It has a massive and increasing selection of add-in modules. It has random tables you can roll off automatically. It has status effects on the icons. It can highlight the current character. And much much more… It’s great. It even has D&D Beyond integration (thanks to VTTBeyond) and WorldAnvil integration.

And he is actively working with designers to develop adventures and have them installable in your instance, supported by and with early access for his Patreons.


…or keep it minimal. Really what we need is

  • a way to talk to each other
  • a way of sharing the map and where the various characters/creatures are (I’ve never really managed to go completely Theatre of the Mind)
  • a way of rolling dice – if you trust your players, this could just be letting them roll and tell you the result
  • a way of tracking health/status, etc…and of course we already have a tool for that in the character sheets we would use at the table…

So all you really need is Zoom/Skype/Discord or equivalent, share a desktop with the map (you could use Paint) and then start chatting and rolling.

So there you go – my experiences with VTTs. Go with FoundryVTT…

Come back tomorrow for Day 19, when the prompt is Tower.

2 thoughts on “RPGaDay2020 Day 18: Meet – during lockdown – a review of VTTs we’ve tried

Leave a Reply