Forget everything you know about online roleplaying utilities, because the world just got turned upside down by Fantasy Grounds. Once you try it, there is little chance you will use anything else.
Fantasy Grounds builds on the assumption that a traditional pen and paper session is so much more than just interacting with strange creatures in stranger lands. The program is built to mimic a table, with maps being shuffled around, dice rolling across your sheets, and paper occasionally covering each other. This move could easily have killed the program at birth, in writing it does indeed sound gimmicky, but have a look at the screenshots on the Fantasy Grounds website and you realize that it all blends together nicely. The dice aren?t just numbers; instead you see them roll across the table just as you would real dice. When other participants roll theirs, they roll on your screen too and although you only need the result, it instantly transforms the program into an imaginary table and the game into a face to face session.
This approach carries over to every other aspect of the program. The character sheets aren?t numbers in some abstract, hierarchical, explorer-like tree. No, sheets mimic real-life, except often used bonuses are automatically calculated for you and updated whenever you make changes.
On the full version, reviewed here, many other tools are available to help the game master prepare and run adventures. Want to draw a map, quickly? Click the maps icon, activate the drawing mode, and scribble away ? everything is updated on the players copy as you sketch. With full support for pressure sensitive tablets, you can even obtain the perfect, hand-drawn look with only a small additional investment. When it comes time to use your masterpiece, outline one 5 foot square to indicate scale and the program fills in the rest. Now add tokens, small representations of people and objects, and move them around using handy measurement tools. If the inevitable sorcerer fires a cone-shaped spell, don?t waste time arguing over the affected squares when Fantasy Grounds allows you to simply outline the cone on the map for exact measurement. Like everything else, players and game masters share the same view, updated automatically in the background.
For the less combat-centric, the chat interface allows the game master to assume different identities and speak as the NPC would. Goodbye ?Game master: The pirate screams ?Man your posts?, hello ?Pirate: MAN YOUR POOOOOSTS!?.
But the chat box is more than just a place to hold conversations between characters. All die rolls are listed in the box, and the result can be dragged onto your character sheets for automatic updates. In fact, this dragging around of bonuses, damage, XP awards, NPCs and more extends throughout the interface. Most numbers can be dragged, so if you drag your +4 attack bonus on your Dwarfen Axe onto the modifier box, a small area just underneath the chat box, the next d20 you roll will be listed as Dwarfen Axe 16+4 = 20.
Both the Lite and Full edition comes with a sweet subset of the System Reference Document, and with ability to quickly search (results, as everything else, are updated in real-time), it is no problem to quickly find a couple of goblins, drag them onto the battle-list, have the players roll initiative, and sort all participants by their result.
All of this, and more, boils down to one sweet package. Garnish with a VoIP program running in the background - Skype and TeamSpeak comes to mind ? and nothing is going to stop you from playing with your friends, even if they are in Brazil or Siberia. If you?re limited to text, then take comfort in the fact that Fantasy Grounds does that better than anybody else too.
Feature by feature, Fantasy Grounds doesn?t seem to do that much more than other tools in this category, but everything is done with a panache and effortlessness that must leave the competition reeling. Whatever happens in the future, Fantasy Grounds is hands down the ultimate tool for playing pen and paper roleplaying games online now. Do note the lack of a d20 moniker here, for everything is exposed in easy to edit configuration files, and although factory built for d20, there is nothing preventing the crafty (the roleplaying community is nothing if not crafty) from customizing Fantasy Grounds to other, d20 shy, systems.
If you tried, but given up, on pen and paper RPG online, then know now that it is possible and works smoothly. If you?re using other tools, then ask yourself why.<br><br><b>LIKED</b>: Extremely user friendly, real dice, simple with advanced features hidden underneath, easy to learn, speedy, gorgeous looking, area of effects indication, everything can be dragged, lots of ways to set up shortcuts<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: Occasionally crashes (on a 3 hour session, this happens once, usually), but an automatic autosave system preserves all data and patches have improved stability markedly.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Excellent<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>