My "How does Fantasy Ground Play On-line" Review
If you?re looking for an in depth technical review of Fantasy Ground, you?ve probably come to the wrong place. I don?t write reviews and my technical expertise is all on the consumer end. I haven?t a clue how to program, don?t know how to design GUIs or whatever they?re called, and can?t debug a roach motel.
If, however, you?re interested in what a fellow gamer who happens to own a home computer and uses for regular gaming stuff (word processing, email, websurfin?) thinks of Fantasy Ground, this review is more up your alley?
Ok. Where to start. First I?m gonna assume you?ve at least glanced at the user guide readily downloadable from the Fantasy Ground website, but you might get the gist of what I?m saying without it. I?ve also added a couple of screenshots to the post.
Connection: Let?s start with connectivity. Just how hard, you ask, was it to connect up with the Host/GM? As easy as filling in the blank with an Alias supplied by him and clicking on Start. That?s it. It?s that easy. No problems what so ever. Of course, I don?t operate behind a hardware firewall. Only got McAfee VirusScan and Personal Firewall going, so getting through that was as simple as saying: ?Hey, PF, let this program through.?
Quick note on the Alias: An alias is a Name for your hosting session that the players can input on their end to link up with you. Why would you want to do an Alias? Because, if you?re like me, you don?t know what your I.P. address is from one moment to the next. With an Alias, you don?t need to know. However, you can't type in your own Alias for hosting a session. I lost the dude I was testing this program with because we got off to see if I could host, I tried to type in the Alias I'd given him (Clueless Adventures) and discovered I couldn't do that. The Alias is generated BY the program, so you can set your hosting session up well in advance and share that name with your players.
Not a ding on the program. Just me not preparing (or even glancing at) an Alias.
As far as lag goes? I didn?t notice any lag.
Chat: First thing we examined was the chat function. This is as easy to use as any IRC program I?ve used. And I?ve used mIRC, Cheetachat, MSN Netmeeting, etc. Worked fine. Comes with some easy to use tags: /emote, /mood, /ooc (out of character), /act. All of them worked fine. A cool feature is that the GM can talk to you AS a npc, rather than for the NPC. What?s the difference? The difference is this (pretend what follows is a chat line):
DM: Barko says, ?Hey, put down da knife or I?llz break yer head!?
Barko (angry): Hey, put down da knife or I?llz break yer head!
Simple combination of speaking as the NPC with a /emote added on.
/whisper mode was good for talking to the GM without the chatline going to the other players. Excellent way to pass ?secret? notes to the GM and vice versa.
A dialog "balloon" icon popped up in the corner of the chat box and on the character icon to let you know someone was typing on the other end and who it is that's typing.
All in all, while not as quick as talking (limited by personal typing speed), it was easier to keep track of what was going on because I could scroll back and take a look. ("How MANY demons are in the room?")
Notes/Maps: Speaking of passing notes, passing (sharing) Maps, Notes, Items, etc. went easily. It was as simple as writing the note in a note window, right clicking to pull up the radial menu and then clicking on ?share.? Bingo. GM got my note.
As a player, I received the GMs map totally blanked out by the ?fog of war.? He then could reveal portions of the map to me while keeping the rest secret. Revealing portions seemed to go easy as the GM never made an angry comment about it.
Once the map was revealed, it was easy to simply pick up a token out of the token ?box?, placing it on the map and presto he could see where I thought my character was. When he placed a ?monster,? he just placed his token on the map and kerbing there it was.
Once placed, tokens were able to be moved around, though the GM could lock out the player from moving tokens if he felt like it.
Die Rolls/Modifiers: Ok, this is where the real magic happens.
From a player?s perspective, you can see the other players? dice rolls. When they throw a dice, it suddenly appears in your chat window, does its roll, then disappears. The total then appears in the chatline. Sound annoying? Well, it isn?t. It?s actually quite good at preserving the illusion of tabletop gaming in that you know when someone else is rolling, what they rolled and what they got. (Unless you?ve got paranoid players at your table who hunch over dice rolls so no one else can see. I?ve had one of those?)
When the GM rolls, you see shadowy silhouette of his dice bouncing on your chat window. You can tell how many and what kind of die it is, but not what total was rolled. This let?s you know that the GM is rolling, but preserves the illusion of the GM screen.
Rolling saving throws is done by opening your character sheet (which as a player should be open anyway), ?grasping? the saving throw modifier from the sheet with your cursor and dropping it in the ?modifier box? at the bottom left of the main screen. Then just roll a d20 on the chat window. Up pops a chatline that says: ?Will save: (die +3)? (depending, of course, on your save rolled and its modifier).
Rolling damage works much the same way, grab the weapon to-hit modifier from your character sheet, drop it in the ?modifier box?, roll a d20 and zing, up pops the chatline ?longsword (die +3)"
If you drop multiple modifiers in the ?modifier box? (For instance, fighting defensively and longsword to-hit), you get the same chat line, but it lists each of the modifiers separately.
Miscellaneous: The look and feel of the program is excellent. Sure, you don?t need pretty, but, darn it, it does add to the atmosphere and pleasure of gaming online. Add on top of that, the interface is easy to use, quick, and, once you?ve got one or two basics down, intuitive, and you?ve got a winner.
If you're find yourself rolling for the same things over and over (attacks, saves, initiative), you might setup a hotkey for it.
For example, type "/die d20+3 Longsword" in the chat box. Drag that into one of the hotkey slots at the bottom of the screen (you can see them in one of the screenshots). You have to do this before you hit enter in the chat box. If it's in the "1" slot, whenever you hit F1, it'll roll your attack with your longsword. You could set up (/die d8+3 longsword damage) to a hotkey.
Another point/feature I didn't mention: If the GM give you xp, you can drag that from the Chatbox and drop it in the Experience box on your character sheet and whammo it updates that box on your sheet. It adds to whatever is already in that box.
This drag and drop can be used for multiple things: Initiative scores, Damage taken, etc. on the Combat sheet, for example. Very handy feature.
Possible Cons: There are a couple of possible downsides if you come into this program in the different expectations.
? There is NO character generation program included. This is strictly for playing on-line. It won?t generate the character for you. For that, you?ll need e-tools or PCGen and then input the character into the computer. Inputting the character is not difficult. Just as fast as filling in a paper character sheet with pencil. There are some users on the Fantasy Ground forum who are working on programs (or they mentioned it anyway) to import E-tools XML into Fantasy Ground XML.
? No map generation program besides a simple scratchpad like thingy. You?ll have to draw your dungeon, overland, city maps, scan ?em and import them as jpg., bmp., etc. and then doodle over the top of them. Wasn?t a downside for me, but might be for you. If you just have to draw your maps on the computer, you?ll have to use CC2 or dunjinni or some such, and import their file to Fantasy Ground. That?s as easy as dropping the picture into the appropriate campaign map folder.
? /Whisper mode doesn't appear to work between players; just between GM and Player with the GM able to select which player he's /whispering to. I've suggested on the Fantasy Ground forum that the ability for player to whisper to player with the GM eavesdropping be added. Sometimes, ya just wanna whisper to the player beside you without everyone else hearing.
Summary: easy to use, looks good, does everything you?d expect for playing on line with only a minor tweak needed here or there. Was it worth my $34? Darn straight. I expect to get some use out of this program. Probably a LOT of use since I?m isolated from my old gaming buddy.
<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Excellent<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>