Virtual Tabletops – Options for Online Tabletop Roleplaying

Many of us have started playing role-playing games in high school, college or university and made great friends along the way. As life goes on we might move away from those friends and miss the good times of gaming around the table. One way to get at least part of this feeling back is to use modern technology to meet virtually and play via the Internet. While this can be done easily with generic online tools like Skype, Discord and similar options, quite a few developers have picked up the idea and offer software products tailored to this specific purpose, going so far as incorporating rules and tools for specific games making the experience as smooth as possible.

Many of these incorporate tools for sharing and using maps – either just for visual reference or to replace a gaming surface where you would have moved miniatures on. This is where it becomes especially interesting to us map-makers, as Campaign Cartographer 3+ and especially Dungeon Designer 3 are supremely suited to producing the maps for these software tools. Therefore I want to take a look at the various options out there and how they handle maps. They are not in any significant order, perhaps a vague sense of general popularity.

roll20Roll20

Perhaps the most popular virtual tabletop option currently available, Roll20 is strongly aimed at d20-type games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder and 13th Age, but can be used with any other games as well. A listed of directly supported system can be found here. Its map feature allows you to import floorplans (e.g. created with DD3) as battle maps, use character or monster images as tokens on the map (e.g. from the Token Treasury) and includes dynamic lighting functionality for the maps.

A basic Roll20 account is free of charge, but you can pay for more privileged access and many types of resources for the game.

Fantasy Grounds screenshotFantasy Grounds

Where Roll20 is a web-based application, Fantasy Grounds is a downloadable, stand-alone software, where one person is hosting with a GM account and the others join in with their client software. It has a very polished look with some beautiful design feature, like dice actually rolling across the virtual table, and also offers a large selection of different rules packages to choose from, which provide game-specific tools to facilitate the game.

Of course maps can also be imported into Fantasy Grounds, from overland maps to battle maps, including a grid feature to move virtual miniatures around. As you can set the size of the grid in Fantasy Grounds visually, it is very simple to add one on top of an existing Dungeon Designer 3 grid. But line of sight and dynamic lighting are limited.

Fantasy Grounds has a variety of pricing models, from a free demo version which lets you connect to a game hosted by someone with the most expensive version, to yearly subscriptions and one-time purchases.

d20Prod20Pro

Another commercial offering, d20Pro also concentrates on the d20 family of rules as the name suggests, but can be expanded to other rules systems. The official D&D license as well as Pathfinder support feature prominently on the website.

Its map feature provides line of sight and fog of war effects and – as usual – importing images as maps. It also links to its own web-based map editor – World Engine – allowing limited map creation on the fly.

D20Pro’s pricing structure is simple (and fairly low) with just a player and a DM version of the license and a 30-day free trial.

MapToolMapTool

Another option is the free (donation-supported) MapTool. It is open source and the community provides a variety of extras, but of course it doesn’t have the kind of focused, system-specific support that the commercial competitors offer. IT can be very powerful if you dive into the open source framework to build your own system-support from the ground up, but that is quite a commitment.

Its map part does offer automated line of sight and fog of war features, making it convenient to use as virtual battlemap platform, without going into the kind of financial commitment other tools require.

AstralAstral

Astral is a purely web-based application including a fairly powerful map-making option. It doesn’t have official support for specific game systems, but provides basic assets for typical games (D&D, Cthulhu) with pre-made templates.

The basic version of Astral is free, but you need to pay for more online storage space, as well as additional assets for map-making, ambient sounds, etc.

Other tools

There is a variety of smaller tools around, and the VTT Wiki is good place to get a list and check them out. Or see this comparison of different vtts on Taking20.

2 Responses to “Virtual Tabletops – Options for Online Tabletop Roleplaying”

  1. Hi,

    You will need to update this in a few months when Fantasy Grounds Unity comes out (I have the beta at the moment). It will have a very good line of sight and other tools.

    It actually becomes the cheapest most powerful option of the VTT in the longer term – like Profantasy.

  2. There’s also FoundryVTT, currently in beta. It’s got an impressive list of features so far and seems to be very community-driven in that respect. It will eventually be a commercial product, although the developer has said he plans to make it affordable. More info at https://foundry-vtt-community.github.io/

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