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As the younger members of our group get older, they are going off to college or {gasp} getting on with their lives. We still game but are finding it harder to get together as distances increase. Since they all have computers and are tech savvy, what software is available for virtual table top play?

Being a webmaster and database administrator I have access to all the technology I could possibly need. So be sure to include system requirements. I just need to know what my options are.

One thing I need to add. Some of the players will still be at the physical table and 1 or 2 will be remote. This means I need to accommodate both types in each game session. Also having the ability to do Non-D&D is a plus as our group plays many different systems.

For me there is only one answer. I can try each of the systems since I'm webmaster/DBA and have that kind of a setup, but I will in the end choose one. (There Can Be Only One!) As a service to the group I will give a full 'review' of what I did to evaluate and what/why I choose a particular solution.

I think that in the end the fantastic answers here will help others regardless of what I do. Isn't that the best thing?

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13 Answers 13

up vote 34 down vote accepted

The RPG Virtual Tabletop (VTT) site, particularly the links section, summarizes most of the known options. The most popular VTTs are:

Generally, people use Skype, Ventrilo, or some other kind of conferencing software with speech (and sometimes video) in addition to the VTT.

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The Battlegrounds link page referenced on my pages is the most update VTT pages currently. You may want to look at this comparison chart they have. battlegroundsgames.com/compareVTT.html –  RS Conley Oct 13 '10 at 12:51
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Why are any of these good? –  wax eagle Jun 19 '12 at 15:45
    
the Gametable link seems to be broken now. –  MC_Hambone Mar 22 at 23:53
    
Useful note: Roll20 recently got enough paying subscribers to upgrade the development status from "work on this in our spare time" to "this is our full-time job" –  Brian S Apr 29 at 15:21
    
I've played enough games with Google+ Hangouts and the Roll20 extension to vouch for it. It worked very well for the needs of me and my group. –  heathenJesus Sep 26 at 23:30

Fantasy Grounds is the one I use and the one I feel is the most polished. Most run on windows, and require that the referee be able to open a port as he acts as server. Most people couple these with a VOIP software with Skype being the most popular. But if you have your own server you have a lot more options as you can pick whatever VOIP software you like.

For the full load down of all the different VTTs, I recommend this page. It list many of the current VTTs that are out there. One that it is missing is Battlegrounds. The Battleground site also has a good link page.

One consideration is the license fee. For Fantasy Ground there is per seat charge with the player license less than the GM license. Bundles can be bought which brings down the total cost. When I setup my group with Fantasy Grounds I bought the GM license and four player license. Over time two of my players bought GM licenses so they can host games of their own.

The big difference you will find running games with VTT software is the prep. With VTT you will have to have more maps and images then you normally do as most VTT drawing tools stink. If you like miniatures you can download for free or buy tokens. Some are circular or square medallions with a pictures with other a top down view of the character/monster. The best is Devin's Token Site.

Many VTTs have prepackage modules and rulesets for favorite RPGs. Fantasy Grounds list can be seen here.

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It's worth noting that Fantasy Grounds really, really doesn't like alt-tabbing. Also, some people find the "virtual dice" obnoxious. –  Burrito Al Pastor Oct 12 '10 at 0:14
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I run it windowed mode. Then using multi-monitors and alt tabbing works just fine. –  RS Conley Oct 12 '10 at 3:47

In a pinch, the drawing feature of Google Docs works wonderfully for simple map duties. You can import an existing map or (crudely) draw a new one, make icons or import portrait images for use as miniatures, and give live view or edit access to a whole horde of players. And the best part is that nobody has to download any new software.

Obviously, you'd have to use something else for communication and any dice-rolling you might need. My preference is Skype and the Catch Your Hare diceroller.

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My table uses MapTool to share the physical state of the game. I love it because I can have five or ten maps ready in advance and dial up the right one for the evening. TokenTool is a perfect companion piece of software, letting you cut-and-paste high-visibility icons from sprites and pixel art websites. (Most of the tokens I've seen look like roiling masses of blurry color - unless you're zoomed way in, you can't get a real sense of what they represent)

I use MasterPlan to keep track of plot threads, initiative, and hit points. Until they removed Compendium support, version 8.8 could pull monsters from the DDI compendium, allowing me to prepare five or ten combats in advance, and pick the right one for the right plot thread. It also checks XP budgets and rates the encounters so I know which ones are easy and hard.

We use Skype for recording and allowing remote players to interact with us, but there are a bunch of solutions.

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There is a pretty swank Google+ Hangout plugin called Tabletop Forge that's in development and currently has a funded Kickstarter to help expand its features boost development.

The following is the Features List taken from their site:

General

  • UI flexibility. Most of the widgets in the application are both resizable and movable so you can layout things as you like them on your monitor.
  • Resizable and movable video canvas. This lets you see whoever is actively speaking and you can place it wherever you want and resize it.
  • Windows can be minimized to bottom of screen or the title bar can be double-clicked to collapse the window.
  • Theming support. A dropdown menu of various themes to change the color and style layout of the text and widgets.

Chat

  • Integrated chat system that supports regular text chat, whispering, emotes, and slash commands for rolling dice or recalling a dice maco.
  • Allows use of aliases for character or NPC names with hover events to show Google+ name.

Dice

  • Built-in support for d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20, and d100 with graphical dice icons for easy reading. Also supports any integer number as a die face so d7, d14, etc. are all possible.
  • Die parser that handles multiple die types in one line, +/- modifiers, and Fudge dice.
  • Dice macros that can be saved and tagged with a description for easy re-rolling.
  • Supports dice tagging like [war] or [doom] to break out dice. Also can add an overall description by preceding roll with a colon.
  • Supports dragging and dropping the results to re-arrange and also a right-click menu option to sort ascending or descending (or back to roll order).
  • Supports double-clicking dice to remove or add them to the calculated total. Menu options also available for removing all dice/adding all dice to the total.
  • Support for dice pool systems with a target number (WoD, Shadowrun, etc.), exploding dice (aka open-ended dice), HackMaster penetrating dice and more!.

Custom Tables

  • Ability to add custom tables you can “roll” against to produce a value on that table. Great for tarot decks, treasure tables, etc.
  • Description field for further information when you hover over the result “roll”. You can include HTML img tags here to show an image as well.
  • Unique tables that support removing a value from possible re-rolls until the table is reset. For simulating card draws and other one time use “rolls”.
  • Public tables so other players can roll off of your table you create (but not edit).
  • Built-in table for a regular card deck with jokers.

Battle map

  • Can load background images and tile/enforce aspect ratio as well as resize and position.
  • Can add tokens including a default that is the image of your Google+ image. Able to resize, move, rotate and lock tokens, options available from a right-click menu. Locking tokens lets you use larger “tiles” as tokens to be able to build maps on the fly.
  • Tokens and maps can be copied for fast replication.
  • Resizable grid overlay that includes adjusting the width of the grid lines, color of the grid lines, and opacity of the grid.
  • Support for both square and hex grids. Tokens snap to grid (square and hex) when turned on.
  • Drawing tools to let you free draw and includes adjusting the width and color of pen as well as undo and redo of strokes.
  • Map pointer that shows your name when you alt+left-click and drag an arrow. Useful for highlighting targets or points of interest.
  • Local files can be used for map images and token images (only for browsers that support XSS file upload, Chrome/Firefox).
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they didn't launch, and merged with roll20. kickstarter.com/projects/joshuha/… –  antony.trupe Nov 19 '13 at 21:26

For those who don't use maps in combat, Skype or Ventrillo and a shared die-roller is a viable option.

Skype has both audio and text chat; having run games via skype, the combination is excellent. Further, if you have a handout or graphic, you can share your screen and/or upload to the players the file. The drawback is that, unless you pay, conferencing is limited to 4 lines total; GM+3 connections. (I have run my FTF group from a remote site on a couple occasions; they shared one location, I was at another.)

Both major free boardgame-by-net-play VTT's have modules for roleplaying as well. Those would be Vassal and Cyberboard. Both include text-chat and die-rolling as standard features. VOIP is still needed if one wants voice play.

Several shared result die rollers exist.

  • http://www.catchyourhare.com/diceroller/ is a virtual tabletop limited to JUST dice. Everyone using the same code sees all the dice on the table. It shows the rolls on colored dice, which can be moved around the die-space. (I've used it for Burning Wheel via Skype games.) Everyone sees each other's dice, and because you can move and sort, it's great for games with "count successes" dice pool systems. Also supports mixed types of dice rolls, as well as dF. No open ending. 7 standard colors plus RGB option for more.
    Due to the visible dice, it's great for games with people you haven't come to trust.
  • http://www.metstuebchen.de/cgi-bin/DIESERVER/roll.pl uses a shared code to track history of rolls. It doesn't provide realtime sharing, but once someone rolls, others can check that roll. good for "trust-but verify" approach.
  • use Vassal or Cyberboard as shared die rollers. both are free and also provide text chat.
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I just wanted to add that I am using the free version of Skype and we regularly have 5 people and have had up to 7 on the same conference call so I don't think those limits are in place any more. Skype for Windows allows 25 connections on a Conference Call –  Jagged Oct 14 '10 at 13:20

I use Skype for talking and MapTools for everything else. Map tools is absolutely marvellous and free. It has all the features offered by the others and more besides. Its vision and light tools are particularly good.

Its also very easy to use. My son (10 yrs) saw me using it and immediately wanted to play. A short time later I was subjected to his first home made dungeon. Which puts my first attempt (back in 1978) to very great shame!

[Edit] I would also add that we play across the country (the UK) and across the pond and while there may be a short delay in loading maps for those in rural areas the client/server aspect has worked well so far.

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I haven't tried any new virtual tabletop clients in a few years now, but I swear by Gametable. It has a reasonably intuitive UI, negligible system requirements, it's free and platform-agnostic, it's well-supported and updated, it's trivially easy to create content for (Somebody mentioned buying minis? Why on earth would you spend money on them? I've got a couple hundred I can send your way, if you really need 'em.), and they've added some very nice features since I last used it.

The two most important things about it, in my experience:

1) You can associate data with the minis ("pogs") - you can set a name (all names will be displayed when you hold shift, or you can mouseover an individual pog) and you can also set specific, user-defined attributes (with discrete "name" and "value" fields, great for keeping easy public records of initiative, healing surges, HP, status conditions, etc.)

2) On-the-fly mapping. You can import maps as underlays if you so please (although they'll have to be properly scaled - gametable uses a fixed scale of 64 pixels width for its squares/hexes) or you can draw maps on-the-fly with an adequate array of drawing tools (lines, rectangles, circles, freehand pen), all of which snap to corners and centers of squares/hexes (hold shift to disable snap). It supports multiple colors, and you can erase by color only. Gametable is the ONLY virtual tabletop I know of which allows ad-hoc mapping like this - EVERY other virtual tabletop that I've ever seen forced you to import externally generated maps, which meant that you were boned if an encounter came up you weren't prepared for.

I cannot recommend Gametable enough. Give it a try, it's not like you'll have to pay anything.

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I've recently come to use Gametable, too. The feature set, in my opinion, is pretty small, and that's a big plus. There isn't much to learn, and it's the most like using a tabletop mat that I've seen. I don't feel like I need to do a lot of prep work, I just draw the things I need as I need them, with the "pen." –  rjbs Mar 7 '11 at 13:27

Seeing the updates you've made to your question I would definitely recommend MapTool and Skype. Reading in the MapTool forums I know that many people use the software with a mixture of people present and remote so that won't be a problem.

MapTools has a massive feature list which can be daunting at first. I recommend people start using it just as a whiteboard and adding features as you get comfortable. Learn how to draw maps on the fly. Learn the dice rolling macros. Then you will soon be off using the flashy frameworks other users have created for D&D4 and other systems. I use Hero System myself.

If you run a server behind a router you may have to setup port forwarding but thats not as scary as it sounds and if you are a webmaster there's a good chance you know how to do that anyway. They have an active Forum if you need any help. Look for me ;)

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Server, router, firewall.... Piece of Elven cake. I have access to a triple redundancy system, 3 ISP connections, 3 backups, 3 power supplies. Dynamic router swapping, load balancing and I write my own code. It is fun being me. –  Acedrummer_CLB Oct 15 '10 at 19:29

www.PBPMap.com will if you PM than create a persistent web hosted map. Or you can download the source code and host it yourself. There's a demo map on the site.

Beware it's only for play by post style games but that it does very well as it was designed for that and is web hosted 24/7, so no software downloads :)

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d20pro is one - it also includes support for various d20 mechanics.

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Interesting, It has many of the features I am looking for. –  Acedrummer_CLB Oct 13 '10 at 13:56

You can use Dabbleboard as a shared whiteboard to help communicate the visual component of your game.

I really like:

  • The no-account-required aspect of Dabbleboard and frequently use it to sketch out maps for my games, even though my games are not online.
  • The "automatic" drawing. Approximate a rectangle and you get a rectangle, not a mushy box-thing.
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Very interesting for another project I am doing, but it is a too free form for my game group. They wouldn't be able to focus and would 'play around' too much. They need a little structure to stay on task –  Acedrummer_CLB Oct 13 '10 at 18:26
    
This could work very well for Cooperative world building using Dawn of Worlds clanwebsite.org/games/rpg/Dawn_of_Worlds_game_1_0Final.pdf –  Acedrummer_CLB Oct 14 '10 at 16:00

I submit for your consideration http://infrno.net

Infrno is an online community for role playing enthusiasts, providing a virtual game table with video conferencing and shared whiteboard, along with all the tools you need to find players of your caliber, connect with them, and get your game on from any place, at any time.

Think Facebook for the table-top rpg crowd, minus Farmville, plus a virtual table-top.

Full discloser: It's my handiwork. You can hit me up with questions/comments/bugs/etc.

If you'd like to try it out, check out InfrnoCon 2, our second virtual gaming convention. http://infrno.net/events/5-InfrnoCon-2

Come kill some zombies!

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