Yesterday Smiteworks announced that they have licensed D&D 5e from Wizards of the Coast for the Fantasy Grounds Virtual Tabletop.
Wow, Wizards does something right software wise. Now it is is not without issues and I will get that in a moment
For those of you who don't know what the deal is with Virtual Tabletops, it is a piece of software that combines a whiteboard (drawing, displaying images), chat, voice chat, dice roller, and miscellaneous RPG utilities that works over the internet. Either one person, usually the referee, software acts like a server that everybody connects too. Or there is a central server run by a company that everybody connects too. Fantasy Grounds is an example of the former, and Roll20 is an example of the latter.
Unlike Computer Roleplaying Games like the Ultima Series, Baldur Gates, or Skyrim, unlike MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, Everquest, etc, Virtual Tabletops complements the existing industry and hobby rather than tries to supplants it. VTTs do require some specific setup namely in the fact to show anything you need a jpeg or similar image file. However aside from that the prep and rules you use are the same if you were all sitting around a physical table. Many groups switch between gaming using VTTs and gaming together without losing a beat in the campaign. Although in my circumstances with the Monday Night group, face to face is about getting together once or twice a year at a regional convention.
So back to Fantasy Grounds, I consider Fantasy Grounds to be the Cadillac of Virtual Tabletops. It is very good at what it does and allows for customization. Some are easy to do like setting a campaign, others require some technical skill similar to building a website or programming like constructing a ruleset. They have a marketplace where companies and creator can sell add-ons to Fantasy Grounds.
Fantasy Grounds has recently gone to a subscription service and $9.99 a month will get you a ultimate license that allow players to use the demo version of fantasy ground to connect to a campaign. Fantasy Grounds is available on Steam as well. And if subscriptions are not your thing then you can still purchase it outright. But it is pricey especially the ultimate version at $149.
The D&D 5e ruleset comes with the base subscription/purchase however it is just the rules. To be precise it is the character sheets, monster/npc sheets, etc. The 5e add-ons are Fantasy Grounds modules that have the actual 5e content. So rather than fill out a NPC form for a Orc, you just drag the Orc in from the module and everything is filled out. Including the ability to modify it from there. The same for classes, backgrounds, feats, etc.
The downside? While the Basic rules (Players and DM are included) are only $2.99, everything else is rather pricy. The complete classes are $50 and the complete monsters are also $50. The Phandelver adventure is $20. They did break everything up so if you are a player all you want is the ranger you can buy that for $5.
My guess is that somebody over at Wizards is still has a pole up their ass about on-line content for their current products and thus Smiteworks has to pass that cost along. But hey at least something available.
Another issue, is that Roll20 is really coming on strong. The Monday Night group used to use Fantasy Grounds but the need for everybody to have a copy of the software and the problem of getting whoever the referee is router setup right eventually led to us opting for Roll20. It not that Fantasy Grounds is bad, but rather Roll20 is more convenient.
At first the switch to Roll20 was a set back in feature. But in the three years we been using it gotten better and better. Especially with the addition of smart character sheets. There are still some things Fantasy Grounds does better but there are things the Roll20 has that FG doesn't. The most spectacular of which is dynamic lighting and true line of sight. It takes a bit of work to prep, you have to draw out the walls again, but the results are amazing.
I can't fault Wizards for going with Smiteworks and Fantasy Grounds. Looking over the Basic Rules that I bought, Roll20 could incorporate some but not all of the content. Roll20 is not quite there to handle everything that the 5e module included.
But I have no doubt it will be at some point. In which case I hope Wizards hasn't done an exclusive with Smiteworks and Roll20 is able to offer an official 5e add-on. Right now Roll20 has a very good 5e character sheet but you have to fill every thing out.
Overall will really benefit the hobby and industry. VTTs have been slowly growing as part of tabletop. I feel this will give VTTs a major jumpstart and not just Fantasy Grounds. And that this is a good thing for our hobby because it expands the ways in which people can continue gaming. Along with the fact that I mention that it doesn't supplant but supplements sitting around a table. Hell if you were that dedicated you could probably game D&D, Traveller, or whatever every night of the week through a combination of face-to-face and VTTs. You could game with people in Europe, Asia, or wherever (provided you can make your time zones work out).
A very good thing for the hobby indeed.