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Fantasy Grounds II Play Test

April 23, 2009

It’s been over a year since I first decided to organize a play test and review of Fantasy Grounds II for the Accidental Survivors Podcast – for which I am very ashamed. Hopefully the kind folks over at Smiteworks aren’t going to be too irritated with me. They were kind enough to offer the podcast licenses in order for us to do so, and to have waited so long to do it, I won’t be surprised if they;

  1. Are royally pissed and think they got taken, or
  2. Completely forgot about it.

When the actual play and review gets posted to the feed, I’ll let them know about it and see what happens.

In the mean time, I’m going to track some of my thoughts about it here.

Originally I was going to create a custom adventure in Fantasy Grounds. While tutorials are offered, I haven’t found anything by Smiteworks that gives a really close look at properly creating an adventure for a total newbie like me. There seem to be good third-party (fan created) tutorials, however, that are available through Fantasy Grounds’ online community which is tremendously well used by some raving fans.

So – what I decided to do instead is use a free adventure called “The Wizard’s Amulet”. This was an adventure made for the original release of Fantasy Grounds, which has since been “fan updated” for Fantasy Grounds 2. I found getting the adventure installed into FG2 a bit of a process. There is no simple import or load function to allow you to easily run downloaded adventures with your friends. You need to go into your file structure on your computer and manually put it in place. Not a big deal for the technically-inclined, but we’re not all like that. I got some help via Twitter from another FG2 user which was a big help.

Once past that hurdle, I found that the conversion that was done on the adventure files was poor in regards to properly linked images. You can link from your adventure story to particular images in the adventure, and I found multiple links that opened up the wrong image. I kept getting Belfin’s background story when I was trying to open the adventure’s overland map. This isn’t a problem with FG2, but it did affect our game play.

I had to manually create all of the pre-generated characters, and this pissed me off – for a couple of reasons. First, in an FG2 adventure with pre-generated characters, those characters should be included in the adventure – not just their names and backgrounds. Secondly (and this brings up my biggest beef with FG2), the character creation tool is fucking awful. It’s clunky and not the least bit intuitive. I don’t remember how long it took for me to figure out how to put a weapon into one PC’s weapon list before I figured out I had to load up the basic rules book, drag it into the combat window, and then fill out more stats for it. Entering inventory was completely opposite – it all has to be entered manually. It seems counter-productive and ill-designed compared to some of FG2’s other very powerful, very helpful abilities.

Once I finished pulling out my hair in character creation, I was essentially ready to go. Myself and three others (Fraser, Darcy and Melodie) sat down one evening to get playing. While FG2 has a built-in chat system, we found that using Skype to speak with one another was a big boon. We still used FG2’s chat for the adventure’s (poorly written) boxed text, character emotes, secret messages and die rolling (another cool feature). I found the chat pane to be a little bothersome, because some players might just want to spend their time rolling as many dice as possible at once (casting “Wall of Dice” as Darcy puts it) or entering silly messages. That’s the beauty of the GM’s “clear chat window” function.

In conjunction with the chat pane, there are Quick-Slots that run along the bottom of the program’s window that you can put nearly anything game-related into for quick access. Drag your d20 into it to have a quick way to roll your 20-sided die. Drag your attack-roll for your longsword into one to have a quick way to roll attacks (you can do this with your damage dice, too). When pressed, FG2 throws the dice for you and displays the proper text into the chat pane.

Our first session was a lot of set up and learning how to use the program’s features. FG2’s ability to allow players to place tokens on maps, move them around to help with combat, mask certain areas so players cannot see sections of a map, draw areas of effect for various spells and more is probably one of it’s greatest strengths. Second to that, in my opinion, is the combat tracker. You can enter all the personalities into the combat tracker and it will give quick access to all combatant’s vital stats (if entered correctly into the character sheets) for rolling attacks, damage and more.

While our first session was a lot of fumbling around and only one minor combat encounter, there were some skill checks made. This is easily performed by dragging your skill check modifier to a box below the chat pane marked “modifier”, using your mouse to “pick up” the requisite die, and throwing the die down on to the chat pane. The die is rolled, modified as per your skill modifier, and a line appears in the chat window showing your character name, skill used and total roll. In some situations like flanking during combat, a “sickened” effect from a ghast, and other temporary modifiers, we didn’t find an easy way to enter and track these modifiers during combat.

Ah yes – the ghast.

The second session started with a nice camping spot after about 4 days of good travel. There was some conversation as one of the PCs finally cleared the air about why he had hired the rest to come with him. As the night’s watches started, I rolled a random encounter – a ghoul and a ghast wandered into the camp from a nearby, forgotten pioneer cemetery. Melodie’s character, the elven ranger Belfin, downed the ghoul with a single longbow shot, but the ghast proved to be a challenge for the ranger, rogue and sorcerer. Thirteen rounds of combat certainly gave us an idea of how to run an encounter and use the Combat Tracker. This is where I pined for an easy way to track temporary modifiers like flanking bonuses and effect modifiers (everyone was affected by the ghast’s stench), but it also showed us how to properly use the grid function of the battlemap, how to track movement and how to have players request token movements around the board.

Several rounds into combat with the ghast

Several rounds into combat with the ghast

I don’t know why it was, but I found that my dice were rolling like maniacs. I would regularly roll 15-19 on a d20, while the others were rolling 1s, 3s and 5s an inordinate amount of time. Not just one of the players, but all of them. Fortunately, they successfully saved vs. the paralysis of a ghast bite several times.

We ended the second session with destroyed undead, badly wounded players and a more solid idea of our thoughts on the software. We’re going to have one more session to finish up and then we’ll do our review (along with the recordings of the play test sessions). Hopefully we’ll have things ready to go by the end of May.

One Comment
  1. I agree about the character sheets. It’s hilarious to fly through character creation in PCGen and then get bogged down trying to put the numbers into FG2.

    Thankfully, when I first played, D’arcy walked me through most things except dice rolling. Working from a laptop, the push and release of dice rolling forces me to use two hands while rolling dice. Thankfully the hotkeys will fix that particular problem.

    I think FG2 could be a powerful tool, but I think there’s a big learning curve. By our third session, we might have a better idea how to do what we are going to do.

    I hope.

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