Virtual Tabeltops

As many of you will already know virtual tabletops, or VTs to those in the know, are software programs that allow you and your group to play over the Internet. There is a wide choice. Some, like Fantasy Grounds II, are of very high quality and require you to buy a license. Others are open source like Map Tool. Different VTs have different focus and so may be suitable for different games. For example, Battlegrounds focuses on maps and combat with miniatures. Some VTs are rule agnostic, while others, such as FGII, allow users to write their own rules with custom character sheets and much more. The GM typically hosts the game and is able to share story text, pictures, maps and items with the players as the game unfolds.

It has been the primary way for me to game for the last few years as my fellow roleplayers mostly live too far away to meet in the flesh. VTs can never quite match the fellowship of gathering around a table, but apart from providing a teleportation portal, allowing you to ignore geographical separation, it also has a few other advantages. As stated the most obvious is eliminating travelling times and allowing you to play from your own home. Something which really helps those with families or limited time. It also often makes it much easier for some people to actually roleplay. Players who might be too shy or embarrassed to put on accents and act in a face-to-face group often find it much easier to get into character when playing through a VT.

Fantasy Grounds II

VTs can also make sharing props much easier, especially when this is an inbuilt feature of the VT. You can share maps and images of places, objects and people that everyone can see in vivid colours on their screens without having to pass a piece of poorly printed paper around the table. Speaking of maps there are several VTs which make moving miniatures around on a map a fun experience. Some have features such as fog of war and targeting, and there is an extensive range of both tokens and maps available online for use with any VT as well as software to make your own. Two very good places to visit are Pro Fantasy and Dundjinni.

Combat tracking is another feature that some VTs handle well which can make battles easier to manage. In fact many times I’ve come across groups who use VTs even in face-to-face games just to track combat, and even as a battle mat when they have a table-top PC. Even interactive character sheets can help improve your game. Skill rolls can be done by double clicking the skill, and things on the character sheet can be linked and calculations done automatically. Some VTs have even more features that make playing online a pleasure, and you can find much more about those by looking up some of the VTs available.


VTs will not replace the joy of sitting around the living room table, rolling the dice and poking your fellow players in the belly, but when you can’t get together they are there to keep your campaign going.

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4 comments to Virtual Tabeltops

  • I have been looking for a good VT. I am planning on running a campaign of Paranoia I started when I was visiting my home town. Everyone enjoyed it so much they wanted to continue but with me 3000km away its rather difficult. I was looking into using Google Wave cause it seems pretty cool (and free). I was wondering what you use for your long distance campaigns.

    • Tarostar

      I use Fantasy Grounds II . You need need to buy licenses, but I think it is worth it for all the features it has. Go look at their website and you see plenty of screenshots, videos, tutorials and an active forum. Google Wave is dead so that is no longer an option. Some of the guys I play with in FGII also use google docs. I’ve never tried it, but they say it allows you to do some pretty decent collaborative story telling. Obviously you will need to find an online dice roller or simply trust each other to report dice rolls honestly and you will not have interactive maps, combat tracking or online character sheets.

  • higgins

    You’re right on with the benefits of online play, but who needs complicated software that’s probably not even crossplatform? On top of many of them having licence fees, they only add to the requirements that the player needs to meet before being able to join in. In short, I’ve been gaming over MSN for over six years now, but any IM that you share with your players will do. Instead of top-view combat maps, you can share the portraits of your NPCs via regular file transfer =)

    • Tarostar

      Certainly you can play online without any complicated software. You can use google docs, MSN or even a forum or just e-mail if your are patient enough. If that brings out the fun for you and your players then that is all you need. What virtual tabletops do is, as is suggested by the name, give you an experience closer to playing at a table with your friends. It does of course mean that you will need to agree with your friends about what software you can all afford and run, and you must all be prepared to learn how to use it.

      PS! Also, if you enjoy playing out conflicts on maps you pretty much need a virtual tabletop or something which allows you to share a map with miniatures.

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