A comparison of popular VTTs as of today

vtt

#1

TL;DR part first. These are facts and are not my opinions.


Roll20

  • Pros
    • Free and great for simple systems. You can start playing right now.
    • Most popular. Easiest to find games if you want to play with random people.
    • Easy to learn and use for both DMs and players.
    • Works on a browser - low barrier of entry for everyone. Normally doesn’t require a beefy system but if you go overboard with tokens and maps, it can slow down.
  • Cons
    • Free tier has very limited storage space for images, tokens etc.
    • You don’t own what you create. You can’t export, back up or reuse your creations.
    • Running complex game systems is a pain (not a problem for ICRPG).
    • Offers a limited number of DLCs but if you want to play D&D 5E, there is some content.
    • Limited or no automation (not really a problem for ICRPG but if you also want to play 5E for example, it hurts).
    • Customization is limited and a pain and requires the most expensive subscription, which is a really bad investment. Don’t do that. Mid tier subscription enables dynamic lighting and is cheaper but even that is questionable.
    • It is a stagnating platform.

Astral Tabletop

  • Pros
    • Free and great for simple systems. You can start playing right now.
    • Backed by and promoted by Onebookshelf, the entitty behind drivethrurpg.com and its sister sites (like dmsguild.com) so it will grow a lot in the coming years. I expect it will surpass Roll20 in not so distant future.
    • Works on a browser like Roll20. Unlike Roll20, Astral is built on WebGL and therefore has support for better graphics, effects and animations.
    • Its free tier has better perks than Rol20’s.
  • Cons
    • Relatively new and needs more features when compared to Roll20. Not really a problem for ICRPG though.
    • You don’t own what you create. You can’t export, back up or reuse your creations.
    • Limited automation (not really a problem for ICRPG but if you also want to play 5E for example, it hurts).
    • No DLCs at all.
    • WebGL requires more system resources and therefore a better computer. The game becomes sluggish from time to time.
    • Subscribing is madness with those prices. Seriously, don’t ever do that.

Tabletop Simulator

  • Pros
    • Not free yet amazing value (they do frequent sales at 50% - in fact there is a sale going on this weekend) for what you get.
    • In addition to RPGs, you can play any boardgame you want.
    • Unlimited storage for images, tokens and everything else. You can use 3rd party image providers like imgur so you don’t even have to keep them on your computer.
    • You can back up, export and share anything and everything.
    • What you create belongs to you, forever.
    • Has the best free support for any kind of content, but especially for board games. Has lot of 3D maps, 3D tokens and various assets for RPGs on Steam Workshop, all of them are free.
    • If you need 3D maps and 3D tokens for your immersion, it is the only game in town.
  • Cons
    • Being 3D, people find it difficult to use. Some people outright reject it for this reason alone.
    • The most resource intensive platform. You need a non-garbage computer for this. The exact requirements depend on the mods you want to play - the more images etc it has, the harder it is on your computer.
    • It is mainly designed for board games, so its RPG support is very limited (not a problem for ICRPG). Existing automations are mainly for board games. You can create your own automations for complex systems of course but that is prohibitively hard.
    • Creating 3D environments takes way longer than slapping a few 2D map parts together though you can easily use 2D maps as well but why then would you use TTS if you don’t want 3D?

Fantasy Grounds

  • Pros
    • Has the most features and superb automation for many game systems if you want to play them (great for more complex systems).
    • Unlimited storage (your computer) for images, tokens, and everything else.
    • What you buy and create belongs to you. You can back up, export and share anything you want.
    • Has the best customization capabilities.
    • Has the best ecosystem and industry support. Has DLCs for every popular (and some not so popular) game system like D&D 5E, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds. Has many extensions (free or paid) that modify the program to enable more features.
    • You don’t have to spend a dime on DLCs if you don’t want to, provided you have the time and the will to enter everything yourself by hand.
    • It is a better value when compared to other platforms’ subscription options except of course Tabletop Simulator, which doesn’t have one.
  • Cons
    • Not free and not cheap. Though only the DM buys the ultimate version and everybody else can connect to him without paying anything. Otherwise everyone has to buy a standard license for themselves.
    • Hard to learn and use. For DMs, it is way harder.
    • Since it is a program running on a computer, people have to connect to the DM’s machine. Connection problems can occur.
    • If you want to go to DLC route to run ready made adventures etc it can get very expensive. Basically a DLC is there to save you time.
    • A new and better version of the software is going to be released in a couple months. You might want to wait for that.

As you can see, each platform has many pros and cons.

Here comes the opinion part. I tried all of these platforms and chose to go with Fantasy Grounds in the end. It is simply the best platform. In addition to ICRPG, I will play D&D and Pathfinder and all that automation will be awesome, though I would still buy Fantasy Grounds even if I were only to play ICRPG. It is that good. I simply refuse to play anything more complex than ICRPG as a DM without any automation so we don’t lose countless hours in a simple encounter. I like owning my content too. I will save them and maybe some day even sell them.

I also have Tabletop Simulator but it is for boardgames only unfortunately due to some people’s objections in my group.

Here are some hopefully helpful guidance for you to decide:

If you

  • are a paid subscriber to Roll20 or Astral, I seriously suggest that you consider switching to FG. Subscription is a losing proposition and an expensive one at that.
  • are using Roll20 for free and happy with it, keep going. There is no need to switch. Checking out Astral Tabletop occasionally is a good idea. You might want to switch to it sometime.
  • find storage space of Roll20 limiting, jump to Astral right now.
  • want to truly own your stuff, hop on to TTS or FG.
  • would like to play boardgames in addition to ICRPG, hop on to TTS. You can continue using whatever you are using right now as well.
  • find web based platforms limiting, hop on to FG.
  • want to play complex systems in addition to ICRPG, hop on to FG.

Fantasy Grounds and Tabletop Simulator are on sale at 50% on Steam this weekend. If you want to get on the Fantasy Ground train keep in mind that a new version of the program will come out in a couple of months, you may want to wait for that. You’ll get a discount for the new program (it will be sold separately). If you are not in a hurry, wait for a couple of months for the new program to be released.

Tabletop Simulator is a superb investment if you are into board games.

If you have any pros/cons I forgot to include for any of the platforms mentioned above, feel free to chime in.

This is all of my research before I jumped on FG and I wanted to share it with the Shield Wall in case somebody is on the lookout for a platform to play on.

Happy gaming, no matter which platform!


RPtools - maptool
#2

Thank you Soooo much for this. This is really a great article. totally something I have been looking at big time.

Just an FYI. FG is updating sometime this year. New system will be backwards compatible but old system will not read new system files type upgrade.

That is it’s biggest Con to FG in my opinion to shelling out that amount of money right now, but it being 50% off is having me think about it right now.


#3

What is your definition of Automation relating to these platforms? For example Roll20 does offer automation for a lot of stuff with Macros. One click rolls with extensive optional customization etc.

I am pretty happy with Roll20, especially for ICRPG. But Fantasy Grounds does look cool.

Helpful piece, thanks for sharing.


#4

@Paxx
Glad you found the post useful. I’ve done all that research and didn’t want it to go to waste. As for the new version of FG coming out, I wrote it in my post at the bottom.

If anyone wants to buy FG during this sale, which is 50%, you will get 40% off from the new version of FG. I’m talking about the Ultimate version by the way. This way, there is not much wasted money and you’ll get 2 pieces of software for the price of one. Whether this is useful is debatable but at least you can start using FG right now.

@Wildstar
Automation is the full calculation of each and every effect of each and every spell, item, attack etc. For example, when you cast Fireball (D&D 5E) in FG, you select your targets and cast the spell. FG rolls your damage and rolls all of the saves for the affected creatures with taking into account their conditions, resistances, buffs, debuffs and then deducts the proper amount of HP from each. The DM doesn’t have to do anything. This is only one example.

Dice macros are, well, macros. They are very useful but they are not automation. FG has dice macros too of course.


#5

If I am playing RoleMaster with a crit table that can go on for weeks…and FG has the game system…it will simulate the crit tables automagically, and quickly. So yes, for complex systems FG is a great choice hands down.

Only reason I did not get it in 2016 was it did not have Shadowrun.

What I don’t know is how easy/hard it is to add my own random loot tables and movement and TN and such to maps.

For ICRPG…it is kind of overkill, but the Unity mapmaking/LOS system has me salivating.


#6

What, where? if I can confirm…I’m pressing buy in a couple of seconds…


#7

My thoughts exactly. For complex systems FG is awesome and for ICRPG it is not really needed but can still make things go faster. I’m going to play 5E and Pathfinder too, so it is a great fit for me.

Tables are easy to do. I’m not sure about movement, it probably requires coding. Global TN definitely requires coding.

I’m really stoked about map making and LOS too. I didn’t mention them because the new version is not released yet. It will be many months before it is released. They are aiming for the end of Q1, which means late March but I wouldn’t count on it. There are still many bugs that need to be fixed. So April-May is more realistic.


#8

There you go: https://steamcommunity.com/app/252690/discussions/2/1740008431593112733/


#9

Awww Geeeees…I’ll eat and do some house work before buying this…Thanks Khan for forcing me to spend money!!! LOL!!!

(edit)
Didn’t even get out of bed…I just bought it. it’s a $30 loss when unity comes out, unless there is a sale on the upgrade…I really need to stop analysing things as much as I do…


#10

You need to stop analyzing things? It took me 4 weeks of research to come to a final decision. :sneezing_face:


#11

I was on the fence on it since November…I didn’t want to subscribe on roll 20…well you know the arguments. only reason I did not go with FG was Unity.


#12

Yeah, I had the same issues and reservations due to Unity. By the way, you’ll get the discount when FG Unity releases, so don’t worry.


#13

Yeah, for the reasons you mentioned, FG’s value improves to the extent your game is complex. I agree that ICRPG by its purpose and design doesn’t require as much.

I think that FG’s value also increases to the extent you game with the same crew over time. But if you frequently introduce new players then as you’ve mentioned Roll 20 being web based with a super low entry to get playing is the way to go imo.


#14

Well said.

You can introduce new people to FG easily because they only need to download the free version and launch it. Everything else they will do under the guidance of the DM they are connected to. Learning the necessary things should only take 15 mins or so. Granted, FG is not as easy to use as Roll20, so there’s that.


#15

This is very timely! I was just searching through the forum last night for this very information. Thank you so much for this comparison! I had been considering FG for some time now but wanted to get a feel for running a game on VTT first using Roll20. This gives me lots to consider!

:herocoin:


#16

Great Summary. I personally would love to use more FG as I am an Ultimate License holder and Backed the KS for FGU the same. Alas there are some issues that prevent me from doing so you haven’t mentioned or not as clearly.

  1. The UI does not scale. That means for me on a 2560 x 1440 everything is VERY tiny and sometimes impossible to read. There is a way to scale up the UI (/Scaleui 120 will scale it 120% for example) however this scaling makes everything blurry as it does not really increase the points value of the fonts but zooms the screen. That is because the UI looks cool but due to the graphics used being bitmap it is all tied to a very narrow band of resolutions as I understand it. If you are on a lower resolution then 2k and / or have great and young eyes that should not affect you, but it is a thing to keep in mind with screen resolution increasing continually. This will not change with the Unity upgrade as far as I know as the current community voted to leave the UI alone sadly.

  2. I am in germany and a bunch of my friends here have IPv6. FG does not support IPv6 at all and you cannot connect. This should be fixed with FGU’s “Lobby” feature though.

  3. The FOW and dynamic light is nowhere near what Roll20 does, but is getting there, especially with FGU.

If those are not important to you generally I would decide: Does FG have a proper ruleset for it? Use FG. It doesn’t? Use Roll20. The Macros in Roll20 are so much easier and quicker to learn then trying to create your own rule set with FG.

That’s why I am still using Roll20 mostly and unless FG gets the UI modernized it will sadly stay that way.


#17

All great points and I totally agree with your conclusion. If FG supports your game system, use it. If not, you can use anything else. Doesn’t really matter which one. You can even use TTS in that case. Thankfully FG has rulesets for every popular game system.

Yeah, the UI of FG leaves a lot to be desired. They decided not to touch the UI because they don’t want to upset current users with a new UI and the community doesn’t want it at this point. I agree with them because there are more important things to do before that.They may make some changes to the UI in the future but who knows. There are no guarantees, so don’t count on it.


#18

This is a very good informative post, thank you for taking the time to put this together!

Where I have not yet run a game on any of these platforms I have been a player on Roll20 and Tabletop Simulator (for Star Wars Destiny). I have also opened an account for Astral just to check it out.

Roll20: My experiences with this platform have mostly been really good. A couple things come to mind about it though. First, the video and voice chat is unreliable. Second, not all computers or tablets are able to access it for whatever reason. I tried to introduce a group to it and a couple of my players could not even get it to load up so I dropped the idea of using Roll20. As far as the storage is concerned I don’t see an issue for me at this point. Any images or tokens I use I will own so I can just load in what I need for the few games here and there that I run in the future.

Tabletop Simulator: I have not used this for an RPG yet but I can see that it would be very time consuming to setup. This platform seems to suck up a lot of resources and so I had issues with it bogging down, sometimes to the point of being unusable. Where I like the idea of TTS I think it is not a good option (at least fo me).

Astral: I setup a free account with Astral just to see if it would be a good fit for me. I found the interface/setup to be difficult to use and was not at all user-friendly. I was disappointed by this platform and will likely not return to it.


#19

Something to mention about Fantasy Grounds vs Roll20 that I haven’t seen brought up before is:

Roll20 (and Astral, from what I’ve seen) is a virtual battle map. It lets you put tokens on an image, and use chat to roll dice.

Fantasy Grounds is closer to an actual virtual tabletop. In addition to being able to put tokens on images, it is a place where you can build your entire campaign. It’s like your journal. All of the NPC stat blocks are in FG. All of the story descriptions and quests are in FG. All of the items and their cool mechanics are in FG. All of your feats, classes, backgrounds, ancestries, etc. It all goes in FG.

That lets you play almost entirely out of FG without having to reference books, hunt down rules, search up the roll tables. If you want, it’s all inside the software, just like it would be in your journal if this were a physical game.

So if that sounds cool to you, I don’t think any other VTT handles content the way FG does.

Also, shameless plug, I’m currently working on getting CORE 2E officially released to the FG store with a custom ruleset for ICRPG. So I’m a bit biased on that :slight_smile:


#20

I was in the same boat a few years ago and went with Fantasy Grounds, its been great, community is helpful, the ability to make long term campaigns or short adventures all in one spot, etc. It was nice enough that I started working for them a year or so ago doing development work on small press projects.

I am a part of the Unity Beta testing and i can say as far as development goes all new products for the foreseeable future will work with FG ‘Classic’ and the new Unity, so don’t let Unity coming out soon stop you from purchase.