A couple of years ago I purchased Fantasy Grounds Classic (formerly just Fantasy Grounds before the release of Fantasy Grounds Unity) on a summer Steam sale. I purchased the standard license with the ambition of recruiting some old gaming friends to join me in playing Dungeons and Dragons on this Virtual Tabletop (VTT) platform. That didn’t go as planned, but let me start with an overview of the software.
There are currently two versions of Fantasy Grounds released by SmiteWorks. The first now being rebranded as Fantasy Grounds Classic. It is the original version of the software with over a decade of development behind it’s belt. It is very stable and has licenses deals with over a dozen RPG systems, including Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.
There are 3 license ownership tiers for purchase from SmiteWorks; free, standard, and ultimate.
- With a free license you can connect as a player to anyone with a standard (with limits) or ultimate license. You cannot host a session as a DM/GM.
- With a standard license as a DM/GM you can can host 1 free licensed player but you cannot host any other player despite their license type. Or, you can host as many players as you wish with a standard license. As a player you can connect to anyone hosting as a DM/GM as long as they have a standard license.
- With an ultimate license you can host as many free/standard license holders as you wish as a DM/GM. There is no limitation as a player as well when connecting to a standard or ultimate license hosted session.
The second and newer version of the VTT software is called Fantasy Grounds Unity. It contains the same game licensing deals as Fantasy Grounds Classic as well as the tiered ownership licensing features listed previously. Fantasy Grounds Unity is currently in “early access” funded by a robust Kickstarter campaign in 2019. The goal was to improve upon current features, introduce a “line of site” fog of war mechanic, ambient lighting/effects, and cloud hosted servers. For SmiteWorks, Fantasy Grounds Unity is the logical step forward for their software line in order to keep their aging platform competitive against newcomers such as Roll20 and Astral TableTop.
To date I have not used the Fantasy Grounds Unity software as I am waiting for the official full release. Initially there were a ton of bugs with Fantasy Grounds Unity in early access but that was the point. If you purchased the software at a current discount you were buying it with the understanding that your were essentially a test user that helped with the development process. (It wasn’t called “beta testing” because there was a price point.)
With the purchase of either Fantasy Grounds Classic or Unity you get all the tabletop tools you need but only receive System Reference Documents (SRD) for Dungeons and Dragons 5e (or any other system that has an open SRD in Fantasy Grounds). In order to have access to rules in the game such as the Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, a campaign book, etc. you MUST purchase the electronic supplements through SmiteWorks (or Steam if you enable account link). Owning the material in physical hardcover or digitally on DnD Beyond will not enable access in Fantasy Grounds. Purchased material in Fantasy Grounds is shareable among those at the hosted table, so only one person needs a copy. Smiteworks does not set the MSRP of the digital supplements that are available for purchase, the license holders do. Also, ownership of any material IS transferable between Fantasy Grounds Classic and Unity.
This does not stop you, however, from using Fantasy Grounds as a VTT in order to host a session to utilize the free SRD, player sheets, and dice tools available in the software to host a game as well as use theater of the mind, homebrew, or recreated/imported content into your sessions. Technically all officially licensed Wizards of the Coast content is optional if you just want to use the bare bones software as a supplemental tool to your games/campaigns.
I could probably write a few more paragraphs on the software but feel I will get too long winded (I probably already am). I recommend checking out the Fantasy Ground forums to help fill in the gaps or join the Fantasy Grounds Discord server to ask the community any question you have.
My next “Fantasy Grounds: Leveling Up” article will feature my initial experience, disappointments, and eureka moment that has at my computer playing on Fanatsy Grounds 2-3 times a week.