Gaming Online

Howdy, Folks!

With all the worldwide disruptions going on, there are a lot of tabletop gamers finding themselves separated from their usual groups or otherwise unable to play face-to-face. Because of that there has been a big surge in gamers looking for ways to play RPGs remotely online, so they can at least have the comfort of gaming back in their routine.

Even after all the time I’ve been interested in RPGing online I’m still a neophyte compared to many, but since so many people are currently looking into remote play using Virtual Tabletops (VTTs) or other methods,¬† I’m happy to give my “not exactly a newbie but nowhere near an expert” perspective in hopes it can bring some lonely gamers a bit of relief.

There are a multitude of options out there, but I concentrate here on the ones I’ve personally used. My go-to game is GURPS, but any options mentioned here for GURPS will undoubtedly also work for D&D and many other systems. They all support hex grid maps and voice and/or video chat of varying qualities, but I still prefer using Discord for communication regardless of VTT.

Note that currently there is no official GURPS support for any VTT, beyond Steve Jackson Games’ generous allowance of fan-created gaming aids for most VTTs. However, don’t let that discourage you — some very talented GURPS fans have put their time and coding talents into making some amazingly useful aids so that you and I can continue playing the games we love!

Foundry VTT + Discord

Cost: $50 one-time fee for the GM/host. All players can connect with the free demo.
OS: Windows, MacOS, or Linux with 64-bit support

Foundry VTT is the newest entry here, but without question it has quickly become my favorite. It runs smoothly, has a modern and intuitive UI, can easily import tokens and maps, has a helpful and prolific fan and modder community, and basically just does everything I want it to do (and then some). Fan-created Modules allow for significant customization to the UI and functionality, even beyond the core program itself (similar to AddOns for World of Warcraft). In just a few months it has grown by leaps and bounds to be the top dog GURPS VTT for me.

See this post for more on playing GURPS with the Foundry VTT.

Marketplace

With the exception of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4E (Cubicle 7), Foundry VTT does not yet offer licensed materials from publishers.

Actual Plays

This group has a large number of Foundry VTT actual plays, though note that their stream setup doesn’t show the full screen of the VTT. Still, should give a good idea of the basics.

Gamingbrew

Unlike the other VTTs mentioned below, Foundry VTT actually has three fan-created game aids being actively worked on.

GURPS

Authors: @Nose66#6689 and Nick Coffin, PI#8616 on Discord | Homepage
Install JSON: https://raw.githubusercontent.com/crnormand/gurps/release/system.json

This is the one I use, as it can import from both GURPS Character Assistant (GCA) and GURPS Character Sheet (GCS), and in fact uses the familiar display of GCS (with permission). All of the numbers in yellow roll 3d6 against that number; all the numbers in tan are possible modifiers; and the blue hyperlinks can be set to open to the correct page number of the referenced PDF (assuming you own it on your hard drive, of course).

The GM can either run Foundry VTT as a standalone application or, for a small hosting fee, from a remote server. Regardless of which, players simply connect to the game with their usual web browser. The current version is completely playable as-is, but I expect even bigger and better things coming as the weeks and months roll on. Between the two of them, the authors have more than 60 years of coding experience!

GURPS4e

Author: @JamesH (UTC-4)#9963 on Discord | Homepage
Install JSON: https://gitlab.com/jbhuddleston/gurps4e/-/raw/master/system.json

This project goes for a horizontal tabbed approach to the character sheet, and is intended for both GURPS 4E and 3E. Character creation is accomplished by dragging items onto the sheet: attributes, skills, ads/disads, equipment, custom point pools, whatever.

GURPSFoundrySystem

Author: @WIGGLES#9429 on Discord | Homepage
Install JSON: https://github.com/WIGGLES-dev/GURPSFoundrySystem/releases/latest/download/system.json

This project also uses tabs to break up the character sheet, and can import from GCS (but not currently GCA). Data can also be entered directly onto the character sheet, and anything with a dice icon is rollable.

Fantasy Grounds Unity + Discord

Cost: $149 one-time fee for the GM/host, and all players can connect with the free demo; or, ongoing subscriptions starting at $9.99/month
OS: Windows, MacOS, or Linux

Fantasy Grounds Unity was my first choice before Foundry VTT was released, and it remains a rock-solid VTT. If you’ve not looked into Fantasy Grounds for some time, it may be worth a second look — the successor, Fantasy Grounds Unity, improved on many former issues (particularly being cross-platform and not requiring port forwarding). It does not run in a browser but is rather a stand-alone desktop app which the players connect directly to, and the automation available if you want it is quite deep. It supports shareable maps, tokens, character sheets, handouts, etc, though not music (which I don’t use anyway, but obviously ymmv).

They offer a few different pricing plans — Standard or Ultimate, paid monthly or as a one-time purchase — as well as a free demo client (check the “downloads” from their homepage) which can connect to any Ultimate license holder (to connect to a GM with a Standard license, you as well will need a Standard license). Though it’s $150, I find the one-time purchase an amazing value, even more so since I bought it during a Steam sale. It’s “fire and forget” — you buy it once and you’re done, and any free demo client can connect to your games. It’s very convenient, and there is also an active forum with a subforum for finding other players.

Marketplace

Fantasy Grounds has an online Marketplace with licensed products for many popular RPGs (5E, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu, Traveller, etc.) Being able to purchase a virtual copy of, say, “Waterdeep: Dragon Heist” and use the adventure’s maps directly inside the framework is incredibly convenient!

If you’re a GURPS player, this is the unofficial GURPS Ruleset. It uses vertical tabs to group common data together, and makes playing GURPS much smoother.

Actual Plays

Here are some YouTube actual plays of Fantasy Grounds being used to play GURPS.

Hell to Pay (disclaimer: I GMed this one)

Olympus RPG Group (a lot of different campaigns here, some GMed by the author of the unofficial GURPS ruleset)

 

Roll20 + Discord

Roll20 has been around a really long time, runs directly in a browser window, is free for the majority of players, and has a substantially larger user base than any other VTT. I keep an account there just in case I ever need it (because of its popularity), but with the introduction of Foundry VTT that’s looking less and less likely.¬†For me, it has “just enough” automation.

They offer a few different pricing plans, and many gamers find the free account more than enough for many years of gaming. They also have an active forum, including a subforum dedicated to looking for other players if you’re looking for more.

Marketplace

Roll20 has an online Marketplace where they sell maps, tokens, and rulesets to enhance your games. While these items are optional, they sure can save you a ton of time by providing pre-made assets (maps and monsters) or even officially licensed products for some of the most popular RPGs (5E, Pathfinder, Fate Core, Call of Cthulhu, etc).

If you do play GURPS on Roll20, you’re in luck because the unofficial Roll20 GURPS character sheet is fantastic! Also check out the Roll20 Wiki GURPS page.

Actual Plays

Here are a couple of YouTube actual plays of Roll20 being used to play GURPS.

GURPS Dark Shores

GURPS Shards of the Void

 

Discord Alone

And finally, there’s just using good old Discord by itself (or any group chat like Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, etc). Discord is very popular with gamers as a way of communicating online. It’s free, cross-platform (browser window, phone app, desktop client for Windows), and supports chat through text, audio, and video as well as allowing file transfers (to share documents and images). You can create different channels for different purposes (maybe for in-character and out-of-character communication, etc.), and define permissions of which players can see and use which channels. I use it now for everything!

For “theater of the mind” games that aren’t using tokens (basically “virtual minis”) or maps, you don’t really need a specialized Virtual Tabletop app, especially if you’re playing with friends anyway and don’t mind them rolling physical dice at home the way they would face-to-face. If you’re not, there’s a multitude of also-free Discord bots that provide dice functions. Pseudobot was custom-built for GURPS, and is a fantastic help to GURPS GMs. Sidekick is another very popular dice bot, with more of a D&D/general focus (though it can certainly roll 3d6).

This link will invite Pseudobot to your Discord server; this link will invite Sidekick.

Even when using any of the actual VTTs from above, I still use Discord for the group audio chat (and video, if we’re using that). If you and your group are looking to game online with a minimum of fuss, and you don’t use a map or tokens, just use Discord to get everyone “together” and play the way you always have.

Actual Plays

Here are some YouTube actual plays of a cyberpunk GURPS game I GMed with Zoom.

The Darknet

Other Resources

Playing RPGs online has had tremendous growth in the past few years, and there are a lot of other resources out there to help you as well. Here are just a few.

GURPS Discord (unofficial; the channels #looking-for-group and #chat-vtts-and-maps in particular)

VTT subreddit

VTT Comparison Chart from Battlegrounds RPG

Other Virtual Tabletops

Here are a few other VTTs I know of but have no or limited firsthand experience with.

Astral

Battlegrounds: RPG Edition

MapTool

Tabletop Simulator

Play-by-Post (PbP)

One type of online RPG play often forgotten (I did in the first draft of this post!) is play-by-post. It’s asynchronous, that is the GM and players don’t necessarily interact in real-time, so it’s particularly great for groups in radically different time zones. As they say themselves, “RPoL is one of the oldest play-by-post roleplaying communities on the web, providing¬†free¬†membership for anyone to host and participate in¬†any game system or communal story line.” Check it out!

Using GURPS With…

As mentioned, GURPS doesn’t currently have any official VTT licensees, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of GURPS gamers out there playing all kind of games with the tools they have. Here are some starting points for using GURPS with some of most popular Virtual Tabletops.

Fantasy Grounds

Roll20

Battlegrounds: RPG Edition

MapTool

RPoL

Tabletop Simulator

I hope a lot of gamers finding who find themselves newly stranded from their groups, or anyone else looking to branch their RPGs into the online world, will find some of this useful in getting things started. I’ll try to help with questions as best I can in the comments. Good luck and happy gaming out there!

 

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