I’m sure folks are pretty sick of my going on about this, but I realized I didn’t have a long form explanation as to why I’m so excited about the partnership between Wizards of the Coast and SmiteWorks.
I’ve owned Fantasy Grounds for many years, and it was many years before I was actually able to use it. What sold me on FG over other virtual tabletop apps was that you could write your own modules within FG and benefit from having everything you need for the adventure right there in that app. All story elements, all notes, all NPCs and maps were just a drag and drop away. Being a vtable meant that a lot of the mechanics were handled by the application itself, which means that you don’t need to hunt for info about how much damage a sword does; you just press a button and the damage is taken care of.
While FG was good for home-brew modules, what it couldn’t provide was a sanctioned core materials. This put the onus of translating something like “Keep on the Borderlands” entirely on you. You’d need to copy over each and every stat block by hand (or if you’re technically inclined, use one of the parsers that were written by hyper-intelligent FG users to scrap the D&D Insider website or PDF). Some companies, such as Paizo and Chaosium licensed products/names like Pathfinder or Call of Cthulhu which included core rules, tables, and other awesome stuff, but Wizards has always been conspicuously absent. WotC didn’t license 4E, which I suspect had a lot to do with whatever experience they had with 3.5, and a possibly bad experience with their early attempts to get into the digital space with 4E (PDF piracy, a failed virtual tabletop of their own, etc).
That’s why I’m so excited about seeing WotC jumping back into digital with D&D, and for choosing FG as their first partner*. It makes a lot of sense, since FG has dozens upon dozens of systems and adventure modules available through their store or through third party sites like Drive Thru RPG. FG is a complete system — tabletop, adventure modules, reference system, character manager, and game-play aide. The only think FG doesn’t do** is provide voice chat, so while it’s not a complete solution for bringing together disparate players, it at least brings everyone 4/5 of the way there.
* There was that initial partnership with a company that was making a tabletop companion app for tablets that suddenly went belly-up. The rumor that I heard was that those developers wanted to make the app a supplement to live games, while WotC wanted an entirely on-line tool that allowed people to play remotely. If that’s true, it’s a marked change from the 4E days when WotC tried to make their own vtable, failed, and allowed it to flounder in limbo until they announced that it was dead. In this case, it sounds like they wanted something, didn’t find it with their current partner, and opted to seek out one that was already aligned with what they wanted to accomplish.
** Fantasy Grounds is currently in the midst of a re-write. While I think the current application is 100% spiffy, it’s current incarnation more or less stretches back several years. FG developers have mentioned that they’re re-building the app from the ground up using Unity, so hopefully they’ll consider integrating at least voice chat, if not voice and video.