Friday, June 7, 2013

Review of FG Con

Last weekend, I got to attend my second online game convention, FGCon (Fantasy Grounds Con) and had an amazing time! As I write this I’m trying hard not to compare it to AetherCon (my 1st online con) but rather to let it stand on its own. [Read my review of AetherCon here] I should note, that while the con (FGCon) and the software (Fantasy Grounds) share a name, the convention was run by fans of the software rather than the software company (SmiteWorks) itself.

There were 24 events offered all using SmiteWorks’ virtual table top (VTT) system: Fantasy Grounds. Fantasy Grounds gives each player a virtual space that includes their chat window, their character sheet and any shared documents (maps, visuals, etc) from the GM. What’s especially nice is that the character sheet is interactive. So, if you need to roll a particular skill check, you can often do this simply by double clicking the skill. If you are into trying new games (like I am) this makes picking up a new system super simple. In one of the games I played, the sheet even had check boxes for the type of damage you took. These check boxes automatically recalculated all of your rolls and stats (in this system a bad hit would stun you for a round, the effect being every action that round was at one die less).

I found the software to be fairly intuitive. This certainly made up for the fact that I skipped over the more than ample resources for learning how to use the software before the con (shame on me). In all three of my events, the GMs and other players were quite helpful as well. You need a fairly large monitor (I have two older monitors and spread the tabletop it across 1.5 of them). Unfortunately, one cannot resize the windows within the FG tabletop area. So, for example you couldn't make the map smaller, or increase the size of the combat tracker list if it was a large battle (instead you had to scroll up and down the list). A minor issue and by no means a show stopper (it was easy enough to minimize windows or slide them mostly off the edge of the tabletop until needed).

The convention had its own home page separate from the main Fantasy Grounds page Each event was scheduled in UTC time, there was a clickable master list, and that list led to an individual page for each event. The individual page included lots of information for the event as well as a registration button and a comments section.

The organizers of FGCon had hoped to allow users to automatically convert UTC to their local timezone but were unable to do so. Unlike so many other organizations and companies, they immediately admitted to the issue, apologized for it, and put out a spreadsheet of the events with the major timezones listed making it easy to cross reference and convert. It was so nice to see a problem turned around and handled so well, bravo!

Almost all of the events filled up prior to the convention start and even some of those with insufficient players as the weekend began found enough players to game. The official count is out and 21 of the 24 events happened with over 80 players. SmiteWorks, charges for Fantasy Grounds licenses, a small amount for a player only license, more for a GM license but also offers an Unlimited license which while more expensive than the other two which allows players to join a game for free. Originally, the event list included Full licensed games (which would have required a player license for the players) and Unlimited (free) events. In the week before the event, SmiteWorks was kind enough to upgrade all of the Full GMs to Unlimited for the weekend, so that all players could join the event for free (a very nice touch on their part and I suspect the reason the Con was all but sold out!)

My first event (Friday) was a Call of Cthulhu event set in Ancient Rome. The game was played over text chat rather than voice and I have to say that takes something out of a role playing game. Sitting and waiting to read what each other player wrote dragged out a bit and typing isn't as fun as speaking in character. The event ended up playing out more as a dungeon crawl with CoC rules than a horror event and had a twist at the end that sadly fell a bit flat. We had a nice diverse group with gamers from Canada, Australia, the UK and the US.

Fantasy Dice RPG
Buy Fantasy Dice
The second game (Saturday afternoon) used a newer RPG system, Fantasy Dice. The GM is also the game designer which was great. There were even videos provided before hand on how the game system worked (I watched only half of one before start time, again, shame on me). The system has a quick, brutal and realistic combat system. For this event, there were three players, two orcs and dwarf who quickly got over their racial differences to try to escape from the caverns they were lost in. We quickly got overwhelmed in our first fight and barely escaped alive from a swarm of ceiling climbing cave lizards (again, combat is realistic and brutal, you get bit on the head and unlike D&D you’re going down . . . just like my orc did). We ran from a crab-like monster that crawled out of a crevasse, overcame a couple of puzzles and traps and finally faced off and defeated a giant warrior skeleton to escape. All told it was great fun. That game saw the GM and one other player in the UK (GM was originally from Norway) and the other two of us from the east coast of the US.

My final game of the weekend on Sunday (late afternoon) was a system called One Ring. For those who are unfamiliar, the system is for role playing in Middle Earth and the world of Lord of the Rings. Our group had seven members. Seven players are a bit too many for an online event, but more about that later. We arrived in a town on the edge of the Mirkwood where some Orcs had just raided and made off with a number of the children. We gave chase, encountered and defeated a rear guard, found out they were in league with some giant spiders, tracked them to the spiders’ lair and rescued the children. We had an excellent GM and a great batch of players, heck, our Hobbit player even sounded like Martin Freeman (and certainly captured the role of the reluctant Hobbit hero brilliantly)! In the end, while the system is fine, I don’t think it is one for me. If you are a big Tolkien fan though you should definitely check it out. There were four of us from the US, three from the UK, and one from New Zealand.

As seems to be the case with online cons, you are at the mercy of when the GM is awake in his or her home country. Unlike an offline gaming convention the events aren't organized into neat time slots and tend to be of varying lengths and random start and end times. It makes it a bit trickier to put together a packed weekend but then again, easier to also get some real world stuff done in between the gaming.

One final generic online con thought. I found with both AetherCon and FGCon there is a limit to the number of players in a game on a voice chat line. Unlike an in person game where you can easily have side bars with other players or characters while the focus is off your character, in an online cone when you’re all sharing the same conference bridge it is really only one person speaking at a time. Therefore, I think the sweet spot is 3-5 players + a GM.

I was quite pleased with FGCon, impressed with the Fantasy Ground VTT software and thrilled to hear that these guys are already hard at work on FGCon 3! I’ll be back next time for sure!

Be sure to check out our full calendar of Online Gaming Cons!

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  1. only just found this review of FG Con 2. we are running FG Con 4 in 2 weeks time and have 44 sessions scheduled, over 240 player spots, and 10 rulesets at this time. Fantasy Grounds itself has gone thru some hefty upgrades in the meantime. Im pretty sure I might have been in that Call of Cthulhu session... it was running from about 1am for me.... :) check us out again if you have time:

  2. Sorry I missed #3 but I'll be back this year for #4. Can't wait!

  3. Hey Jason,

    Just over 1 week to go!

    47 sessions set to run now. We have had a Rolemaster and 2 Numenera sessions added in the last 24hrs. Still space available in many sessions.

    Completely free to play, can use free/demo license and no Con fees.

    20 Pathfinder sessions
    8 Savage Worlds sessions
    Castles & Crusades
    Extinction Event Alpha
    Basic Role Playing
    D&D 3.5
    Star Wars
    Champions (Playtest)
    Rolemaster Classic

  4. For anyone interested in buying Fantasy Grounds - it launched on Steam this week and is 25% off - and lots of rulesets are also 25% off.
    Sale has only 16hours to go!