284 Innovation in RPG Delivery and Presentation

I don’t play the systems for which the modules are prepared, but I’m curious if the for sale modules in Fantasy Grounds (and likely Roll20, etc) maybe cover some of the ground you’re looking for.


I have a couple from Roll20. It helps, but can still be tricky to navigate.

The Fantasy Grounds modules do indeed cover some of the ground you were talking about. Each of the maps DM or player maps. The DM maps are labeled the player maps are not. Anyway each of those maps have little push pins on them that if you click on the pin it pulls up the room description and encounter info. You can read the boxed text or click on the word balloon to have it auto generated in the chat window. You can click on the Encounter pin in that room description to pull up the encounter information in a separate window, and in that window you can click on a down arrow to auto generate the npcs into the combat tracker. I’ll toss up some examples for you from the Lost Mine of Phandelver.


You can take it further if you want to do a little work on your end to encode music cues so when you click on the pin it plays a specific music score, or sound effects.

You can also do some light coding to have the program monitor the output to the chat window to look for keywords so you can have sound effects for spells, sword swings, hits, crits, or just about anything you want.

I would love to see them put together a module integrating the music and sound effects already done for you.



Thanks for sharing Terry. Does this take a lot of time to set up? Sean says its tricky to navigate in Roll20 does Fantasy Grounds do a better job.

For @sean and @Fafhrd I liked this episode because you brought up a lot of my questions. I really like the comments on creativity. I once read a book called “Creativity Inc.” By Ed Catmull he is the Co-founder of Pixar animation studios. He goes into a lot of how being creative can help your business and solve problems. Don’t quote me on this but I think he speaks about having a D&D night for some of the employees and found this to help them open up with the creative thinking process. Enough of my ramblings great episode like always, keep up the good work I have to go wash my hands now because the CDC says I need too.


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@sean - Referring only to the D&D Beyond application was a bit unfair. The app is clearly underpowered (and, by your exclusion of the Website version, you clearly know this.)

The reason it’s unfair, is that the Web Site is available on your mobile devices (assuming you have internet access wherever your device is.)

For example, the website has MOUSE OVER monster statblocks in room descriptions - you don’t even have to CLICK! And the search function is to die for - when compared to searching PDFs - it searches ALL my resources.

There are many styles of prep and play, and some tools are better for this or that. Perhaps a useful outcome of the podcast would be a features-wish-list?

Speaking of wish-lists, I was hoping that you’d speculate about something other than the “low hanging fruit” like “what clicking does”. Instead thinking more about how the entire experience changes with new technologies.

For a brainstorming example - how can we leverage the fact that everyone the the “table” (together or remote) has a smart device? Could we do initiative management with that (warning that your turn is coming up, and to be prepared with your action - maybe even choosing it in advance?) What about sound effects for my Character managed by ME, the player. Etc.?

If we’re going to talk about Innovation, LETS INNOVATE! Let’s move beyond making bookmark following easier for the DM.

@Idahogamer there’s really no set up to the modules in Fantasy Grounds just buy it load and run, all the pins are already there for you. The only work you have to do is for the music and sounds effects if you want to add them, and even that is pretty easy to learn.


While I don’t think PDFs are the be all, end all of presentation technology, some of what you were discussing has been addressed by some companies in “enhanced” or “phone” PDFs in recent years.

I also think there is a lot to be said for applications tailored to a specific ruleset, versus applications that attempt to cover a wide range of rulesets with a single VTT solution.

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There’s definitely more that can be done with PDFs but it also comes down to the core functionality of the medium in question. In other words, publishers have to work with the tools PDFs can provide just like we can’t have physical book play audio files. But @JaredR is right about phone PDFs because that’s a more overall functionality upgrade in the medium.

Thinking about it… has anyone ever played a game that existed solely on a website? No books, no PDFs, no app. Just an intuitive site built for desktops, tablets, and phones.

I think that’s called a “video game” :wink:

Jokes aside, I think I don’t understand what you’re trying to reference here. An RPG with no PDFs or books? I’m interested, help me understand please?

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This is my million dollar idea, a webapp that can be used on phones or desktops that is all inclusive of rules and helps the DM run the game. I’m thinking a simple system that new players can pick up super quickly and if they have a question about their character’s skills, they can tap on them and see an explanation. I think the future of the hobby is expanding accessibility the way board games have.

If anyone wants to help me develop this, please reach out.

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@sean It’s “low hanging fruit” not “low lying fruit”. It’s the lowest hanging fruit on the tree, the easiest to pick. It is not the fruit you find on the ground around the tree.

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This might be dated but while i was listening to the episode today a lot of what @Fafhrd & @sean were talking about reminded me of Schleyscapes

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It’s “low hanging fruit” not “low lying fruit”. It’s the lowest hanging fruit on the tree, the easiest to pick. It is not the fruit you find on the ground around the tree.

Though, I bet that fruit laying on the ground is SUPER easy to pick. :wink: (admitting that you’re right)


@LaramieWall I mean a game where chapters are presented on webpages and the website combined pulls off what you need from a traditional book. In a way, if you only had D&D Beyond and learned to play without their books.

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I want PDF’s for any game or module I’m running in addition to the paper version. As to Joshua220 intuitive online game tool. They have the non-intuitive one like Fantasy Grounds. Well, non-intuitive to me, obviously Ahzad knows his stuff.

And just because, this is my review of some online platforms that I have tried.

I have tried Fantasy Ground, Tabletop Simulator, Roll20 and have been looking at Astral tabletop simulator. The systems I run are Fate based, self created, small press and D&D.

I am a bit of a Luddite and computers often leave me scratching my head. So, take the following with a grain of salt.

First up Roll20. I never got it and my computer savvy friends were not interested. So, I cannot say much about it. I use it to buy online resources like tokens.

I like Tabletop Simulator, but it is a bit clunky and non-automated. By non-automated I mean that it does not track and update stuff. I used it for maps and rolling dice. The other drawback is that everyone must own it to use it. $20-30

I have landed at Fantasy Grounds. If you, as a ref drop $120 on a\n Ultimate license then your players can play for free using the demo version. It has non-automated character sheets for Fate and Fate dice, but you have to buy the add.on. That said, it has many systems like D&D with all the automation and bells and whistles, if you like that sort of thing. Currently, I am using it for the 1983 Fantasy Trip RPG (early Steve Jackson). I ignore most of the features, because they don’t work with the system, and use it for maps and dice rolling. I am sure computer literate sorts could harness it capabilities, but not me. That said, I works the best with my buddy in Belgium so that’s what I use. Drawbacks, cost for the ref. AND this is the big one, it a was a nightmare to setup on my Mac. I walked away from it for years and used TS, but hooking it up was much easier with the mesh network I use now. Without that, I would not be using it. Finally, I will have to buy it again, at a discounted rate, when they finish their beta testing for the new edition. This is still my top choice.

As for Astral Tabletop (DriveThruRPG’s) it looks promising, but does not have all the wrinkles worked out yet. But it has a big upside. It looks like it’s good for Small Press games because it has customizable character sheets and if you pay for a subscription you get access to 2,000 maps. However, it does not work with all browsers (Safari) and the interface is awkward and freezes on me.

Oh, one last thing we use Skype for audio. Not video because it takes up screen space and is distracting. We have also used Discord occasionally and that works great too.

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True! @Sean and I prefer the lowest and easiest fruit - thus anything laying on the ground is something we key in on :slight_smile:


Echo Spook, I dropped that whatever dollars for the ultimate licence 8 years ago. I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth, so I have no problem dropping it again for the Unity version. At the time, my table (6 others) offered to split it, so that’s an option for some to offset cost.

I have no automation, as we play hackmaster, which is not supported, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a place for us to roll dice, put up maps/ pictures, and a friend and I are making a character sheet as best as we can.

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Somebody is going to be a busy boy.

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This one is a really interesting subject.

Now, I’m not a developer of any kind and have only a layman’s understanding of most of this tech but I can see all kinds of challenges and only a relatively small audience for a new (online?) publishing format for RPGs. I’d love to see it happen though!

Let’s just imagine you can get that perfect solution together that allows publishers to combine text, images, video, hyperlinks, maps, layered maps compatible with a wide range of virtual table top systems, tokens for the same, sound effects and music. How would you market it? Do you keep it for your own RPG product? (assuming you’re a publisher) That would be narrow mined and likely to lead to a more fragmented market place. Would you license it out to other publishers for a fee? Maybe, but bear in mind that many RPG ‘publishers’ are tiny, DIY operators. Would you make it freely available in the hopes of this becoming the new format and effectively replacing PDF or other ebooks? Awesome! but you then have to swallow a pretty hefty development cost!

It’s a great idea, but I suspect the cost developing the perfect solution may mean we’re stuck with PDFs for a while yet!

Incidentally Purple Sorcerer’s DCC modules are really great in PDF.
Most come with an appendix that contains stuff intended for printing: paper minis, maps (often with and without battlegrids) and handouts but it’s also relatively easy to grab images and use them to make tokens and maps for online play.


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I think you nailed it on the head there @Bruce_C. It’s not necessarily cost effective to create innovation for yourself but to open it up for others. Roll20 probably wouldn’t have been as successful if it was made solely for their homemade Roll20 RPG (on that note, didn’t they come out with their own game?). For the industry to make any dramatic steps, someone gotta make something sweet for all of us to play in.