Shining a Spotlight on: Foundry VTT (Featuring Astral Tabletop)

I’m going to be writing this a little differently than my other posts, since this is a first impressions of a Virtual Tabletop than it is me playing a game or testing out an RPG or Engine. Particularly, first impressions using Foundry as a soloist. 

The Virtual Tabletop is called Foundry, and what I can say is its claim to fame is mashing up the robustness and depth of Fantasy Grounds with the approachableness and API-integration of Roll20. It has a bit of a price, asking for $50, but the benefit to it is that you’re able to have as much, if not more, control over your campaigns than if you were to pay for a subscription on Roll20 and you (as in the GM) only need to pay once.

Starting up the program, you are greeted with a few menus arranged in a sleek array. The first is Worlds (your games), then the Game Systems, then Add-On Modules, and finally, Configuration and Update Software. You’ll have to download a Game System in order to make a Game World, but that’s as easy as going to Game Systems and picking one from a list to download and install.

One thing that is of note is that Foundry is community driven. As of June 10th, 2020, there are 21 Game Systems and the number is growing. Among them are the mainstays like D&D 5e, Fate, and all three versions of Pathfinder (I’m counting Starfinder as a version), but it also games like Savage Worlds, Save the Universe, and Ryuutama. 

Unlike Roll20, where you need a subscription to partake in making Character Sheet templates (which are the closest thing the site has to incorporating game systems without purchasing separate modules), you only need knowledge on making scripts to fully create a system. I think that this is Foundry’s greatest strength outside of the gaming itself, since, given enough time, Foundry would have tons of systems, some of which Roll20 doesn’t even have in either Character Sheet templates or purchasable modules. Already, its largest advantage has to be its incorporation of the Star Wars Fantasy Flight Games system, known for its unique system of dice rolling. Granted, it’s an unofficial module right now, requiring you to copy its manifest URL onto the program’s installation feature. While Roll20 has the ability to play Star Wars, you need to have a subscription to use it, and if you’re paying $50 a month just to play Star Wars, you might as well cancel the subscription and take next month’s subscription to Foundry’s one time purchase.

That, or you could have the GM buy the program and you can play their hosted games off the web browser absolutely free. Now, this does require the GM to do some port-forwarding and obviously I’m not really inclined to talk about it due to me being a soloist. Just be aware that this is something to watch out for.

There are also Add-On Modules that make gameplay less of a chore, but I found it difficult to find which ones would be suited for a game. It’d mostly involve me looking through the lists and seeing which ones look appealing. However, I doubt it’d be difficult finding favorites, especially with a helpful community of users who will support you at every turn. I was even told of a special Add-On for other dice sets like the FFG Dice Set, which is mandatory to use the Star Wars Game System (as in, the sheets will not appear if you do not have the add-on).

Now, let’s talk about the game itself, using 5E to test it out. The first feature I decided to check out is the character sheet. These sheets are gorgeous. Compared to Roll20’s Character Sheets, these ones look simply magnificent. You have a grayish backdrop with your character’s attributes displayed in full detail and tabs that take you to different sections of the sheet. One of them, Inventory, has been set up to allow for a macro for rolling dice and dealing damage. Perhaps the best feature of this was that you can roll and apply damage onto a character without doing it manually. Like with Roll20, though, the sheet isn’t all auto-calculating, so you would have to manually add more to your character when you level up, especially if you’re using things not from the SRD. However, the system that’s scripted for 5E has made it pretty easy for you to create attacks.

However, the feature I’m sure everyone wants me to bring up are the fog of war and the templates. Let me say this: They. Work. Wonderfully. The Fog of War makes it so that you can do what Roll20 has locked behind a paywall and create dynamic lighting that is just as or even better than Roll20’s. Best part is that, if you have a character token on the map, you can select them and you can see through their eyes and even have restrictions on movement, such as not being able to walk through walls. This is perfect for a soloist, since you can easily jump in between GM and Player hats and get a context as to what the players can see.

The Templates are also great. The 5e system has premade templates attached to the SRD spells that allow for easy targeting, but you can just as easily make your own templates of varying sizes and ranges. I don’t think I need to express just how much cones, beams, squares, and radiuses were needed in Roll20. The fact that they’re here at all makes this a pro for this program. I actually remember an argument I had over Roll20 with some friends about how a cone effect works in Roll20 and the templates that Roll20 has is, guess what? Stuck behind a paywall.

By now, you might have seen that this program was made with a clear spite towards Roll20. The one-time $50 purchase for all the features Roll20 has and more? Check. Crowdsourced content that anyone with knowledge of scripting can do? Check. Features that Roll20 has not even added to their site yet made so easy a toddler can do it? Check. It’d probably be worth 50$ just so you can straight up tell Roll20 to piss off when they limit you in ways Foundry would not dream of doing. 

Would I recommend it? Well, that depends. Overall, I think this is an amazing system with bells and whistles a plenty and having a means to play Star Wars on a VTT is always a plus in my book. However, unless you’re skilled in scripting or know a person who is, games that fall out of the support of Foundry are gonna be hard to maintain. Now, granted, I have no idea how easy it is to make a new System for the Foundry, so if the learning curve is low, I may be optimistic towards the future of the Foundry’s library. Having looked through a few of the 20+ games that the Foundry already has, all of them carry a polish to the sheet that Roll20 would be envious at, and some even have an SRD for you to utilize.

However, during my look into this program, I decided to take a look at another: Astral Tabletop. Already, you can see comparisons to the two despite having different subscription models. Both are touted to be Roll20 killers, but where as Foundry has a “pay-once-and-done” model, Astral has a similar subscription service to Roll20 and can be seen as an alternative to Roll20 rather than a “killer app”. However, there’s one thing that it trumps Foundry in: The ability to create any system.

Remember how I said that the closest thing Roll20 has to having game systems is usually via the character sheet? Astral has that too. However, its claim to fame is the ability to create your own character sheets and thus your own systems. To demonstrate this, I took a sheet from this game and added numbers and actions to it. I didn’t need to learn any fancy code outside of the program’s syntax, which took five seconds to read for the parts I wanted to use with it. The downside, as you might have predicted, is that some of the features are paywalled off and storage isn’t cheap.

And thus, both these games exceed Roll20 in a couple of ways. Foundry may have beaten Roll20 with its limitless potential in terms of storage, games, and modules, Astral is able to have many different games ready to be made by a player if they so wish to play a game not from the norm.

Despite this, I still feel like, comparatively speaking, Foundry is an absolute powerhouse compared to Astral and even with Astral’s ability to literally use any PDF and turn it into a character sheet that’s as ready to use as Roll20’s sheets (if not more aesthetically pleasing for some), Foundry blows it out of the water with an easier to use character sheet system provided someone has coded the system for it or you managed to make it yourself.

It’s a bit of a no-brainer if you’re tired of Roll20 and you want something that’ll blow it out of the water, but if you’re a soloist, it greatly depends on if you play certain games at this point. The program supports some solo darlings like Savage Worlds and Fate, and, for the most part, Foundry is basically a premium experience for those games. $50 is a premium, but there are several things that I feel is worth it. There’s really not a lot of virtual tabletops that play Star Wars FFG with a sleek design to the sheets. There’s Rolegate but their sheetsYeah.

At this point, the only reason I’d recommend Astral Tabletop over Foundry is if you want to take a character sheet not featured on Roll20 and make it for your game, and even then, this is based off the assumption that Foundry’s learning curve when it comes to coding entirely new systems is steep. For all I know, it’d be easy to make a system from the word go on Foundry. At which point, it’d be more than worth the $50.

So, yeah, that’s my bottom line: Foundry is a good VTT that’s worth looking out for. It may have released a few weeks ago, but it definitely has impressed me a lot with its first steps. Here’s seeing how the next thousand will look like.

Post-Script Update: I gave it a try with making my own system (using Snakes on a Plane as the core) and, predictably, there’s a little bit of a skill needed to make the sheet and trying to add the system to Foundry as it was resulted in a bug where the menu does not pop up. I’m not too discouraged by this, however. From how Foundry has it and with the community, I still believe that, with enough talent in scripting (and time), anyone can make a system in Foundry.

3 thoughts on “Shining a Spotlight on: Foundry VTT (Featuring Astral Tabletop)

  1. I’ve used FFG’s Star Wars system in Roll20 for years. Of course, you have to be a subscriber, but there is a community driven API script that adds the special dice, character sheets, Destiny tokens, and more.

    Of course, it being Roll20, it’s a bit clunky and tends to stop working at the worse times. I recently made the decision to move over to FoundryVTT and have been converting over my game materials. The FFG Star Wars system is still in production for FoundryVTT. It is not officially supported by FoundryVTT like you suggest in the article and it does require the Special Dice module to run. It looks like it’s going to have its own flavor of clunk, but I will be able to benefit from FoundryVTT’s platform.

    Overall, I think it is worth the switch, but don’t expect a pain-free solution.

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    • Thank you for bringing this up, since I had forgotten that Roll20 does have its own FFG system. I updated the post to bring it up, though my opinion is definitely to make the switch if people are using Roll20 for Star Wars.

      While I don’t think Foundry will replace ALL my solo roleplaying cravings, it’s made 5e that much less of a headache.

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  2. The biggest comparable I can give for Foundry is that it is like RPTools MapTool. Now while Maptool has been around for years, it has a bit of a learning curve and requires both GM and Players to have the app installed. For Foundry, only the host needs it installed, and the host doesnt need to be the GM. The largest drawback Ive seen is for character access/migration. In Roll20, a player can make a game room for character creation, and as long as the Room was import enabled, the Character Vault could be used. Its possible to import/export with Foundry, but it doesnt give a means to edit characters when the game isnt hosted. It isnt bad, but does limit player access, exceptions of course for D&D Beyond module integration.

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