Probably like many reading this, I have returned to playing D&D after decades away from the game. Having realized that I have always enjoyed playing D&D, I decided I will start to prioritize some RPG time with friends and family. My problem has always been a lack of time, and I suspect I am not alone. This is my comparison on Fantasy Grounds Unity vs Roll20 and will be focused on which VTT will provide more playing time with less prep.
“What will deliver the best game experience with the least amount of prep time?”
Dozens of Google searches will tell you the same thing; Roll20 is easier and free, and Fantasy Grounds is hard to learn and costs money. This is all true, but its not the whole story. The core reason why I prefer FGU over Roll20 is it will save me lots of time, and actually money in the long run.
In addition to being a huge time saver, Fantasy Grounds is a better roll player game then Roll20 hands down. Its like comparing a Ferrari to a Honda. Both will get you there, but learning to drive the Ferrari will be a lot more fun and exciting down the road.
Fantasy Grounds Unity vs Roll20 – Winner FGU
Let me start with the bad parts of Fantasy Grounds Unity vs Roll20.
It costs money. The FGU usually costs about $40 per player or $150 for a lifetime license (and allow you to host free players). There is also a $4 monthly try it out and see if you like it option (which I highly recommend). They run sales often enough where you can cut these prices down 10-20%. I paid about $130 for a lifetime.
Roll20 can be free for casual players but for DM’s who invest a lot into their games, it will cost them a monthly subscription and a premium on digital books and modules. It also has an impressive amount of free features but due space and lack of exporting, makes it very hard to properly DM a game.
The other issue most people grapple with is buying the books again. All the VTT will play better if you buy the books in the platform you are using, but its not required. The good thing about Fantasy Grounds is they often discount their books where Roll20 rarely or never does. I bought the 3 core for about $23 each and a few supplements too to improve the game experience, and these costs were more then half what Roll20 would have charged me.
Fantasy Grounds Unity and Classic both have map making built in. I actually bought a few map making tiles from Black Scrolls (Through Fantasy Grounds) for about $7.50 each. The great thing about these tiles is they have the line of sight built into the tiles. All I do is line them up and in under 10 minutes, I have a complete map with LOS (Line of Sight) ready to play. Huge time saver.
With everything including a lifetime subscription, 4 game books, several tile packs and a few adventures, I am almost at $300 all in. This is a lot of money, but please note that to play, all you need is the lifetime for $130 or the $4 monthly membership. The rest was me being a kid in a candy store.
One last things that really bothers me; subscription costs. If Roll20 had offered a lifetime subscription, it would have made my decision much harder. Fantasy Grounds lifetime subscription and discounts on books and adventures were a clear winner for me, because in about 2 years time, FG would have been cheaper and better then Roll20.
To properly compare Fantasy Grounds Unity vs Roll20, we need to take into account how much time you and your players will need to learn the game.
The example above about learning to drive the Ferrari is pretty true. I installed the game a few weeks ago and still struggle with its interface. Since Roll20 is web based, the interface is very simple to learn and use.
People often complain that its interface looks like an old DOS program that has been expanded over time, and this may be true. The interface is rough to the newbie but experienced users who have mastered the shortcut keys and tricks have their games running smooth and fast.
What most people do is run to YouTube for videos on how to play, but there is a better solution.
Fantasy Grounds College
Fantasy Grounds College (FGC) is a community of experienced users who offer free, live classes on how to use Fantasy Grounds. They are there to answer any questions and show you the tricks they use to run a successful game.
There are a few professors who teach so classes a scheduled few times a week. If you are new to Fantasy Grounds Unity, I recommend taking as many as you can as it will decrease your learning curve a lot and get you playing sooner.
FGC also offers games you can join and it has the added benefit of being a teaching session if needed. For those who are just getting back into D&D, this is very valuable and a great feature for Fantasy Grounds.
I plan to spend most of my time being the DM of a 5th edition D%D game. Not by choice mind you, but it seems like the best way to bring all my old time D&D friends together again. Since I am making this a priority in my life, it makes sense for me to host and DM.
Game prep will take 1 of 2 forms. I can either create my own homebrew games or I can buy a game that already has all the needed storyline, maps and NPC’s. Since my goal is to play with the least amount of time possible, buying games is a no brainer.
Both systems will sell you the standard adventures but I have learned I can get a better deal through Fantasy Grounds. Roll20 tends to sell everything at retail prices, where Fantasy Grounds prices are way less. Also, FG runs sales a lot making their content cheaper.
You can also get adventure mods from other sources and import them into your game. My favorite source is DMsGuild. They have lots of content, both free, pay what you want, and discounted official adventures.
With all these options, I can create a game in less then an hour and be playing with friends that same afternoon. Since a typical adventure would take several house to prep, this is a huge time saver and very important to me.
This is one of the area’s that Fantasy Grounds struggles in. It is not easy to learn and play, but once you are use to the interface, the game plays quicker and easier.
The reason is Fantasy Grounds Unity vs Roll20 will automate a lot of the actions for you. For example, if during combat you take your weapon and drag it on top of the NPC you want to attach, it will automatically roll for you taking into account any modifiers you both have.
One of the best things is this is not a manual thing I need to program. If I create my characters and NPCs correctly, I am linking all the roll modifications to those actions. All I need to do is learn the correct way to do it (learning curve). Of course, I also have the choice to to roll dice and apply modifiers and make it easier, but that’s like driving a Ferrari with an automatic transmission.
Roll20 has built in voice chat which makes it easy and quick for some players but I prefer to use my own Discord server. FGU knows an experienced DM would probably want to use their own voice/chat service and are happy FG developers are dedicating their coding time to other features.
Another important consideration is a feature called Line of Sight (LOS). Both platforms offer it but you need to use the Roll20 paid service to get it, which removes the benefit of Roll20 being free. Gameplay is so much better and easier with line of sight and should be part of every game.
And here is the deciding factor for me.
Since Fantasy Grounds Unity vs Roll20 will use my personal computer for storing data, I can have a huge array of NPC’s, maps, adventures, assets, books, tokens, and portraits to use in a game. With the free Roll20 account, users would only get 100 MB. This would be just a few maps for most people. Also, no importing or exporting of character sheets. This means I need to rebuild each adventure every session or be forced to pay for a subscription
Knowing I can have a rich D&D library available to me with all my adventures makes the decision to go to Fantasy Grounds Unity vs Roll20 a very simple one.
I greatly value my time and I suspect you do to. Learning, creating, and playing D&D is a major commitment in both costs and time, and simply comes down to what you value most.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not wealthy and I definitely don’t have money to throw away. Once I commit to something, I do it. I will not be a penny wise and a pound foolish when it comes to my time, and I hope I have convinced you to do the same.
If you are like me and sat on the fence about which platform to use, then here is my last selling point. You can download the free version and play a solo adventure.
I recommend starting off with “D&D Solo Adventure: The Death Knight’s Squire (Fantasy Grounds)” and you can find it on DMsGuild. This was converted from the PDF version by Rob2E and costs about $15. Playing a solo adventure is a great way to use the interface and decide for yourself which is better, Fantasy Grounds Unity vs Roll20. I plan to write a full review of the Death Knight’s Squire in the next few weeks so please come back, or subscribe to our email list to know when it gets posted.
If you are totally new to D&D, please read my article on How to start playing D&D – The Basics.
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