Nathan Smith
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Moving to FoundryVTT

February 11, 2021, 10:19 AMD&D

FoundryVTT is better than Roll20.

Maybe that's a bold statement, but it is true from a DM's perspective. On paper, Foundry has a very similar feature set - a system agnostic virtual tabletop with a focus on battle maps. It even shares much of its basic layout design with Roll20. As I see them, the main differences are:

  1. Foundry is a one time purchase of $50 for the host with no free option. Roll20 has a free option, but many important features like dynamic lighting require the DM to have a subscription.
  2. Foundry is self-hosted. Unless you pay to rent a server for Foundry (and such services do exist, though they aren't offered by the Foundry developer), you need to run it on your own computer. If you have a poor internet connection or a less powerful machine, this could be an issue. This also means that the host will need to ensure their network is configured properly, with the default port opened up.
  3. Foundry is developed by one guy.

And that's pretty much it. The two applications are so very similar that it's easier to call out those differences than it is to show where they overlap. The implementations may differ, but they are both fully featured browser-based virtual tabletops that support a wide variety of game systems. The reason Foundry is better is in the quality, accessibility, and extensibility of those features. Foundry has an aggressive release schedule and new alpha and beta versions are released to allow the community to test and use, if they want, while Roll20 has felt stagnant for a long time now, in desperate need of some quality of life changes. Foundry's price model is also a clear win - for true feature parity, you'd need the PRO Roll20 subscription tier, which is currently $100/year. Every single serious tabletop game I've ever been in that wasn't explicitly a short term game or one shot has gone longer than six months.

But the real reason Foundry is better is it's extensibility. While Roll20 has an API (accessible only with the PRO tier), it's nowhere near as powerful as Foundry's. Every single aspect of Foundry is moddable and hackable via 3rd party modules.

Modules

There are at time of writing 693 3rd party modules for Foundry in the official registry, though you can certainly install them from other sources. Not all of these will be actively maintained, but the community around module development is very strong. These are just some of the features in modules:

  1. Updates to rollable tables, including importing from CSVs
  2. More options for rolling attacks/saves and advantage/disadvantage
  3. Changes to chat to more clearly show if a message is a whisper, general message, self message, etc
  4. Different character sheets with totally different layouts
  5. Community macros for automating all kinds of in-game actions
  6. Combat tracker enhancements for the GM like automatically opening the sheet for the current combatant on their turn
  7. An entirely new, entirely customizable GM screen pop out for quick reference
  8. Changes to the UI to make the app easier to use when you have too many modules installed (sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy)
  9. Changes to token movement to always show a ruler with distance
  10. Adding customizable pings to the map
  11. Fully customizable 3d dice
  12. A tool for generating token images from non-token art on the fly
  13. Twitch and twitch chat integration
  14. Import characters, monsters, items, spells from D&D Beyond

The range of features is huge. While some of these are quality of life changes that could certainly be incorporated into the base application, many are system specific. If Roll20 had this level of extensibility it wouldn't even matter that it hasn't received major feature and quality of life updates for so long, since the community could make updates in the meantime. Foundry nails the sweet spot between a really solid base and the ability to make the app your own.

FoundryVTT for Roll20 players

As a GM, Foundry is easy enough to adopt since you can play with it privately as much as you'd like before making the switch. The hardest part may be convincing your players, especially if you already subscribe to Roll20 and have dynamic lighting features. I'm adding here some specific modules and settings which might make the migration easier.

  1. Enable 'Left-Click to Release Objects' in Core Settings. By default, once a token is selected it requires an ESC press to deselect it. Enabling this matches Roll20's behavior.
  2. D&D 5e OGL Character Sheet module. This sheet replicates the same layout as the Charactermancer sheet from Roll20.
  3. Drag Ruler module. Foundry includes a feature similar to Roll20's waypoint move system (drag token + right click to add waypoint), but by default it's implementation is more complicated and harder to remember. This module makes it easier to use, though it still functions a bit differently. However, it makes it easier to adopt and has one less key combination to remember. Plus it actually works on a Mac and works well with a trackpad, unlike Roll20's.
  4. Dynamic effects using Active Effects module and Dynamic Active Effects SRD. This feature adds some automation for things like AC calculation, spell effects and conditions, etc. If used correctly, this can reduce the cognitive load on you and your players.
  5. Dice So Nice! module. Fully customizable 3D dice. They're just plain fun, and you can even add special effects for natural 1s and 20s.
  6. Pings module. Adds the ability to ping the map like in Roll20 on a long left-click.
  7. SimpleFog module. Though I don't use it, this is a module that replicates the manual show/hide fog of war that Roll20 has.
  8. Better Rolls for 5e module. If your players are used to the Charactermancer, they might want an advantage/disadvantage prompt or toggle. This module allows easy advantage/disadvantage roll configuration, as well as bundling attack and damage rolls together in one click.

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