OnlineDM Mailbag #2: MapTool versus Fantasy Grounds

Welcome back to the exceedingly irregular OnlineDM Mailbag series! My first mailbag column came back in November 2011, and now in July 2012 I’m finally getting around to the second. I’d love to do more of these, so if you have a question you’d like me to answer on the blog, please send it to me at

Tobold writes:

Hi Michael!

I was looking into virtual tables for D&D 4th edition, not necessarily
to run a multiplayer game on, but for preparing my “real table”
campaign by playtesting combat encounters. I know you are a big
MapTools fan, but I’ve also seen several people claiming Fantasy
Grounds 2 was good. Did you ever try Fantasy Grounds 2? Do you have an
educated opinion of which program is better, MapTools or Fantasy
Grounds 2?

OnlineDM answers:

I do know that Fantasy Grounds 2 is quite popular, and from the people I’ve spoken to about it I believe that it’s a great tool. I haven’t personally used it, though, despite the research I’ve done into it.

My conclusion is that Fantasy Grounds is the “pretty” version of MapTool. The 3D dice rolling is very popular. The user interface is designed to look like you’re sitting at an actual wooden table. There are the equivalent of MapTool frameworks built for lots of games, including 4e.

However, I come down firmly on the side of MapTool for my own games. The biggest reason, frankly, is that it’s free. If you want to buy a Fantasy Grounds license that will let you run an unlimited number of games for anyone who wants to play, it’s going to cost you $150. For MapTool – nada. That’s a big deal to me; not that I can’t afford the $150, but MapTool does everything that FG2 does, so why would I pay for FG2?

I love the full customizability of MapTool. I can use it in a very bare-bones way, or I can go nuts with programming the fanciest stuff I can imagine. FG2 allows for this kind of development, too, but again, why pay for it?

Basically, I haven’t seen anything from FG2 that has ever tempted me to pay for it when MapTool is free. If MapTool had failings that FG2 addressed, I’d definitely give FG2 a shot. But it doesn’t have those failings, at least not in my games. I’m totally happy with MapTool and see no reason to pay to switch.

So, just to be clear, I think that Fantasy Grounds is a cool program, and I’m sure that lots of people will find it to be worthwhile. But for me, since I’m already very comfortable with MapTool, I wouldn’t want to pay the kind of money it would cost to use FG2 in the way I use MapTool (letting an unlimited number of people play in games that I host without having to pay a cent).

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

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