Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fantasy Grounds - A Tragedy in Screenshots

So back in 2007 I moved far away from where the rest of my D&D crew lived, so I had to find a gaming alternative to face-to-face D&D.  The alternative I found was the just-released program called Fantasy Grounds, which is an online tabletop for D&D gaming.  With it I ran a d20 online Ravenloft campaign online for some of my homies back in those days (and would post campaign updates on my old blog).

It was super-fun, though running it took a ton of prep time because you couldn't copy/paste into the program from Word or anything like that, so every piece of story dialogue or boxed description/setting info had to be pre-typed into the interface, and then formatted. Images uploaded individually, and so on. So prepping each session took four times as long as running it.  Of course it was worth it, because prepping is almost as fun as running games for those who are D&D-starved as I was back then.

I was running Expedition to Castle Ravenloft.  For those of you who are familiar with the Ravenloft campaign, you know the castle itself is gigantic and an organizational nightmare.  Well, I was slowly building it room by room into the Fantasy Grounds interface in my spare time, when I was contacted by another original poster on the early Fantasy Grounds forums.  He said he was just starting to run the same campaign for his players on this new online tabletop system, and wanted to know if I wanted to work together on creating the campaign in FG.

Of course I said yes (half the work!), and he promised he'd prepare the files on Castle Ravenloft in the FG interface format if I prepared all the other encounter areas for the surrounding environment.  I had also already screen-captured or scanned-in all the maps for Castle Ravenloft, so I went ahead and sent him all the files I had made as well as my castle maps and early work on the Castle to get him started.

Time passed and I ran my players through the a ton of adventures in the land of Barovia surrounding Castle Ravenloft, which were super-duper fun.  When it was getting close to when they'd be going into the Castle proper, my online forum buddy suddenly completely disappeared.  I messaged him and messaged him to respond.  I had sent him multiple files which he had thanked me profusely for during the previous weeks, but when I asked for some of the Castle prep he completely disappeared.  I know, obviously I shouldn't have hoped someone online would keep their word, but it still sucked pretty bad. We had commiserated through the early buggy birth pangs of Fantasy Grounds v1.0 together! But in any case, I had players to attend to.  So into the campaign I incorporated some side-quests of my own campaign idea (a Grimm/dark fairy tale land) I had been fooling around with in FG to buy myself time, while I prepared Castle Ravenloft itself.

Then my primary hard drive crashed, and I lost everything I had prepared.  I had created a ton of content for FG but hadn't recently backed up my system (I was not as diligent back then as I am now), so the entire Castle prep I had made in the Fantasy Grounds interface style had been lost.  That tragedy, combined with the sting of betrayal from my FG forum 'buddy', took all the wind out of my sails and the campaign ended abruptly.  I know, weak.

Anyway, the other day I was thinking about Fantasy Grounds and decided to check to see if it was still around.  I went to their website and lo and behold, not only is Fantasy Grounds still around, but the screenshots of my 2007 game I had posted on my blog back in those days are the first three official screenshots of the system on the Fantasy Grounds website.  I had linked to my blog on the forum back in those days and someone from FG must have seen them and put them up on the main website.

Just looking at those screenshots brings back fond D&D memories.  There's one where I'm doing the Madam Eva Tarot reading.  If you check all the screenshots in the old blog posts (linked above) you can see how cool the interface was, as well as how much the freaking thief character liked to whisper shit to me that I had to answer between everything else (all the purple writing is whispers-to-DM).  "I'm hiding and sneaking," "I'm going to backstab the werebear when moves toward the Fighter,""I'm searching the coin pouch while the Cleric isn't looking," "Is there anything of value in the blacksmith shop? I steal it if so...should I roll?"

Rogue players take a lot of work to DM online, I right people? (I'm just bustin' yer balls Delp!)

Anyway, I uncovered some very ancient external hard drives while cleaning out some boxes last weekend and plugged 'em in to see if I could find any of the original Fantasy Grounds files I had already run my players through, figuring I could reload at least the initial character sheets and ponder over the golden days.  I found the files, but unfortunately they were all corrupt and won't load at all in the (new and improved) Fantasy Grounds software (However, I did find that my license key I found still works in the new version, so that's a plus).  All that early FG work is truly lost, and I can't even extract the character files to transfer them to a new campaign.  They only exist as screenshots now on the gallery page of the Fantasy Grounds website. Sad.

Oh well, I thought, and gave up on the idea of running Fantasy Grounds ever again.  Who has the time, right?  And then I noticed another folder in my ancient backups.  One I hadn't put in the Fantasy Grounds proper folder that eventually became corrupted.  It was simply labeled "Maps."  I dragged it over to my desktop before the external drive totally died (it sounded like an airplane engine).  Inside were all the map scans I had made of Castle Ravenloft!  My early work on Castle Ravenloft that I zipped and sent to that other guy.

So because I had put those Castle Ravenloft map files in a different folder path before sending them to him, that stuff actually survived my hard drive meltdown(s).  Had I not sent them to him, they too would be lost due to my poor file management skills of 2007.  Well, how's about that for a silver lining?

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