So, my group obviously isn't going to not play dnd. None of us really want to train a new tool proficiency just to play on roll20. Fantasy Grounds is expensive. Found one that looks slick but is kinda buggy called Astral. Apparently there are several others.
The question is, are literally any of them actually user-friendly? I remember using the beta 4e vtt and really liking it even in unfinished state. I didn't have to master a new skill to use it, it just worked, IIRC.
Anything around that is just easy to sit down and use? I'm fine with less features or whatever, I just want the thing to work without a steep learning curve. Video-chat is a plus, but we can do without it.
I'm a Roll20 veteran, and I still find that stuff to be overly time-consuming. Correctly aligning maps and creating tokens is pure drudgery.
I messed around with Roll20 for maybe 20-30 sessions, learning some of the API script, and my experience matches Prakriti's. My usual prep for face-to-face games is 1 hour prep to 1 hour play time, but when I was preparing Roll20 games, it jumped up to 3+ hours prep to 1 hour play time. That just wasn't sustainable for me & the drudgery ended up sucking out my enjoyment from DMing.
I've been messing around with Astral recently, trying to learn it, but couldn't even align my map, and ended up encountering a bug (which I reported) just 1-2 hours into using Astral. While I see the promise and I like the spirit of the people involved, it doesn't seem to quite be ready for regular use yet.
Recently I've tumbled to another possibility, which I'm still experimenting with:
A Discord server for voice/video chat, with the Avrae dice bot, and with the Beyond20 chrome extension to allow access to D&D Beyond character sheets and monsters in Discord. And then GoogleDrawings with the EPIC Isometric dungeon art assets from Alex Drummond (patreon link
& drivethrurpg link
). There's drawbacks to this approach however – GoogleDrawings does not have a fog of war & the way initiative count works in Avrae-enabled Discord is just goofy (there's no constantly visible initiative; you need to enter the !init list command to see initiative). However as far as ease of use, it's a pretty simple setup, and I can make maps in GoogleDrawins using Alex's assets pretty fast. No need to assign control of tokens to certain players because in GoogleDrawings the default is that everyone can move everything. It's not a perfect solution by any means. The Avrae dice commands take a bit of getting used to, for starters. But I feel like it's lower overhead than the two VTTs I've tried so far.
Honestly, I am still searching for an approach that hits that "sweet spot" of feeling like being around a table and socializing (i.e. being able to see everyone's faces clearly and not as tiny boxes just on the bottom of the screen), and balancing that with map & tokens when needed (but not making those the centerpiece of the game all the time). Will keep experimenting and exploring, but beginning to think that any online play solution is going to involve quite a bit of compromise.