The joys of using FoundryVTT at a physical table
It has been a busy couple of weeks and I have neglected to sit down and put my ideas to paper for this blog. For good reason, though! I have been prepping and running Curse of Strahd for a few friends while they were in town. It's an odd choice to run with limited time, but I've been itching to give it a go and they were all willing to get a couple sessions in before a hiatus.
I wanted to keep it low-tech and emphasize physical materials, as it is a rare treat for me to be able to DM for a group all around the same table. Typically we play online, states apart, from our respective homes. I host the games using FoundryVTT and we chat via Discord. It works really well. But there's something undeniably special about gathering around a big table with a battlemat in the middle, minis and pawns scattered about, and the Dungeon Master taking up a 1/4th of the table with all their crap (guilty). Still, I felt FoundryVTT still had a place at my table.
Using a laptop I setup a new "world" in FoundryVTT with the D&D 5e system. From there I installed a few handy modules. The star of the show is VTTA-DnDBeyond by Sebastian. Using this module I imported my copy of Curse of Strahd from D&D Beyond. The module effortlessly laid out the chapters into well organized journals with images intact. Maps were imported as Scenes that I could easily toggle between for a DM view of where the players were. I could consult the map of Barovia and zoom and pan as needed. To make the information even easier to browse I installed the module OneJournal by Sunspots.
At this point I had the entire adventure module laid out in an easy to manage format without having to flip through a book or shuffle notes around. I added other journal entries that outlined my ideas and what I intended to happen in the session. But there is so much more!
VTTA-DnDBeyond also allows the importing of character sheets, spells, and monster stat blocks from D&D Beyond. Naturally, I imported all the relevant creatures my party may face in the first couple sessions of CoS. I pulled in the party's character sheets for a quick reference and re-imported them between sessions, after they had leveled up. It was a simple thing to check stats, manage hit points, and consult spell effects.
Finally, I utilized FoundryVTT's playlist functionality. Before each session I added music to Foundry and arranged the tracks into playlists. At the press of a button I had music playing for the opening of the session, for the spooky ambiance of the Svalich woods, for the sad Village of Barovia, and awesome battle music for combat encounters. It was a breeze to navigate and switch between tracks. While I used a mix of music for these sessions, I used a lot by Filip Melvan at Philip's Tabletop Music Bazaar. This is a great resource for high quality, beautifully composed, loopable tabletop music.
The player's never interacted with Foundry during this time. They didn't have digital maps to play on. Instead, they played with printed or drawn visual aids and minis. My laptop sat in front of me, but didn't obstruct my view of the players or the table. I rolled physical dice with everyone else and kept a scratch sheet of paper for tracking information. All the while, I could search text, view monster stats, check in on a player's abilities, review a map of a location, browse NPC art, and control the music at the table all from one screen and one app. It took a lot of stress out of running the game and I felt more prepared for whatever the party had in mind.
It's not a solution for everyone and it certainly isn't free. But, given that FoundryVTT is my primary tool for running D&D already, it was refreshing to find even more use for it at the physical table, without detracting from the material aspect of the game. Of course, I was keenly aware I could plug in a TV to my laptop and display maps and tokens to the party that way, as well. I tested this as an option using an old TV, but ultimately fought the instinct to go entirely digital. I'm happier for it.
FoundryVTT, in combination with powerful modules, is a surprisingly effective way to run a physical game at a physical table, giving the Dungeon Master command over their notes and setup. It also freed up table space! Now that's a feat.