Friday, April 17, 2015

Of Overlords, Kings and Barons, Building a Feudal Setting Part 15

Continuing a series of posts detailing how I developed the feudal system of the City-State in my Majestic Wilderlands campaign.

The Royal Guard
The head of the Royal Guard is the MARSHAL OF THE ROYAL GUARDS. The Marshal is responsible for the personal protection of the Overlord.

The personal bodyguards of the Overlord. The spiritual descendants of the original Tharian housecarls who were men personally loyal to the chief of the clan.

The Royal Guards also organize the Overlord's Hunts, and his personal herd of horses.

The most important division of the Royal Guard are the Regulators. They are in essence a group of high level adventurers personally loyal to the Overlord and his family. They were established by Lucius the Great in his war against the Tyrant mage Salm-Lorin. Since then the Regulators have hand-picked their successor to maintain their tradition of personal loyalty.

They are headquartered in the dungeon levels underneath the Cryptic Citadel. There they maintain the true magical treasures of the Overlord and undertake missions that no other group can deal with.

This of course leads the question, why if the Overlord has such a powerful group they don't just literally blow up all the enemies of the Overlord. They do deal with some threats in that way, the reality is that other sovereigns have similar groups of their own. These disparate high level groups of adventurer types are basically the nuclear option of the Majestic Wilderlands except that because of the personal nature of most magic they can't wipe out whole realms. Groups of individuals and small area, sure thing.

For all their power, these groups are not particularly effective against the divine powers and are vulnerable to corruption by demons. It is known that extensive use of magic and supernatural powers seems to give the deities more leeway for intervention including liberal use of miraculous resurrection from the dead.

One Regulator after she was initiated remarked, "You mean we have all this and we can't use it to win?! Sometimes I feel I did more when I was just starting out and smashing up skeletons just inside the entrance of the dungeon."

One useful tool to handle this as a referee is to look at how things are handled in the world of comic book superheroes. Writers of Superhero stories have come up with a number of clever ways of integrating super powered being into otherwise normal world.

Under the Marshal of the Royal Guard are:
Captain of the High Guard
5 Companies
Captain of the Low Guard
20 Companies
Master of the Squires
Master of the Hunt
Falconer Royal
Master of the Hounds
Royal Weaponcrafter
Weaponcrafters
Royal Ostler
Ostlers
Captain of the Regulators
Regulators

With this post we conclude this series of posts. I am working on integrating all of this into a PDF that I will release. There will be two releases, the first a 'as is' compilation of all the posts. The second a Bat in the Attic Product that will have a similar setup but in a more polished form with some extras.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Of Overlords, Kings and Barons, Building a Feudal Setting Part 14

Continuing a series of posts detailing how I developed the feudal system of the City-State in my Majestic Wilderlands campaign.

The Chamber of the Overlord
The Head of the Chamber of the Overlord is the LORD HIGH CHAMBERLAIN. The Lord High Chamberlain's responsibilities are to ensure the personal health and well-being of the Overlord and maintain the Overlord's quarters and dwellings.

Under the Chamberlain is the Lord Master Herald known as the Moonlight King of Arms due the fact their main offices are housed in the Silverlight Palace in City-State. The heralds act as diplomats and official messengers especially to foreign realms. They also keep track of social hierarchy of Overlord's territories by recording Coats of Arms and other insignia in their record books. The wearing of a Coat of Arm isn't as rigorously regulated as in our own history. In-game, I justify this by using the fact that has to deal with three separate traditions, Tharian, Elessarian, and Ghinorians. Out of game it is because of the legacy of starting with 1st Edition ADnD. So I came up with something that supported the tendency of PCs to come up with group names and insignias.

The Astrology Royal is the official diviner of the Overlord. In all of the RPGs I used to run the Majestic Wilderlands there are divination spells. Nobles would hire as part of their household a mage capable of casting these spell.

The Master of the Esoteric Arts is the position granted to the court wizard. Who advises the Overlord on all things magical and maintains the magic items owned by the Overlord and his family.

At the time of the MW Supplement, the Master of the Esoteric Arts held by Lewellyn the Blue who is an independent wizard and not a member of the dominant Order of Thoth. As of 4436, Lewellyn has been in the position for nearly five decades and is granted the Wizards Keep in the Southeast corner of City-State as his personal residence.

The Astrologer Royal as of 4436 BCCC, is Parnswarn the Red who also the Guildmaster of the Guild of Arcane Lore the local conclave of the Order of Thoth. As part of his office he was granted the use of the Southern Keep as his residence.

Parnswarn and the Guild of Arcane Lore are not very happy with Lewellyn as Master of the Esoteric Arts. However the Overlord's family consider Lewellyn to be a personal friend so his position unassailable. This is helped by Lewellyn's disinterest in politics.

In my campaign present of 4460 BCCC, Lewellyn is still the Master of Esoteric Arts leading some to speculate that he is a Half-Elf. Lewellyn doesn't talk about his upbringing much and seems to enjoy the mystery he creates. It is rumored that he had a chat with Duke Divolic making it clear that the new Overlord and his family are under his personal protection.

The 4460 BCCC Astrologer Royal is Master Crassius of the Guild of Arcane Lore. He is not the guildmaster but an experienced mage in the arts of divination.

The Overlord's Fool and the Chief Harper are collectively in charge of the entertainment of the Overlord's court.

The Overlord has three palaces he resides in. Castle Bulwark which is the traditional home of his clan, the Silverlight Palace in City-State, and the Summer Palace in the foothills of the Majestic Mountains near the dwarves of Thunderhold. Each has a Chamberlain in charge of a large staff.


Under the Lord High Chamberlain are:
Chief Clerk of the Chambers
Chamber Clerks
Lord Master Herald "Moonlight King of Arms"
Royal Heralds
Enclave of the Silver Orb
Clerks of the Heralds
Astrologer Royal
Master of the Esoteric Arts
Alchemist Royal
The Overlord's Fool
Chief Harper of the Chamber
Chamber Harpers
Chamberlain of the Palaces
Seneschal of the Silverlight Palace
Royal Chef
The Overlord's Food Taster
Master of the Palace's Cellar
Ostler of the Palace's Stables
Chief Metalcrafter
Chamber Servants
Seneschal of the Summer Palace
Royal Chef
The Overlord's Food Taster
Master of the Palace's Cellar
Ostler of the Palace's Stables
Chief Metalcrafter
Chamber Servants
Seneschal of Castle Bulwark
Royal Chef
The Overlord's Food Taster
Master of the Palace's Cellar
Ostler of the Palace's Stables
Chief Metalcrafter
Chamber Servants


Clan Bulwark
The Head of Clan Bulwark is the OVERLORD. Since the Overlord has many other responsibilities, he grants the HIGH BAILIFF OF CLAN BERNOST the authority to oversee Clan Bernost's affairs and lands. Clan Bernost is the Overlord's family and it's holdings.

Large Tharian clans are divided into septs each governed by a chief. Septs roughly correspond to a manorial estate with a focus on livestock, and horse raising. Each Sept is governed by a Chief with the entire clans ruled by a High Chief.

The old titles of High Chief and Chief are now only used in certain ceremonies. Most of the Bulwark Chief have granted titles of knighthood or baronies to use as well.

The clan has grown so wealthy and powerful is there is little opposition to the Overlord immediate family. This is one of the main factor behind the accession of Overlord's underage grandson. In 4460 BCCC, the ongoing civil war may change this.

Under the High Bailiff of Clan Bernost are:
Treasurer of Bernost
Chiefs of Bernost Septs.
Marshal of Bernost
Captains of Bernost

Next up is the last post in the series and concluding thoughts.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Of Overlords, Kings and Barons, Building a Feudal Setting Part 13

Continuing a series of posts detailing how I developed the feudal system of the City-State in my Majestic Wilderlands campaign.

Ministry of War
The GRAND MARSHAL OF THE CITY-STATE heads the Ministry of War. The Grand Marshal is responsible for the high level command and maintenance of the Overlord's Troops. Usually the Grand Marshal position is unfilled except in war time due to the powerful nature of the office.

The Legion is main standing army of the Overlord. It is comprised of 5000 men divided into 8 VastThrongs (infantry) and 2 EquiThrongs (cavalry).  The individual VastThrongs and EquiThrongs are distributed across the various provinces and marches ruled by the Overlords and only brought together in times of war. The Legion is augmented by the noble levies who owe service to the Overlord as part of their obligations as members of the Confederation. In all out out war the Overlord can muster anywhere between 10,000 to 20,000 troops depending on how much of the peasant militia he wishes to call out.

The core Legion is a standing army and serves year around. The remaining forces can serve only one or two season before they have to be dismissed in order attend to planting or the harvest. Typically the Overlord staggers the levies over the years so to have additional troops ready all year long. Fifty percent of the levies serve during the summer season, twenty percent during the spring and fall, and remaining ten percent during the winter season. In times of invasion or all-out war everybody is called up. When this happens the Overlord has at best a season or maybe two to win the campaign before famine is certain.

Wars and conflicts are normally fought with hired troops, either a standing army or mercenaries. Exhaustion in these wars results usually from being unable to borrow any more money to pay troops. In our own history, the expense of fighting wars is what led to the centralization of power by the European Kings and their government. This same process is at work in the City-State and is one of the main source of political tension between the clans/noble houses and the Overlord.

Under the Grand Marshal are:
Lord Marshal of the Legion
(in peacetime only 1 is active)
(see Military)
Lord Marshal of the Troops
Marshal of the Provincial/Marcher Troops
Chief Ostler
Royal Ostlers
Chief Weaponcrafter
Royal Weaponcrafters
Chief Provisioners
Royal Provisioners.
Marshal of the Overlord's Stores
Lord Marshal of the Castles
Marshal of the Province/March Castles
Royal Masons
Inspector General of the Overlord
Inspector General of the Province/March
Royal Inspectors
Lord Marshals commanding the VastThrongs(8)
Lord Marshals commanding the EquiThrongs(2)

The Exchequer
The head of the Exchequer is EXCHEQUER ROYAL OF THE CITY-STATE. The Exchequer Royal is responsible for collecting and accounting for all the revenues of the Overlord. The Overlord has two main sources of revenue. Income from the Shield Dues, and income from his personal holdings.

The Shield Dues are a fee levied against each noble house and clan that are members of the Confederation. It is a result of an agreement between the Senate and the Overlord every five years. The levy is traditionally called a Shield Due and it is apportioned on the basis of the census. This is why there is a separate Ministry of the Census and why reports both to the Overlord and the Senate.

The personal income of the Overlord consists of revenue generated by the estates he personally owns, the feudal dues owned by the subordinated barons and knights for the fiefs they have been granted, and the traditional incomes granted to a Tharian Clan Chief as the Overlord is also the High Chief of Clan Bulwark.

Lucius the Great always made sure that the Shield Dues were set to be little less than the cost of running his government. He would make it publicly known that he would cover the deficit from his own personal income. In the reign of Lucius' successors this continued. However the revenus generated from the City-State itself and later the Marches proved so lucrative that the Senate never had the leverage to use their power over the Shield Dues to keep the Overlord in check. In this respect the political development of the City-State and the Confederation is more like medieval France than medieval England.

The Exchequer Royal is also in charge of minting of the Overlord coins. The Overlord mints a silver penny at 250 coins to a pound of silver. Nominally a pound of pure silver would yield 240 pure silver pennies however the need to improve wear and to stretch the supply of silver, the Overlord has traditionally added enough impurities to strike 250 coins out of a pound of silver. The Overlord also mints a gold crown at 16 coins to a pound of gold. As silver trades 20 to 1 to gold this makes each gold crown worth 320 silver pennies. Since gold needs very little impurities to use it as a coin, a pound of gold yields 16 coins. It is also used as a unit of accounting for large sums.

The Royal Mason under the Lord Architect are the responsibility of teh Exchequer Royal. Since castles, keeps, and public works are among the most expensive projects undertaken by the Overlord it was felt that direct supervision by the Exchequer was necessary.

Last is the Inspector General of the Tolls. There are several important roads in the Overlord's territory, the Rorystone Road northward to Thunderhold, and the South Road to Zothay and Halkmenan. Both are maintained by tolls paid by the people using the roads.

Under the Exchequer Royal are:
Treasurer of the Exchequer
Governor of the Royal Mint
Royal Engravers
Royal Assayists
Collector General of the Exchequer
Collectors of the Exchequer
Chief Clerk of the Exchequer
Clerks of the Exchequer
Lord Architect
Royal Masons
Inspector General of the Tolls
Tolls Clerks

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Of Overlords, Kings and Barons, Building a Feudal Setting Part 12

The continuing a series of posts detailing how I developed the feudal system of the City-State in my Majestic Wilderlands campaign.

To recap I laid out the purpose and hierarchy of the Archives, Census, along with the Provincial and March hierarchies.

Bureau of Order
The MINISTER OF ORDER heads the Bureau of Order. The purpose of the Bureau is to maintain the Royal Prison, the Debtors Prison, and the Royal Constables. The Royal Constables are charged with appending any outlaws and with transferring of prisoners.

The first thing is that the Prison is only temporary in the City-State and the rest of the Majestic Wilderlands. Either one of two things will happen the prisoner gets his trial and either is acquitted or found guilty and punished. Or the prisoner is too poor or is low of status to get a trial. Within a couple of months he will be taken out of the prison and sold into slavery. A feudal society cannot afford to feed prisoners for years on end.

Historically a debtor's prison dealt with people unable to pay their debt (or fines). They would be taken prisoner and held until the family is able to repay the debt. In the meantime they would be put to work as slaves and paid a nominal wage that would go towards repaying their debt. Needless to say this system was highly corrupt and often drove low status families into abject poverty.

Under the Minister of Order are:
Lord Warden of the Royal Prison
The Gaolers of the Royal Prison
Lord Warden of the Debtor's Prison
   The Gaolers of the Debtor's Prison
Commander of the Royal Constables.
Captains of the Royal Constables.
Royal Constables

The Chancery
The CHANCELLOR OF THE OVERLORD heads the Chancery. The Chancellor is responsible for the general government and judiciary of the City-State. All officials of the Overlord are held accountable to the Chancellor. The Chancellor is also head of the Privy Council, which includes all Ministers of the Overlord. The Chancellor sits with the four Royal Magistrates as the Court of Appeals which hears any appeals from the judgments of the Sheriffs of the Provinces and Marches.

The Lord Advocate is the Overlord's representative to the Senate and is entitled to speak during debates. The Chancery Advocates do the same at the various Shield Courts setup by the Senate.

The Inquisitor of the City-State has the authority to examine the records of any ministry and report to the Chancellor. He has no staff or regular duties and only used by the Chancellor as needed.

The Chief Prosecutor is charged with seeking out any who violate the Overlord's peace or the Overlord's privileges. Any violators are brought to the proper official's attention. Usually the region's High Baliff or Sheriff. The Royal Agent are the overt arm of this office. And the notorious Black Lotus are the secret police acting as spies and informers.

Under the Chancellor are:
Royal Magistrates(4);
Chief Clerk of the City-State;
Clerks of the City-State
Lord Advocate of the City-State;
Chancery Advocates
Inquisitor of the City-State;
Chief prosecutor.
Royal Agents
Captain of the Black Lotus;
Black Lotus Agents

Friday, April 10, 2015

Of Overlords, Kings and Barons, Building a Feudal Setting Part 11

The continuing a series of posts detailing how I developed the feudal system of the City-State in my Majestic Wilderlands campaign.

To recap I laid out the background how the feudal realm ruled by the Invincible Overlord of City-State is two parallel hierarchies. The first is the Confederation of Tharian Clans along with Ghinorian and Elessarian noble houses, the second hierarchy governs the personal territories owned by the Overlord. That as of the present of the Majestic Wilderlands Supplement, 4436 BCCC, the personal power of the Overlord equals the combined might of the clans and noble houses.

Earlier in this series, I explained the various feudal offices, Chamberlain, Chancellor, Exchequer, etc. Why they existed and what function they served. That explanation was a general one, the reality is that each feudal sovereign adapted it to their circumstance and to accommodate their personal quirks. And this is what I did for the goverment of the Invincible Overlord. Some of it was to continue the original elements of Judges Guild's version of the City-State, other were my own creation. Mostly largely derived from Harn, Ars Magica, along with the Life in a Medieval X series of books.

To stress the ultimate goal of laying this out is to generate NPCs for the PCs to interact with and to come up with goals and movitations for the NPC's actions. It is elaborate partly because of personal perferences but also due to the fact that I been running the Majestic Wilderlands for 30 years. The only way to keep a campaign fresh for that long of a time is to come up with details on the various nooks and corners of the setting. This allows me to come up with novel situations for the next campaign.

What are the goals of the Overlord's government?

  • To maintain his personal household
  • To maintain the judicial system to adjudicate between clans and their members. 
  • To maintain an army to defend the Confederation and to protect the Overlord's peace.
  • To collect the dues, men, and supplies owed to the Overlord.
  • To administer the marches which are the personal territories of the Overlord
  • To administer the City-State 


Bureau of the Archives
The MINISTER OF THE ARCHIVES heads the Bureau of the Archives. The purpose of the Archives is to store all of the records complied by the Overlord. Normally this would be a subordinate minister to the Chancellor or sometimes the Chamberlain. However Lucius III understood the need for good record keeper so made it separate office answerable only to him. The Bureau also serves a watchdog function to make sure everybody is dotting their i's and crossing their t's. The Archive is meant to be very visible and noisy in acting as watchdogs. This covers the covert activities of the Black Lotus and the Regulators.

Under the Minister of the Archives are:
    Chief Clerk of the Clans; All records of people and their clans are kept here
        Chief Clerk of Revenue; All records of the Exchequer are here
   Clerks of Revenue
        Chief Clerk of the Record; All records of the Overlord personal library and misc. docs.
   Clerks of the Record
        Chief Clerk of the Edicts; All records of the Overlord's Edicts
   Clerks of the Edicts
        Chief Clerk of the Senate; All records of the proceedings of the Senate
   Clerks of the Senate
        Chief Clerk of Chancery; All records of the Chancery.
   Clerks of the Chancery

Bureau of the Census
The MINISTER OF THE CENSUS heads the Bureau of the Census. The purpose of the Census is to enumerate all the inhabitants of the Overlord's lands, their property, and their clan. Typically the Census is taken every 20 years. Again this would normally be under the one of the major officers (Chancellor, Exchequer, or Chamberlain) if it was done at all. However because the various taxes, aids, and levieis need to apportioned among the clans and nobles. And because those apportions are determined on the basis of the census, Lucius the Great setup a separate bureau. And it is one of the few bureaus of the Overlord's government that reports to the Senate as well as to the Overlord.

Under the Minister of the Census are:
    Chief Clerk of the Provinces
        Clerks of the Provinces
           Royal Census Gatherers
    Chief Clerk of the Marches
        Clerks of the Marches
           Royal Census Gatherers
    Chief Clerk of Administration
        Clerks of Census Administration

Bureau of the Provinces and Marches
The OVERLORD heads the Bureau of the Provinces. This is the hierarchy of officials that execute the law, decrees, and writs that the Overlord and the bureaus enact. It is not a formal bureau like the others it each Province, March, and the City-State has it own their own hierarchy. And the head of each, the Sheriffs, answers directly to the Overlord.

For +Tim Shorts+Chris C.+Joshua Macy+Douglas Cole+Rhandom A+Ken H, and +Daniel McEntee This is the section that explains the importance of the guy you just killed.

The role of the Sheriffs in the Provinces is mostly administrative as the territory of a province is dominated by sovereign clans and nobles houses who are members of the Confederation. The Provincial Sheriffs have strict limits to their authority. In contrast the Sheriffs of the Marches rule as if the Overlord was personally there. The Barons and Knights of the Marches are expected to treat the Sheriff as if he was the Overlord himself They do retain the right to petition the Overlord directly if they are unhappy or unwilling to go along with a Sheriff's decision. Note that Overlord has deliberately not appointed any nobles of higher rank than Baron. Instead reserves that authority to appointed positions like the Sheriff and High Bailiffs.

As the largest urban settlement by far, the City-State has it own administration based on its pre-conquest bureaucracy. Instead of a sheriff the Overlord appoints a Warden. The Lords of the City-State are basically a town council with the merchants, and temples dominating the membership.

As of the time of the MW supplement, 4436 BCCC, there are five provinces, Laknost, Bernost, Gaenost, Halnar, and Dearthmead. There are five Marches, the Northern March, the Eastern March, the Southern March, the Prydon March, and the Dearthmead March. At the time of my campaign present day, 4460 BCCC, two provinces has been added, New Caelam and Halkmenan. New Caelam is dominated by Duke Draco-lindus, and Halkmenan is dominated by Duke Divolic. A new march has been added the Southern Reaches March just south of the Pyrdon March.

In addition Duke Draco-lindus allied with several of the clan and nobles houses of the City-State and they independently conquered Tiethior on the other side of the Trident Gulf around 4450 BCCC. Working together they created the Tiethoir march independent of the Overlord and the Confederation. This group includes Duke Draco-lindus, the Elessarian Duke of Halnar, and the Tharian Duke of Laknost and various minor clans and noble houses. In the civil war currently being fought they form the core of Draco-lindus' faction.

Tiethoir hierarchy is setup similarly to the Overlord's hierarchy for the Provinces and Marches. Except appointments of high offices (the Sheriff, Treasurer, etc) are made by a collective decision of the council of the nobles originally involved in the conquest. The various districts are dominated by a single clan or noble house and it has become custom to let the dominate clan or noble house appoint the High Bailiff and other officials of that district.

Under the Overlord are:
    Sheriffs of the Province or March (Castle)
        High Bailiffs of the District (Keeps)
            Tax Collectors
            Toll Collectors
            District Justice
            Clerk of the Districts
            Bailiffs of the Manors
        Treasurer of the Province
        Inspector of Public Works
        Inspector of Markets
        Constables of the Castle/Keep
            Garrison Troops
        Lord Magistrates (3)
        Steward of the Sheriff
            Clerks of the Sheriff
    Warden of the City-State
        Lords of the City-State
        Captain of the City Guards
            City Guards
        Harbormaster of the City-State
        Treasurer of the City-State
        Inspector of Public Works
        Inspector of Markets
        Lord Magistrates (3)
            City Justices
        High Clerk of the City-State

Next Post will continue the detailing of the hierarchy.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor

If you want a copy of the first product I was a solo author on. Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor is only $2 at Paizo. It is for D&D 3.5. I kept just about everything in the original and fleshed out the details so it made a little more sense ... sorta of.

The top serves as a great "evil" town for a setting, and the bottom is a small but deadly dungeon. Even have as Stephen Colbert in one room.

I am pretty proud of the module, although I wound up despising the fussiness of the 3.X stat block. Thank goodness for DM Genie which bailed my ass out in making stat blocks.

Also thanks to Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor for helping with the edits. Make sure you get Manor #8 when it is released.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Fantasy Grounds license D&D 5e

Yesterday Smiteworks announced that they have licensed D&D 5e from Wizards of the Coast for the Fantasy Grounds Virtual Tabletop.

Wow, Wizards does something right software wise. Now it is is not without issues and I will get that in a moment

For those of you who don't know what the deal is with Virtual Tabletops, it is a piece of software that combines a whiteboard (drawing, displaying images), chat, voice chat, dice roller, and miscellaneous RPG utilities that works over the internet. Either one person, usually the referee, software acts like a server that everybody connects too. Or there is a central server run by a company that everybody connects too. Fantasy Grounds is an example of the former, and Roll20 is an example of the latter.

Unlike Computer Roleplaying Games like the Ultima Series, Baldur Gates, or Skyrim, unlike MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, Everquest, etc, Virtual Tabletops complements the existing industry and hobby rather than tries to supplants it. VTTs do require some specific setup namely in the fact to show anything you need a jpeg or similar image file. However aside from that the prep and rules you use are the same if you were all sitting around a physical table. Many groups switch between gaming using VTTs and gaming together without losing a beat in the campaign. Although in my circumstances with the Monday Night group, face to face is about getting together once or twice a year at a regional convention.

So back to Fantasy Grounds, I consider Fantasy Grounds to be the Cadillac of Virtual Tabletops. It is very good at what it does and allows for customization. Some are easy to do like setting a campaign, others require some technical skill similar to building a website or programming like constructing a ruleset. They have a marketplace where companies and creator can sell add-ons to Fantasy Grounds.

Fantasy Grounds has recently gone to a subscription service and $9.99 a month will get you a ultimate license that allow players to use the demo version of fantasy ground to connect to a campaign. Fantasy Grounds is available on Steam as well. And if subscriptions are not your thing then you can still purchase it outright. But it is pricey especially the ultimate version at $149.

The D&D 5e ruleset comes with the base subscription/purchase however it is just the rules. To be precise it is the character sheets, monster/npc sheets, etc. The 5e add-ons are Fantasy Grounds modules that have the actual 5e content. So rather than fill out a NPC form for a Orc, you just drag the Orc in from the module and everything is filled out. Including the ability to modify it from there. The same for classes, backgrounds, feats, etc.

The downside? While the Basic rules (Players and DM are included) are only $2.99, everything else is rather pricy. The complete classes are $50 and the complete monsters are also $50. The Phandelver adventure is $20. They did break everything up so if you are a player all you want is the ranger you can buy that for $5.

My guess is that somebody over at Wizards is still has a pole up their ass about on-line content for their current products and thus Smiteworks has to pass that cost along. But hey at least something available.

Another issue, is that Roll20 is really coming on strong. The Monday Night group used to use Fantasy Grounds but the need for everybody to have a copy of the software and the problem of getting whoever  the referee is router setup right eventually led to us opting for Roll20. It not that Fantasy Grounds is bad, but rather Roll20 is more convenient.

At first the switch to Roll20 was a set back in feature. But in the three years we been using it gotten better and better. Especially with the addition of smart character sheets. There are still some things Fantasy Grounds does better but there are things the Roll20 has that FG doesn't. The most spectacular of which is dynamic lighting and true line of sight. It takes a bit of work to prep, you have to draw out the walls again,  but the results are amazing.

I can't fault Wizards for going with Smiteworks and Fantasy Grounds. Looking over the Basic Rules that I bought, Roll20 could incorporate some but not all of the content. Roll20 is not quite there to handle everything that the 5e module included.

But I have no doubt it will be at some point. In which case I hope Wizards hasn't done an exclusive with Smiteworks and Roll20 is able to offer an official 5e add-on. Right now Roll20 has a very good 5e character sheet but you have to fill every thing out.

Overall will really benefit the hobby and industry. VTTs have been slowly growing as part of tabletop. I feel this will give VTTs a major jumpstart and not just Fantasy Grounds. And that this is a good thing for our hobby because it expands the ways in which people can continue gaming. Along with the fact that I mention that it doesn't supplant but supplements sitting around a table. Hell if you were that dedicated you could probably game D&D, Traveller, or whatever every night of the week through a combination of face-to-face and VTTs. You could game with people in Europe, Asia, or wherever (provided you can make your time zones work out).

A very good thing for the hobby indeed.