FGU Quick-Start for GMs/DMs: Part 1 - Preparing An Adventure

This series of FGU Quick-Start Guides for GMs is brought to you courtesy of Hywel Phillips, a Fantasy Grounds Community member in collaboration with Smiteworks USA, LLC, makers of Fantasy Grounds.

Getting going in Fantasy Grounds Unity

The first time you launch Fantasy Grounds it looks complex and imposing and you’re probably wondering how on earth you’re going to get started, let alone get to the point of running a game for your players. This is how you’re going to do it.

This tutorial will take you through the steps necessary to prepare a mini-adventure and be ready to run it. We’re going to use the D&D 5th edition rules (“the SRD”) because that comes free with Fantasy Grounds. If you want to run a different system, don’t worry. The cogs and wheels are the same for all the systems, we’re going to figure out how the moving parts fit together to let you run a game. So go through this example for 5E, then replicate the steps for your favorite system and you’ll find it mostly works the same.

Install FGU and run Check For Updates

This guide assumes you’ve gotten as far as installing Fantasy Grounds, registered for an account, and run “Check for Updates” to make sure you have the latest version. 

You can download the program at the following link:
Link: https://www.fantasygrounds.com/home/FantasyGroundsUnity.php

If you assistance with installation, please see the following link:

There is also a Quick Start Guide with general information at the following link:

Create Your Campaign

Fantasy Grounds keeps everything you need to run adventures or a campaign in something called, naturally enough, a campaign. This is the top-level container which holds the details of all the player characters, the adventures, the NPCs (non-player characters), the maps, the treasure items, locations, everything. 

It’s up to you how to organize your material and groups; FGU is very flexible about it. Campaigns are tied to a game system, so a campaign will be a D&D 5Ecampaign or a Pathfinder campaign, etc.. In FGU, the thing that implements a game system for your campaign is called a ruleset.

You can copy player characters from one campaign to another, so if your group of players finishes Dragon of Icespire Peak and want to go on to Princes of the Apocalypse, it is up to you whether to start a new campaign and bring the player characters into it, or just load the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure into your existing campaign.

But for now, we’re just going to make the most basic of campaigns: a D&D 5E adventure with a single map with a few encounters on it, some loot and a few bells and whistles. If we make a mess or decide we want to organize things differently, we can always build a clean campaign and import the existing player characters.

  • Launch Fantasy Grounds, and choose create campaign.

  • Call it QuickStartTutorial.

  • Choose the Dungeons and Dragons (5E) ruleset.

You can leave everything else as default.

FGU will chug away with a spinning d20 for a while as it builds the new campaign for you. Then it’ll pop up the main interface, with the Campaign Setup window front and center:

You can uncheck Show on load if you don’t want to see this box every time you start, then hit Next >>.

Now Fantasy Grounds is going to ask you what Modules you want. A module stores a collection of game rules and game data. You can buy modules on the Fantasy Grounds Shop for your game - the D&D 5E Player's Handbook is a module which FG can load for you, and when you do, you get all the classes and subclasses and spells and so on from the book pre-entered for you. The same goes for the D&D 5E Monster Manual - load that module and you’ll find all the monsters neatly organized and pre-entered for you. Buy an adventure like Lost Mine of Phandelver and you’ll find all the maps, all the read-out text, all the monsters, all the loot, everything, all set up for you.

We’re starting with a very bare-bones set up, so even if you have already bought the Player’s Handbook or Monster Manual, let’s not load them for now. Let’s start with just the D&D 5E SRD which comes free with FGU.

  • Click the “5E - SRD” button.

    Up pops a window to tell you it’s done it. You now have the building blocks of your one-shot adventure loaded. Lets use it to build something you can run.

Close the module set load window (the X in the top right corner of the window, as normal). Click Finish in the set-up window, or just close it. There are options for how you want FGU to display stuff (eg. whether tokens show health bars or colored dots to track hit points), but they don’t concern us yet.

Now we see the Fantasy Grounds window in all its glory.

It’s a stripped-down arcane interface because when you’re running the game, you need stuff to get out of your way. It’s hardly enticing for the first-time GM getting started, though. You’ll get so used to it you don’t even think about it after a session or two. 

For now we are just going to do three simple steps.

Step One: Say Hello

The window on the far left is the chat window. This is where you and your players can enter text to be shown to each other. More importantly, it is where the results of shared rolls, damage, etc. show up.

Click down in the bottom box, where it say “chat” in tiny letters. Type in Hello World, hit return. Up pops a speech bubble. Everyone connected to the game will see it. 

Now click on the little arrow by the black entry on the bottom right of the window. A drop-down menu with different languages appears. You can say Hello World in Elvish. Up it pops - in Elvish script, even. Notice “understood by:” appears under it.

This is an introduction to FGU’s automation. FGU understands that this phrase was said in Elvish. If any of the player characters can speak Elvish according to the languages on their character sheet, they will see the phrase translated in English. Characters who don’t speak Elvish won’t. Two players can literally chat away in a language that not everyone in the party speaks and exchange snarks about the Barbarian’s fumble in Elvish. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s cool.

Step Two: Roll Some Dice

D&D isn’t D&D without rolling some dice. FGU automates a lot of dice rolling, but you can start just by rolling stuff on the fly.

Underneath the chat window is a dice tray.

The simplest way to roll dice in FGU is to left-mouse-button-click-and-drag one of the dice in the tray to “pick it up”, then “throw it” by dropping it onto the chat window. The dice rolls and the chat window pops up the result of the roll. Grab a d20 and give it a go.

If players drop their dice on the chat window, their roll shows up for everyone. Whether the GM’s rolls show up for everyone depends on an options setting. By default, it doesn’t. To change the option, go up to the top right:

These little icons at the top-right open various useful windows, one of which is Options (the cog wheel). You can change the setting for Chat: Show GM rolls to on.

Above you see a GM hidden roll and a GM public roll in the chat window. FGU is pretty good at telling you what it’s done. In a session if something seems screwy mid-session, take a deep breath, stop for a moment and read back through the last couple of entries in the chat window. Very often it’ll say exactly what has happened and why.

Anyway, back to the dice tray. Next to it are some little icons.

Click ADV, then roll a d20 again. It rolls with advantage, rolling the requested dice twice and taking the best result of the two.

As I said, FGU is good at telling you what is has done. It says it has rolled two dice with advantage, the roll it dropped was a 10, and the result was 13.

The other buttons do similar things: DIS is disadvantage, +2 rolls the dice and adds +2 as you’d expect (common situational modifiers for things like cover). The modifier box lets you type in any bonus or penalty you like, then it’ll add them when you next roll the dice.

But often it is quicker to just type in the roll you’d like.

In the chat window, type “/roll 3d12+16” (without the quotes). FGU obliges. 

There’s much more that FGU can handle for you with the dice, but the last thing I want to show you is: grab a d6 from the dice tray, and whilst you are dragging it, click the right mouse button. FGU adds another d6 to be rolled. And again: 3d6. 10d6 fireballs, here we come!

Step Three: The Sidebar

OK, last thing before we start building our one-shot adventure. Look over on the right hand side. The sidebar controls everything we can do with FGU. We’ll explain them as we need them, but for now, click on the arrows in the category headers to expand the sidebar so we can see all the things that are available to us.

This is where all the moving parts of the FGU toolbox are to be found. Time to start building a well-oiled adventuring machine.











Start With A Story

The first thing we usually do once the group is all here and have their character sheets ready to go is to set the scene. We’ll probably have a bit of read-out text and some notes the to GM. A commercial adventure will have lots of flowery language. I’m going to keep it tight and minimal; feel free to embellish to your heart’s content. 

A story in FGU contains some text. You can have lots of little stories or a few huge ones, as you prefer. I like to have one story per location or adventure area or encounter, plus a scene-setting one and maybe an index or “crib-sheet” one for the whole adventure: stories can contain links to other stories. 

Click on “Story” on the sidebar. The story window opens.

We’ll take a minute to go through this as all of FGU’s collections of stuff (NPCs, Items, etc.) work the same way. So I’ll go through things in great detail the first time we need to do something new in FGU’s interface. Bear with me, they all work the same way. 

The group drop-down menu at the top allows you to organize your stories into a single level of folders. For a one-shot we don’t really care, but for good practice, let’s decide on a name for our adventure and put everything into that group. You’ll thank me once you have ten adventure modules loaded and you’re trying to find stuff. 

Click the dropdown menu.

Right now we don’t have any groups.

Click the green and white + to add one. It appears, helpfully called Group 1. We want to change that. Click the brown and white diagonal slash /.

The vertical red | (I think of it as a minus) lets you delete groups, or we can click on the group name to edit it. I’ve called it Bad Day At The Oasis. Click out of the window to accept the change, then select your group from the drop-down menu thus:

With it selected like that, it only shows us story entries from this group, and any story entry we make goes into the group.

Let’s make a new story for our introductory read-out text. Click the green and white + in the bottom right to make a new story entry. Up it pops.

Menu bar at the top with X to close it, simple enough.

Next thing down is the row with a circle/red dot thing. Apparently it’s meant to be a shield; different display themes can make it look like dragons.

I think of it as the “link icon” or (honestly) the “shield-link-thingy”. This is a thing you can drag-and-drop to link that information to other things.

Next is the padlock icon, unlocked, which shows we can edit it. If it’s locked, we can’t, naturally enough. Click to toggle.

In between those two is a blinking red caret, waiting for us to enter the name/title of the story. 

Type in “Intro: Bad Day At The Oasis”

Then click in the body of the window where it says “Click to enter text”. And enter some text.


Now, the first part of that is some read-out text, and maybe you want to pop that into the chat window so the players can refer back to it.

The second part of it is a call to action, and you don’t want that to be echoed to the chat, so we don’t want to just copy and paste the whole thing.

FGU can do this automatically for us. Click to put the cursor in the first paragraph. Hit CTRL-3 (Command-3 on a Mac) and it changes the paragraph to “chat frame”:

Click on the little speech bubble - bingo! It echoes the paragraph to the chat window.

There are other formatting options for text in stories, and to show them to you I’m going to show you one of FGU’s nifty little secrets. Right-click on the paragraph of text and a context-sensitive radial menu pops up. Hover over the icons and it’ll tell you what each thing does.

There’s one for paragraph types, which takes you to the submenu for body text, heading, chat frame, list, link and table. CTRL/CMD-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 do the same.

Anyway, enough intro. What ARE the players going to do? Go closer and investigate the Oasis!

We need a map. Close the story entry and the main story window for now to save on screen clutter. You should be able to play around to figure out how to access them again.

Maps and Images

FGU handles maps and images the same way. Our first step is going to be to import one.

Any old JPEG or PNG file will do. Keep the size below 4000 x 4000 pixels for performance reasons, especially if you or any of your players have older computers.

I grabbed the desert ruins map from Neutral Party’s Patreon free posts:

Let’s get it into FGU. We need to figure out where FGU keeps all its files.

On the sidebar, click Assets.

Now click Folder down at the bottom.

That should pop open a system finder window with the folder where FGU is installed. It has stuff like cache, campaigns, channels, etc. in it.

The neatest way of doing this is to add the map to your campaign. In the finder window, open campaigns and you should see one called QuickStartTutorial. Inside that there’s an images folder. Copy the Desert Ruins jpg to there.

Now hop back into FGU. Hit the little circle refresh folder assets button, bottom right. That alerts FGU that there are new files in there so it can re-index.

Now click on the “Campaign” sack that should have appeared first on the list:

Click on the Desert Ruins JPG icon for a preview:

Click “Create Image Record” from there, and FGU imports the file so we can now use it in our adventure.

Resize the image window to suit your screen - the adjust window size widget is bottom right corner of the window. Then click “Zoom Extents”, top right, to zoom in so the picture fills the window.

The FGU image window is very powerful, and has a lot of stuff in it as a result. We’re just going to do a few very basic things to get ready to use this image as a battlemap.











Step One: Set The Grid

In the image control panel, click on the right-hand top icon for grid settings.
Click the eye to turn the grid to visible. Uh-oh. There’s already a grid on the map itself, and our new grid doesn’t match up.

Two ways to fix it; One is to type in guesses for the grid size until it matches, then use the adjust position arrows to nudge it into place. The second is to click on the mouse icon, top left. Then you can click and drag the mouse on the map to match the existing grid (and maybe fine-tune with the numbers and adjust position settings). I make it 111 pixels, which is a bit bizarre.

Once you have done this, you can turn off the FGU grid visibility again with the eye icon. It’s not important to see FGU’s grid since there are already grid lines on the map. The important thing is to get the grid more-or-less sized and lined up right so tokens appear the right size and distances are measured correctly on the map. Having a second grid overlay can be confusing.

Step Two: Put In A Few Walls

There’s nothing wrong with just plonking the map onto the player’s screens like you would a real map on a physical table. But FGU can do a lot more with line-of-sight so tokens can only see what they ought to be able to see. This can get very fiddly and you’ll want to play around with it, but let’s at least put a few walls in the way.

Click on the wall icon on the top row for line of sight, then in the row below click the line for the line tool. This will let us draw walls on the map to block token line of sight. 

Click on the map in the middle of one of the solid-looking stone walls; FGU places a wall point. Click again, FGU adds a second wall point and connects the two with a red line, which is a line-of-sight blocking regular wall. Trace out the shape of that wall, hit escape when you are done. CTRL-Z to undo if you screw up (CMD-Z on Mac). If you want to tweak the position, use the select tool (the arrow icon, second row, on the left).

BE FAST AND LOOSE. It is easy to obsess over wall placement or accuracy. It’s actually better to have fewer points on the lines (helps performance) and to have the lines in the middle of the walls (so players can see the wall itself rather than a blank at the edge of their vision). It matters not at all if they are a bit wonky. If in doubt as to whether a wall should be drawn in, don’t bother. My rule of thumb is to draw it in if it provides enough cover for someone to hide behind; I took the executive decision that the rocks at the edge weren’t high enough, and nor were the thin stone walls at the bottom of the map.

As an exercise, try to get this done in 5 minutes tops. 

Let’s add one more refinement just because. 

Rectangle tool, door. Add a rectangle where the big portally-looking thing is at the middle of the map. Make sure the box overlaps the two wall endpoints at either side, to block line of sight unless the door is open.







OK, back to play mode (the d20 icon). All the walls disappear, but they are there ready for us.

Enable Line of Sight and hover your mouse over the door you just drew. A blue door box appears and you can click that white icon to open and close the door.

Bad Guys

We have our map ready. We need to decide who the bad guys are, and get them ready for the players to encounter. And we need some additional stories to remind ourselves of what’s where.

Let’s split the map up into six broad areas:

I drew this on the map using the paint tool, and you can show and hide the paint layer to your players and/or yourself in the layer menu on the image window, by the way.

  • Area 1 is the den of some desert gnolls.

  • Area 2 is the ancient golden doors of a temple, still guarded by a statue which comes to life and challenges anyone who tries to pass through the doors, even though they can now just walk around

  • Area 3 is the fountain - but is the water drinkable?

  • Area 4 is an ancient scriptorium, guarded by something venomous but holding some containers with valuable scrolls.

  • Area 5 is an area where they prepared the dead for mummification. Guess what, there’s still a mummy in there.

  • Area 6 is more gnolls, who form a somewhat fractious sept of the clan and tend to snipe and squabble across the courtyard.

Let’s make a story entry for each of these in the story window.

I literally copy-and-pasted from this document into my six story entries in FGU.

Now let’s “pin” the story entries to the map so we know what’s in there when the players reach each area. Drag and drop that shield/pin thingy to pin the corresponding entry to the map.

You can do it from the top of the individual story entries themselves, or from the main story window. I dropped the Introduction story entry onto the bottom of the map too so I have it all in one place. You’ll figure out which way of organizing the information works best for you as you go along. I prefer to have everything linked on the map, but that does lead to a certain amount of clutter. Others prefer everything linked to the stories.

If you hover your mouse over a pin, a tooltip pops up to let you know what the pin is linked to.

Encounters And NPCs

From the sidebar, open the NPC window. An NPC in FGU is exactly what you’d expect: all the game stats for monsters or individual character NPCs. Even with just the D&D SRD loaded, there are lots of entries. Fortunately, FGU has some search tools. 

You can narrow down the list by CR, by creature type, or by typing some text in the box just above those two. Type gnoll, and up pops just one entry. Click his little shield/link thingy and the relevant NPC window pops up:

Pretty clear, looks like a standard D&D monster stat block.

Hover your mouse over the bit of his bite attack that says Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit. It’s highlighted in blue. Double click it - FGU rolls that attack for you and puts the result in the chat window.

The same goes for damage.

If you have a foe selected, FGU will even compare the hit roll to the foe’s AC and tell you if it hits, then subtract the damage from its hit points when you roll damage. But we’ll get to that in due course.

For now, what we want to do is to plan an encounter. Let’s say that six gnolls live in area 1.

Click on the Encounter on the sidebar. A by-now familiar-in-style window opens up. You can make a new group to organize etc.

Click on the green and white + to add an encounter. 

Familiar looking shield-link-thingy, padlock, X to close window plus some other stuff, starting with the blinking text caret in the encounter name box. Let’s call it Area One Gnolls.

(There’s an FGU gotcha here by the way - if you’re editing a field like this, you need to click outside the field to “secure” the change you made and update the entry for the encounter in the main encounters window, etc. It’s fine once you know how that works, you stop even thinking about it.)

Let’s do what it says and drag-and-drop the gnoll from the gnoll’s shield-link-thingy onto the main body of the encounter window. Again you can drag the shield-link-thingy either from the Gnolls’ NPC sheet or from the list in the main NPC window.

This is me clicking and dragging:

And this is the result:

But we want more than one gnoll. Click in the box with “1” in and type “6”. Bingo.

The “G” in the circle next to the gnoll is its token as it will appear on the map. You can replace this with a pretty one if you have one by dragging and dropping an alternative token from the asset window to the encounter window for the gnolls, incidentally. 

Let’s decide where these gnolls are going to be on the map. Do that by dragging and dropping the token (as it shows on the line underneath where it says “gnoll”) for each of the six gnolls to an appropriate place on the map. As you do, its token in the encounter window turns into a tick to show you it has been placed. If you screw up, click the tick in the encounter and it’ll unplace it again so you can drag and drop again.

At this stage you’ve probably got a ton of windows open. Apologies for that. FGU does a lot of stuff, which means a lot of things can be open, and you have to get used to closing windows when you’re done with them.

So I’ve placed my gnolls like this:

Great! That encounter is good to go. If you’re curious, hit the little circle arrow next to CR. FGU calculates the CR of the encounter and how many XP it is worth. It can keep track of all of that and award it to the PCs in due course if you want it to.

Let’s add our encounters to the story entry for Area One. Open the story for Area One - click on the pin on the map, or from the main story window. You’ll probably have to juggle windows a bit as the map might pop to the front and hide the encounter.

IN A NEW LINE in the story for Area One, drag and drop the shield-link thingy from the encounter to the story. (If you don’t make a new line first, FGU links the existing text to the encounter, which is probably not what you want.)

Close the encounter window. Your placed gnolls disappear. But FGU has remembered them and they are ready to place in a combat. 

Let’s place the temple door guardian next. Make a new encounter. 

In the NPC window, let’s pick constructs from the dropdown menu. Hmm. These are either ridiculously hard (Iron Golem) or far too wimpy (Animated Armor).

OK, let’s reskin an existing NPC and edit it slightly. 

FGU won’t let you edit stuff right out of modules - very sensibly, it stops you screwing the reference copy of the rules up. 

But it does let us make a copy, and edit that copy. 

Unselect the Constructs, and search for Minotaur instead. 

Now drag and drop the Minotaur’s shield thingy back on to the main NPC window. A copy of the Minotaur appears, and this one is editable. (It’s the one which doesn’t say “5E SRD Bestiary” after its name).

Click on its link to open the NPC window as usual.

Click to toggle the padlock so it opens and you can edit the NPC:

Change its name to Temple Guardian, and its type to Construct. Change its AC to 19 and see if you can figure out how to delete its Labyrinthine Recall and Reckless traits (hint: click on the brown and white / to edit the list of traits).

When you are done you’ll discover that it has disappeared from your NPC window list, because its name no longer matches your search term (“Minotaur”). Clear the search text field in the main NPC window and go back to the drop down list for constructs, and there it is.

Now you can drag and drop from the main NPC window to the encounter you made for area two.

Drag and drop the token to plan where the temple guardian should appear on the map. Hit the refresh circle arrow to calculate XP and CR for the encounter.

FGU is quite clever, but not utterly clever - it will add up the XP for the NPCs in an encounter, but it isn’t smart enough to recalculate the XP when you change a creature’s stats. SmiteWorks aim for 80% automation of the rules, and this is part of the 20% it doesn’t handle.

You might wonder why it is worth building an encounter even though there’s only one NPC. Can’t you just drag the NPC link for the Temple Guardian straight to the story? Sure, but that misses out on some of the useful stuff FGU can do for you like pre-placing the token and calculating XP. So it is best practice to do everything via encounters.

Chests And Scorpions

You should know everything you need to make the encounter for Area 4 like this, bar one extra tip. I added a bit of text to the story, and built an encounter:

If you want to call a creature something else, but not make any changes to its stat block, you can just click on its name in the encounter to rename it. So if I want my players to see these things as “Scorpion Automaton” instead of Scorpion, but keeping the stats, I can just rename them in the encounter.

You can use this to good effect to give NPCs with the same stat block individual names, which is useful. If you drag in a scorpion and call him Bert, then drag a scorpion in again from the NPC list, you get a second entry even though they have the same stats. To delete Bert, use the edit list icon in the bottom right of the encounter window.

Now, what about the treasure in that chest?

We need items, parcels and coins.

Open the parcel window from the sidebar, make a new parcel (green and white +, bottom right) and call it Scriptorium Chest.

In the same way that encounters gather NPCs together ready for the players to meet, parcels gather loot together for them to claim.

Open the items window from the sidebar.

By this stage I hope things have become fairly intuitive.

Type “Scroll” in the search window just above “attunement”. Up pops a list of scrolls. You’ll probably want to expand the window a bit. Even looking just at scrolls we have pages and pages of them, which you can scroll through with the arrows.

There’s a text search box as well.

Use this to drag and drop the a scroll of color spray and a few other things from the Items main window into your parcel, thus:

You can add coins into the parcel on the left hand side. I put 150 gps in there (just click in the number and type). I added some interesting scrolls and a set of Cartographer’s tools.

Then I dragged the shield-link for the parcel to a NEW LINE (gotcha!)  in the story for this area, and now my chest is all ready for the players to open and claim.

The Mummy’s Lair

It shouldn’t take you long to build the encounter for the mummy, place her on the map, add her to the story and give her some treasure:

To make the jeweled mask, you can just click and add a new item directly from the parcel itself. You can rename it right there on the parcel screen. If you want to flesh out what the item is, click on its shield-link-thingy:

You can give it a fancy description, call it by a different name for the players to see if it has not yet been identified, give it some text that only appears once it has been identified, and so on.

Let’s go with:

When the players find this, it will only show them the Non-ID Name i.e. it shows up as a Jeweled Face Mask, and they only see the “Notes” text. I clicked on the green ID icon top right, turning it red thus making it unidentified to the players. So until they figure out what it is, the cursed bit of the description is only visible to the GM.

More Gnolls

You should be able to build area six like this. Start with an encounter and drag in the gnoll from the NPC list. Rename them to “Big Gnoll” and make two of them. 

For variety, I pulled in a goblin from the NPC window, renamed it in the Encounter window to “Stunted Gnoll” and dragged the “G” token on the right of the gnoll line in the encounter, then dropped it onto the place where the goblin token was on the line below it. That replaces the token with another, so all the gnolls use the “G” token rather than the goblin token, which didn’t look right.

Place on the map as usual.

Give them some modest treasure if you feel like it with a parcel, some coins and an item or two. Add all of that to (new lines!) in the story for the area by dragging and dropping the link shield thingy for the encounter and the parcel to the story. 

Final Steps

OK and we are done. You can decide for yourself if there’s anything wrong with the water in the fountain - poison? Something living in it? Make encounters or add to the story entry.

As the last step, for ease of play, I would drag the shield-link-thingy from the map itself down to a hotbar slot along the bottom of the screen. Then you can click on it (or use function keys) to bring up the map and you are ready to run the adventure for your players.

If you want to close FGU at this point, do it by right-clicking on the FGU background.

Exit session via the two X’s make sure all your campaign data is saved properly.

It doesn’t hurt to type “/save” in the chat window from time to time, too.

FGU does autosave, but better safe than sorry.

Of course, to run a game you are going to need some characters, and you’re going to have to learn how to use FGU to run a game. We will explore those options in future tutorials. Stay tuned for more soon!

Happy Gaming and Best Regards,
– Hywel Phillips