Today, August 30th 2022, we say farewell to Astral Tabletop. Since the announcement in late 2021 that Astral was entering maintenance mode, we knew it was only a matter of time before the servers were shut down permanently. Here at Arkenforge, we’ve always been fond of Astral. We both started in early 2017, and we’ve enjoyed watching them grow from strength to strength over the years. If you’ll permit us, we’d like to offer a eulogy for our now fallen brethren.
In the beginning
Astral started its life in 2017 as Power VTT, created by a single developer and ‘Customer Experience Overlord’ – Tom Lackemann. A great thing about working in tabletop is that no one really questions your job titles. I mean, my business cards actually say ‘Tech Wizard’. But anyway, that’s besides the point.
Power VTT was built a single core goal – simplicity. It may be tough to believe, but back in 2017 VTTs were NOT intuitive at all. Every platform had a rather steep learning curve, with potentially hours of tutorials to understand how to run your games. Power VTT was attempting to solve all that.
Right off the bat we were impressed. After all, we had only just started to conceptualise what our Master’s Toolkit would be. There was a lot of overlap between our planned mapping features and Power VTT’s. We were always quite impressed by (and maybe slightly jealous of) their weather and lighting systems.
Things were stormy for PowerVTT in those early days though. Our Kickstarters launched at roughly the same time, and while ours was ultimately successful (my god we were so young!), the PowerVTT Kickstarter was cancelled after a week with only 26 backers. Things seemed to die down after that, and we assumed that that was the end. However, like a Phoenix, it rose from the ashes and began life anew.
The Age of Astral
In 2018, Power VTT rebranded as Astral VTT, and started building its presence as a serious online platform. It was competing directly against the VTT power couple of the time – Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. This was a pretty big deal back in the day! Keep in mind that these were the times before FoundryVTT, and well before the ‘new VTT project announced every week’ paradigm that we find ourselves in now. Astral was looking great, and its feature set was something to behold.
Only a year later in 2019, it partnered with OneBookShelf, best known for the DriveThruRPG storefront. We vividly remember seeing the announcement and thinking to ourselves, “Wait, that’s an option!?”. It seemed like Astral was on the path to wild success. Its marketplace was growing continuously, and large publishers were jumping on board left and right.
With its freemium subscription model, it stared Roll20 down and refused to blink. It developed an incredibly dedicated following, with hundreds of thousands of users passing through its doors. We were always waiting with bated breath to see what features would come next.
But, on one fateful day – everything changed.
All good things come to an end
I was there, readers. I was there at the exact moment that the Discord announcement came. On October 19th 2021, Astral put out an announcement that we honestly thought we’d never see. The platform was no longer financially viable, its Overlord was retiring from the project, and things would be placed into maintenance mode. This wasn’t a final death knell, but it was certainly a bad sign. OneBookShelf had three options before them – Pivot Astral into a different niche, find someone to purchase Astral and take it off their hands, or shut down the servers forever.
The loyal community rallied, attempting to find the funds to purchase Astral from OneBookShelf themselves. Discussions were had on how Astral could pivot to a new niche and keep a foothold in the tabletop industry. There were talks of convincing OneBookShelf to make the platform open source. Such discussions were a testament to the effect that Astral VTT had on its users.
Unfortunately though, we now know what the final outcome was: Astral VTT is to be no more. Once the servers are shut down, all stored data will likely be purged, and Astral VTT will become yet another VTT project that fell to the wayside.
A lot of Astral users are now out in the wilderness, looking for a new place to call home. There’s a few places that they’ll likely go.
For those who relied on Astral’s free tier, our biggest suggestion would be a fellow Melbourne-based VTT Owlbear.Rodeo. They are by far the platform most true to Tom’s original vision – a dead-simple online VTT.
Many of the free users will most likely float back towards Roll20. Roll20 has put out a survey for Astral users, wanting to know what features from Astral they would like to see in Roll20. This is a solid step by the Roll20 team to regain the trust of those users who originally left Roll20 for Astral, and we hope that they can add in those most requested features.
Most who used the paid tiers of Astral will likely find themselves with Foundry, the newest platform to successfully take on the VTT hegemony. Funnily enough, the arrival of Foundry on the scene with its single-purchase model is most likely what ultimately lead to Astral’s demise.
Finally, we hope that those who used Astral for their in-person games will join us and our Master’s Toolkit. We’d like to think that our platform brought the original Astral VTT vision into people’s living rooms.
The Astral discord server will be converted into a TTRPG community meeting space. We would highly recommend that you join. You can get there from this link.
And that’s all folks. Thankyou for reading to the end, and for helping us to send off one of the finest VTTs we’ve seen over the years. If you used AstralVTT, let us know your thoughts below.
We wish all involved at Astral all the best in their next endeavours.