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  1. #1
    Trenloe's Avatar
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    Using a VPN Service Provider to get around port forwarding issues?

    I'm currently travelling overseas and I found it quite annoying that I couldn't access many of my US based websites because they could only be accessed from within the UK - Hulu, sections of Netflix, HBO-GO, etc. so I started looking into VPN solutions to make it look like I was still in the US. It turns out there are many "VPN Service Providers" available that allow you to "appear" as if you're in another country - essentially making you have an IP address in another country by using a VPN from where you are currently to an exit point in said country. This has allowed me to access websites and use apps as if I was in the US.

    You may be asking "What does this have to do with Fantasy Grounds?" Well, I discovered that this also allows a GM to get around port forwarding issues without the players having to install software as well. Most people who frequent these boards know that most port forwarding issues can be solved by using a VPN application called Hamachi - which usually works fine, but has limitations such as each person has to install the software to be able to connect, and the free version is limited to 5 users.

    Using a VPN service provider results in the players not knowing any different and the players don't have to install any software or do anything differently - FG pick up the IP address of the VPN and uses this to update the alias, so the players just connect to the alias as normal and the VPN service provider provides the "tunnel" directly to the GM PC.

    The down side? So far I have only found a subscription bases VPN service provider - costing around $50-$60 per year depending on who you go with. This is where Hamachi is better as it is free for 5 connections (including the GM) I believe.

    The up side? This allows you to use FG without having to mess around with port forwarding and also where port forwarding is not possible. For example, I will be running a game later today over a 4G wireless access point (EE in the UK if anyone is interested). This wireless access point has not port forwarding possibilities and so I wouldn't be able to run Fantasy Grounds as normal. But, using a VPN service provider allows me to get an external IP address that tunnels directly to my PC - it is this IP address that FG will use for connections, not need for port forwarding as the VPN provides the direct link. Only the GM has to have the VPN configured.

    This would also be useful for GMs running a game from a hotel room over the hotel's WiFi and other similar locations - run a game from Starbucks anyone?

    I thought people would be interested in this as an option for port forwarding issues/travelling restrictions. I'll let you know how I go when I play later today.
    Last edited by Trenloe; January 4th, 2014 at 11:46.
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  2. #2
    Hamachi can also mess up your installation, does collect email addresses, and is proprietary (meaning it very well can study everything you do with it, and probably without it, and sell this).

    The real number of cases where port forwarding doesn't work is really, really, really low. 99% of the time, reading the manual and setting it up properly solve any issues. Well, except when the internet providing is purposefully hatched and gutted.

    Also, VPN does a lot of things besides managing strange port forwarding. It's a good way to clean things up and keep things private, as per your example of public wifi usage. It will for example allow someone to bypass almost any bandwidth throttle or port restriction. Yes it has a cost, and for some that cost is inflated, but resources aren't free. Someone has to pay somewhere. Usually, when something is free, it's because it's not the product but the people using it are.

    Note that a VPN isn't very resources hungry. One could partner with a few people, and get a cheap (but good) VPS or dedicated server than set it up for VPN. Yes that demand some basic technical know-how, or following tutorial, and it's not very hard. And it's cheap. One can get a small good dedicated server for 15USD, probably a lot less for a VPS, and it can hold several people at the same time. An unmetered 100Mb/s Celeron is at 10€ per month at OVH for example, 100Mb/s can hold ten people easily. But that would mean having one dedicated IP outgoing, doesn't allow to switch IP to fake a geolocation like a big VPN service offer.

    In any cases, all of these solution will add some latency. Probably not the end of the world for FG, but it could show in VOIP. If you tested VOIP with a basic VPN provider on a public wifi, I'm curious to know how that went.

    But for that type of situation, this could be a service SmiteWorks do (and sell). A limited VPN service, very easy to use, that include the appropriate FG port forwarding and does not block or throttle anything. Doesn't need to provide a huge bandwith since it's mostly upload capped, a few MB should suffice. The few costs are shared by every customer, and even with honest (read: aggressive) pricing it could make some money for SmiteWorks (assuming they have someone on staff who can manage a server).
    Last edited by Blacky; January 4th, 2014 at 11:41.

  3. #3
    damned's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blacky View Post
    But for that type of situation, this could be a service SmiteWorks do (and sell). A limited VPN service, very easy to use, that include the appropriate FG port forwarding and does not block or throttle anything. Doesn't need to provide a huge bandwith since it's mostly upload capped, a few MB should suffice. The few costs are shared by every customer, and even with honest (read: aggressive) pricing it could make some money for SmiteWorks (assuming they have someone on staff who can manage a server).
    an interesting alternative to this could be a setup where the FG client tunnels its traffic through a hosted server that manages the connections between host and client... eliminating the GM side configurations for people... downside? server down - we're all down... but the GM side configuration is a barrier for some people.

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  4. #4
    Trenloe's Avatar
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    I've just finished running a session of my Carrion Crown Pathfinder campaign using a VPN service provider - I had to do this as I am using a 4G wireless hotspot that doesn't have port forwarding.

    I worked well - it was completely transparent to the players, they just used the alias as normal to connect.

    The one issue I did have was that my VPN IP address changed twice during the session - requiring the players to reconnect. I think that this is more than likely due to my 4G wireless hotspot running on low signal strength (1 bar on the indicator) and that causing the timeout/idle time result that required a re-IP of the connection than with anything to do with the VPN side of things.

    So, successful test!
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  5. #5

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    I think Blacky's idea of Smiteworks running a VPN server for a monthly fee is interesting. There's clearly some demand for it both because people don't have access to the router, because they don't want the hassle of setting up a server, or because they travel or sheer convenience. I suspect "aggressive" pricing would be difficult because they would have to have a third party run the server.

  6. #6
    I would not want Smiteworks running a service like this. Not cost-effective and why would they want to support this!
    These services already exist, use 'em.
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  7. #7
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    Could you run a game through Tor?
    Last edited by hawkwind; January 10th, 2014 at 15:25.

  8. #8
    Trenloe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hawkwind View Post
    Could you run a game through Tor?
    I know very little about TOR, from doing a quick internet search - from what I can it is for HTTP communications, I'm not sure if it can do specific ports or protocols other than HTTP. Perhaps someone else might now?!?
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  9. #9
    Trenloe's Avatar
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    Looking at the information about TOR here: https://www.torproject.org/about/overview.html.en

    In the how it works section it mentions:
    Tor only works for TCP streams and can be used by any application with SOCKS support.
    This is good - it suggests it would work with Fantasy Grounds.

    But the very next paragraph says:
    For efficiency, the Tor software uses the same circuit for connections that happen within the same ten minutes or so. Later requests are given a new circuit, to keep people from linking your earlier actions to the new ones.
    This could be bad for FG - I don't know how this new circuits every 10 minutes functionality would effect the client-server connection to FG. Would it change the end IP address that the user's were connecting to and hence they'd lose the connection and would have to ask the GM for the new IP address to be able to connect again.

    Does the GM even know the end IP address that is being used and so they can give that IP address to the players?

    To be honest, it doesn't look promising - I don't think TOR is designed for a server like Fantasy Grounds behind the tunnel.

    But, someone who knows more about it might have an idea of a way of making it work.
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  10. #10
    Trenloe's Avatar
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    Or, when you mention TOR do you mean the TorVPN provider: https://torvpn.com/information.html

    This might well work. Give the free user account a go and see if it does - run the connection test in FG once you're connected to the VPN. The free access only has a 1GB limit, should be more than enough to try it out. Then you'd have to buy additional data quota packages.
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