Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Possibly Intriguing D&D Virtual Table News

Jeff Faller sent me the following link to a post on a website I otherwise would never have visited, as it's focused on D&D IV, a game I don't play. The post is written by a beta tester of WotC's upcoming D&D Virtual Table, which is apparently -- more knowledgeable folks than I can chime in here -- a tool for running online games. Now, I personally have zero interest in such a tool, as I have a gaming group with which I'm happy, but I understand that not everyone is so fortunate. For them, something like this might well be a boon.

Anyway, what's intriguing about the linked post is that, about 0:30 into the first video, the presenter notes that the Virtual Table seems to include options for D&D rulesets other than Fourth Edition, including First Edition AD&D. Exactly what this means, if anything, is uncertain, since the presenter didn't attempt to use a ruleset other than 4e in his test of the software. My gut tells me that it's not going to amount to much, but I'm notoriously cynical and pessimistic. On the other hand, given the way WotC has lately been playing the nostalgia card in their advertising, I suppose there's a slim chance they're serious about trying to support older editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

Time will tell. I have no use for a Virtual Table myself, regardless of what rulesets it supports. However, if WotC really does make it meaningfully useful to players of, say, AD&D or OD&D, I'll be pleasantly surprised.


  1. If you want a virtual tabletop you can't go wrong with Fantasy grounds II. It does everything they now say that the D&D tabletop will do and more. The various combat tools, initiative trackers, effects trackers and so on are so damn good I even use them in my face to face games

  2. AFAIK there is no explicit mechanical support for older rulesets, because the VRT does very little automatically. As a result, it doesn't prevent players from using the older rulesets either. My understanding is that the inclusion of the dropdown showing different versions of D&D is to allow the host DM to announce that they're running a particular version, and to help players find and join in on that version of the game.

    The real test will be if the VRT can stay "version agnostic" as they enable automatic features and data import/linking into the software.

  3. The WotC Virtual Table currently barely supports any ruleset. There's the very hint of 4e support, but it's pretty vague. It would certainly be a reasonable platform for running AD&D or OD&D. Fill in hit points and AC and you're good to go.

    The ruleset options in the campaign options are purely cosmetic, to help people looking for campaigns. I would call this a positive, since it implies that WotC cares about people looking for games involving earlier editions.

  4. So I'm the only one that's thinking that this screams that WOTC is considering rereleasing AD&D?

  5. Maybe its me, but all these VTT's all seem so long winded and bit generic in their way their put together. I'm not saying they should look like some fancy-schmancy game like Everquest or WoW, but even Gauntlet had a better overall design depicting a D&d'ish digital tabletop and it's close to twenty five years old.

  6. @dangerous brian:

    wow, never saw FGII before--that is a pretty intense looking program. But I would expect it to be with an actual price tag, I suppose :)

  7. I've used the free Maptool program over at RPTOOLS.net, it spoiled me with its fog of war, HP tracking on the virtiual minis, and lighting effects, and it allowed me to play with my old group that was spread around the country. Did i mention its FREEE.

    I think lighting effects were the real eye opener for me as I have never realy bothered to track them, but when the computer starts keeping track of who has the tourch (and where they droped it) Light becomes a necesarry spell. the program even allows you to set wich Minis have low light and dark vision.

  8. I was really disappointed with trying out a demo for Fantasy Grounds, as the free Maptools seemed to have a lot more options and not as confusing of an interface. Haven't tried out Maptools in a long time, though, been meaning to give it another spin.

  9. The difference between Maptools and Fantasy Grounds is that one (FG) is really a full-fleshed virtual table top while the other is a set of tools with which one could emulate a virtual table top.

    FG includes a bunch of behind the scenes utilities as part of the overall package that just aren't there w/ Maptools. BUT...RPTools (developers of Maptool) offers a bunch of modules that come pretty darned close to FG as a suite. And as sevenbastard noted: They're FREEEEE.

    I'm interested to see how WotC produces a rules agnostic virtual table-top application. It just doesn't sound like their current business model. Why would they do such a thing? Especially when you consider that they pulled all the older edition game material pdfs off market.

    Personally it sounds like they're either reaching out and saying "Hey all you D&D players, check this out!" OR they're thinking of re-releasing the older rules as supported modules for their VTT. Which I SERIOUSLY doubt.

    Either way, like James (and most of you probably) I much prefer real life to virtual anything. Still...it's intriguing.

  10. A browser based, rules agnostic VTT would be way better than anything that is currently available if only for one reason.

    Please, for the love of Gygax, correct me if I'm wrong, but with the existing systems one player has to act as the host server and there is all sorts of messing around with IP addresses and firewalls and suchlike.

    Now the more computer savvy among us might sneer at the idea that this is too complex for some people, but I assure you that it is- I have a guy in my group who can barely get Skype to work for him. I'm sure I could get map tools working on his machine, but he is a state away, and driving up there would more or less defeat the purpose of the whole enterprise- especially given the fact that if one thing went wrong, I'd have to drive back up there to fix it. Words cannot convey my frustration.

    The other player I have asked me no less than five times in as many minutes if he was going to get a virus when he DLed map tools. He was so tweaked about it, I just told him to forget about it. Words cannot convey my frustration.

    However, these guys are my very best friends in the world, and there is no one else I'd rather game with, but man, I'd happily pay WoTC 10$ a month to avoid their issues. Just being able to go to Wotc.com or whatever and log in and get rolling would be sweet. Sure there would be a learning curve, but just getting everyone there would be half the battle.

    Being computer savvy shouldn't ever be a prerequisite for playing D&D, even on line.

    The moral of the story is what works for some doesn't work for everyone.

  11. P.S. Gamer Dude, re: why would they do such a thing?
    I suspect, maybe, because they love money and this would be a golden opportunity to turn non customers into customers.

  12. Why would they do such a thing? If using this involves a monthly subscription fee, I doubt they care what rule system you're using.

  13. Aos: Amen to that...

    Only issue I have is the monthly subscription fee. Seriously. That's highway robbery for a VTT. $120 a year? Wow...

    And yeah, I have no illusions that this is any sort of altruistic, koom-bay-yah offering from WotC in order to "please" all of us fringe cases. No, it's all about the benjamins. But hey, that's business man.

  14. Only issue I have is the monthly subscription fee. Seriously. That's highway robbery for a VTT. $120 a year? Wow...
    Well in all fairness the 4e player gets a lot more for their money. I don;t play 4e though, so I'd be paying just for the VTT. However, we play every week, though, so it comes out to maybe 2.50$ a session, which doesn't seem so bad to me- in fact, it's way less than I was paying in gas money for my last ftf game. A factor I think may appeal to other people in remote locations without access to a local group.

  15. I am in the beta and to my understanding the system selection is just to say which system you are using

    as was said before since you have to put things by hand for now you can use freely with 1st edition as was pointed before you just need to add hp and attack/damage :)

    it's in early development but looks quite solid :)

  16. They're still working on this?

    The TSR/WOTC desire for a computer mapping tool is, like, their combined Vietnam/Afghanistan. Hint: Not software company.

  17. Aos, what is it that a 4e player would get above and beyond what a licensed FG II player might get? I'm not attempting to be belligerent btw, just trying to figure out what it is WotC is packing into this thing to justify the expense...Especially when the market already has tools out there that perform exactly / nearly the same job.

    Granted, your point regarding a thick client v. thin client is valid. Bottom line, I was really hoping that WotC was taking a step towards re-releasing the older rules. That doesn't appear to be true though. Bummer.

  18. Gamer dude, I don't think you're being belligerent, at all. The 4e player gets the a package of stuff right now: the character builder, some kind of monster builder, access to Dungeon and Dragon and probably some stuff I don't know about. I believe the VTT is just an additional feature.
    As to what they get that FG doesn't offer, I think the thick client vs. thin client is really, really huge. I simply believe it is the difference between people using such an application and not using it. I can;t stress this enough. I play online. FG and Map Tools may as well not exist for all the good they've done me or will do me in the future. All anyone needs to do is spend 45 minutes trying to get everyone on and getting absolutely nowhere to see the value in a system that doesn't require the Firewall/IP manipulation necessary for FG and other currently available systems. You may find this hard to believe, but I think the majority of people who might wish to sue such a thing are going to give up the first seven time they can't get it to work.
    Also the brand Dungeons and Dragons is going to draw a lot more interest than FG.
    Furthermore, they may also be able to form groups with other players of that edition who are also online.
    @Delta- I don't know; they promised their customers that they would have this. It didn't work out. I think just quitting would be more lame than trying to make belated delivery.

  19. My group is pretty happy with MapTool. Free is a pretty good price for us. We use MapTool in our face to face game with a couple of laptops and a computer hooked to my HDTV. This setup is pretty handy if you like using miniatures BUT don't have a table the size of King Arthur's.

  20. Just to augment what AOS said (which I wholeheartedly agree with), the WotC tabletop also has the advantage of being able to leverage WotC artwork and creative content.

    The VTT already has one set of Dungeon Tiles built in. I could envision more being available for a small fee and pre-built maps for Modules and Dungeon adventures also being available (again, probably for a fee, but they are in the business of making money and someone does have to pay the salary of the person who puts these items together).

  21. @AOS: Setting up Fantasy Grounds or MapTool is not significantly different from setting up any other computer software. Yes, there is a networking concern, but that is primarily the requirement of the DM - most players should simply be able to load the program and run. And if not, the local Geek Squad (rented techs) could get you up an running for an additional $20 which is still far less than a year subscription of WotC.

    But the key difference isn't the thick vs. thin - it is the fact that using the online WotC tool leaves you entirely at the mercy of WotC for the future of your campaign. Once I purchase FG II or download MapTool the program is mine to use no matter what happens down the road, including the originating companies going out of business.

    Subscribing to WotC's VTT means that should Wizard's decide that they are getting out of the software business altogether, or should Mattel(?) decide to close down the Wizard's arm of their business - or even if WotC comes out with D&D V in 3 years and converts the VTT to that system - you're stuck. You have no autonomy whatsoever.

    And here's hoping they have a foolproof system of backups. If I recall correctly, even Hotmail and Gmail have had incidents of clients losing their entire account history - imagine having to recreate all your maps and characters in a VTT which had a database failure.

    Unless you think that WotC will give you an export feature ...