Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Without a Table: Playing D&D Virtually

Greg Tito | 13 Feb 2012 22:00
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Because we were pressed for time, Madden pushed the action of a straight-forward combat as a group of hobgoblins attempted to ransack the tavern. We rolled initiative to see who acted first by pressing the d20 button on the dice roller, and we took our turns controlling the actions of our characters by dragging their marker on the grid. I announced what power or attack I was performing in the voice chat, and then rolled the appropriate dice. When damage was dealt, we adjusted our hit point totals while DM managed those of the monsters. The VT was able to handle all the tactical intricacies of 4th edition very well, but I liked that the program doesn't try to play rules lawyer for you. Instead, the tools are all there for the DM to adjudicate the game as he or she sees fit. And the player can handle many of the calculations on his own. In short, the VT really does simulate the tabletop experience by just getting out of the way.

"Aside from some useful combat aids, we've been pretty hands off about actual rules enforcement. We see this as a tool to facilitate playing D&D however you want to play it, not a rules engine that might exclude players who prefer certain house rules or have different interpretations of how to run their games," Madden said.

For example, in D&D, players and DMs constantly modify the bonuses or penalties to die rolls. When you attack that hobgoblin with your buddy flanking him, you usually get a +2 bonus to your attack roll. The VT doesn't do this automatically, though; you have to put that bonus into the dice calculator manually, which allows the DM to allow or disallow the bonus based on the situation. The neat part is the result of your roll is broadcast to everyone in the chat window, so the whole table can see what you've done, and even celebrate with you when you roll a natural 20.

In 4th edition, there are boatloads of combat conditions characters can be placed under such as "dazed" or "bloodied" and the VT easily tracked all of them, which can be useful even if you're playing around a real table. "I don't see an online virtual table as a competitor to face-to-face play," said Madden, "but rather as a useful supplement for getting together with friends if they can't physically make it to a session, getting into a game when people aren't available in your area, or even just as a digital aid to help you track conditions or display maps in a face-to-face game."

The code word driving the VT's development was accessibility. "Some of the other virtual tabletops out there are really cool but they require extensive knowledge or preparation to use them to run an actual session," said Madden. "We focused on making the VT easy to launch into, intuitive to use, and ready to play without additional setup beyond the usual prep to build an encounter or adventure. We wanted an application that was user friendly and that someone could log in and start using to play D&D without extensive tutorials or setup."

Dungeon Masters have extensive tools to create adventures, and they go beyond just encounters and combat. Sure, you have a huge amount of tiles with which to lay out the landscape - including wilderness, city and dungeon tilesets created by Wizards' artists - but you can also use the VT to leave background and setting notes. The DM can place objects on the grid that players click on to read a short bit of text and these can offer insight into the adventure, or note combat effects such as using a table as cover, etc. Journals are split into chapters and the DM can add setting information about deities or races in them, while players can share their own notes in the party journal.

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