Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Without a Table: Playing D&D Virtually

Greg Tito | 13 Feb 2012 22:00
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"Building an adventure using the VT is pretty easy, and in my experience the biggest constraint is actually planning out what I want to throw at my party," Madden said. The integration with D&D Insider is helpful because you can easily import all the stats and powers of the White Dragon of Icy Death into the VT. If you prefer to make your own baddies, the VT has everything you need to kit monsters out with powers, stats and appropriate lore. All the tools make it about similar to what you'd spend on prep anyway.

"Putting together a few high quality encounters in the VT tends to take a couple hours, which is about as much time as I spend planning and mapping out encounters in a face-to-face game," Madden said.

All that would be moot if you couldn't find a game to play, but the lobby system is pretty simple. You can search for open games using various criteria such as level range or rule system, while your DM can make a session and invite you specifically to a private game. Right now, there are several open games available, but Madden hopes that once more people learn about the beta, the number of games will grow. The VT is available for all D&D Insider subscribers, and those people can invite up to ten of their friends, but Wizards of the Coast hasn't done much to publicize all of Madden's hard work.

GameTable Online has only handled development of the VT for the last two years, so it makes sense that it was built with 4th Edition rules baked in. I was not surprised by the Healing Surges and Shardmind Seekers, but the recent announcement of a new edition by Wizards of the Coast has me wondering if the VT is destined to become obsolete before it ever sees a widespread release. Madden assured me that the VT works for any edition of D&D just fine.

"We knew that the new edition was in the works when the announcement was made, and we're very excited about it," Madden said. "We built the VT with the flexibility to support integration with tools, stat-blocks, and skins for all editions of D&D, including future ones. While we did design the VT to work best with 4th edition, my experience has been that it works great with other editions. In fact, I've used it to play OD&D with only some minor changes to how I used PC stats."

Whenever I've asked Wizards' staff about the VT, they have been cautious to say anything about its status, but Madden didn't acknowledge any of the reluctance I've observed. "The people we've worked with at Wizards of the Coast have been very supportive of the development of the VT, and we have worked closely with them on this project," he said. If that is true, why has there been no announcement of the open beta for the VT on the D&D website? I suppose that Wizards of the Coast wants to concentrate on the message of the new ruleset, but where does that leave Madden's work?

"I think an official VT for playing D&D is a great idea," Madden said. I do, too, but I'm not sure it's in the cards for the Virtual Table that Madden has produced to be used by very many gamers. It's just too little too late. Despite the claims that the VT is edition-agnostic, there are too many flags marking it as a product of 4th edition. Madden and his team could probably scrub those clean, but the kind of tactical combat-oriented D&D that the VT facilitates with a battle grid might be out of fashion once the next D&D ruleset hits. Without featuring video chat, I don't think the VT brings enough to the table - heh - for it to see widespread use. If the VT was released with 4th edition in 2008 - as was originally planned - then I could imagine Wizards of the Coast supporting it fully as a part of the overall strategy to gain new players. But even though the VT does what it is supposed to do, and does it passably well, I worry that it may end up being an artifact of its era.

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