How One App Hopes to Take Tabletop Gaming Digital

How One App Hopes to Take Tabletop Gaming Digital

The creators of the InKarnate RPG Toolset talk about the balance between tradition and accessibility in modern role playing.

There's no arguing that part of the fun/frustration of tabletop gaming is sitting in a room with your friends, penciling in character sheets and rolling fistfuls of dice. But like so much else, the advent of not only computing, but convenient computing, has made the actual need for lugging such a physical kit to game night all but obsolete. Still, despite the convenience of digitization, to date, technology has proven continually unable to oust even the most cumbersome manual aspects from modern role playing.

Enter the inKarnate RPG Toolset, a web application that hopes to strike the right balance between maintaining a classic tabletop experience, while augmenting certain components of the experience to make it more accessible to modern gamers. The Escapist recently got a chance to sit down with its creators (who are currently working to fund the project through Kickstarter) about the philosophy behind making a technological application of a mechanical hobby.

The Escapist: Why start with D&D 3.5? What other RPGs are you planning on expanding to in the future? Just other D&D versions, or other games like Pathfinder?<

InKarnate: We began with 3.5 because of its open-source foundations and how close it is to Pathfinder. We've since decided that PF will be the next rule set we tackle. After that, we're not quite sure. Our intent is to make this a long-term development where we are consistently expanding InKarnate. We've looked at Shadowrun, 4e, and Savage Worlds as just a few examples of other rules we'd love to find a way to include.

The Escapist: Do you see the InKarnate app changing the way that people play tabletop RPGs, or just helping them improve the experience that's already there?

InKarnate: Both, in that by improving the experience we hope to change it. To us, engaging in this unpredictable mutual storytelling experience is at the heart of the fun. Yes, gaining power for your character, rolling crits and slaying terrible demons through masterful strategy are all important as well, but right now we feel the rules are getting too much in the way of enjoyment. We were observing some other groups recently and there was one example that really stuck with us. This particular group was brilliant with the story-the GM was playing the role of a fork-tongued Beholder that talked the party out of killing it once and then damn near did so again. They were all laughing and coming up with entertaining solutions to the scene, the GM was firing on all cylinders, and then...one the players couldn't find an appropriate skill for his character to use and the entire session came to a halt. If those moments could be avoided wouldn't we all want that?

Another major area where we hope to promote change is in game preparation. How many hours do GMs spend putting their campaigns together? Seems, at times, like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a hill. How's that fun? With rules agnostic tools like the Map Builder and Adventure Creator, our intent is to make writing campaigns, adventures, and even one-off encounters simple and fun. Rather than the GM thinking: 'EUREKA! I just had the coolest adventure idea of all time,' followed shortly thereafter by 'For all that's good and holy I now have to write the thing.' We want GMs to look forward to firing up InKarnate and building out their imagined Underdarks and celestial cities.

The Escapist: Are you considering working with or trying to attract any RPG developers, or are you focused exclusively on the players?

InKarnate: We've had talks with developers here and there-but nothing that's progressed to a point of being able to discuss just yet. One area where we'd love to attract creators, though, is through the adventure editor we intend to build. We see that as an opportunity for many of the smaller module publishers to offer up their work without having to create physical books and worry about poor margins or marketing costs. We want InKarnate to become a virtual tabletop RPG hub. That's a lofty goal and one that's not right around the corner-but a worthy thing to chase all the same.

The Escapist: Wizards of the Coast developed an in-house D&D app, but seems to have ignored it since. Do you think there's a reason why its app wasn't widely adopted by the tabletop community, and how is InKarnate's toolset seeking to offer players more?

InKarnate: Well, will start off by saying that, now that we're neck-deep in this ourselves, we realize how big a task it is. With that acknowledgement out of the way, I think the main issues we've seen with other apps are: they're not easy enough to use, are not fully integrated, do not have a visual UI, and do not do enough to help GMs and players with preparation for play sessions. We recently showed our prototype Map Builder at Gencon and were surprised by the delighted reaction we received from attendees at the booth. I know it probably sounds strange that we'd be surprised by a positive reaction to a component of our own app, but the Map Builder is still very early in development compared to the Character Creator-and so we were caught off guard by how much everyone seemed to love it even in its early state. We think the reason is that GMs do not have enough tools to help them that are simple and even a little fun to use (a lot of Gencon attendees remarked that they could see themselves just doodling away at maps for an afternoon using the Map Builder).

Also, we intend to set ourselves apart by continually updating InKarnate. One of the cool features of the app is the equip screen-an interface where you can see illustrated weapons equipped for your character. We intend to release monthly art packs with new looks, visual styles, etc. So your Holy Avenger might look completely different from someone else's. And beyond art packs, new adventures, and other content, given the open-ended nature of tabletop RPGs, we feel like we could roll out new features nearly into infinity without ever running out of something new to chase.

The Escapist: While they often share multiple components and players, software-based RPGs and table RPGs are pretty distinct. Where does InKarnate draw the line between keeping D&D a true tabletop experience, and evolving it into something different entirely? Are there any features or components you'd never consider including virtually?

InKarnate: Our focus, from the beginning, has been on making the experience sitting around a table with your friends better. We feel that there's a certain something about being in the room together that really makes these games sing and so that's been our mission statement: MAKE PLAYING IN A ROOM MUCH, MUCH BETTER (of course, given that it's a web app we get strong online play also as a benefit of the design).
For the foreseeable future, we're going to avoid 3D in the app (particularly in mapping, given that 2D is the typical standard for maps in the genre). Outside of that, one of the fascinating things about this project is how many different directions we can ultimately take it. So would not eliminate anything as future targets (of course, given the scope of what we already have on our plate, that hypothetical future is a ways...well...in the future).

The Escapist: So, you're looking for funding for Inkarnate through Kickstarter. Why'd you decide to go that route?

InKarnate: Well, at the moment, InKarnate is a labor of love from the three of us-Alex Gagen, Glenn Rane, and Marc Hutcheson. We have the ability to build out InKarnate, but with additional resources we can move much more quickly and expand the feature set. We're asking for $100,000, but it's important to understand that after Kickstarter and Amazon take their cut, fulfilling the physical rewards, taxes, etc. there's a lot less than that left over. For an app of this scope and level of polish, that's a very streamlined budget. If the community gets behind InKarnate and we receive the funding, it's going to help us tremendously in pushing out a polished, well-executed app in a shorter time frame. But even if we don't get the funding we are going to continue to work on it. We believe that InKarnate has the power to transform how tabletop games are played-and we're going to do everything we can to see that it does.

You can find a lot more info on their Kickstarter page or on the InKarnate website.

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I loved being a DM but to do it right was a hideous amount of work. Particularly if you had players who loved going off the rails like mine did.

It is really difficult giving the players a sense of freedom when it takes 4 hours to draw and populate a single "dungeon level". 3e had excellent customization and building rules which is great if you are a player and only focused on one character but hideous if you are the DM and need to build every denizen of the world the players might possibly want to stick a sword in to.

I want a fiendish ogre swinging an evil aligned magic 2 handed sword (which is 1 handed for him). Well I need to give him a level of warrior since ogres can only use simple weapons. But wait that warrior level plus the infernal template pushed his challenge rating higher than I intended so now I need to come up with some kind of environmental handicap to balance it out.

The options I saw for being a DM were throw out the rules and just pretend they mattered for the player or do an assload of work to follow them.

But when I did have the time to put in 8 hours of work for each 4 hour play session and it was rolling along everything was just magical. We created stories that we still talk about even though its been years since we played.

This seems like a cool system with nearly limitless and significant upgrades and additions. What they really need to do is press the accessibility it brings, I don't play tabletop games but this makes me want to. Porting images and I'm sold on this.

Seriously this would be AWESOME to have.

I love me some tabletop, but sometimes you do get over loaded.

Hmmm, seems like a scam to me. Basically what they are doing is creating a PNP rules portal running through an app, for which they plan to charge a monthy fee for access. It's basically like paying an MMO subscription in place of lugging books to a PnP RPG game.

That's how it looks to me at any rate, you'll notice on their kickstarter page one of the big things they are giving donators is so many months of "app access", which pretty much makes the goal transparent.

Now, to be honest I might pay a one time fee for a decent progam like this (computer gaming aids are an old idea, though few ever really worked out) but not a monthly access fee.

That's my thoughts at any rate. I'll be VERY surprised if it goes anywhere. I also imagine this is why they are barely over 10% of their funding ($100k goal, $12k pledged) with 10 days left on their Kickstarter.

Backed this.

As a GM of two concurrently running games this could make my life SOOOO much easier.

There's been another kickstarter success about this. It's browser oriented.

http://roll20.net/

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rileydutton/roll20-virtual-tabletop-gaming-that-tells-a-story

Therumancer:

Hmmm, seems like a scam to me. Basically what they are doing is creating a PNP rules portal running through an app, for which they plan to charge a monthy fee for access. It's basically like paying an MMO subscription in place of lugging books to a PnP RPG game.

Yeah, that seems like a reasonable service to me.

Let's say they charge $10/month for the service. It looks like most of the tools are aimed at the GM, so you only really need a subscription for the GM of the group. If you've got 5 people in your group, that's each person kicking in $2/month. Less than people pay for pizza each session. If it helps the GM create better campaigns in the same amount of time, that seems like something worth paying for.

Now if each person needed to have an account, and they were charging $20/month for each person, that would probably end up pricing the service outside the reach of most users.

p.s. According to their kickstarter page, it appears they're now offering some of their tools as a one-time fee, rather than on a subscription basis.

daflame:
There's been another kickstarter success about this. It's browser oriented.

http://roll20.net/

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rileydutton/roll20-virtual-tabletop-gaming-that-tells-a-story

Wow, thank you for those links!
That project looks so much cooler!

Yeah, methinks this isn't going to be going much past D20. They've already got enough on their plate with just that, so I think Whitewolf won't be benefiting from this project.

I've kinda moved on from the 5% world of D20 to the over-loaded dicebags of D10. I'm also sick of the "Standard Fantasy" setting so you can take your dwarves/elves/goblins/what-have-yous and stick them where your app doesn't display.

And backed.

Although there's no point in me selecting a reward - I don't have a phone smart enough to run it. Still, backed it for charity, because it is a great idea that deserves to exist.

Pebkio:
I've kinda moved on from the 5% world of D20 to the over-loaded dicebags of D10. I'm also sick of the "Standard Fantasy" setting so you can take your dwarves/elves/goblins/what-have-yous and stick them where your app doesn't display.

One doesn't have to run games with the standard races. It is possible to dump all the main races (including humans, if one were so inclined) and make up new races with similar stat boosts/penalties by rearranging racial traits.

I did it for Mass Effect (Quarians had good Dex and Int, but poor Con, and Halfling luck. Krogan had good Str and Wis, but low Int, and Half-Orc ferocity. Asari had good Charisma and Con, but low Wis, and Elven magic affinity.) to great success, and have done it for other sci-fi and fantasy settings as well (I created a race of plant women inspired by the Delvians from Farscape, for instance).

There's no reason that all fantasy has to stand around in Tolkein's shadow. One just needs the innovation to move beyond what comes pre-packaged in the core rulebook.

Bara_no_Hime:

Pebkio:
I've kinda moved on from the 5% world of D20 to the over-loaded dicebags of D10. I'm also sick of the "Standard Fantasy" setting so you can take your dwarves/elves/goblins/what-have-yous and stick them where your app doesn't display.

One doesn't have to run games with the standard races. It is possible to dump all the main races (including humans, if one were so inclined) and make up new races with similar stat boosts/penalties by rearranging racial traits.

I did it for Mass Effect (Quarians had good Dex and Int, but poor Con, and Halfling luck. Krogan had good Str and Wis, but low Int, and Half-Orc ferocity. Asari had good Charisma and Con, but low Wis, and Elven magic affinity.) to great success, and have done it for other sci-fi and fantasy settings as well (I created a race of plant women inspired by the Delvians from Farscape, for instance).

There's no reason that all fantasy has to stand around in Tolkein's shadow. One just needs the innovation to move beyond what comes pre-packaged in the core rulebook.

This. D&D get's a bad rap as in fantasy circles, ether by people who think it's too entrenched in the "standard setting", or people who think it's gone too far (tieflings and dragonborn inevitably being brought up), but at the end of the day ANY rule system is nothing more than tools. Once you've played enough to understand the system's quirks and intent, it's easy to reshape it to whatever you want for a suitable campaign.

OT: It seems like a good idea. The D&D Online system has been abandoned and likely won't get going for a long time (if ever), so I'm glad this like this and RollD20 are stepping up. A cheap, easy mapmaker and monster-tracker is just the thing for the overworked DM.

Oooh this looks pretty cool, always wanted to get into tabletop, but the long papers always scared me away.

My friends and I use Traipse: http://www.knowledgearcana.com/traipse-openrpg

That's not likely to change as a result of this tool hitting the market since it's free and serves our needs perfectly for our Pathfinder campaign. Speaking of which, I need to go get ready for today's session.

This sort of thing interests me but I'm not a fan of D20 and it doesn't look like any of the games I play are on their radar so there isn't much point in me funding this project.

Hi All! This is Glenn from the InKarnate team. To respond to some of the posts here, I'd like to point out that the Map Builder, Adventure Writer and Virtual Table Top will be rules agnostic. For the Map Builder we plan to have multiple styles of fantasy skins, as well as Sci-Fi skins to aid in your world building and story telling. The Adventure Writer is a simple tool to help you organize and collect your maps, images, descriptions, NPCs, treasure, traps, etc., related to your adventures/encounters. The cherry on top, the Virtual Table Top, takes your creations from the Map Builder, Adventure Writer, and Character Sheets, allowing them to work and communicate together, seamlessly. The Character Creator as it exists now is for D20, but with your support and interest, we plan on adding character generators for the most popular RPGs, that will then allow your Character Sheets to interact in a deeper way with the InKarnate play space. Hope this clears up some things.

Thanks,

Glenn

P.S. Thank You to The Escapist for the interview!

Glenn Rane:
Hi All! This is Glenn from the InKarnate team. To respond to some of the posts here, I'd like to point out that the Map Builder, Adventure Writer and Virtual Table Top will be rules agnostic. For the Map Builder we plan to have multiple styles of fantasy skins, as well as Sci-Fi skins to aid in your world building and story telling. The Adventure Writer is a simple tool to help you organize and collect your maps, images, descriptions, NPCs, treasure, traps, etc., related to your adventures/encounters. The cherry on top, the Virtual Table Top, takes your creations from the Map Builder, Adventure Writer, and Character Sheets, allowing them to work and communicate together, seamlessly. The Character Creator as it exists now is for D20, but with your support and interest, we plan on adding character generators for the most popular RPGs, that will then allow your Character Sheets to interact in a deeper way with the InKarnate play space. Hope this clears up some things.

Thanks,

Glenn

P.S. Thank You to The Escapist for the interview!

Hello, Glenn. Welcome to the Escapist, hopefully you'll stick around.

I have a question about Inkarnate: Is there/going to be a Bestiary? What I mean is a repository for monsters that the DM has designed, a place that is not tied to any specific adventure but is capable of importing the information to an adventure. Ex. A place where I can write up stats for a dozen varieties of Orc, then import certain ones into adventures as the situation arises.

Thunderous Cacophony:

Glenn Rane:
Hi All! This is Glenn from the InKarnate team. To respond to some of the posts here, I'd like to point out that the Map Builder, Adventure Writer and Virtual Table Top will be rules agnostic. For the Map Builder we plan to have multiple styles of fantasy skins, as well as Sci-Fi skins to aid in your world building and story telling. The Adventure Writer is a simple tool to help you organize and collect your maps, images, descriptions, NPCs, treasure, traps, etc., related to your adventures/encounters. The cherry on top, the Virtual Table Top, takes your creations from the Map Builder, Adventure Writer, and Character Sheets, allowing them to work and communicate together, seamlessly. The Character Creator as it exists now is for D20, but with your support and interest, we plan on adding character generators for the most popular RPGs, that will then allow your Character Sheets to interact in a deeper way with the InKarnate play space. Hope this clears up some things.

Thanks,

Glenn

P.S. Thank You to The Escapist for the interview!

Hello, Glenn. Welcome to the Escapist, hopefully you'll stick around.

I have a question about Inkarnate: Is there/going to be a Bestiary? What I mean is a repository for monsters that the DM has designed, a place that is not tied to any specific adventure but is capable of importing the information to an adventure. Ex. A place where I can write up stats for a dozen varieties of Orc, then import certain ones into adventures as the situation arises.

Yes, we will have a full Bestiary with images also, that you will be able to pass to your players. Our hopeful plans include Magic Items, Hazards/Traps, Treasure, Spells, Skills, Feats, and Creature/NPC editors that work in the same fun way as our Character Creator.

It's pretty cool, but nothing will ever replace sitting at a table with some friends and some brews rolling dice.

Glenn Rane:

Thunderous Cacophony:

Glenn Rane:
Hi All! This is Glenn from the InKarnate team. To respond to some of the posts here, I'd like to point out that the Map Builder, Adventure Writer and Virtual Table Top will be rules agnostic. For the Map Builder we plan to have multiple styles of fantasy skins, as well as Sci-Fi skins to aid in your world building and story telling. The Adventure Writer is a simple tool to help you organize and collect your maps, images, descriptions, NPCs, treasure, traps, etc., related to your adventures/encounters. The cherry on top, the Virtual Table Top, takes your creations from the Map Builder, Adventure Writer, and Character Sheets, allowing them to work and communicate together, seamlessly. The Character Creator as it exists now is for D20, but with your support and interest, we plan on adding character generators for the most popular RPGs, that will then allow your Character Sheets to interact in a deeper way with the InKarnate play space. Hope this clears up some things.

Thanks,

Glenn

P.S. Thank You to The Escapist for the interview!

Hello, Glenn. Welcome to the Escapist, hopefully you'll stick around.

I have a question about Inkarnate: Is there/going to be a Bestiary? What I mean is a repository for monsters that the DM has designed, a place that is not tied to any specific adventure but is capable of importing the information to an adventure. Ex. A place where I can write up stats for a dozen varieties of Orc, then import certain ones into adventures as the situation arises.

Yes, we will have a full Bestiary with images also, that you will be able to pass to your players. Our hopeful plans include Magic Items, Hazards/Traps, Treasure, Spells, Skills, Feats, and Creature/NPC editors that work in the same fun way as our Character Creator.

Well that's just dandy. Thanks.

Say! Does anyone remember the Surface? By Microsoft? The surface...

I'm sorry, did I say the Surface? I meant the Microsoft PixelSense! Sure it costs 1200 less than a billion dollars, but if anything was going to make table-topping digital, it's a computer that walks like a dinner table.

Looks cool, but I doubt it will be funded.

Hopefully they start another kickstarter for more money.

This is the next stage for VTs - not just make games playable online, but easier to play. Live Gaming is an app in development that aims to be mobile and so useful that players can use it for in-person games.

http://www.saltvalleytally.com/campaign/detail/206
http://appification.wordpress.com/

 

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