Hands-On With D&D's New Digital Companion DungeonScape

Hands-On With D&D's New Digital Companion DungeonScape

D&D DragonScape Character Screen

Trapdoor Technologies is very close to making the first true digital Dungeons & Dragons experience, with the help of Wizards of the Coast.

Dungeons & Dragons has a history with digital companions that's at times more frustrating than not - half fulfilled potential and disappointing functionality leading to an at-times frustrating experience trying to integrate tech into the game table. Trapdoor Technologies is trying to change that with D&D DungeonScape, their companion app to the brand new 5th Edition of D&D. "We wanted it to be no more intrusive than a character sheet," said Chris Matney, the managing director for Trapdoor. At the same time, they wanted the app to "eliminate that 45 minutes of looking at rulebooks that's eating up your gaming time," he said. In a hands on session with the latest version of DungeonScape at Gen Con, I saw that Trapdoor is closer to making a functional digital D&D than anyone before them.

It wasn't easy, though. Matney and his developers had to be constantly aware of when their electronic experience was taking away from what makes D&D fun: Social experience. After a few hours with the app, though, I was well pleased. The basic functions like the character creation and character sheet are a blast to play with, and the automated functions at the heart of the app actually speed up, rather than roadblock, the experience at the table. That's the part that was tricky for the Trapdoor team, who would sometimes implement a feature and realize it was a bad call. "We would put something in and say, oh, I've just automated the fun out of this," said Matney.

The app itself is straightforward, with a homescreen that tells you the latest official D&D news and app updates. It's got tabs for characters, adventures, campaigns, parties, a creation called forge, and a library of D&D game rules. Of all that, the character sheets and creation was the most fully implemented in the demo I touched. Creating a character was a breeze, with successive screens giving you races, classes, and backgrounds to choose from, all decorated with lovely art from the game books. As you tap around, the relevant sections of content from the Player's Handbook simply pop up. No idea what a spell does? Tap it. Don't know the Armor Class adjustment for a breastplate? Tap it. Confused about the rules halfway through? Pull up a search bar and see exactly how bonus actions work in moments. That easy accessibility was the killer feature, what would have taken twenty or thirty minutes of writing and rulebook searching instead took moments of swiping and typing. If that's too much for you, Trapdoor is making a beginner-friendly quiz version of character creation. Answer a few questions and it'll spit out an iconic character that fit's your playstyle.

D&D DragonScape Character Attributes Screen

As the character creation finished, the game dropped you into a digital character sheet made up of information filled boxes. Swiping across several screens saw large boxes that were filled with numbers fully generated and ready to go - from skills to attacks and spells. If you pulled out from that view you were able to position the boxes in any way you wanted, allowing a customizable character sheet. For example, I grouped all my attacks, spells, and abilities on one page so I could quickly do any combat, and my abilities, skills, saving throws, and vital stats like HP and AC on the next page - so I could pull those at a moment's notice or a have a good base screen for roleplaying. Another page housed my game notes and my character's traits, flaws, and bonds. I chose to play a melee combat focused Wizard, so that I could really pull at the most complex character available, and the system handled it with aplomb. In play, it was like having every rule I needed at my fingertips in moments.

From the dungeon master's end of the table, DungeonScape promises to be profoundly useful. The full text of published D&D adventures will be available, but it's not just that - it's fully integrated. Tapping on an important NPC's name pulled up game art of the character, allowing the DM to show it immediately to the players. Same with maps, which got pulled up as soon as they were needed. Hyperlinked game sections moved the DM effortlessly from area to area in a dungeon or town. When a combat came up, an initiative and hit point tracker for not just the monsters, but the players, could be pulled out over the adventure. Tapping on a monster in that view pulled up the creature's full statistics without leaving the tracker, allowing you to maximize or minimize any stats at a moment's notice. That function is networked to the players' copies of DungeonScape, if they're using it, so that individuals could roll initiative and push it immediately to the DM.

In the future, Trapdoor will be implementing a "Forge" function that allows creators to make their own adventures and have them work precisely like official modules. Matney hopes that the community will quickly share their creations with each other, and hinted at hopes for a process to convert community content into premium official D&D work. They'll also be making tutorial videos, allowing people to learn easy. They're going to release in three stages: A player's release very soon, a DM's components release after that, and a creator's release by the end of the year - at which time DungeonScape will be 'complete' and new features will start getting worked on. The various D&D books will be available on DungeonScape as soon as they release in flesh, and they'll get errata updated to them within hours of that being available. Neither Trapdoor nor Wizards was ready to discuss pricing on DungeonScape, but after the experience I had with the software it'd have to be a pretty steep price to scare me off.

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I dont see how anyone can be confused with DnD 5e, it's exactly what 4e was supposed to be.

watered down, simplified version that aims at the 12 year old crowd while making things so simplified that it will piss off the vet players.

mission fucking accomplished I say.

no, seriously, 4 feats from level 1-20, and no one ever gets to level 20. you pretty much only get your bonuses from your racial, and so far the combat looks like the only way it could be even more dumbed down is have the GM and a player roll a d20, whoever rolls higher wins the encounter.

which is what I find funny, WotC is basically re-releasing DnD basic, and Paizo just released their Advanced Classes Guide and a number of new books that give you more toys to play with.

Kalezian:
I dont see how anyone can be confused with DnD 5e, it's exactly what 4e was supposed to be.

watered down, simplified version that aims at the 12 year old crowd while making things so simplified that it will piss off the vet players.

mission fucking accomplished I say.

no, seriously, 4 feats from level 1-20, and no one ever gets to level 20. you pretty much only get your bonuses from your racial, and so far the combat looks like the only way it could be even more dumbed down is have the GM and a player roll a d20, whoever rolls higher wins the encounter.

which is what I find funny, WotC is basically re-releasing DnD basic, and Paizo just released their Advanced Classes Guide and a number of new books that give you more toys to play with.

Though I love PF quite a bit, a lot of the cool stuff required extensive feat tax to get to the interesting feats, You get less feats in 5e because the feats simply are more powerful. I get the impression you haven't actually played 5e.

Kalezian:
I dont see how anyone can be confused with DnD 5e, it's exactly what 4e was supposed to be.

watered down, simplified version that aims at the 12 year old crowd while making things so simplified that it will piss off the vet players.

mission fucking accomplished I say.

no, seriously, 4 feats from level 1-20, and no one ever gets to level 20. you pretty much only get your bonuses from your racial, and so far the combat looks like the only way it could be even more dumbed down is have the GM and a player roll a d20, whoever rolls higher wins the encounter.

which is what I find funny, WotC is basically re-releasing DnD basic, and Paizo just released their Advanced Classes Guide and a number of new books that give you more toys to play with.

I'm one of those 'old guard' types that you hear popping up on those new-fangled 'forums' now and again (don't see why they had to take down CompuServe; their BBS's were perfectly adequate at 2400 baud...you people get off my quote!!! :p) OK I'm digressing, it's a very boring day here in my office.

Anyway, I can agree (having read the Starter Kit and the free pdf that WotC put out) that the 'Last Chance' edition (LCe), is a very watered down combo of 3.0/3.5/4e/Pathfinder, with a little dash of Shadowrun thrown in for good measure (just imo on that last one). I can see myself trying to teach my 16 year old daughter on RPG's, using LCe, then getting her into PF for the good stuff. Unlike the stereotypical 'Murican, she understands basic math and would handle the 'complexity' just fine. That being said, some of the things that Mike Mearls have said in interviews about focusing more on the merchandise than the RP will keep me from picking up any of the LCe materials (unless it is free, I'll be the first to admit that I am a hypocrite, but at least I keep my economic priorities in order).

As for DungeonScape I have to say that it sounds impressive; the best parts of HeroLab and RealmWorks are being poured into this app, along with direct access to published modules. That's kinda hard to beat, although I would imagine that Lone Wolf (the publisher of both the aforementioned products) will likely integrate their product lines at some point. This is the kind of competition that I like. Though I won't be buying DungeonScape when it comes out (unless the company decides to make a PF-supported version at some point), I will definitely keep an eye on them.

Kalezian:
I dont see how anyone can be confused with DnD 5e, it's exactly what 4e was supposed to be.

watered down, simplified version that aims at the 12 year old crowd while making things so simplified that it will piss off the vet players.

mission fucking accomplished I say.

no, seriously, 4 feats from level 1-20, and no one ever gets to level 20. you pretty much only get your bonuses from your racial, and so far the combat looks like the only way it could be even more dumbed down is have the GM and a player roll a d20, whoever rolls higher wins the encounter.

which is what I find funny, WotC is basically re-releasing DnD basic, and Paizo just released their Advanced Classes Guide and a number of new books that give you more toys to play with.

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So... on the topic of the actual software, I have to say, I'm impressed by what I'm hearing. This is exactly the sort of thing I wanted WotC to come out with when they started talking about DDI in 4E(before I realized that I couldn't stand 4E anymore than I could 3E). The Adventure management and DM/Player interactivity is a huge win in my book. Definitely buying it when it comes out.

I'm a Pathfinder junkie, as I find the improvements made to 3.5 to be about as good as it's going to get. Yes there can be a feat tax, but there are ways around it, by picking a class that gets style or combat feats that bypass normal requirements, which I always thought was a good idea. I would further that by suggesting house rules for feats that are "free" of certain requirements for a role (not just a class) so melee roles have either access to melee feats, same for ranged and magic and then "tax" someone who goes off spec. Looking at 5e, DnD is not progressing in the direction I really like- from DnD. It's fine as a separate game, but at that point, why not go all the way and play Numenara. For my fantasy RPG experience, I think I'll stick with Pathfinder. It's the only system I've played that let's players really feel powerful the whole way through (ok from 3rd or 4th level up)

I have used software in the past, but I find it gets in the way more then it helps. Anytime they try to automate anything, it becomes a problem. It just gets in the way then. This program sounds like it might be OK. I mean so long as it doesn't try to do all the math or make your attacks for you. Though I think what I really want is a virtual table program. I can get access to character sheets and pencils just fine. It's getting access to all the maps, mins, ect that I have a hard time with.

JonB:
Neither Trapdoor nor Wizards was ready to discuss pricing on DungeonScape, but after the experience I had with the software it'd have to be a pretty steep price to scare me off.

Does that mean that the tabletop portion of it is actually functional, as opposed to the tabletop app Wizards produced for 4E? Because I remember what that was like, and I have no desire to return there if this new app is as laggy and poorly-produced as that one.

It's gonna take a lot to convince me to pay for a tabletop app given that Roll20 exists and works properly.

 

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