Tools Review: Dungeons & Dragons Virtual Table Beta

Right before the holidays, Rory Madden from Game Table Online dropped me a note wondering if I’d like to check out the D&D Virtual Table they’ve had under development for Wizards of the Coast. It’s been in beta testing for Dungeons & Dragons Interactive (DDI) users for a while now it seems and includes a ton of content (maps, monsters, characters) if you’re a DDI subscriber.

Think of Virtual table (VT) as a DDI-integrated online tool for playing D&D online with friends. You may have heard of similar products like MapTool that allow you to play over the Internet, with a GM sharing content and a group of players able to communicate with the GM and each other virtually. D&D VT does the same thing, but offers a bit simpler interface as well as a more integrated experience with WotC‘s existing DDI tools. VT provides all the tools you might need, from a map editor, initiative tracker, die rollers, journals, and stats. Plus it includes voice support and limited rules automation.

Though I’m not a DDI subscriber, DDI subscribers get a few invites (10) to share with friends, and Rory was able to get me in with a D&D Community account for now, so I was able to get on and play with the tools a bit. (Thanks Rory!) The system is written around 4th Edition D&D and integrated tightly with DDI, which means GMs can bring in any of the hundreds of monsters from the D&D catalog into the equation, including common NPCs. And players can bring in their DDI-created 4e characters. Rory was kind enough to set up a brief session to walk me through some of the features available. So I dusted off an old Logitech headphones/microphone setup I had and was able to chat with him online through the tool itself with very little effort…

When you fire it up, it seems to be Java-based, which means it is cross-platform and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. (Rory said Android & iOS are not currently supported.) This is great for gamers as I find that rarely is everyone in a particular gaming group all on the same operating system or platform. There’s a menu bar at the top and a few docked areas beneath – the map with a set of toolbar buttons at the top, a chat window, a die roller, a Journal/PCs/Initiative view, and a summary for character data.

The toolbar at the top offers a few different ways of integrating with the map. First is the traditional pointer you can use to select tokens on the map with. Next is a hand you can use to drag the map around. Past that is the Line of Sight mode, which helps you see whether a character (or monster) can see you clearly, whether it has cover, how far away it is, etc. The gloved pointer can be used to point out things to your fellow players or GM and to recenter the map. The area of effect pointer can show things like the area covered by Fireball or Sleep spells, etc. And zooming the map in or out can be done using the mouse wheel or using the buttons on the toolbar. The GM has a few other buttons available, like the Fog of War that can be used to reveal/obscure things on screen from the players and some basic drawing tools.

When I asked Rory about prep time, he thought it might take about two hours for a good sized map (after spending some time thinking about it – considering terrain, what monsters to use, and other encounter properties). The GM has to set up dungeon tiles, NPC placement, monsters, fog of war, and so on. For the simple map/adventure he put me through he thought it was probably 15-20 minutes for the simple inn and another 10-20 minutes picking monsters, adding map notes, and so on. Three pre-built adventures are available during the beta to give GMs and players a bit of a jump start. And if GMs create maps and save them in DDI they can then trade with others to increase the pre-built maps available to play with.

As we went through a simple encounter, it was fun to see some of the features in use. Things like showing movement lines, area of effect, and decorators for states like “marked” or “bloodied” seem very handy. In my limited 4e experience, these are some of the things that slow down combat – so any help the GM has in tracking those settings and states under the covers will definitely help. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of automatic rules enforcement (a few things, but it’s not a long list), which I think is a good thing for DMs with house rules and such they like to play with. So much of the GM process is a manual one – adding bonuses, statuses, and so on. Even with the manual aspects, the longer we played, the easier using the interface became – moving tokens, attacking with character powers, firing up healing surges, etc.

Beyond the actual gameplay, tools like the Journal are handy for taking private or public notes during the game. “Voice fonts” and effects will make things entertaining – for example you can make yourself sound like an orc, talk in a higher pitch like a woman, and other varieties. That kind of “voice acting” might make things more interesting for players (and GMs) to add another layer of immersion to the game.

So far Rory said they’ve
had a good response to the beta with some good feedback from testers. Common requests so far include the ability to share maps and adventures in the community and images (like hand-drawn maps) for campaigns, which is something they’ve been thinking about. I’m confident that the tools as they exist today offer enough features for most players and GMs to get a ton of use out of it once it comes out of beta.

If you’re a D&D 4e player with a DDI subscription, I’d definitely encourage you to check it out. The DDI/VT integration makes this a great tool for anyone already using the many DDI tools available to subscribers!

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