I was contacted by Johnn Four (roleplayingtips.com) and Tony Medeiros of fastercombat.com about publishing an article regarding the WOTC D&D virtual table, and a guided tour that they were given by Game Table Online (the group managing WOTC’s virtual table I believe). I agreed to publish the article, so here it is, by Tony Madeiros.
Digital tools that help us run games better and make combats faster are always welcome. Recently, I met with Rory Madden of GameTable Online who offered to run a demo of the D&D Virtual Table and answer some questions.
Let the Adventure Begin
Rory guided me through a demo combat that spanned two floors of an inn, orcs and hobgoblins. As I was minding my own business, foes were climbing to the second floor on the outside and busting through the front door on the ground floor. So much for a quiet night loading up on ale!
My 1st level dragonborn paladin, imported from my D&D Character Builder files, did what he could to fight them off. Even the peasants jumped in. Many misses and corpses later, I could not find the digital die-throwing skills I needed to finish off the last hobgoblin upstairs.
Sadly, in true Gygaxian form, my clumsy (or perhaps drunk?) fledgling paladin succumbed to the horde, dying on the floorboards of The Lonely Inn.
Fade to black…the brief adventure and demo was over.
The VT’s Primary Purpose
The big takeaway? The D&D VT is primarily a digital battlefield tool, intended for combat-focused encounters and purely digital sessions – more standalone rather than a full adventure suite for the DM at a live tabletop game, such as Master Plan.
Think of a manual, turn-by-turn version of Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games such as League of Legends, except you fight monsters controlled by the DM instead of other parties.
What I loved about the VT:
- Measure distance in squares tool
- Area effect and line of sight visual tools
- Fog of war tool – the DM can hide and later reveal certain areas of the battlemap
- Private tells/whispers
- Import PCs directly from the online D&D Character Builder
- 3 visual condition markers: bloodied, marked, and misc “!” for all other conditions
- Auto calculates and shows hit and damage
- Apply rest-based recoveries
- Scrolls on map: nice visual queue; hover over them for more info on terrain/map (i.e. fireplace damage) and they can be marked private/hidden for DM (i.e. trap)
- Make monsters invisible at start (fog of war)
- Direct access to all DDI monsters via Compendium for DDI subscribers
- Tiles and paint options for maps
- Voice fonts can be used to alter your voice coming through the mic as DM. Best used occasionally for key enemies or elites/bosses: i.e., a rough, gravelly voice distortion comes through when you talk into your mic after selecting the “orc” voice font
- Attacking sound effects for DM (swords, bows)
- 1-2 weeks advance announcements of what’s coming to VT
- Forum has a maintained community list of desired features
Here are some things I didn’t like about the VT:
- Waiting for DM turns sometimes takes awhile in large fights
- Doesn’t autocalculate critical hits
- Combat advantage not added automatically (via flanking and condition)
- Lots of manual tracking, very little autocalc beyond basic attacks and base damage
- Primary intent is standalone virtual game, and I wish its intended purpose was to support both digital sessions and be a supplement for live games
- Mic issues – while my mic works fine on Ventrilo and other applications, I couldn’t get it to work properly with the VT, even with all the tremendous support Rory offered for weeks afterwards as they researched the problem
- No public list of prioritized or upcoming features
Here are some of Rory’s favorite features:
- Easy map creation, tile options, paint
- Rules automation, tracking of conditions
Here are some things Rory wished were better:
- No community sharing/trading capability
- More map creation flexibility – need more small area customization tiles, more art, more variety, smaller terrain feature options
Here are some potential goodies Rory said might come to the VT some day:
- Monetization options, extra art, tokens – micropayment options, pay extra bucks to unlock more virtual real estate
- More sharing with friends, including non-subscribers
- More community sharing options, including rating other adventures
If you’re looking to play sessions online at any time with friends or family across the world, it’s a pretty cool option, despite a significant amount of missing automations and autocalculations. As you might know from my site fastercombat.com, I am always looking for ways to improve combat speed. This VT offers some, but not enough for a combat system as complex as D&D 4e.
If you’re looking for a supplement to help your live tabletop D&D game, like I was, then the VT is fair at best. Again, it’s not intended for that right now, and I didn’t get a sense that would change. It’s no Master Plan, which is unfortunate, as I was hoping for an official D&D version of Master Plan someday. If it’s it in the works behind the scenes, great, but the VT simply isn’t it.
Still, it was a wonderful demo and it’s still a promising, fun option for D&D gamers and D&D Insider subscribers, especially those who find meeting digitally the best option they have to play D&D at all.
Still have questions? There’s a handy D&D Virtual Table FAQ. Plus, you’ll find several colorful player-side and DM-side VT screen shots below, taken directly from my demo experience – plus shots of a few other gems I found exploring the uploadable sample adventures and maps.
What have your experiences with the D&D VT been? Have you used it for purely digital D&D games? Have you used it a supplement to your live tabletop sessions? What features do you like most and which features do you think are poor or lacking?
You’ll find Tony Medeiros writing, playing, designing or teaching just about anything somewhere on this plane of existence – and beyond! He’s been playing D&D and running combats since the Red Box. Follow him on Twitter @LeonineRoar and check out his latest project with Johnn Four: the Faster Combat course for GMs.