Preview: Dungeons & Dragons Virtual Table

Beta previews have just opened on the D&D Virtual Table, the newest tool unveiled as part of the Dungeon & Dragons Insider subscription. What is it? It’s a way of playing D&D online with players all over the world. This kind of thing was announced to go along with the very first set of DDI tools, which we previewed back in 2008.

Well, this version is completely different then the one previewed there. Clearly when they stopped work on the first one, with its 3D renderings and such, they decided to start completely over and build something closer to some of the existing options like GameTable and MapTool. For one, this version is built on Java, which means I was able to run it fine on my Macs.

However, what they’ve come up with is a pretty solid product with some extra specific to D&D touches that I haven’t seen so smoothly integrated elsewhere, which gives me hope for this product. There’s still a few key features I would love to see (which I’ll get into) but it’s a great start, and totally useable right out of the gate.

I spent a bit of time tonight noodling around with it with ChattyDM and Bartoneus, both from the player and DM sides. Here’s a brief walkthrough with screenshots from both sides to showcase some of the features.

Launching the tool through the closed beta is, quite frankly, pretty difficult and unintuitive. However, this is still early pre-beta so I’m willing to give it a lot of slack to improve the user interface to be a bit smoother before the final product. It did take some digging and clicking, but before too long, I was off.

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 10.36.18 PM

This is the starting screen where you can create your own campaign games or join other games you’ve been invited to. In addition to some of the basic options, you can also select campaign world, and, as you can see, edition. From there, you launch the Java file and start the virtual table.

Player Side

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 8.50.26 PM (2)

First thing is to create a token to represent your character from a list. After that, you’re presented with the main screen, with drop-down menus up top, some quick cursor buttons below that, a list of characters/players on the left side, the main map screen in the center, several tabs for a journal/notes, your PC’s sheet, and initiative on the right, while chat and dice rolling resides on the bottom.

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 8.52.29 PM (2)

From there, you can customize your character by adding your defenses, hit points, even your powers. One big part not implemented yet is being able to import from character builder, so everything has to be entered by hand. Though the tool supports it, it’s unlikely I would put in anything beyond just the basics (hit points and defenses) and keep everything else on a character sheet.

You’ll also notice that the DM has already placed some tiles and monster tokens.

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 8.58.12 PM (2)

You can put your character’s token on the map and move it around. You can also use a pointer to call out a portion of the map for everyone else to see, designate areas of effect with your own color, draw a line of sight from one square to another while measuring range, and of course basic functions like pan and zoom around the map.

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 9.09.22 PM (2)

You can track your hit points, healing surges, and more in a quick convenient window. You can add conditions, though other than marked and bloodied, they have to be typed in manually. One upgrade would be adding a list of conditions that could be added, and reminding a player when they’re under a save ends effect… the current version does neither.

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 9.15.39 PM (2)

One surprise is that the Virtual Table contains built-in voice chat by everyone joined. Even more surprising? There’s a list of voice changers you can activate to change your voice. Some of them work really well, and some are just plain hilarious. It seemed to lower the volume when one of the voice-changers was active, but I was surprised at how well they worked.

DM Side

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 8.28.42 PM

Now, let’s hop over to the DM side of things. Same interface, but with more buttons and options.

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 8.29.12 PM

There’s a list of dungeon tiles you can place on the board, rotating them, layering, etc. You can also hide/unhide tiles from the player’s view by clicking and dragging to draw a box with the visibility options, so you can even hide partial tiles as the player’s explore. You can also free-hand draw on the board, add notes, and do all the notations the players can as well.

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 11.10.05 PM

Dropping in monster tokens is easy: like characters, you select a token from a list, then fill in the name, and if you want, fill in defenses and such (hidden from the PCs.) Again, this would be great to import from compendium and/or a monster builder to have all that filled in already, but so far, it’s all manual.

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 11.12.19 PM

You can drop the monsters into initiative, as well as the whole party, in order to run combats from within the tool. You can cycle through the initiative order, delaying/readying as necessary, and tracking all the combatant’s hit points.

One big plus for me is that the system can roll initiative, or you can input initiative manually for players who want to roll their own. This makes it useful for both online play as designed, or to track initiative at your table. I’m going to try putting together a few encounters and see how it works.

And that’s pretty much it. Overall, I’m pretty impressed at how solid a package the whole thing is (and I didn’t encounter a single bug while testing it.) There’s no piece that I haven’t seen elsewhere in other tools- the big advantage is that it’s all one big integrated package. Voice chat, map building with dungeon tiles, initiative tracker, and more all combined into one.

On the flip side, integration with the OTHER DDI tools is of course the one big thing lacking, which I’d be surprised if that wasn’t eventually on the way. Unlike certain other new launches, I’m genuinely impressed about how solid the whole thing is right now even in early beta.

Plus I can make my voice sound like an orc with a single click. How cool is that?

If you have any questions about the Virtual Table, let me know. If you want to sign up to be considered for a beta tester, check out the Virtual Table FAQ for the link. There is currently no ETA on the application being launched to all DDI subscribers, or any word if it will cost anything additional.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.

Comments

  1. i will try to hide my insane envy long enough to say “first!” and very cool. I had a feeling that this would be pretty solid and can’t wait to crack into this piece of gaming tech.

  2. Dave I want to thank you for this magnificent review for those of us who were not privileged enough to get an invite yet. Im hoping I get one soon. Im also hoping that DDI adventures and future releases/modules will include a VT pack with maps and tokens already setup as a feature in the future. They said that integration with the other DDI tools wont be available at launch but should be something that they roll out pretty quickly thereafter. Thanks again Dave.

  3. Looks really cool – I hope they do improve this even further like you guess. It could streamline playing into a whole new creature. Goodbye long months of looking for players, or wishing you could play with friends overseas. I might even be able to convince my PC-gamer-but-unbaptized-PNP-er brother to hop on this bandwagon.

  4. Looking good! Looks like you guys have a nice virtual tabletop coming together there. Going 2d is far more within reach than the original plan, since 3d overly complicates everything. Thanks for sharing and thanks for mentioning Maptool in your article.

  5. I’m pleasantly surprised that there is built in voice chat and voice changers. I really hope they can automate condition tracking. It sounds like it is a lot mroe stable than the new character builder.

  6. I wasn’t very excited about this at first. I much prefer the true tabletop experience. I thought it would end up feeling too “gamey”.

    What I found really surprised me. It felt exactly like playing D&D. It was fun and easy and I played in my underwear and no one knew it (until now).

    The built-in voice chat was critical to the experience and worked very well.

    And all of this ran very well on my four-year-old Macbook Pro.

    I’m very impressed. The only things I want to see are all planned: more dungeon tiles, more monster tokens, and import and export of monsters.

    I think this is a huge valuable addition to the DDI package.

  7. Excellent review! The first thing I noticed is that it will support other editions and games? How will that play to the Grognards? This whole VT is a huge surprise, and a pleasant one at that. There’s been many nights after kids and wife are snoozing that I wished that I could be playing D&D. I’m totally getting the old group back together from the old submarine days! Rock On!

  8. There’s a lot of potential if there are going to be modules it can import available online, both from official sources like Dungeon adventures and from the community at large, making it possible to really do pick-up games online at any time. That’s still far off, but all the pieces seem to be there. The token and tile selection will need to expand considerably before that can happen at least. And excellent software like the aforementioned MapTool will still have the edge in custom maps as long as the VT can’t do any importing from outside sources.

  9. Gary Jackson says:

    I see there’s a drop-down box for other rule sets in the first screen shot. Is that functional?

  10. We have a preview video of the D&D Virtual Table available over on our website or at blip.tv/file/4417437

  11. Patroling te internets while at work and came across this. I’m actually the drow in the first half of the review and I was video recordong it to. When I get home I will get it uploaded at weebeegamers.com. I also already have a video review there as well.

  12. Pretty darn cool in its current incarnation, and as I guy who’s moved away from several gaming groups over the last decade or so, it will be great to game with some of my old friends again. But, as you point out, the real coolness lies in many of the potential features not yet integrated.

  13. This looks like the old SSI Pool of Radiance era pc games…

  14. Hey Dave,

    Thanks for the article. I have a couple of questions.

    1. Can the DM pre-enter several encounters? Or does the DM have to take time mid-session to build in the stats and find tokens for the next fight?

    2. Is there a “fog of war” option?

    3. Can you “customize” any of the tiles? For example, can you remove a corner from a piece, or change the color tint?

    4. How useable do you think this would be at the table rather than for online play?

    Thanks,

    -Dash

  15. Dash:

    1. You can place the pieces of several encounters ahead of time, though you’ll have to add the monsters to initiative order when the combat actually comes. That’s pretty easy on the fly though.
    2. Yes, you can hide as much of the map as you want to, and reveal as much as you want as the PCs go forward. None of it is handled automatically.
    3. Sorta- you can hide portions of the tiles, and you can stack tiles on top of other tiles.
    4. I think it will work well… in fact, I’m planning on trying it!

  16. I don’t know how many people noticed this piece of information from the FAQ linked:

    Q: What is the pricing going to be on the finished product?
    A: We have not finalized any pricing decisions at this time.

    Maybe it’s just standard to put that in their FAQs. If not, wasn’t the virtual game table something originally touted as being part of DnD Insider/Gleemax? I can’t remember back that far 🙂 If it was, that would be an ass move to not provide everything they talked about in the beginning and then add them later for a premium on top of the subscription.

  17. Based on your review, I think I will be sticking with Fantasy Grounds. The community there has created some excellent tools for importing ALL the DDI data available in the compendium into the application for quick access, including a tool to import DDI characters. It tracks conditions, auto-rolls saves for the DM (vital in saving the DM time), applies damage to any PC/NPC and in our sessions works brilliantly. All the automation is completely optional, but if a player or DM wants to automate every power, skill check, save, damage roll, you name it, it’s in there.

    Does this VT allow the user to import maps or does it only use tiles? Scans, dungeon magazine maps, CC3, and Photoshop maps are vital to VT play.

    I just don’t see Wizards improving much on this product after initial release. FG supports more than just DnD (and does that very well), so for my money it’s just much more viable. And I have it running in Wine on my iMac just fine.

  18. @Kevin: You may be right, but I think they’ve also talked at times about additional pricing options. So, for example, if you are a subscriber, there might be options that would let you run a game an invite non-subscriber friends for a small fee.

    I don’t know that that’s what they’re talking about here, but that FAQ item doesn’t necessarily mean that DDI subscribers would be looking at additional costs to use the VT.

  19. Yeah, I agree it’s just an initial FAQ and doesn’t mean much in the end, especially when it states pricing options haven’t been decided yet. It could very well end up being ‘included with your DDI subscription’. I figured I would point that out, though.

    The idea of additional pricing to invite non-subscribers is something that crossed my mind as well. There is a version of Fantasy Grounds that is similar (the ultimate edition). I imagine they have some sort of idea but haven’t reached a conclusion, yet.

  20. Does it do lighting effects?
    Looks really cool thus far.

  21. I’m really excited to see this looking as impressive as it does, considering how disappointing the new Character Builder release was. Hopefully, by inviting gamers to beta test it, this new DDI app will be much more solid at launch. The features sound amazing, and I really hope I get the chance to participate in the beta myself. Thanks for the excellent and detailed demo, Dave!

  22. Have any of you that beta tested the WotC VTT use MapTool on a regular basis?
    That’s the review I’m looking for. To compare those two, because I know what MapTool can do.

  23. Dave Neumann says:

    Could you use this as a campaign builder tool?

    That is, not for playing online, but create an adventure and/or campaign and then print your encounters, export which tiles from which sets you’ll need to set up the encounters on the table, etc.?

    Or, is it really only good for online gaming?

    If it is only good for online gaming, does anyone know if WotC is planning a tool to create adventures/campaigns for offline use?

  24. Count me among those disappointed that you can’t import data from other DDI tools. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any automatic line-of-sight/vision such as what’s in MapTool.

    I use a VT with a projector in a non-networked game. I find the line-of-sight/fog-of-war stuff really adds interest. And I like to use the initiative tracker and the automated attacks for my monsters and NPC’s. That really streamlines things for me during a run.

  25. Great read Dave, I’ve been playing around in the VT every day since i got in now and I think it’s killing my work productivity completely but that’s okay – holiday weekend is my excuse. Anyway I just wanna agree with you here except on the fact that the launching is unintuitive – I didn’t think it was that bad, i mean it could use a little streamlining but didn’t strike me as being unintuitive.

    I really wanna get a post-turkey-day-insteat-of-falling-asleep-on-the-couch game up and running tomorrow maybe if anyone’s interested?

    Oh also I did a full video overview of the vt in action over on my blog, it’s 17 minutes long but might do some justice screenshots don’t check it out if you get time and lemme’ know if you think I covered it all.

  26. We play at a store will I be able to use the VTT and a projector and run our game? Or will everyone need to be logged on to run there character.

  27. Jason / Dave Neumann: What you guys are looking for is Masterplan, not the VT.

  28. So now that it’s been a few months since beta launch, is there any new developments with this? Has there been any feature updates for beta users?

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