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