The last months haven' looked good for D&D Insider, what with the delayed updates for Dark Sun and the Essentials books, the release of the controversial new version of Character Builder, the Essential Assassin screwup, and a general feeling of decay in the quality of Dragon magazine content. In this context, it's only natural for fans to be skeptic when the developers promise new online features for an indefinite, but near future. Simply put, there was little faith that the software team had the resources required to put out a meaningful new tool when even routine upkeep was in a deficient state. Therefore, we were pretty surprised when the Virtual Table came out of the shadows and sneak attacked us to death!
This Virtual Table is clearly a Lurker, but of what level?
Yes, there will be a Virtual Gaming Table for DDI! And, from the look of it, it will not be mere vaporware this time (unlike the infamous tool promised for the initial DDI lineup, which never came to be). In fact, it is entering closed beta (meaning we won't get to play it for the time, just to read the impressions of people who do) as soon as this week! Clearly, the final version (perhaps even the open beta) is still months away, but just seeing that it is in such a functional state is an impressive feat.
What do we know about it?
A FAQ page has been provided with basic, but useful information about this new product. This is what called my attention:
- Editable Map (using Dungeon Tiles)
- Movable tokens (using graphics from the ones in Essentials boxed sets)
- Dice Roller
- Character and monster information (NOT integrated with Character Builder or Monster Builder).
- Initiative and condition Tracking
- Text chat
- Voice chat!
- Rules enforcement
- Integration with existing tools
- (presumably) Support for line of sight, lightning conditions
- 3D Graphics
Supported platforms: Windows PC and Mac. The application is web-based, uses Java (not Silverlight, like Character Builder!), and will require a constant internet connection.
- What will it take for me to access the closed beta? (Update: I still don't know, but it seems to involve filling this form)
- Nothing has been said about pricing plans. Even if it doesn't increase the cost of a DDI subscription, it won't be of much use to players unless they allow multiple users per account.
- No final release dates are known as of yet.
- The initial version isn't integrated with the current DDI tools, but it really, really wants to. Nothing is said about future plans in this regard.
- Will it support custom (i.e. non-Dungeon Tile) map elements?
- No option for map export/sharing is mentioned. Having something like that, and perhaps preloaded maps for official adventures would be extremely cool.
- No, really, can I join the beta now? Please?
After a number of failures in a row, this has the potential to be a big hit for digital D&D. I'll be keeping a close watch on this one, and post any news I find about it. One thing is for sure: the policy of not announcing things 'until it's done' has really worked, here. The Virtual Table gets the Surprise Round now - let's see what it can do with it.