Thursday, November 18, 2010

DDI Virtual Table goes Beta!

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!
Missing Features
  • 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.

Unanswered questions:
  • 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.


  1. I'm not sure "3D graphics" is a missing feature.

  2. I just pointed it out because the original, failed Virtual Table project was all about fancy 3D maps, which are clearly missing in the current version. What should I have called it?

  3. Sadly it does not currently look like it will do much more than what Maptool or Fantasy Grounds already do.

  4. So what's it got that Maptool doesn't, aside from built-in Ventrilo?

  5. I'm not familiar with Maptool or Fantasy Grounds, but I find it likely that this tool won't offer a significant improvement over them, at least at release.

    The point where it can, eventually, have a major advantage over its competition is the integration with the rest of DDI. Having all character, encounter, and monster information in a single place, working seamlessly between different tools looks like a great selling point, to me. This is why it amazes me that they are not offering integration of any kind at release. Assuming they know that they are doing (and they should!), my guess is that the first priority is to get out something (anything) that works, and then add all the other stuff.

  6. This is not about how much better is than program X. It will be worse on release (albeit hopefully not horribly so!) almost for certain.

    But it has the branding, and the exposure. A lot of people that would not know about the other programs will get to know this one. The marketing will be better and more focused (log to DDI -> get hit in the face with it). People will be more willing to give it a go because it comes wrapped in a familiar brand/environment. You will be able to get groups out of the official forums with more ease...

    Well, you get the idea :)

  7. Very true. I'm particularly intrigued by its interaction with the official forums - third party tools likely have their own communities built around them, but this table will be able to benefit from THE community from the get go. Having a much larger user base can add a lot to the experience - particularly when it comes to generating new gaming groups.

    Another issue I hadn't thought about before is the eventual integration of organized play initiatives. It looks like a natural fit to make this work with Encounters (or RPGA, if they cared about it anymore), providing convenient resources like pre-configured maps and monsters.

  8. Combining greater exposure with WotC forums and organized play is actually a solid selling point. When/if DDI integration happens, they may win a lot of people back.

  9. It's not competitive with Maptools. End of Story. I guess for people who don't want to pirate anything at all (including getting scans of Dungeon Tiles even if they own hard copies), having the tiles integrated into the program itself helps a lot though-and I concede, Maptools has a harsh learning curve. But it's like, so what?

    Now, if as a DDI subscriber you got a "DM's account" or something which allowed you to "host" games for non-subscribers, and that was the limit to the pricing, that'd be okay. But they just really can't compete with a free battle-mapping program until they integrate all the tools into the game.

    Of course, if they ever *do* integrate the other tools into the game, then it's golden.

  10. Check out our video of the DDI Virtual Table at: