A few weeks ago, Wizards of the Coast released their Dungeons & Dragons Virtual Table as a closed beta. Iíve spent a few hours playing around with it, although I havenít had the chance to run an real game in it yet. So far, I really like it. Unlike some of the other products out there, I figured out most of the controls right away, and the few things I didnít were easy to figure out by playing around with the demo adventures available online.
So what do you need to know about the Virtual Table? Well the first thing is that itís not a drop in replacement for programs like MapTools. In its current form, Virtual Table is much closer to an initiative tracker and game play is similar to what you might experience at your home table. That said, it has a bunch of really useful tools and it will only get better from here.
PCs and Monsters
Currently, you canít import player character sheets or monster stat blocks from programs such as the character and monster builders. Iím sure import is on the road map for the future and I didnít find it a blocker to getting an encounter entered into the system. All you really need to enter is the basic stats for the character. For monsters, this means powers and defenses. For player characters, there is a bit more information to enter but each player should be able to handle their own.
The important thing is to get the information about the attack and damage rolls in there. Doing so allows you to click one button to complete those rolls. Itís important to note that the powers will be reordered by power name and so far there isnít an easy way to specify that a monster power is limited in use. For these reasons, I suggest having the monster stat blocks available elsewhere for easier reference and organization. Once entered, you can export everything from the maps you design to the characters you create. In addition, you can export the entire adventure.
One of the best parts about the Virtual Table, however, is the shared table top. Voice chat is built in, which is great given the problems some of my friends have experienced with interference between Skype and some other virtual programs. Iíll admit that the voice broke up a bit during the quick run through I did with Mike Shea from SlyFlourish.com. In addition to normal voice chat, the program also has a concept called voice fonts. When you choose one of these fonts, it modifies the sound of your voice. Available fonts include things such as elf, orc and paladin.
In my opinion, the shared map is the best part of the product. It has basic options for the battle mat background including grass and sand. It also comes with a selection of dungeon tiles that you can drag-and-drop from the menu to create all sorts of dungeons. Although the selection of tiles is currently limited, I hope to see more in the future. One thing I wish they would change though is the organization of the tiles. Currently they are organized by size which is a bit annoying if you are looking for something by type instead. If what you want doesnít exist, the program also has some basic drawing tools. I found creating the encounter maps really easy.
Adding characters to the map is a simple drag-and-drop process. Multiple instances of the same character automatically get unique numbers to make identification easy. Virtual Table also keeps track of initiative. However, adding a character to the map doesnít automatically add it to the initiative order. Also, for now Iím just adding one of each type of monster to the list since the program doesnít allow you to group monsters together in the initiative order.
Another useful feature is that you can add conditions to the tokens. The list of predefined conditions is limited but you easily can add custom ones. Unlike a program such as 4e D&D Combat Tracker, the program wonít automatically roll the saves for you. Hopefully they will add something to tie the custom conditions to another character so the DM can be reminded when conditions end at the start or end of another characterís turn.
In addition, you can set map notes. These notes can be private, for things only the DM needs to remember, such as traps, or public for things like DCs to get through blocking terrain. There is also a journal section for public and private notes. My biggest complaint about the program is a lack of copy and paste functionality, especially in the journal section.
Overall, I think itís a great beta product. It might not do everything right now but it will only get better with time. Also it seems like they are putting in a fair degree of effort into making it intuitive and easy to use. So far the biggest complaints Iíve heard is a difficulty finding a game since relatively few people have beta accounts.