The Practical DM: Wizards’ Virtual Table Lives On
Virtual tabletops have only recently become big news, with two new players taking the field as Tabletop Forge and Roll20. They’re actually the latest offerings in a rather underground movement to allow older tabletop gamers the ability to reunite with one another over the Internet after years and responsibilities have forced them to far flung locations.
Wizards of the Coast, owners of Dungeons & Dragons, actually had their own VTT. It was more infamous than famous, because it languished and took on more forms than any single person can remember. At one point, it was to be a 3D affair, but the “end” result was more of a traditional, top down VTT system.
I put “end” in quotes because Wizards decided to finally give up on it, which is insanely sad. They’re rather stingy with their IP and licensing, making any VTT that wishes to support D&D subject to a lot of furtive glances and razor-walking so as not to wake the wrath of WotC’s Lawyers (level 1000 Elite Brute). WotC was actually in the best position to make a VTT, though: they owned an iconic system, had a massive stable of resources in monsters, stories, and sourcebooks, and were adept at making quality merchandise like their Dungeon Tiles, which seems like the perfect storm for a VTT system.
In a fit of delirium, WotC has allowed Game Table Online to take over the VTT. The work that was done on the WotC “version” was packed up and moved to the care of GTO, where was unpacked, debranded, and set up as what will hopefully and eventually be a game-system agnostic VTT. As part of their deal, GTO can’t market the VTT using D&D 4E (despite the product being specifically designed for it), but they can offer D&D 4E compatibility, which means you can get access to the Dungeon Tiles, tokens, and much of the 4E “feel”.
Sadly, this is quite possibly the worst VTT you can employ in your service. The entire potential was squandered – no, pissed away – by whatever excuses WotC can muster as to why it took so long, and why it ended up in the state it’s in. Again, it had the potential to define the genre of VTT software, but it kind of sat on the couch in it’s bathrobe eating Cheetos until it’s parents decided enough was enough, and kicked it’s half-baked ass into the street. Hopefully GTO has the source code and will improve on it, because as a dungeon builder it’s very strong, offering a whole lot of tiles to drag and drop your creations into existence. As a usable VTT, pretty much any other option is a better option at this time. Even drawing on paper and holding it up to a webcam.
Basic usage of the tabletop is free. However, many of the tokens and tiles are “buy to use” through GTO’s cash shop. I’m OK with that, because I think GTO is a small business, and they’ve inherited a pretty big clusterfuck. I’m sure WotC requires them to “pay for the privilege” of using the assets they were going to cram into the dumpster otherwise, and since they’re pro-quality assets, anyone who wants to make a go of it should go whole-hog and support GTO in their up-hill battle.
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- The Shadowfell Cometh–A Post-Mortem
- Crowdsourcing Your Imagination #D&D
- Our Fantasy (Stomping) Grounds: A vTabletop Update
- Don’t Call It A Comeback
- Think About It: Putting the RPG Back In MMOs