You open up this Software, punch in or select the server you want to connect to. When you load up, you are looking out in First Person into a 3D World. The DM is already there, of course, and is invisible. You hit a button and pull up your character sheet, checking your inventory. Your friends all load in, and over the voice chat, you hear your DM start to speak “When last we left off, you had entered the Caves of Dread, to hunt the goblin warlord Smark. Before you stands a set of iron doors” and you turn your camera around to SEE the doors, standing there, surrounded by the rough stone of the cave. One of the others in your party goes up to the doors, and you can see their character model, a dwarf in heavy armor. They say “I open the door!” and the GM has the door open, and through it you can see 6 goblins, all standing around beds and tables. “The goblins appear to be engrossed in something and don’t notice you!” You all get ready to enter combat, and you hear the DM say “Roll Initiative!”
I love tabletop RPGs. But I never play in person anymore. Thanks to technology, I actually don’t have to. Between Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, Power VTT, and then other options like Play by Post forums, Tabletop Simulator, or Discord RPing I have a wealth of options for virtual tabletop.
But I still feel we as a hobby are not fully utilizing the power of technology. You see, right now the big Virtual Tabletop systems mimic one very specific style of play: Grid maps + Tokens. Tabletop Simulator enables the use of minis and terrain, but it has its own issues (which I will discuss later).
What I want to see is an advancement in tech for Virtual styled tabletops. Above, I give an example of the kind of thing I really want to see. A Fully 3D world, explored by the party in First Person and built by the DM for their game. Imagine that.
The idea came to me from a literal dream. I had this dream that someone had, essentially, modded Minecraft. They had added in a full DND Character Sheet, with clickable rolling like Roll20 has. They added in a dice roller as well, and monster sheets for the models. Someone had created models for the game as well, stuff like Dragons, Beholders, and so on. In my dream, I was the GM, and the players got to explore a full 3D town, climb around, and look at things in detail. While shopping they got to enter a shop with shelves full of items that I described, and got to talk to a shopkeeper who had a stationary model in place. It was a wild dream. And its stuck with me for a long time.
And the simple fact is: We have the technology to DO THIS!
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are options out there that sorta kinda do this, such as Divinity Original Sin 2’s DM mode, or Neverwinter Nights, or even the aformentioned Tabletop Simulator, but they dont do it exactly the way I want. To break it down, here is what my dream VTT would have:
System Neutral, with support for multiple character sheets.
- 3D World. Whether Voxel based (Minecraft) or more like Skyrim, I want 3D Explorable spaces
- GM Control. The GM can add or subtract anything they want, teleport characters around, ect.
- Character Customization. Players should be able to make their avatars look like their characters, as best as they can. Not with equipable gear mind, but at least hair, eye color, species, ect
- Dice Roller, and Clickable Character Sheets. Look at Roll20 and how they do their character sheets and you get the idea
- Non Grid Movement for Out of Combat, and Grid Movement (if wanted) for IN combat.
- Voice Chat. You don’t really need Webcams in this case built in, because you will BE your character, but having built in voice would be handy
- First Person perspective. I want to feel like I AM my character when playing.
- Community Content Support. Similar to the Roll20 Marketplace, I want people to be able to sell new Prefab buildings, new tiles, new monster and character model options.
- Multiplayer (OBVIOUSLY).
- Persistence. we need to be able to save the world state at all times, so people can load in right where they left off.
Imagine if you were playing Skyrim, but with a GM controlling everything around you. Thats the kind of vision I have (although graphically I would be fine with Minecraft TBH)
When you enter the Invulnerable Vagrant, you could SEE the shop, SEE the shelves, SEE Pumat Sol!
When you explore Waterdeep you could go find the Yawning Portal Tavern, go into the back and see the descent into Undermountain! See the patrons, hell hear the music!
You could wander the streets of your homebrew world, in realtime
Immersion would be off the charts. And thats what I really want.
Not everyone will, however. Personally, I love the idea of merging Tech and Tabletop more and more, at least for those of us who play online exclusivly. And if people did not want immersive enviroments I am pretty sure things like Dwarven Forge would not exist. The entire point of that is to create 3D maps for players to move their minis through and see the amazing visual representation of the world.
I want that but for us online players, because right now? We do not have it.
Now bear in mind, there are some alternative options out there that kinda sorta do this, or have tried to.
First, we got Tabletop Simulator, a piece of software that does exact what its name says. It simulates an actual physical table. You can play board games with it, wargames, and yes Tabletop. It even has a store with models that could mimic Dwarven Forge style boards. The issues however is one of performance. The thing renders each item in real time, and all of the items have physics, which means the bigger you make a map or the more details you have, the slower EVERYTHING gets. My PC struggled with a card game I played on it for a stream because it renders EACH CARD. Its an option, but its not first person which removes the immersion factor I want. Cost for this is also $20 a copy. You can purchase it on steam here.
Next we have an older option, Neverwinter Nights. I played the HELL out of this game when it was released, both the main campaign for the base game and each expansion, and TONS of custom modules. Its honestly a great option…if you want 3rd Edition DND only, and dont mind Isometric Perspective. But honestly, if this were first person, with the town / world design options, and I could run 3rd Ed, 4th Ed, Storyteller (World of Darkness), 5th Ed DND, Savage Worlds, ect in it? It would be almost perfect. It was BUILT to be a digital tabletop option for DND, and its still the BEST option for 3rd Ed gaming if you want to use it. Seriously, if you play 3rd Ed DND, and you can drop $20 on the Enhanced Edition this is a great great GREAT option, especially with all the community added content, adding in things like Prestige Classes, new base classes, models, ect. Just the Isometric View may not be for everyone. The 3rd person camera mode is…kinda bad (control wise) so I never used it. It MIGHT work ok? Maybe? Thought, to be honest, even single player the game is worth your time so ya might wanna snag it on steam here.
Finally, we have Divinity Original Sin 2 and its GM mode. Now in this case, its a newer game, good controls, and solid option with tons of customization. However, the game you play will STILL be Divinity Original Sin 2. Mechanically, you have to effectively learn a whole new system in order to play this. Its again Isometric as well, and I want first person. Thankfully the single player is well loved, and has co op, so its still a good game, but for what I am after this really does not fit the bill whatsoever. Its also $45 a copy on steam here.
The simple fact is we have the technology for some enterprising dev out there to create this insane idea, and I hope that in the future someone DOES grab onto this. Without using VR this is as close as we can truly get to living and playing in the worlds we all create together, and I for one would love to be able to explore Faerun, Sigil, and my own worlds in 3D with my friends, taking them on adventures, showing them the magical places created by myself and maybe others, and feeling like we truly are our characters.
Thanks for reading, and one day I hope to explore some magical worlds with you. Stay Nerdy everyone.