Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's kind of like a kobold....

As Rook mentioned earlier in the week, I recently hosted a game of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. It was a real treat to be back in the drivers seat after a hiatus of a couple of years. We didn't get into any story or roleplaying this time as it was just a test session to practice a few things. Namely, the 4th edition system, and the software.

Something Rook didn't mention was that this game was run entirely online. I distributed PDFs of the core books, had everyone build their characters with
Wizards of the Coasts Character Builder, connected through Skype for voice chat, and Maptools for a virtual grid and dice roller.

First, let's get PDFs and piracy out of the way. Yes, distributing PDFs to my players is technically piracy but let's be honest folks, back in the day each player didn't own a full set of books, we all had a couple different ones and passed them between each other as needed, I feel that PDFs are simply the digital version of the same practice.

The Character Builder is simply one of the most powerful tools we have and one of the best products Wizards has ever released. It seems simple at first, in that it takes you through character creation step-by-step and automatically builds the numbers based on your choices. Populating things like defenses, skill bonuses and so forth. It's when you start selecting powers and feats that you realize you have something amazing at your fingertips. See Character Builder pulls information from every book printed and provides not only references to book and page number but also the relevant text. It's like having a magical tome that opens to the page of your choice, from the book of your choice, at will.

It may not look it, but this darkness is about to get attacked

Next up we have Skype. Now I just don't get how Skype hasn't seen more widespread adoption. It's a free phone line, with no long distance charges, assuming you're using your computer as the phone and the person you're calling also has Skype. You can of course use it to call normal landline numbers, though that has a cost associated. At any rate it also incorporates an instant messenger and, most importantly, allows conference calls. To get our game started I simply call up all the players via a conference call and away we go.

Finally, We have Maptools. This software is also free, and coded with pure love by a couple of dudes and we all know what kind of quality pure love coding gets us. Maptools has a virtual grid, a chat window, and a dice roller all built in. You can Import tokens and textures to draw your own maps and populate them, or you can simply drop in a jpg which is particularly nice when using a printed adventure. The grid allows you to move the tokens around, draw Area of Effect templates and just about anything else you could do on a kitchen table with some graph paper and pens, but you can never knock the map over with an errant die toss.

The die roller is extremely handy especially with 4th edition, as you can set up rolling macros. All the players have set up their various character powers as macros. When the mage wants to cast a magic missile he simply presses the magic missile button and the software populates the results. It's also handy that, when I have everyone roll for something like initiative I can just glance at the chat window to see the results instead of having to ask the players for their results one by one.

Well, if this isn't the future I don't now what is.

That's really only the tip of the iceberg with Maptools. It has fog of war and line of sight options and, if you wanted to put the effort in could be made into an entirely automated version of DnD. I could actually set up statistics for the PCs and the monsters and have Maptools take care of everything. I doubt we'll ever dive into that but it's cool to know it's there.

In closing, one of the cool things about a digital game is that it's pretty easy to record it. We recorded the first encounter, but look forward to full sessions in the weeks to come once we start the game proper. Until then this will give you a fair idea of how DnD 4th comes together in a simple encounter.


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