Dungeons & Dragons Offline Online

Beauty is in the Charisma Modifier.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been an avid Pen & Paper Tabletop roleplayer. Like – say- about sixteen or so. However, I’ve dabbled sporadically ever since and have tried to keep an occasional eye on the hobby, if only for old time’s sake. So I was aware that Wizards of the Coast had announced they were releasing a fourth edition of the D&D rules next year.

It wasn’t until someone who’d been following it a little closer talked to me about it last week that I realised it actually was something genuinely radical. Buried between the announcements of Swords Versus Scarabs +3 now being +4 and kobolds being pink rather than whatever colour kobolds are, Wizards have done something interesting and relevant to RPS.

They’ve turned it into a PC game.

Well, kind of.

As well as a general re-jig of the rules, they’ve got something the D&D Insider. It’s a whole mass of online content that runs alongside of the real world books – digital copies of your books, the venerable Dungeon and Dragon moving from print to Online and so on. Most relevantly, a load of integrated tools to make D&D running easier. Character generators and similar. But, most rrelevantly, a virtual tabletop which you can push your figures around, run your dungeons (Or sophisticated castle diplomacy-rooms if you’re one of those people who actually role-play), SimPolyhedral Die, fully integrated voice-chat and generally everything you need to play the bloody game.

It’s demonstrated in this, the third part of their Gencon presentation, and there’s some more chat about it over at this interview at Warcry.

Yes, it’s hardly Crysis, but that’s not the point. What it is, is a way for people who’ve been defeated by the most persistent, unrelenting nemesis in the D&D Monster Manual to start playing again. Amidst a lot of people missing the point, Baylor over at the Gleemax forums has a critical hit: “I think the real target of this are people who can’t play D&D anymore. Like myself. I have two kids and I don’t have time to get together with friends anymore. I only have a few hours after they go to bed. I will finally be able to shelve MMOs and play the game I love again.” What defeats most heroes, simply, is time and its little henchman lack-of-access. If I were to get on the GM hat again, the most likely group of people I’d like to do it for are Jim (Upstairs), Hobbes (5 minutes walk away), my brother (London) and Kid-with-Knife (Vancouver). Pushing D&D in this way is both an admission of the problems of modern (adult) living while using modernity to circumvent it.

Of course, you could do this already if you were to bring together a variety of tools. Use Fantasy Grounds for the virtual board and lob in any one of your usual voice-chats and you’re away. But it’s not integrated and hasn’t the marketing push of the biggest player in the game to make people aware of it. And, just as important, it all ties in with their hilariously-named Gleemax, which is basically trying to be a Facebook for gamers. Gaming Swingers with their six-siders, on the look out for cheap experience points, can find a group, hook up online and get nasty in a hard, hot and sweaty dungeon before disappearing. It’s even arguably good for the rest of the constantly beleaguered industry.

In fact, abstractly, you can use the map tool for any game with it – it’s just a representation of the action, with none of the mechanics tied in. Lob away the fantasy figures and run it with the included representative tokens and the automated dice and you could be doing everything from Vampire to GURPS, from Feng Shui to Unknown Armies. Hell, if you play Amber, you don’t even need to use the dice. That Gleemax is aimed to be a pan-gaming – rather than just for the Wizard of the Coast games – group increases the possibility.

The biggest problem is that there’s a lack of details in some areas of exactly how they’re going to finance it. To get all the D&D Insider stuff you need to pay a MMO-equivalent monthly fee of $9.95. However, it’s also been said on the forum that not all the group may need to pay this – i.e. Players may play free, or at least cheaper. I’d hope that’s true. I’m aware that pretty much every group I’ve ever ran, none of the players owned any of the books, and trying to talk Kid-with-knife to give some Americans ten dollars a month (“That’s more than a drink!”) just so I can excitedly narrate about the molted brown skin of an orc in voice-chat is, I suspect, the sort of impossible quest that’s more traditionally reserved for inside the game. So we’ll see. Turning victory into defeat is, after all, a RPG-industry standard.

The Player’s Manual is out next May, with the other manuals following shortly afterwards. I’d make a joke about polishing your D20s in preparation, but – y’know – you don’t need too.


  1. Sunjumper says:

    Just in case you haven’t noticed your Feng Shui link does not link to the Wikipedia entry for the RPG but the actual Chinese theory of the Chi flow.

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    We had particularly mellow games.


  3. Seniath says:

    /me patiently awaits the next story to be tagged with ‘seriously i always prefered gurps and thought that d&d players were basically the gaming equivalent of ocean colour scene fans because i was a fucking snob’

  4. Ging says:

    This could be interesting – though I haven’t played D&D (or any table top RPG) in forever, so I’d need to dig up a regular group (I don’t overly like the idea of getting nasty in dungeons with strangers).

    The Feng Shui link has an extra speech mark at the end, so it leads to a vaguely confusing wiki page!

  5. dartt says:

    I never got in to tabeltop role playing when I was younger but about a year ago a couple of my friends joined me for a game of Paranoia using JParanoia, a custom chat utility designed especially for playing paranoia over the net. It was a lot of fun but we never finished the game. You can read an account of what happened here (link to darttweb.co.uk) and here (link to darttweb.co.uk).
    The chat tool was actually pretty handy for setting the scene, it had tools for the GM to speak as NPCs and for players to roll dice.

    I really love the Paranoia universe but none of us had a clue on how to really play a tabletop rpg so I was kind of making it all up as I went along. I’d love to play with a more experienced GM and finish the adventure.

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    Ging: Our games always had plenty of confusing question marks.

    Dartt: To be fair, Paranoia’s always been a tricky system to run, both for the GMs and the Players. Making it up as you went along is always one of the main Paranoia tactics though.


  7. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    I always wanted someone to do this for all the games workshop games. I was fed up not knowing anyone “in real life” to quash with my mighty ork horde.

    Dawn of War helps these days

  8. Matthew Williamson says:

    Last weekend my father asked me “What ever happen to D&D? Do people still play it?” I responded “Yes, they do. They’re planning on releasing a 4th Edition soon as far as I know, it’s just that the game isn’t related to the occult anymore so it’s not in the news. Why?”

    “Well because I just found out that our company is buying their old Lake Geneva building and one of the selling points is that it’s the ‘home of D&D’. I figured they just stopped making the game now with how things are on the internet.”

    Not that this is an important reply! Just musings.

  9. Andrew Mayer says:

    D&D is the ur-system that all the current top MMOs are built from, so it’ll be nice to see them getting a slice of that pie, even if it is a relatively small slice.

    People may cry that it’s becoming too combat oriented, but honestly I think it always was.

  10. Brinstar says:

    I play table-top D&D. We have a player in the party who connects remotely. We use Skype video to see him on the web cam, and point the camera on our end at the miniatures and maps on the table. The DM trusts him on die rolls. I think D&D 4.0 would be of immense help in situations like this — where you have geographically distant friends who all want to play in the same TT game.

  11. doc says:

    I dunno, there’s such a … grognardiness to the features they are proudest of. While I’ve done my share of graph paper dungeon crawls, my fondest memories of table top rpg’ing are of elaborate narratives that never included a 10’x10′ room with a monster patiently waiting to be noticed.

    I’ve watched a friend run a game from a PowerPoint deck shared via the hijacked work computer desktop sharing app (Adobe Connect). Think that or something Skype-ish has more to offer in terms of “sharing the kitchen table” for the kind of games I’m interested in playing.

    Won’t protest them doing the GM’s assistant thing tho. That’s been a long time coming.

  12. Risto says:

    I’m sure a lot of people will find this nice, but personally, I just noticed how much I prefer drawing things by hand, and just swinging it the rest of the way. These kinds of tools have the tendency to bog things down rather than help things. I’m guessing there’s really still too much limitations to fight with that this would be smooth to use in a little more complicated fight, like something that has a third dimension. (Like a house with people on top of the building, people outside, people shooting from the windows at the people outside, someone flying to the roof and storming in through there…

    Still, I might try it. Maybe I’ll be surprised.

  13. Ice_Cream says:

    I already know a few old school gamers that are ultra-hyped about the prospect of being able to play again because of this, they all agree, though, that if every player has to pay a subscription… they’re gonna stick with WoW. Take heed WotC.

  14. MaX says:

    I play DnD 3.5 with a regular group of 30-somethings. Old school with new tools.
    We’re definitely looking forward to this release.

    Our Tools…
    Our current setup involves a laptop connected to a Projector hung over a table. We use the World’s Biggest Dungeon as a source. DM uses Photoshop to display the maps and a black layer which he deletes like a fog of war as we progress. We even use Skype and webcams when people are away (projected onto the table top). Combined with E-tools we dramatically reduced the ‘maintenance’ part of the game and spend more time exploring and developing characters.
    Yep, sounds hardcore I admit. In reality it has made the game easier to play and easier to introduce new players to the game who’ve never played before.
    Laziness is the father of Invention…
    The time savings are incredible, as is the overall quality and game play. Using this really refreshed our enthusiasm about a game we’ve been playing for a generation now. We were getting through 5 times more action from the first session.

    DnD 4.0 will be like this – a time saver to get more game play done.
    It will most impact people like us. Not so much converting MMO players but refreshing the existing tabletop players. The less time required in game maintenance, the more time we can drink beer and argue about the rules.

    As for subscriptions though… This is a social game we only get time to play once per week, if we’re lucky. So we play 4 hours/week, not 4 hours/day like WoW and others. The older gamers who will buy this are time poor and have kids to spend $$’s on. The subscription cost could be enough to keep us with the old tools and rules at hand.

  15. gkm says:

    Figures. Right after I decide to join in and have already bought the books and dice, they spring this on me. So now my 25$ translucent purple dice set is useless?

    Oh well, at least I can find a group now…

  16. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    heck, I’m still playing second edition.

    what with our DM having spend god knows how much on source material, we decided it was easier to stick with. as a bonus, we all had copies of core rules 2.0…..which this im guessing is just a newer version of. and isn;t there a bunch of rpg running type tools around the net anyway?

  17. Kieron Gillen says:

    There is – I link to some of the pre-existing solutions in the post, actually.


  18. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    hmmm, I guess looking like a tard is what I get for re-reading just the comments, not the post….ah well.

  19. Damballah says:

    I love video games. I love D&D. Hell, I have been in the same D&D game for the past 9 years. (no joke) We went from 2nd to 3rd to 3.5 , but how do they expect to be able to put a 6th level Wizard, 6th level Cleric, prestiging 6th level True Necromancer, 5th level Incarnate, 1st level Necrocanate (that’s all one character) into a system effectively? I already got raped by being a duel class character in the 2nd to 3rd conversion and we have had to bend the rules so damn far that our characters hardly fit the new rules at all in aspects. We recently faught 10 dimensional creatures, Cthuloid creatures, had to try to distract Azathoth (the midgaard serpent) and went through a whirlpool in the ocean that sent us into an entirely different prime material. Do that on the PC screen and I’ll think about it. Until then I will roll my dice and enjoy the thousands of dollars library of 3.5 material I have bought. Serously, if you are going to come out with an entirely new set of rules, don’t make each book cost 50 bucks. Love ya Mr. Gygax, I hope you are giving God pointers on how to design the next one.

  20. Al3xand3r says:

    Paying a monthly fee for this is just silly. It’s a tool, release it with an absurd price like the books and people will buy it. if your updates to it are so awesomely worthy, then call them add-ons and charge for them and people will buy them too. With a monthly fee, they just won’t. Or at least I won’t.

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  22. Wierd Willie says:

    Excuse me for asking what could be construed as a stupid question, but how do “Old School” AD&D players get involved in 3.0, 3.5, or soon 4th edition AD&D. The very soul of the game is different. Is anything past 2nd edition really “Old School”? (I do not believe it is)

  23. Wierd Willie says:

    Oh, by the way, I have been DMing and playing first and second edition AD&D since 1981. Therefore, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the “Gygax” system. However, when I bought the 3.0 DM manual, players handbook, and Monster manual, It wa a game I was so unfamiliar with I put them on the shelf, where they still are. They are two different games, one based loosely on the other.

  24. robert says:

    if anyone can email me the rules and such that would be really cool because im trying to create my first character.

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