Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
 
D&D Virtual Table and Character Builder

After looking at MapTools and Fantasy Grounds, a reader recommended that I check out the official D&D Virtual Table. I haven't really gotten anywhere with it yet, beyond entering my player's character sheets into the D&D Insider Character Builder. And it seems that now it is too late, as I just received a mail from WotC stating:
I wanted to inform you all about an important decision that Wizards has made regarding the D&D Virtual Table and Virtual Table Beta. While we appreciate the enthusiasm and participation in the Beta phase, we were unable to generate enough support for the tool to launch a full version to the public. Effective July 30, 2012 the D&D Virtual Table Beta will be coming to an end and the VT will be closed.
I just hope that isn't a sign of things to come, with online D&D support being shut down due to D&D Next being less rules-based.

But then I wasn't completely happy with the results of the Character Builder either. The reason I didn't use it from the start is that it doesn't have any support for foreign languages, and half of my players don't speak English. As the rules books exist in an official French version, why not the online tools? Now that I finally entered the characters into the Character Builder I stumbled over another problem: The only house rule supported is having more feats or powers. My characters have a modified feat from their level 0 adventure, a version of Toughness that gives 6 extra health instead of 5, and it was impossible to add this one extra hit point anywhere. Also the cleric got a mace with detect undead from an old adventure I transformed into 4E, and the Character Builder doesn't support self-made magic items either.

I think that is one of the principal problems of using software for D&D: Dungeons & Dragons is a game which always has had a huge number of different versions, from various editions over various languages to millions of house rules. One could argue that no two groups play exactly the same game of D&D, because even if a group sticks to rules as written, there are differences in interpretations and differences in playing styles. While that makes D&D a very rich game, it makes coding it into software a nightmare.

Comments:
Just don't go with software that wants to run the mechanics of the game for you. You know how to run your game, do it. Just use something like tabletop forge that will solve the distance problem and then get out of your way, not make more problems to replace the one it fixes. Nothing is more annoying than software that tries to do more than it should.
 
While I get that codifying dnd toon generation would be exceedingly hard, it was not unknown that it would be hard before the project started, and there are developers that may be interested.
By example - MetaCreator by AlterEgo software is a very adaptable system which allows rulesets and templates to be created for character creation. It is a tool that is well worth the money for the systems that have developed.
They have created templates for many "complex" games like ArsMagica and SavageWorlds successfully.
Sticking to a small number of systems, to the literal RAW (rules as written) and developing each rulebook over time seem to be their strategy. Handling custom rules in the engine is possible and I've created small mods for mine house rules, but overall using RAW is safer. So yes, dnd being so tailored makes a charGen tool hard, but not impossible. Many dnd games played at tournaments and as part of the Living X systems use a strict ruleset which could be coded.
I'd love to know many excel based spreadsheets have succeeded with various editions of dnd, but Wizards could not in an app.
 
D&D Virtual Table allowed some customization to the characters. So even if Character Builder didn't allow it, try to modify in the VT directly. We were able to create new powers, but I never tried to modify the HP of a PC.

Too bad they let it go, I thought it was a step in the right direction.

"Not enough support", translates into not enough D&D Insider memberships.
 
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GameTable Online, the developer of the VT, is in the process of adopting it. You can read more about it at http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/29226299/The_Virtural_Table_Moving_to_GameTable_Online.
 
When playing with the tool myself, two years ago, I noticed that it is possible to directly modify some values (maybe only with earlier builds?) to create non-standard characters that are flagged as rules-wise invalid... but do still get sheets generated for you. I think the work-around I ended up using was coming up with valid sheets, then modifying them with the specific values I knew were non-standard, afterwards.

I cancelled my Insider sub last year, so I'm not sure if that got patched out, or if it's just a really difficult thing to find. If it was patched out, I'm pretty sure you could probably find old 'versions' online... somewhere. Certain Bays of data.
 
@Tobold, It seems to me that WotC is in full retreat at a time when Paizo is ascending. I'd be interested in reading whether or not you agree with that statement and, if so, what you think the reasons are behind it. WotC has the money and the brand. Why aren't they being as successful as Paizo?
 
Since 1st edition AD&D I always found that TSR (now WotC) was good at having ideas, but bad at writing rules books. From what I could see from the Pathfinder books (didn't play that system, just looked at the books) the execution of Paizo's books is much better.

Reminds me a bit of SOE having that great gameplay idea for Everquest, and Blizzard coming and using mostly that same idea with better polish and execution to get far more customers for World of Warcraft.
 
Interesting. I see your point, but I think that there some other elements at work as well.

I have not been a D&D WotC customer since 3.5. So I am wondering what it is like dealing with them as a customer these days... and if they are having difficulty due to Paizo having a superior license, corporate culture and customer service

I went from 3.5 over to Pathfinder (no insult intended, 4.0 just wasn't my thing). But what has kept me in Pathfinder is being extremely satisfied with Paizo as a company.

I find them very open and transparent and have great communication. They are also very responsive to customer requests, for example by releasing PDF versions of all of their products. And then re-releasing them in "lite" tablet friendly versions due to customer feedback.

I also appreciate how the OGL builds community and increases the pool of people producing content and services. For example, applications like Perram's Spellbook and magazines like Kobold Quarterly & Adventure Quarterly are not only allowed, but actively encouraged by Paizo. I have gotten quite spoiled by what is allowed by the OGL and do not believe I would enjoying go back to a game with a more restrictive license.

As I said, I don't have recent first hand experience with WotC, but I suspect that they are being beaten in areas that go beyond the quality of their books.
 
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