Virtual Table issues so far

Since getting my invitation to the Dungeons and Dragons Virtual Table beta a few days ago, I’ve had a chance to dig into the program a little bit more.  I’ve put together two encounters, and I plan to run one or both of them Monday evening at 7:00 PM Mountain Time (so if anyone is interested, feel free to join the game – look for 4e Home Encounters).  Keeping in mind that I’m spoiled by all of the features of MapTool, there are the issues I’ve discovered.

The obvious limitation at the moment is on the map creation side of things.  The Virtual Table has a few Dungeon Tiles to choose from, and I think it’s pretty clear that they plan to make Dungeon Tiles the main mapping tool in the future.  I won’t be surprised if they charge DMs to get access to new Dungeon Tile sets or something like that, but that might be overly pessimistic on my part.  The current Dungeon Tiles that are available are all for underground maps, and the maps I’m making right now are wilderness maps, so the tiles are useless for me at the moment.  The drawing tools that are available are… well, think “crayon drawing” and you’re on the right track.  I’m sure this will get better eventually, but it’s pretty painful right now.

The panels cannot be resized, which is a pain.  In MapTool, you can resize all of the various windows however you wish.  In Virtual Table you can either have the panel on the right side of the screen displayed or hidden, but not stretched or condensed.  That’s a big pain when you’re trying to select from multiple monsters in that panel that have similar names (Blackwinter Wolf, Blackwinter Wolf Pack Leader… they look very similar when their names are truncated).  Yes, you can get around it by abbreviating names, but it’s still a pain.

There’s no way to manipulate multiple tokens at once.  For instance, I’d like to be able to start with a map where all of the monsters are invisible (note: you CAN make monsters invisible, which is a good feature) and then highlight all of them and make them all visible at once, rather than having to click on each individual token and navigate through its menu to make that one token visible.  If the battlefield has a bunch of minions on it, this is just a pain in the butt.

On a related note, a useful MapTool feature that the Virtual Table currently lacks is a “View as player” option for the DM to look at the map.  When I’m drawing a map and I’ve set certain features to be visible to the players and others to be invisible, it’s VERY helpful to have a way for me to see what the map will look like to the players.  My Friday night players can tell you stories about the times that I’ve talked about the window that the bad guys are jumping out of or the wall of fire that’s coming toward them, only to find out that said window and wall of fire were invisible to my players!  Oops.  Not having a way to check that will make these issues crop up more frequently in the Virtual Table.  This is especially true since making parts of the map visible or invisible doesn’t discernably change anything that I’ve been able to see in the DM view.

Selecting a token is also a little strange.  You can click on a token and move it around and adjust its hit points, but its powers don’t show up on the right side unless you right click on the token and choose “View Token Detail” or select the token name from the monster drop-down.  This is something that should be automatic on a double-click or even a single-click.  Click the token, and its details should appear in the right panel (attacks, notes, etc.).

I like the fact that editing one copy of a token edits all of them.  If I add a new power to a token of which there are already five on the map and then save that change, all five of those tokens have the new power.  However, I believe it is impossible to edit a token’s image once you’ve created it.  I’m sure they’ll change this someday, but it’s a pain for now.

Finally, given that I like to run games in-person using MapTool and my projector, I would REALLY like a full-screen mode that I can run in a second window of the Virtual Table to put onto the table for the players to see.  There’s no full-screen mode right now, and even if there were I’m pretty sure I would need a second D&D Insider subscription in order to be able to run both the DM version of the campaign and the player version at the same time.  Obviously this is not the targeted use for the Virtual Table, but it would still be nice to have.  I’d also need to be able to run it without being connected to the internet (such as at a convention), which is probably never going to happen.

Overall impressions

So far, I’m impressed that there don’t seem to be many bugs per se in the Virtual Table.  Its features are limited, but the features that are in the tool all seem to work properly.  The features are SO limited, though, that playing with this program compared to something like MapTool is just a huge pain.  I’m going to keep playing with it just so I can get to know the tool, but there’s no way that I’m going to switch any of my regular games to it any time soon.

The killer features that the Virtual Table will probably be able to offer eventually are:

  • Automated character and monster importing from DDI tools
  • Full selection of Dungeon Tiles for quick map construction
  • An integrated lobby to find a game

Until these features come about, though, there’s no reason to use Virtual Table over MapTool except for curiosity and a desire to make the program better.  For those of you who don’t have beta invites yet and worry that you’re missing out – you’re not, unless you just like playtesting.  MapTool and its ilk are far better for now.  But the Virtual Table has potential to surpass them someday if those killer features get added.

In the mean time, I will keep playing with the program and posting updates here.  Actually running a game will be enlightening, I’m sure!

3 thoughts on “Virtual Table issues so far

  1. If I remember and get the time tonight, I’ll join in the game. I do want to test out VT. I haven’t had a chance to test anything out yet!

    But to related to your article, I am not really surprised at the lack of features in VT. Previous programming projects from WotC have not been high quality. As a Software Developer myself, if I or my company ever released such limited or useless programs, we would simply just be embarrassed. Perhaps WotC should hire the developers of MapTool. That suite of products are pretty handy and integrate together nicely.

    • I agree that it would have made a lot of sense for WotC to just start with MapTool’s code base (it’s open source, I believe) and build from there. Employing the people who’ve worked on MapTool to customize it for WotC would have been even better.

      As far as the release of this software goes, though, I’d argue that WotC is actually doing it right. If they had released the online Character Builder in its current state and called it a beta (because of bugs and all of the missing features) and still left the downloadable Character Builder available (even if they didn’t add the new material to it), I think they would have been much better-received by the community.

      “Hey players, here’s a new product that we’re still working on. Let us know what you think as we try to polish it.” That’s totally acceptable. “Hey players, here’s the replacement for the old product that you loved. The replacement isn’t as good, though.” That’s not okay.

      With the Virtual Table, they’re coming right out and saying that it’s not done yet, and I’m cool with that. It’s usable in a bare-bones way right now, and I’m expecting that it will eventually have some great features added that will make it really good. I’m not COUNTING on that happening, though! I’ve got MapTool, which is plenty good enough for me.

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