Virtual Table – first actual play experience

As planned, I was able to get a game going this evening on the beta version of the D&D Virtual Table.  I’ll start by saying that we had a fun little adventure, partly thanks to the program and partly in spite of it.

The good stuff

The best part of the evening was that I was able to get a game together almost entirely in a pick-up manner.  One of my regular Friday night MapTool game players was able to show up (thanks, Max!) but the other players were folks who were either browsing the open games or the beta message boards, looking for a game.  So, it’s clear that the Virtual Table does enable something like a pick-up game of D&D, which is pretty cool.

The built-in audio support is a good idea, too.  It’s nice to be able to talk to one another without having to deal with two different program (a la MapTool and Skype).  I’ll have more to say on this later, though.

Using the table was pretty straightforward.  As a shared battle map, the Virtual Table works.  Everyone can see their tokens and everyone else’s tokens and move their own tokens around with no trouble.  If you wanted to just have paper character sheets in front of you and roll physical dice and call out the results, you could do that very easily (though that would be a bit of a wasted opportunity).

There were even some things that I’d say Virtual Table handles a little better than MapTool.  Initiative was easy – click one button to add the party, add each monster, let everyone click the button for their own initiative roll… it all worked smoothly and just the way you would expect it to.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how well shared editing worked.  If a player was editing their token, I could see the edits as they saved them.  I could apparently also edit the token at the same time (though we didn’t experiment too much to see what would happen if we were making conflicting edits).

The not-so-good

We had connection problems in this game.  I was lucky to have one player who has apparently played in a ton of Virtual Table games already, and he was able to clarify the best way to do certain things and help with troubleshooting.  He helped another player who was lagging badly, especially on the audio side, try to figure out the the problem with his connection (he was using a Mac, which apparently is more likely to cause audio problems for some reason).  However, the problem never really got solved and the Mac player had to drop off and rejoin a whole bunch of times.  Even the experienced player started having lag issues by the end (though the other two of the four players had no problems with lag or audio at any point). I don’t know if it’s a server issue or a problem with individual players’ computers (or mine), but it was troublesome.

Setting up player character tokens is a pain in the butt, too.  Each power has to be manually programmed, and it’s not at all intuitive to use.  It’s not customizable, either.  You can program in dice expressions (like 2d6+4) but you can’t have text be displayed after them automatically (such as “fire damage, and ongoing 5 fire damage (save ends).”)  There are kludgy workarounds for this, but they’re a pain.

Manipulating hit points is fairly intuitive, but it requires a lot of mouse clicks. I like being able to click one button for damage, type a number and hit Enter.  It doesn’t work that easily in the Virtual Table.

Adding conditions was even more of a pain.  There are built-in symbols for being Bloodied and Marked, which is a good start.  You can add other conditions by typing them in manually, in which case a little exclamation point will appear over the token, and you can hover over the exclamation point to see what you’ve typed for the condition (slowed, -2 to AC, ongoing damage, whatever).  And to get to this menu, you have to go into the “Adjust hit points” menu.  Ugh.

Another thing: Bloodied is not automatic.  This baffles me, frankly, and I’m sure they’ll correct it eventually.  It’s pretty straightforward to tell if a token is bloodied or not and I think that status should pop right up.

Overall impressions

I had a good time playing tonight, technical difficulties not withstanding.  Virtual Table is in beta and must be treated as such.  I’m sure Wizards of the Coast is watching the feedback as it comes in and will make improvements over time.  Once those improvements start flowing, and especially once the automatic import of characters, monsters and maps is incorporated, Virtual Table is probably going to be a lot of fun.  Until then, though, I have to look at it as a tool under development, not anything that I would use to replace MapTool right now.

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