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Sunday, March 30, 2014

What I Would Want From My Ideal Virtual Table Top (My Wish List)

After some discussion with a few of the members of the "Friday Night B-Team" I started to think about what I would want from my ideal online Hangout styled gaming session. The list below is NOT all inclusive, I am sure, nor is it written in stone. It has been on my mind, more or less, for a while tho'. It is fairly focused on Roll20, which is what I use these days, but if one package offered all that I wanted, I'd jump VTTs in a heart beat. I can be such a whore ;)

- Character sheets much like those found in Fantasy Grounds 2, including clickable macros right from the sheet. Damn, that would be an excellent way to speed things up. Damn shame FG2 chokes on the session set up side if you don't know programing, but as a player it does a great job streamlining stuff.

- Every adventure published in PDF form should have an unkeyed "player's map". Even those with "teleport traps" and the like. With a dwarf or gnome in the party, they will know they've been moved. We'll just start revealing from a new map. I can't describe room dimensions and the like well enough when I'm gaming face to face - I suck even more when doing video hangout sessions.

- Simple to set up and use "dynamic lighting". Sure, I don't use tokens in my RPG sessions, but if we had simple to set up and use dynamic lighting, I'd include a token for the party. I'd much prefer this to "Fog of War & Reveal", as this would show the party where they were yet still require them to make an accurate map on their end. Player side mapping is an often forgotten skill.

- Drop down menus for damn near everything. Drop down menus that don't cover up 40% of your screen. Drop down menus that are user editable. Drop down menus for the win.

- WTF is it with screen real estate? Allow the user to set the font size and side bar size and pop up menu size. I have a 27" screen I run my sessions from and Roll20's pop up menus and side bars take up way too much screen space.

- Truly random random dice. too many 20's and too many 1's. It's a programing issue.

- Awesome looking visual dice like Fantasy Grounds. No one has come close before or since.

- Voice and video that allows for whispers and split parties. Sure, I'm asking for a lot, but hey, it's my list. During face to face games I've taken players out of the room to keep events in private when the party is split, or someone has been charmed / doppleganged / cursed and the like. To be able to easily do so online in a manner that does not use chat text would be great. Not a must, as it's use would be infrequent, but still useful.

- I've yet to find a simple and useful way to play background noises for the players - I'm pretty sure Roll20 has the feature. I may just need to experiment more. What I would really like is a simple drop down menu with the sound clips I choose with the session in mind - fighting in the distance, a door slamming, chains dragging and the like. Shit, now that I think of it, I'd REALLY like this. The possibilities are truly epic.

- 3d graphics and walls. Just because.


  1. After experimenting with various VTTs over a year ago, I finally settled on Roll20. For me, it strikes the best balance between features and ease-of-use. Regarding your wish list, Roll20 does address some of your items:

    Roll20 is coming out with a character sheet feature but I don't know what it will look like. Probably nothing as fancy as FG2, unfortunately.

    Roll20's dynamic lighting feature is probably as simple as a feature like that can be. I use it a lot in my games.

    You can hide Roll20's side-bar menus, there's a little side-ways pointing arrow on them for that purpose. Although I agree, the ability for the user to adjust the font size, etc would be nice.

    The same Roll20 update that will introduce character sheets is also re-vamping the RNG. I was happy with what they have now, but the new one should satisfy anyone who currently has doubts.

    I don't use Roll20's built-in voice/video feature. It was buggy when I first started over a year ago, so we started using Ventrilo. They've since made a lot of progress with it but we're so used now to voice-only games with vent that we just stick with it.

    You can play music/sound effects in Roll20. When you're logged in as the DM, look for the little music note icon in the upper right-hand corner. It will give you access to SoundCloud's library and you can add audio clips to your campaign.

  2. Overachiever. :-)

    Thanks for this post - it's a great "where to go from here" overview and discussion starter

  3. IIRC, random numbers are generated based on the CPU clock of whatever is running the program. This is a less of a randomizer dropping a die, by a fair bit. To get better random results, the software would have to call on something outside organic phenomena like random.org does.

  4. I think what the RPG community needs is a non-proprietary, open source _markup language_, like JSON or markdown (or both, markdown for writing, turn it into JSON for applications.)

    Let's call it RPGML.

    So, now with RPGML we have tags, like in HTML, but we write it in markdown-like language, which sticks close to natural language, and our RPG tool suites convert to and from on the fly (it's both easier and harder than it sounds).

    What this lets us do is some amazing stuff. Because we have a standardized language for _describing RPG objects_, we can shuffle them around as we need. So, we export our players' character sheets to their inboxen, and the players check their emails, click on the document (which is just human-readable text) and their phone apps read the file and display them as the _players_ want them displayed.

    But it gets better. Let's say I write an adventure that I want to share with everyone.

    With RPGML, I write the adventure, tag everything properly (again, using natural language, most of the 'tagging' happens naturally as I write: a monster statblock is pretty easy to recognize code-wise, so is a room description and PC stats and so on) and upload the adventure to Google Docs or RPGNow.

    Later on, some enterprising GM says, hey! I'd really like to run Roger's adventure, Zharillia sounds like an AWESOME place. So, he downloads the adventure file, which is, again, just text and his DM suite does the rest:

    1. It imports the maps and prettifies them, setting the proper scale; using hexes or squares or whatever as appropriate. Places lighting and room decorations, doors, traps and all the rest.
    1a. It creates a player version, if requested. (the map, like the rest of the file, is just text, it's easy to do whatever the heck we want with text)
    2. It imports all the room and location descriptions and places them where they need to go.
    3. It ties the room entries into the map.
    4. It identifies what rule-set various rules included in the module use and adds them to the proper location in the suite as well as to any particular locations that use those rules (like, say, a room full of magic mushrooms)
    5. It automagically populates the DM's own Section 15 of the OGL with hyper-linked references to everything, just in case the DM himself wants to use something that he's grabbed.
    6. It populates the wandering monster tables, pulls any introductory text and places it at the top level of whatever scheme this DM's suite uses (folders, virtual notebooks, whatever)
    7. It adds new monsters to the DM's monster database, marks duplicates as such and does not import those.

    And so on.

    A lot of the issues you bring up become very easy to remedy if we have a standardized format for people to transfer their ideas around in; because when we do, the question becomes not, "what cool features should we offer?" but "how cool can we make our implementation of the features present in the language?" in exactly the same way as web browsers do today with their tabbed interfaces, scripting languages, themes and the rest.

    Markdown: https://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/basics

  5. I know you mentioned non keyed maps before and this is something I totally agree with. I think Adventure writers/publishers have to understand that VTT gaming is becoming more the norm than the exception and need to start including these types of maps with every module.

  6. My main wish would be native use of isometric maps and figures. Not really 3D, but still manageable to add your own stuff, which is not really possible with full 3D.
    I don't really use a character sheet, because it means a lot of work of input. I just use the VTT features (Maptool in my case, I am not really convinced by Roll20) to tally spent or lost points an compare them to my paper roster, I find that it spares prep work.

  7. WOTC D&D4 adventure pdfs apparently have layered maps in the files. So if you open it in gimp the base layer will be the player version without all the DM markup.

    At least in the youtube video of a guy doing that they did anyway...

    Should be the universal approach if there isn't a player version in the first place.

  8. WOTC D&D4 adventure pdfs apparently have layered maps in the files. So if you open it in gimp the base layer will be the player version without all the DM markup.

    At least in the youtube video of a guy doing that they did anyway...

    Should be the universal approach if there isn't a player version in the first place.

  9. Hi Erik,
    Douglas Cole drew my attention to this a few days back. I won't pitch EpicTable at you here or bore you and your readers with a point-for-point response to the things in your list. You have some interesting things here, some of which are consistent with the direction I'm taking EpicTable, others less so. In particular, the sound/music one is something I'm looking at for EpicTable 2.0 and will hopefully be show off at Gen Con. If you want to speak at greater length about EpicTable, get in touch--I'm always happy to talk EpicTable and VTTs.
    -- John Lammers, EpicTable Creator

    1. John, I was following EpicTable when it was in Beta, but that must be a while back at this point.

      I'm going to need to take a more recent peek it seems ;)