On August 1, 1981, MTV played their very first music video, Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles. What does a song from the 80s have to do with Dungeons & Dragons? Perhaps more than we know. This month’s blog carnival, hosted by Role Playing Pro, is about the future of RPGs. As our contribution, the Dungeon’s Master team wants to focus on technology and what it means for the future of RPGs and D&D in particular. Much has already been written on this topic and our intent is not to repeat or regurgitate old arguments. In stead, I intend to add to the conversation and provide our particular point of view.
Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car
We can’t rewind we’ve gone to far
Video Killed the Radio Star, The Buggles
When Wizards of the Coast announced 4e D&D they also announced the Dungeons & Dragons Insider. Dungeon and Dragon magazines would move online and a host of tools would be released for DMs and players. When WotC – the industry leader in RPGs – says they will be providing content on a digital platform it indicates that change is in the wind. Now, I’ve criticised WotC previously about the DDI and I won’t rehash that argument here. However, it is my firm belief that the future of the RPG industry rests with the expansion of technology. In other words, the desktop will kill the table top.
The first hint at this came from the computer game Neverwinter Nights. It offered a DM toolset that allowed DMs to create their own modules to run their characters through. While I don’t think Neverwinter Nights changed the RPG industry, it certainly indicated that running a session of D&D through the computer was possible.
My gaming group has met faithfully every Sunday night for the past ten years. During the past four years I can’t remember a session where at least one laptop wasn’t present during the game. More often than not there are six laptops sitting on the table. There is no paper map and there are no minis present.
This change began when the group played its first Eberron campaign. I was the DM and I was looking for some interesting maps. I found more than I ever needed online; the challenge was the scale of the maps and the amount of ink I would need to print them out. I realized that I was either going to have to draw maps myself or find another way to make things work.
Enter MapTools published by RPTools.net. MapTools is a free, java based mapping program. You can create maps in the tool or import pre-made maps and then populate them with monsters. It has a slew of functions that allow you to track the various conditions that are part of the 4e game. Add in some macros and you can automate your hit roles, track your damage, healing surges and action points.
This has changed the way my gaming group plays D&D. Some of our members have moved to other cities or started families, and using this tool means we can still play as a group. When my son was born I wasn’t able to play in person for over a month. However, I played remotely every Sunday night because MapTools allows you to set up a sever. The macro system allows online players to roll in the tool so their die roles are never questioned. To make it even better, if I had to assist with my son while playing remotely, someone else can run my character for me. So the group doesn’t suffer for my absence.
When WotC announced the Virtual Tabletop I looked forward to a whole new way of gaming. While my expectations might have been crushed, I realize that the conversion to the desktop won’t be an overnight phenomenon. It’s going to take time; new advances in the technology will need to be introduced slowly.
My arguments for the advancement of the desktop should not be mistaken for a belief that the tabletop game will die or disappear. Nor do I believe that support for it from the major players in the RPG industry will end. It is still, and will continue to be, a lucrative market. When we consider the music analogy we all know that radio still exists. The radio plays in the background of every waiting room and in every car driving down the freeway. Radio is still a large part of our everyday existence.
However, the introduction of video catapulted radio stars into a new dimension of celebrity. It created the celebrity industry that we have today and it allowed the product, in this case music, to be more accessible to its audience. This is what I believe technology has the potential to do with RPGs. Technology will introduce RPGs to new players; it will keep the industry alive and growing. If industry leaders like WotC can keep the momentum going others will follow. If they don’t, third party publishers will do the job for them.
In the words of an eighties pop band “We can’t rewind, we’ve gone to far.”