Dungeons & Dragons 4.0 Makes Remote Pen-and-Paper Play Easier

I had a chance to talk to some folks from Wizards of the Coast about Dungeons & Dragons 4.0 a few weeks ago and intend to pay more attention to it in the future, but Kieron Gillen from Rock, Paper, Shotgun does a good job explaining why the next version of the pen-and-paper role playing classic may actually bring many lapsed players back into the fold. Part of D&D4 will be the addition of computer-based tools to facilitate remote play of table-top games, with real 3D miniatures and VOIP.

What it is, is a way for people who've been defeated by the most persistent, unrelenting nemesis in the D&D Monster Manual to start playing again. Amidst a lot of people missing the point, Baylor over at the Gleemax forums has a critical hit: "I think the real target of this are people who can't play D&D anymore. Like myself. I have two kids and I don't have time to get together with friends anymore. I only have a few hours after they go to bed. I will finally be able to shelve MMOs and play the game I love again." What defeats most heroes, simply, is time and its little henchman lack-of-access. If I were to get on the GM hat again, the most likely group of people I'd like to do it for are Jim (Upstairs), Hobbes (5 minutes walk away), my brother (London) and Kid-with-Knife (Vancouver). Pushing D&D in this way is both an admission of the problems of modern (adult) living while using modernity to circumvent it.

A presentation at GenCon, embedded above, explains more.

Dungeons & Dragons Offline Online [RPS]

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44 Responses to Dungeons & Dragons 4.0 Makes Remote Pen-and-Paper Play Easier

  1. Unka Willbur says:

    Well, I think the key statement there was “as a D&D insider subscriber”.

    Honestly, They’re not going to get me to rent an application from them to play D&D. Add to that: Many of the people I do/would play with remotely can hardly afford a monthly fee that will, no doubt, be roughly the same as a commercial MMO, $15/Month.

    It’d be great if it was a one-time-purchase app, but there are plenty of good RPGs out there that don’t want to bleed me dry.

  2. Ramone says:

    Unka Willbur “insider subsriber” is a free service. Not to say that they won’t charge down the line, but up until now it has been completely free. It’s a reg wall–just like a lot of newspapers use.

    That said, the buzz surrounding 4.0 has been mostly derisive, stemming mainly from the extremely lackluster presentation by WOTC (see the video).

    We geeks expected to be wowed by Steve Jobs-like performances at all our nerd cons. This one was boring and awkward. There’s just no damn excuse for a bland presentation for a product built on pure fantasy. Haven’t these guys been to E3 before? Lack of geekgasms aside, WOTC still needs to convice its audience/customers/half-orc paladins that the game will be redeemed–not just revamped.

    It’s been a long time since they made falling in love with the game as easy as it once was to play.

  3. Hunty says:

    When I saw the rendered dice rolling on the rendered mat using simulated physics, a little bit of me died inside.

    Good try, WotC! I, for one, salute your sinking ship.

  4. Scoutmaster says:

    This isn’t what I want at all. I want someone to tell me a story and I want to visualize it in my head and then react to it by telling a little story of my own, and I don’t want to see any maps unless I’ve drawn them myself, and I can roll my own dice thank you.

    If people wanted to do this, if getting everyone together is the reason they don’t play, they could go into chat, turn on their webcams and microphones and do it right now. I don’t know about most people, but I would prefer to role-play with people I know, and I simply don’t know anyone, nor have I met anyone who plays D&D since 4th grade.

  5. Anonymous says:

    From the official Wizards of the Coast website http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/dred/20070816a – “Sometime in the spring, when all of D&D Insider’s digital components go live, we’ll begin charging a monthly subscription fee to access some of our online content.”

    BOO to Wizards. Idiots.

  6. Yamara says:

    Oh, every edition has its haters. This kind of central control has been tried since Mr. Gygax’s time, and people always just wind up playing whatever and however they want.

    And all the dungeons should have been emptied of monsters by now anyway. They got character rights back in 3rd edition, remember?

    Seriously, that shambling mound you fought back in 1996? He wears a suit now and has a higher paying job than you.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It’s not exactly free, and it’s not exactly subscription based. The plan, as I understand it, is to include codes with the new books that allow you to access the Insider materials for the books you own.

    In other words, the good ol’ days when one person in a gaming group–usually the DM–bought a book and shared it, are now over. If your DM is allowing the spiffy new prestige class from Tome Of Uber 133tness, and you want to play it and your group uses D&D Insider, you’re going to shell out for the book.

    Seeing as how a traditional means of introducing new players to the game is for one curious player to buy several books and introduce his friends (who may, in turn, go out and buy books of their own), I’m not sure the ultimate effect of this isn’t going to be a wash. It’s mere speculation, but I imagine a lot of players would rather simply play a computer game instead of shelling out $90 for a bunch of books, which Insider is designed to force them to do. No more “free taste” for you.

  8. CySperling says:

    I must say that I liked what I saw, even with the lackluster stage presence. With the grown up job/kid/wife reality eating my every hour; not to mention having moved 2000 miles away from any of the old campaign buddies; online tools like this might actually get me to roll for stats once again.

    I can only imagine how cool this system might be if it worked alongside the old module system. Buy the S4 module and it comes with all the online maps and specialty figures/monsters/stats ready to play.

  9. barrymcw says:

    I’ve been following the digital DnD news for a while now and,for my part, I think it’s a good effort to get lapsed players back.

    It doesn’t have to be any kind of replacement for the tabletop. You don’t need to subscribe (which is free ATM) to play with your friends. Don’t bring a laptop to the gaming table and 4ed is no more digital than 1ed.

    What it, hopefully, can be is a tabletop that’s in my house in SoCal, that’s in my friend’s house in NY and that’s in another friend’s house somewhere equally far away. It doesn’t take away story, prohibit role playing or encourage min-maxing. It’s not twitch-based or an MMO. It’s not Warcraft lite. It’s a virtualization of a table that people can sit around, regardless of where they are, geographically. It’s kind of like what some people think the internets is like.

    People have been experimenting on ways to play DnD digitally for years. There were these crazy things called text MUDs a couple years ago, there is play-by-email and play-by-post gaming, there is IM gaming. This one is inherently no worse for gaming than any of the other attempts. If good players use it, then there will be good games with it.

    Will it work? Who knows.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m a thirty something DM who still plays about twice a month. This is welcome news, because it will likely mean that D&D3.5 books will go on sale.
    I use my computer to show maps already and I have to admit that they are a great tool. However this is too far. I’ll just play neverwinternights instead of 4.0 if it ever comes to the point that I can’t get together with friends.
    Some rule changes might however be cool. The D&D podcast said that there would now be 30 levels!! Awesome.

  11. cory says:

    One issue that’s important to me, and should be close and dear to Cory Doctorow’s heart, is the rumors that 4th Ed. is eliminating OGC. They won’t be doing releases of any part of the 4th ed. rules under free-to-distribute style licenses, aka the OGL or Open Gaming License.

    They can dress it up however they want, but if that happens, they’re going to run into serious problems with people switching to other rules so they can continue to publish without being tied down.

  12. Stefan Jones says:

    Nyahhhh, kids these days, with their dice rolling programs and virtual environments.

    Back when I played you had to whittle your own polyhedra dice, draw your own graph paper, and paint miniatures with pigments you made from berries and ground up chalk.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Good old WoTC, following the TSR tradition of bad software thats out of date before its released.

    Guys… can YOU say NWN????

  14. Anonymous says:

    Cory (#8), you may want to check the unofficial D&D 4th ed. FAQ on the subject (which, though unofficial, uses quotes from WotC personnel for its sources). There’s a lot of misinformation and baseless rumour (some from well meaning sources, others of which are intentionally malicious) floating around at the moment and, unless there’s a quote from a WotC employee to back it up, it’s best to consider it nothing more than idle speculation.

    After all, why would Wizards want to kill off an industry that helps it? The profit margin for adventures and other such modules is rather thin, while that for rulebooks and splatbooks is larger. Given that the core books are still needed if a person currently uses a product bearing the d20 logo, I can’t see them complaining if people take care of the low-profit section since they pretty much control the more lucrative part of the market.

    That said, I question how many lapsed players they’ll get back. The noises I’ve been hearing from those players who abandoned D&D but didn’t abandon roleplaying is that they abandoned because D&D was moving in a direction that they no longer/never were interested in, and 4e seems to merely be a continuation of this trend.

    Besides, there already are plenty of tools available specifically for playing across the ‘net. (Some of which are better than others.) The only real step-forward with this is that it’s directly tied to the publisher, and therefore can implement those things identified in the “Product Identity” section of the SRD or OGL (can’t remember which one) without running the risk of the lawyers being loosed.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Some guy named GamerZero has a playlist on youtube of the complete presentation that this is taken from. There’s a lot more information there for the curious.


    I’m interested to see what they do with it, but I haven’t rolled any dice in about 2 years now. We’ll see if 4th is worth my hard-earned.

    -Z Eh

  16. Mantari says:

    This is really really sad. It is like a very poor online game, with absolutely no rules engine or AI or anything. Just dolly dress-up for adults. You might as well recreate things in Second Life.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Worst. Idea. Ever.

    Roleplaying isn’t about staring at visualizations on a computer screen. This will never compete with the 360/Wii/WoW for sexy graphics or playability, and it’ll never compete with the raw freedom of a face-to-face game. Imagine how lame it will be for the GM to deal with “I want to slash the rigging with my rapier and swing across to the other ship!” using this software.

    Doomed to failure.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Excellent, another way to keep us from ever leaving the house and having any kind of human contact.

  19. IvyMike says:

    Where are the Cheetos? Where’s the Mountain Dew?

  20. Anonymous says:

    This is why I have not played D&D for 20 years.. it’s just amazing.. really really amazing, on a computer.. no way, its going cast a spell on my mind thats carries me away to a magical place in a universe so different to ours that exists only in my mind and that of my party

  21. Sagesmith says:

    Pretty cool use of tech to(IMO)turn D&D into something that it never should be. I suppose this could be fun if all you wanted to play were dungeon crawls, but for the money you’d sink into this you might as well take up World of Warcraft and get a much better game. Seems like WotC is grasping at a market that is rapidly turning away from them. Wrap up a piece of crap and put the D&D name on it and it will sell? Nonetheless, interesting.

  22. Dybbuk says:

    As someone who is a stay at home parent of 2 4yearolds and i do hospice care for both of my parents in home. I truly have no time for weekly sessions lasting days. in addition i left D&D for the better voice acting and story telling of video games years ago. with the current wave of games for counsels focusing on co-op play i have what i got from D&D. companionship from other geeks. plus i am not stuck in the O so stale world of dwarfs and goblins.

  23. wintermute says:

    My friends and I (avid gamers in our college days, now spread out across four time zones) have been looking for months for an adequate virtual tabletop for roleplaying. None of us really care for FantasyGrounds, and the freeware virtual tabletops have a far steeper learning curve and just too many damn useless bells and whistles. We’ve tried fiddling with various whiteboard & chat utilities, and nothing really seems to satisfy any of us.

    The only functions you need are:
    1) multi-party chat, with the ability for users to chat under different handles (i.e. one for in-character chat, one for out-of character);
    2) a whiteboard utility where the DM can throw down a map and everyone else has the ability to move their characters around on the map;
    3) dice where everyone can see the results.

    That’s it. VOIP is nice, but unnecessary and I find results in too many people trying to talk over each other.

  24. Anonymous says:

    “Sometime in the spring, when all of D&D Insider’s digital components go live, we’ll begin charging a monthly subscription fee to access some of our online content.”

    LAME! Didn’t the NY Times just dismantle their paywall? Aren’t we learning that paywalls don’t work?

    BTW, they’d do better selling those overpriced books of theirs if they actually produced BETTER content. Just peeked at the new “Dungeon Survival Guide” at my local hobby shop last night. It reads like a catalog of adventure modules no longer availalble. It’s 20 pages long and costs $20!!!!

    I can get a good graphic novel that’s twice as many pages for that price!

  25. mujadaddy says:

    “That’s it. VOIP is nice, but unnecessary and I find results in too many people trying to talk over each other.”

    I call shennanigans that you’ve actually been in a game before 😛 😀

  26. Anonymous says:

    I was thinking that this could be interesting simply to have everyone sit around a table and interact (and actually roll the dice) but to use the utility to keep track of maps, aoe, handouts, etc on a laptop (or desktop). Some people like drawing their own maps and I can understand that viewpoint but for me I think this would actually help my imagination and get a group more into the setting if properly used. Maybe simply have a LCD monitor at one of the table and everyone sitting in a semicircle around it with a wirelss mouse to pass around? I would certainly give it a shot.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Given their failure to provide software tools for their 3.0 edition, please allow me to laught the f*ck out loud at this news.

  28. John Forsythe says:

    I have been playing in a weekly online Forgotten Realms 3.5 campaign over the last 18 months with a group that uses the virtual tabletop application KloogeWerks, voice with Teamspeak and our own Web portal with a few custom XML editing tools (to edit character sheets when not playing).

    After spending a significant amount of time in virtual tabletop play, here are some things to consider:

    1. You probably already have a computer and bring it to your IRL games (if you don’t already, leave your PHB and Magic Item Compendium in the bathroom and get them in PDF form). KW runs on pc/Mac through JAVA and well even on older machines.

    2. You will play more regularly through VT than you do IRL. Our group has a rule where if at least 1/2 of the PC’s are available we have quorum and the game goes on. A DM typically puts much time into a campaign (VT or IRL) and wants it to be played.

    3. You can still flaunt your characters prowess to your fellow PC’s and then berate the DM when your PC is killed through VOIP as easily as you can IRL. (You can’t actually slam the table or domino it though)

    4. Digital campaign management can be fun, really. We have 5 Google docs shared in our group for campaign note tracking (Loot, important NPCs, XP tracking, adventuring notes and custom maps). This allows us to use our non-game time to plan for the next session ahead of time. Most of the note taking we do just dumps right into the VT tool so we don’t even have to retype anything.

    5. KloogeWerks isn’t immersive 3D so it still lets you use something called imagination (ask your parents what this is). This is what I like to think DND is all about. What a good VT tool should do is give the DM the tools to apply platform rules while still allowing imaginative freedom.

    If the new tools that are coming out can still provide an environment in which to play without hindering the imagination I say all DND fans will have something to celebrate.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Can you say openRPG? I can say free.


  30. wintermute says:


    We tried to do several Vampire:the Masquerade sessions using only VOIP and Google Docs. There was very little combat so the Storyteller felt any kind of shared-map utility was unnecessary. We had four players, and a lot of cross-talk. We have to date tried one session using IM, and using several IM windows at once (a dedicated in-character window, and however many OOC windows people feel like using) kept the session a lot “neater” and also had the benefit of leaving behind a transcript of the session.

  31. Anonymous says:

    By the way, it’s amazing how many books from D&D are present in PDF form on Bittorrent. Most are good quality scans as well. So if you’re curious and don’t wanna lay out scratch for the books just yet, it’s worth searching for the e-books.

  32. The Funky Phantom says:

    Nothing will ever get me to play D&D again. I’ve found games I like better. I’ve moved on.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I stopped playing pen-and-paper RPGs when I moved away from my group.

    Been living out in the sticks where it would be an ours roud trip, most likely, to find a new game. And have a baby to look after, so couldn’t always get out of the house for a game.

    I’ve tried playing NWN (and NWN2) online, but even with hacks to make it closer to PNP rules, and a hardcore roleplaying environment, it can’t compete with tabletop.

    I’m *really* keen to see if I can get a game going with my original group with these new tools. A lot of folks are missing the point, but Barrymcw has it nailed – this is a utility to allow groups that can’t get together in the flesh to play a PNP-style game of D&D, and for anyone in that position this has the potential to rock.

  34. Dewi Morgan says:

    For the same reasons as Wintermute, above (geographic dispersion) tabletop’s no longer an option for my friends and I. We’ve been using FantasyGrounds II for a few sessions now, and I have to say it’s pretty nice. It still feels a bit 1.0 in some areas (like, it copes poorly with dice modifiers over a million, but that’s not a huge problem for anyone sane).

    It fills Wintermute’s three prereqs:

    1) It has chat, with ic, ooc, action, and private-to-GM. It has no private-between-players, no voicechat, no cut-n-paste.

    2) It has a whiteboard where handouts, maps, character-sheets and documents can be displayed, drawn on, and pieces can be placed and moved around them by anyone. numbers can be dragged from character-sheets to be used as dice modifiers, etc. The GM has a lot more control than others, though: zooming and panning images is tricky or impossible for other players, for example. And again, clipboard support is sucky.

    3) Dice can be rolled hidden or visibly. They are true 3D dice, rolled with a flick of the mouse and using realistic physics, just as with this D&D 4 thing. I haven’t found any way to roll mixed dice (like: 4d6+3d4+6), nor any way to hide dice from your display that you don’t want.

    It also has some fairly serious scripting and macroing ability, which, as a geek, I count as important. Could be even better, though.

    Given all this, I’m not sure D&D4 offers anything new.

    As versions increase, so does bloat. But the best part of, say, PHP6 will be the crud they have chopped OUT – will D&D4 move in the right direction too?

  35. Anonymous says:

    I would be so down with this if they are able to

    1. recreate that table-top experience that we all grew up with and loved…

    2. maximize the fun parts of the game (the story telling, battles and individualism) and reduce the crap (attribute minutia etc)

  36. Foolster41 says:

    My younger brother turned me on to D&D, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I played for a while, then our group kind of drifted apart. Right now I’m kind of looking to GM my own game, or get in to one online.

    When I heard it was going to be simplified, I became a little worried. I liked the richness of the physics of 3.5 (The only system I’m really familiar with really.)

    I’m all for technology making things simplier (I love the fact I can look up stuff in the SRD online, thanks to WotC’s Open Game Liscence). Having a system for playmat with figures isn’t so bad either, as long as it’s not expensive, I start having problems if it’s reduced down to the simplicity of Final Fantasy. While Final Fantasy isn’t a bad series, it’s definitely not the same kind of thing as what Dungeons and Dragons has been.

    I agree D&DO was a BIG mistake. Basically their trying to beat out WoW, which isn’t probibly going to happen (Lots of money, very well established). The Irony is then Blizzard made the same mistake by publishing a pen & paper version that is probibly not going to nudge out D20/D&D. Oh well.

  37. Brian Carnell says:

    I don’t think they have a choice here. On the one hand, the MMOs have to be sucking up money that might one time have went for PnP books. Especially since its trivial to find and download every D&D book these days on BitTorrent, Rapidshare or Usenet.

    Clearly given how many people play pnp games on the computer, whether through e-mail, forums, im, etc., there’s a demand for this kind of Internet client.

  38. Anonymous says:

    I think its a great idea! however it has its problems.

    Playing on “remote control” loses soem of the best aspects of this game which is its roleplaying and human contact, kinda hard to roleplay when your using VOIP.

    but this definantley will make the game more accesible to the old school gamers since now they have drifted apart in the real world 🙂

  39. Anonymous says:

    I think WotC just said “We did it with magic, why not D&D?”

    Im sort of a noob to D&D really. I got the starters kit as a christmas present two years ago and played a couple of solo games that i sort of made up as a went along, using the dice for choosing basically everything the GM makes up. A year later, i got the players set (a paperback Players Handbook with a couple of smaller booklets that are sort of useless, but it was 30$ and came with a free miniatures booster, so i sayd “meh” and got it) Over the past year, iv gotten cityscapes, mortis libris, complete arcane, complete mage, monster manuel, players handbook 2, and races of dragon. All in all, im pretty happy with my choices, but im pretty sure im not getting anything more for D&D except the Dungeon masters guide and maybe the miniatures starter set (which i plan on asking for christmas) Now, im just a softmore in highschool, and as you can imagine, i don’t have that many kids interested in playing. I play magic, and i have many many friends that i play, but perhaps because of the cheaper cost and simpilar gameplay, they choose that over this. I also play runescape (yes, you probably think thats really lame) But what can i say… Statistacly, being a level 86, with the max level being 126, im only about halfway done =/. And 5$ a month? i get 10$ a week around the house, so i can manage that. Now, this new D&D4 was sort of scary to me when i first heard of it. I thought it would be a whole new set of core rulebooks. I was like “now im never going to find anyone to play with”. Luckily, that is now that case. And like some said before, the prices of 3.5 books will go down.

    In my opinion, D&D 4.0 is going to be like turn-based diablo II online. Yes, of course, its going to be much better, ill give it that, but it will be basically the same. Plus, im not about to give up 15$ a month when i can go to the store and buy slightly overpriced books. I mean, atleast ill have the books forever.

  40. Anonymous says:

    It’s crap like this that made me become a d10 rolling white wolf heathan.

  41. Paladin1975 says:

    The virtual tabletop is not going to replace pen and paper games. It is not going to ruin the face to face experience, unless you let that happen. The virtual tabletop is going to be an option, as the 4.0 books can still be used the way other books of previous editions were used. You buy a set, take it to an rpg party, and everyone can look over your shoulder. The virtual tabletop will be something that people who don’t have the luxory of going to an rpg party can use.

    In response to the comment made a little over a year ago, “Imagine how lame it will be for the GM to deal with “I want to slash the rigging with my rapier and swing across to the other ship!” using this software.“, I doubt that you’ll see a ship and swinging rigging any more than you would with pen and paper, but the DM should have about as much control as he/she would in a tabletop session. They’ll still be able to say something along the lines of, ” alright, make your skill roll… “. They may even be able to take your 3D virtual-mini and move it to a different part of the map, saying that your daring swing was successful.

    Personally, I don’t see that there will be much of a difference. While I prefer the comraderie of playing face to face, most of my friends that I used to play with live almost 2000 miles away now.

  42. Anonymous says:

    OMG! Crazy thought! If you like playing old-school, 4.o allows you to do that! If you want to play 3.5 rules, YOU CAN DO THAT. If you work full time, are a single parent with four children, living in Lundon, and havent played with your old D&D buddys due to your surcumstance… You can now play, with the people you love and miss.

    D&D is not a game, it is an accesory to the imagination, nothing more, nothing less.

  43. cautionyou says:

    Mod Converter can convert the .mod files recorded by most popular digital camcorders.

  44. Anonymous says:

    -October 16, 2007 this posted.
    -June 2008 4th Edition released with ads for this online play component.
    -April 2009 still no virtual tabletop for online play with outlook on it and many of the other connected tools.

    2008-2009 many devs and writers laid off from WotC.

    Don’t expect to ever see this thing.

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