Virtual Tabletops are More Than Maps

image Virtual tabletops—my own EpicTable included—tend to put the spotlight on maps. Most (probably all) virtual tabletops provide a lot more than maps. There's chat, character sheet... [View original post]

Comments

  • Good article. Both points strike home for me as well.



    Related, I wanted to ask if anyone had come across a good tool for sharing audio with your players in real time. I would like to be able to cue up audio clips, songs, etc to play for my players at various times during the session. While I anxiously await Epic Table, I am using Fantasy Grounds II which does not have multimedia features.



    So, i need something to run along side it.
  • re: audio, I'm not really sure what to tell you. I've heard really good things about RPGSoundMixer, but that only gives you the sound cues and playback, not the network sharing. I'll ping dorpond on this, since he's both a big VT proponent and RPGSoundMixer proponent.
  • I came up with a potential solution. Windows Media encoder can be downloaded for free and you can stream sounds from encoder to Windows Media player. This works, but there is a delay between when you start streaming and when the player will hear it. I'd still like a dedicated app though.
  • Well, Battlegrounds supports playing audio clips and music over a network connection, but you probably don't want a whole other VT just to get the audio support. If you do decide to run Battlegrounds and FG2 at the same time, I'd suggest the players simply keep Battlegrounds minimized. They'll still hear the audio, but visually it won't intrude. The GM could also keep Battlegrounds hidden until he needs to cue the next sound effect or music track.



    John, will EpicTable have audio support when it's released? If not, will it be added later, at some point?
  • EpicTable will have audio support at some point. It won't for the initial beta, and it's not clear right now whether audio will make it into the initial release. It's definitely on the short list of nice-to-have additions to the basic feature set.
  • I have access to Microsoft Expression Media Encoder which has the same streaming feature that WME has, but a much better UI. I can stack up a bunch of clips and play them in any order, set tracks to loop, etc. By the way, Microsoft also had this with 3degrees but that project was shutdown. I wonder why. Probably infringement laws...
  • RPGSoundMixer isn't designed to play audio over a network connection; it is a face to face sound mixing program that is probably the best around if you like to make audio works of art. It has its issues and doesn't have much support but it does everything I need it to.



    As far as playing audio over the pipe, that gets very tricky adding it to a VT. Yes, small sound clips like a door opening or a lightning bolt are not a problem however it is those large 5meg mp3 music files that will be tricky since that file needs to go to all the players. I know mt complete sound file in RPGSoundmixer is around 540meg -- that is HUGE and even then I feel like I am hearing a lot of the same stuff over and over again. Syncing up music in a VT would be a tough thing to do effectely due to that reason - it would just me way too much data and in the end would slow things down and possibly not fire when you want it to fire. Now, there are ways around that of course if you somehow gave all that music to your players before game but that is a lot to ask for a feature to work effectively.



    Now, on to the topic: VT's



    Great topic!

    I have discovered a lot about VT's since using one for over 2 years now. One thing I found is that it is way too easy to fall into the graphic eye candy trap. Let me explain. Since the invent of Dundjinni, there is an explosive amount of graphic goodness being created by the community and publishers. Maps are becoming works of art and to be able to play on them in a VT is very appealing - at first. I wanted all my maps to be works of art. What I found is that I was spending far more time downloading/creating images for my maps and building them for hours on end instead of creating content (story) for the game. I also found that players used their eyes more when playing D&D than their minds. Instead of doing a spot check, they would look at the map to look around. As a result, I found that the games became less mind oriented and had far less verbal descriptions - D&D was changing and in a way I didn't want it to.



    So as a result, I found that by using my VT as a Rubber Battlemat was far more effective than using it to display works of art. Now I use very generic trees and create that forest on the fly; I quickly paint with textures to create the pond; I draw my maps on the screen with very little detail in the "rooms" so that the focus isn't visual beauty, but rather verbal expression.



    I now use my VT for its true strengths (note: I play face to face):

    - To count movement.

    - To quickly drop down spell effects.

    - To pre-build and save games in progress.

    - To have much larger playing area than a real rubber battlemat (Longshot feat is a good example)

    - To keep track of PC/NPC conditions.

    - To use Vision to show exactly what each character can see when it comes to lighting.

    - To have FOW and the ability to expose FOW quickly.

    - To be able to revisit maps and/or rooms without having to erase/redraw everything on a rubber battlemat.



    As you can see, they are all things that help manage and move the game along better. That is really what a VT does and should always be the primary focus. I have a very hard time going back to rubber.



    Side note: My one friend is DMing now. He doesn't use a VT and prefers to use all of his hundreds of minis. While it is very cool to see the minis on the table, I still get very frustrated when having to draw out spell effects (especially ones that change per round), draw out only a couple rooms at a time while erasing them to make room for the next. I can't stand having a fast movement speed (like in a Monks case) but being forced to stay on the battlemat because if I didn't, I would fall off the table. For these reasons alone, VT's are the way to go!
  • A quick note on spell effects when you're using a physical battlemat: the area of effect templates from Steel Sqwire work pretty well. It's not like dropping an effect on a virtual tabletop, but it's better than drawing it out with markers.... Paizo seems to be reselling them under the GameMastery brand these days and has some nice pictures of area of effect templates on a battlemat.
  • As the player who was the Paladin in the first scenario I have to say John is right. Seeing the giant troll in comparison to my mini (I'm proud to say that is me in the picture he used. Ok, now I feel a little crazy. It isn't me. It is the mini I use to represent the character I play...There, now I feel better) made us all really understand just what it was that was going on. If he were to explain it without a physical representation I don't think I would have been nearly as tense. "Holy crap! That thing is HUGE...!!!"
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