Virtual Table Tops-The Solution or the Problem?

MapReadThe topic for this month’s Blog Carnival strikes too near the heart of this little project for me not to make a real effort at addressing it. Mind Weave is a Virtual Tabletop (I prefer “computer assisted tabletop,” but I’ll elaborate later). There’s no question about that. But I made it a virtual tabletop by accident. Initially, this all began as an attempt to remember the mechanics for 1E AD&D and insert a homebrew magic system. I only started going virtual when I had changed mechanics to the point that sessions were getting computationally intense. I guess now’s as good a time as any to decide if it was a good idea.

Pros of a Virtual Tabletop

There are definitely pros to a Virtual Tabletop, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Here are some of my favorites:

  • In a virtual tabletop, you can play with anyone, anywhere; no hassle, no travel, no counting chairs, no clearing tables, just picking a time.
  • In a virtual tabletop, players can see the environment, rather than rely on the description of the GM to map off of (no more “It’s a 20 ft by 40 foot room.”).
  • In a virtual tabletop, a program tracks character status and inventory and does computation, less book-keeping for everyone.
  • A virtual tabletop can have rules programmed in, leaving the humans with less to remember and learn. No direct contact with the math!

That does all sound pretty good. Can we possible be getting all of that for free?

Cons of a Virtual Tabletop

No, we’re not getting it for free. We lose something in the virtual tabletop. Let’s take a look at the price we pay:

  • In a virtual tabletop, distractions are built in. You play it on the computer. Other open tabs are all but inevitable.
  • In a virtual tabletop, you lose the human contact. Yea, online socialization is something, but it’s not the same as being really there with the person. You lose something.
  • In a virtual tabletop, rules might push story into the back seat. With rules automated, overriding them to let cool things happen is harder than not, unlike in a traditional tabletop where its easier to say “yea, sure, it works” without rolling at all.

I’m sure there are more than just this. We all feel it playing virtual vs. in person. It’s just not the same. I think the real loss is that human contact. Human contact is important.

The Hybrid

I’d like to see Mind Weave played around a real tabletop with laptops out. That’s what I meant by “computer-assisted tabletop” in the beginning. A computer-assisted tabletop like Mind Weave can be played as a virtual tabletop, but its real purpose is to bring all the computational tools of a program to the table (the last three Pros I listed). It brings a couple of the cons with it, despite meeting around an actual table, but the human contact is back, and I think that’s the heart of it. I think the Pros are well worth the Cons, but if you can get the human contact back in it, it is so worth clearing a table and finding a couple more chairs.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts below. I’d love some more pros and cons. And if you have something really great to say, by all means say it here, but more people will benefit from your wisdom if you make it part of the carnival as well.

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3 Responses to Virtual Table Tops-The Solution or the Problem?

  1. Douglas Cole says:

    Thanks for your contribution to the March Blog Carnival! I’ve added your distinctiveness to my own (follow-up post) which will go live in a few weeks.

  2. Larry Morris says:

    I’ve been working for some time now on a VTT for mobile devices (currently iOS/iPhone/iPad) called Realm Portals (realmportals.com). Despite some setbacks in my backend technology, it’s shaping up to be a pretty cool system. One thing I like is that a GM can bring a whole realm online (photos of paper maps, custom monsters, etc.) and ‘publish’ it to a world of potential players, not just the local gaming group. Yes, you lose some degree of personal contact, but it’s real gamemastered roleplay, not some pre-canned scenario. I’ve taken a rules-agnostic approach so you can embed your favorite game system, D&D, GURPS, whatever; it doesn’t do a lot of math for you, but it gives a system to securely share dice rolls with modifiers, etc. and keep track of hit points. I’m a firm believer that roleplay is essentially about a group of people collectively writing a story together, with elements of surprise and randomness, and not about the rules you use.
    Feel free to visit realmportals.com and sign up on the forum if you want to keep up with the development!

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