Blog: Please Make This – 03/03/21

They say there’s a product for everything, right? If that’s the case, then where the hell is the asynchronous Dungeons & Dragons game that I’ve been imagining in my head for the past few years? Surely I can’t be expected to go out and develop a video game on my own, so I’ll do the only thing I know how to do decently and write an article complaining about it. So let’s talk about the D&D game that should exist by now, but miraculously doesn’t.

Without any real understanding as to how video games are made or what market trends look like, I feel like there’s a massive gap in the market for a video game to capitalize on the ever expanding tabletop role playing game market that’s desperately looking to be filled. I guess this all stems from my frustration with virtual tabletop (VTT) programs like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely thankful that these services exist, but some of them can be an absolute hassle to use reliably. Sometimes everything works without any issue, but other times you’re plagued with connectivity issues, or some compendium sharing option is acting weirdly because there are 4 ways to enable the same setting but you didn’t choose the right one. Hell, certain VTTs can’t even be bothered to put a fucking pause button on their music players. Add in the player frustration of having character sheets not updating properly, or certain spells just not working within the confines of the VTT itself, and you’ve got a situation where every session feels like a roll of the dice.

What if there was something else that actually worked consistently, was accessible, easily available and didn’t require too much heavy lifting from either GM or player? There are a lot of books, software and services that all claim to cut down on the prep time for a session or streamline the experience in some way, but they don’t necessarily scratch my particular itch. The two main angles of approach for this concept revolve around using phones and tablets for the players and GM respectively, or something involving a console and smartphones to achieve something similar.

I know there are ways to accomplish this right now, but in my mind I just picture my friends gathered around the TV while I flip through maps, distribute art handouts, and engage in combat with them from the comfort and privacy of my tablet without any additional software or hardware. The GM could have an app that streams to a Roku or Chromecast that only displays what the GM wants the players to see while simultaneously giving them a fully feature VTT to use on their tablet or phone. You could even accomplish a similar thing with a console and some smart phones too.

An existing alternative to this currently exists in the form of games that have campaign creator modes in them, but as a GM, I haven’t really found one that worked for me. Also, if a game like Baldur’s Gate III implements this kind of mode at some point in the future, it’s still a $60 buy in from all of my players which seems like a really hard sell especially when the VTT that we use is free for them. The way to combat that would be for a game like Divinity: Original Sin II to offer a free demo download that’s only used for playing custom campaigns that someone who owns the full product is running, but I guess the mentality is that if someone like D&D enough to play a custom campaign created inside of a video game, they probably want to buy the game anyway. That logic makes sense, but as someone who enjoys D&D way more than playing CRPGs, I can say that people like us do exist.

I would love to see a game or piece of software to come out and genuinely offer the D&D experience, not just in terms of the rules but the communal aspect of it. We’ve seen the popularity of D&D and TTRPGs in general explode over the past few years, and I can’t believe that there isn’t a more accessible option for people to get a game going that doesn’t involve one person doing an endless amount of prep. I’m sure there are like 40 different projects on Kickstarter that are trying to make good on this vision in some fashion, so hopefully one of them gets funded and actually does the damn thing. I guess what I really want is an easy way to set up a D&D session without a lot of hassle for people who have a passing interest in TTRPGs in general. Sure I’d love for my dream application to also be the optimal platform for running a long term campaign, but I’ll take what I can get at this point.

Imagine if once we all get the chance to see people in person and interact with each other again, that I could just have a bunch of people come and sit in front of my TV where they can manage their characters on screen via their cellphone while I throw goblins at them on my iPad. That seems like a no-brainer of an idea to me, but once again, I don’t know what it takes to make a game. But I bet the Jackbox folks could totally make this thing and make it well and now it’s all that I can think about.

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