After a few years of getting increasingly obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons along with the entire concept of TTRPGs in general, one thing I’ve always wanted was a comprehensive tool or piece of software that could house my campaign in its entirety. Ideally I wanted a video game styled, easy to use virtual tabletop that could do everything from making maps to just playing a session within it. Most of these programs manage to excel at one thing while fumbling other elements of playing a TTRPG, but that won’t deter me from checking out a new one when it comes along. Enter TaleSpire.

TaleSpire was Kickstarter success that claimed to be “a beautiful way to play pen and paper RPGs online,” according to their campaign page, and from what they showed off it seemed like they weren’t just a bunch of talk. Last week TaleSpire finally entered early access on Steam and I eagerly pounced on it, hoping that this would finally be our new TTRPG platform of choice. However, I was quickly reminded of the fact that TaleSpire is in fact an early access product that still needed a lot of time before it would dethrone the other services we use.

TaleSpire has a ton of potential and I do look forward to seeing it evolve over time, but in its current state, it just feels a little too cumbersome for me to reliably run a game for my friends in. There’s a lot of layers and shortcuts that you kind of need to commit to memory in order to use TaleSpire at anything beyond a snail’s pace, but there’s just so much stuff going on and not a lot of tutorialization to help you navigate it all.

For instance, there are a few different modes you can swap between, from exploration mode, to build mode, cut-scene mode and initiative mode, all of which are pretty self-explanatory, but then there are different GM layers you can toggle on and off along with different triggers that can activate different events or hide certain elements of the map from your players. The tutorials give a broad, single paragraph overview of how these things can work, but they don’t do a great job at explaining how to actually make use of them. For instance, I have no clue how to trigger a cut-scene, but I know that it is possible considering there’s an entire mode literally called “cut-scene mode.”

I think that TaleSpire could really benefit from better tutorials that kind of launch you into scenarios so you can actually see how things work together, or at least give some premade maps for people to disassemble and see what gears are turning to accomplish what. As is, all I can really do is bash my head against it until I figure something out, but that could take a while.

I just feel as if I just don’t have enough information to properly understand how to operate TaleSpire as a whole. I suppose I could go out and look at the inevitable deluge of tutorial videos that people have surely made, but it just seems like a thing that should be explained in the software itself. I’m sure that stuff will be added in during development, so I’m not too worried about it at the moment. I really like what TaleSpire is doing and think it has a solid foundation to build off of, but the usability just isn’t there right now. If I as a DM can’t wrap my head around this software, then I can’t properly teach it to my players which would result in very slow and dragging sessions, which nobody wants.

But from just a, “hey this is fucking cool” standpoint, TaleSpire sure is nifty. Building out scenes is rewarding, albeit a bit clunky in places, but even with the modest amount of items currently available, you can make some really striking tableaus. Everything has this tilt-shifted look to it that really delivers on the promise of a true virtual tabletop. One of the stretch goals that was reached during the Kickstarter campaign was the ability to create your own miniatures inside of TaleSpire, which is a feature I’m very much looking forward to getting to tinker with. It’ll also go a long way in getting me to convince my players to migrate over to this new platform that unlike our current solution, isn’t free.

I also have some lingering questions about housing stats and character sheets just in case TaleSpire ever does become our platform of choice. I don’t know if that stuff will be able to be housed within TaleSpire or not, but it really should be because the biggest issue I have with TaleSpire at the moment isn’t actually the lack of information it gives me, but it’s the viability of this as anything more than a map making tool. I have to ask myself what this $25 product is offering my players and I that our current virtual tabletop isn’t providing us at the low price of free? That’s a big hurdle to have to clear, but hopefully as more people touch TaleSpire and give their feedback these things will change.

TaleSpire does have a ton of other cool little bells and whistles in it right now however, like the ability to fully customize the atmosphere of a map by tweaking the position of the sun, pumping up the fog, or even adjusting the exposure on the entire in the entire scene. There’s also a couple of really cool features they’ve promised would be added, such as the previously mentioned miniature customization and cyberpunk themed objects, but first and foremost I think the priority should be getting users educated so they can utilize what’s actually playable now. If I knew what I was doing in TaleSpire, I’d probably more willing to try and pitch other people on it, but until then I don’t think TaleSpire is going to be our new virtual tabletop. But hey, I look forward to changing my tune as it evolves throughout its early access period.

4 Comments »

  1. I’m curious what your recommendation would be in the *current* ecosystem for someone looking for a virtual tabletop? As someone who’s only ever poked at the fringes here, the only other one I’m even familiar with is Tabletop Simulator

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    • In the current ecosystem, I’ve only found that 2D VTTs like Roll20 or Foundry are truly viable if you’re looking for integrations with existing rule books and games like D&D and Pathfinder. They’re good about drag and drop functionality but in the case of Roll20, aren’t visually appealing and are glitchy in places.

      I haven’t dabbled in Tabletop Simulator and its offerings, but I imagine it could be utilized to great effect if you had enough time and patience to get it there.

      Ultimately I haven’t found a VTT that is visually appealing, easy to use, has native integrations with existing products, and is accessible to other players yet. That’s what I’m hoping TaleSpire can achieve eventually.

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