At D&D Direct earlier this week, we got an update on the new virtual tabletop system that Wizards of the Coast is developing in Unreal Engine 5, and it's not looking bad at all. (If only they'd released it in March of 2020, right?)
Like other virtual tabletop gaming programs out there, D&D Virtual Tabletop seeks to emulate the in-person experience while also taking advantage of the properties of a digital playspace.
"We want players to really feel like they are playing together," wrote game director Kale Stutzman in a blog post, "so we have created various ways to interact with the 3D space, including pointers, pings, simple drawing tools, dice, and minis. All these systems update in real-time so you can see exactly where your friends are and what they are doing."
DMs will be able to spawn minis and tweak monster stats on the fly, and roll checks (like comparing an attack roll to the target's armor class) can be done manually or be automated.
Visually, D&D Virtual Tabletop tries to splits the difference between videogame and pen and paper representation. DMs can do things to take advantage of the digital space like change the weather to make the environment more gloomy when a monster shows up. Since checks can be done manually, they can change the rules on the fly like they might during an in-person session, fudging that 31 foot charge or letting your barbarian swing from the chandelier.
The tabletop will be linked up with D&D Beyond and allow players to quickly load their characters into a game. It also has tools to allow DMs to tinker with, alter, and create from scratch content in the system. We don’t know yet whether D&D Beyond will be required, but it will be integrated.
This isn't Wizards of the Coast's first rodeo with virtual tabletop software. When we covered this upcoming tool in 2022, we mentioned their ill-fated project D&D Insider, which was linked up with 4th edition. That project was ultimately scrapped, but it’s looking like this one is full steam ahead.
There are some other options out there for virtual D&D sessions right now. Fantasy Grounds might be the best, as it’s a clean interface and has an official D&D license. It’s a little spendy, however, and the DM tools, while robust, are very dense. Roll20 is free, but lacks the content and support of Fantasy Grounds. You could also check out Tabletop Simulator, which goes on sale sometimes on Steam, which is a good tool with tons of content in the Steam Workshop. Just watch out for clumsy players knocking their minis off the table. Come to think of it, that might make your game more realistic.
There's no release date for D&D Virtual Tabletop, but the timeline in this week's blog post says that playtesting will open up to "more and more players throughout the year."