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Tabletop Tuesday – The Digital Future of RPGs

Tabletop games are gaining a boost thanks to evolving technology, from the Internet to cell phones. Board games have received apps that keep track of scores, assist players, and work as opponents or GMs.

Like board games, tabletop roleplaying games are have also begun to change. We already have new ways to play online, and even major companies are joining in with tablet or Internet options.

The use of technology for enhancing the RPG experience is nothing new. I recall when laptops first started taking up table space, and we’ve had die rolling apps and digital character sheets for as long as there have been smartphones.

Still, the times are changing, and we’re beginning to see new concepts on the horizon. With it, we’re entering an exciting era in RPG history.

The first step already happened last year as we saw the classic table and playing area replaced with something out of Star Trek. Some ingenious gamers are building tables with 4k touchscreen monitors and peripherals that work as the map, terrain, and GM database.

I love this enhancement – just like we replaced graph paper and pencil with roll-out mats and erasable marker, now we’re able to see (and modify) our environment on a screen. I’ve even noticed programs that replace the miniatures with digital icons, which often includes visible HP levels and further information upon touching the player icon.

Sadly, like most new technology, objects like these tables are beyond the means of most gamers. The example above cost approximately $2500 and required the skill to build the table.

Instead of creating a large computer interface in front of everyone, others want to put that power in the palm of your hand – with smartphones and augmented reality (AR).

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Elderwood Academy, which produces dice towers, trays, and other accessories previewed an app that creates a 3D image in AR. The program uses a smartphone camera and coded tiles to produce an animated creature visible through the screen.

No more need for miniatures, as you can place the tile on the map and see the 3D representation for yourself. Also, the designers have stated they’re looking at ways to add terrain to the experience.

What I like even more is the idea that this technology can be combined with digital tables, to create a complete AR experience. Characters and creatures will have codes on the screen that produce 3D models when viewed through a smartphone.

As mentioned in the previous links, the designers have a while before they figure out the bugs and fine-tune the program, but the concepts are endless. Entire campaigns without any physical map, sheets, or miniature – easily stored, transferred to new phones and digital tables, and viewed with the push of a button.

Even better, although expensive for each person to have their table or monitor, eventually you could game with others online and still have the full experience in front of you.

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Is this a good thing? I’m sure that’s up for debate as we’ve talked before about the move toward an entirely digital platform regarding video games. Some gamers may prefer the feel of paper, dice, and figurines, just like most people prefer real books to digital media.

Still, while miniature and map producers might experience losses, many gaming companies might see a boost. Less investment required is probably more desirable to a broader audience, luring new gamers in with a simple book (or PDF).

This change could also lead to a different industry, as RPG companies focus on digital products. The playing field might even become more level – companies that primarily focus on writing can avoid accessory production issues and instead hire individuals to create apps.

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We may not have Virtual Reality (VR) RPGs just yet, but this move toward digital tables and AR is a step into the future. By the time this technology is perfected (and affordable) who knows what new ways we’ll find to enhance our RPGs?

Will the table even exist any more or will we end up playing in a completely digital environment?

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About Brook H. (160 Articles)
Generalist, polymath, jack-of-all-trades... Brook has degrees in Human Behavior and Psychology and has majored in everything from computers to business. He's worked a variety of jobs, including theater, security, emergency communications, and human services. He currently resides outside Baltimore where he tries to balance children, local politics, hobbies, and work. Brook is HoH and a major Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing advocate, a lifelong gamer (from table-top to computer), loves everything paranormal, and is a Horror-movie buff.
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