Virtual reality puts you into a computer-generated world. Augmented reality adds a layer on top of your world. And AR feels like a better fit for certain games — like tabletop role-playing experiences.
At the recent GamesBeat 2016 conference, Dungeons & Dragons director Nathan Stewart was the headliner for our breakout panel on revitalizing older franchises (watch the discussion here). After the event, GamesBeat interviewed Stewart, who is also a longtime veteran of the video game industry, on a cauldron full of topics related to D&D‘s resurgence since the launch of its latest edition in mid-2014. Of course, with Pokémon Go being the talk of the conference, Stewart fielded a question on how Wizards of the Coast’s game may fit augmented reality.
“Whoof. The dream, the dream for me, on AR—when I first saw the HoloLens demo I thought, oh my god, yes. Did you see the one where it’s the electrician helping him? When I saw that, I said, yes, that’s D&D. That’s amazing. I totally want to do that,” Stewart said, theorizing on what the role-playing game could look like someday in an augmented world.
D&D hasn’t fully hit virtual reality yet, but you can play it in a virtual setting thanks to Fantasy Grounds or Roll 20, which simulate the tabletop online, allowing a group of far-flung people to play a pencil-and-paper RPGs together. You can also play D&D inside the headset using Altspace. Stewart sees the former services as a possible foundation of D&D in AR.
“I would like to take Fantasy Grounds or Roll 20, take the virtual tabletop, and play it with an augmented reality-type thing. It’s basically like Kingsmen Table, with the people at the table, whether they’re there or not, with the DM in front, and the DM really being the key to — their version of AR being a little different from other people’s.
“If we’re sitting around the table, everyone gets to look down at the battle map thing, see the 3D, see the stuff, see some interesting things on there, have things be discoverable based on rolls the DM is controlling. But if the DM wants to go in and f*** a little bit more out of that player and find out about this or that so they can tie in some story elements to their backstory without asking that awkward question or breaking the fourth wall and being like, what’s your background? You’re a Sun Elf? You just look. Oh, yeah.
“Now you’ve turned the corner and just come upon this really crazy-looking mad-eyed Sun Elf guy that you recognize! Oh, he knows my background. Or little things in terms of not asking what’s someone’s armor class. Just being able to point and see an AC and be like, he takes his axe and cleaves you upside the head! Don’t stop and ask, does this hit? If I was doing AR, if someone gave me the money and said, build whatever you want out of this technology, I’d build a cross between Kingsmen Table and that electrician demo. Because part of it is you guys going in and looking together on this thing. Pointing here or there and getting that instruction. But then part of it is just being able to dive in deeper.”
AR, Stewart says, would be a fantastic way to promote the core of D&D — storytelling — without feeling penned in by the stats and mechanics of the game.
“All those elements that detract from storytelling, all those elements where it’s not about you and the characters and the story, you can have those be accessible without talking about it. Just by simply leaning, you might be able to see a bit more, or by pointing at something. You see the one thing you’d wanted to do. Rather than having that question, all the discussion stays more in the RP part of the RPG. We all stay within the role-playing rather than breaking it and saying, what do I need to hit? Why do I care what you need to hit? That’s not a good question. That’s not fun. You hit! It’s amazing! You took his left kneecap off! Describe that to me. That would be my AR version.”
But when it comes to virtual reality, he said, “Don’t ask the VR one, that’s a longer answer.”