A Technical Look at D&D Insider Applications

As part of the 4th Edition announcement, we’ve discussed the online component (collectively known as D&D Insider). To quote directly from Bill Slavicsek’s latest Ampersand column:

“With D&D Insider, we're offering an optional online component to 4th Edition D&D. It consists of magazine content, player aids, Dungeon Master tools, and a D&D Game Table that allows you to play the pen-and-paper D&D game over the Internet. These features are in addition to our regular selection of analog products. They don’t replace them.”

While we’ve introduced D&D Insider’s contribution to the new edition, we haven’t gone into too much detail about the tools themselves… until now. Didier Monin, producer for the D&D Insider client applications, provides the following overview of what we can expect from these online tools, with future articles looking at the following areas in even closer detail.


D&D Insider features a variety of resources that will help players and DMs if they choose to subscribe. D&D Insider is part client applications and part web resources. The client applications will be rich Windows clients, with some functionality only available when the user is online and identified as a D&D Insider subscriber, and others available even when the user is offline.

D&D Insider and 4th Edition
D&D Insider will launch in June 2008 with the new Player’s Handbook, but is not required to play D&D 4th Edition; it simply provides extra options that you can unlock with the subscription. These digital tools are by no mean necessary to play the game, but are designed to facilitate some of the game’s aspects.

System Requirements
The D&D Insider client applications are developed for the PC platform. Two of the D&D Insider applications (the D&D Game Table and the D&D Character Creator, both demoed in their prototype versions at Gen Con) use a 3D engine based on DirectX.

Our recommended specs for the PC platform includes Windows XP SP2, 512MB RAM, AMD XP 2400 + or Intel P4 2.6Ghz, and a graphic card with 128 MB RAM and support of Shader 2.0. These recommended specs allow you to experience the full range of lighting and Shader effects our 3D engine offers.

There are at least two reasons why we chose the PC/DirectX route. The first one is related to market research indicating that PC users are a much larger user base than Mac users, and the second is the fact that we already had a DirectX-based 3D engine in-house, and there was no point reinventing something we already had available. The other applications will be designed for Windows, but will not rely on this 3D game engine so that they can be used on lower-end PC platforms. We have not yet established our minimum specifications at this time. We’ll post those as soon as they become available.

Because the other D&D Insider applications are not DirectX driven, they should also be usable on Mac computers using the dual boot system.

The D&D Game Table

A rough prototype of this DirectX 3D application was demoed in the first part of the D&D Insider teaser movie. The D&D Game Table is meant to be an online meeting space, allowing players that can’t gather together the means to play D&D. The overarching goal is to create an experience as close to the tabletop game experience as possible.

We are designing the D&D Game Table to be as flexible as we can make it, to accommodate even non-D&D games. The D&D Game Table will not adjudicate game rules any more than your kitchen table adjudicates rules for you. DMs and players decide what they can and can’t do. DMs and players can communicate their rules adjudication through voice interaction provided by the VOIP (Voice-Over Internet Protocol), the text chat window, and the DM's settings. We do plan to offer integrated functionalities from the VOIP to allow Dungeon Masters to manage their communications and channels with their players the way they want.

In the movie prototype, dice were shown rolling on the screen. There is a special connection between the gamers and their dice, and we all feel this connection is fully a part of the D&D experience. However, visible dice rolling is a feature that can be turned off. Random numbers can be generated without having to see the dice rolling, if that’s what you prefer. Lastly, DMs will be allowed to “fudge” dice rolls if they want to; players will not have this power, however.

The D&D Game Table allows DMs to decide for themselves how things will be done in their games. For example, some DMs allow players to draw on the game map, while others prefer to do so themselves. There is no "good" or "bad" approach to this; it will be handled by the DM’s settings. Another thing that DMs can set is the speed at which figures move on the game table. There’s the "slow" motion of the miniatures seen in the D&D Insider prototype movie, or the DM can speed things up so the miniatures are moving from location to location quickly.

The D&D Character Creator

The Character Creator has two parts: the character visualizer and the character sheet. The character visualizer was demoed at Gen Con in its prototypical form, a DirectX 3D application that allows players to customize the visual aspect of their characters. Snapshots of portraits, full-screen wallpaper, and virtual miniatures of characters will also be made available to D&D Insider subscribers.

We want this tool to be as flexible as possible. Consequently, the 3D engine allows players to experiment with all sorts of tints, and lighting. They can personalize everything from a character’s build, face and pose, to the coloration and variations of their characters’ armor and weaponry.

The character sheet portion of the D&D Character Creator is a data-driven Windows rich client application designed to facilitate character sheet creation using the D&D 4th Edition rules. D&D Insider subscribers will be able to create characters using content from any published book. To get access to the full details of the relevant rules and mechanical elements, though, you will need to own the E-version of the physical book where these rules or mechanical elements were published. When you purchase the printed book, a code will grant access to the E-version of the book for a nominal fee. As a subscriber, ownership of the E-version gives you access, when you are online, to the rules content while you’re filling out or updating your character sheet. Without the E-version, however, the character sheet will give you only the barest information (such as the names of feats and such) and refer you to the appropriate published books.

The D&D Dungeon Builder
The Dungeon Builder will help create tactical maps for your games. This Windows rich client application is improving on the dungeon tile builder that is currently available for download on the D&D site. Using dungeon tiles or basic drawing tools, Dungeon Masters and players can create tactical maps that can be used on the D&D Game Table.

The D&D Encounter Builder
This application is designed for Dungeon Masters, and it allows them to build encounters quickly, and then link them together to form a ready-made adventure. The Encounter Builder uses a format that allows DMs to take their encounters and play them on the D&D Game Table. It has been mentioned in the Gen Con seminars that 4th Edition encounters are not necessarily combat encounters, but also social encounters and other type of challenges; the Encounter Builder will enable DMs to create these as well. Like the character sheet, the detailed stat blocks of the monsters will be available online, for the owners of the E-version of the book where the specific monster was published.

Character Vaults
This part of D&D Insider lives online. The Character Vault is the place where you store your characters (both visual images and character sheets) so that they can be used in the D&D Game Table. The number of characters you can store will be finite, and we are still working on the exact details of that storage space. As a player, you will also be able to present your vault of characters to the world, and publishing a journal of your adventures (via tools like blogs). You can make your character files accessible so that other players can use them in their own D&D Insider applications suite, assuming you allow this.

Some of the Character Vault’s functionalities, such as blogging, are tools that the Gleemax infrastructure provides to anyone with an account, even if they have not subscribed to D&D Insider.

Campaign Vaults
Like the Character Vault, this part of D&D Insider lives online. As a DM, you will be able to store your encounters and maps, so that they can be loaded in the D&D Game Table. You will also be able to showcase your campaigns, keep track of what is going on there, present background information to selected friends (your gaming buddies certainly, but you will be free to expand or restrict viewing as you see fit). You will have access to tools such as campaign wikis, and can also upload information taken from the D&D Insider applications suite (the Dungeon Builder and the Encounter Builder, for example) for others to use, always with the ability to choose what you want others to see and have access to.

Some of the Campaign Vault’s functionalities are basic tools that the Gleemax infrastructure provides to anyone with an account, even if they are not D&D Insider subscribers.