Last night, I played Dungeons & Dragons in virtual reality. It was a glorious collision of old fashioned geek culture, unpredictable technology, and internet jackassery. It was fantastic.
I played in AltspaceVR, which is essentially a large VR chatroom. Users with and without virtual reality headsets can connect to a virtual world, select a robot avatar, wander around, and talk to each other. It’s one of the most compelling experiences that you can currently have in VR. In addition to having generic lobbies to hang out in, there are a small selection of themed worlds, like a holographic disc golf course, a jungle maze leading to a towering pyramid, and a medieval tavern designed to facilitate games of D&D. I’ll be told later that you can enter a private instance of this room, but my experience is to be in a public room where anyone can enter at any time and start interacting with things.
The D&D tavern is cool. There is a main room with a flickering fireplace, a long bar, and a floating selection of weapons that you can select to stick on your robot avatar’s back. Since bards are the best class, I try to take the lute. As soon as I touch it, the room explodes in ear shattering static. Sound is localized, so I zigzag around the room like a frightened animal in a desperate attempt to escape the noise, but it follows me – the sound is coming from the bugged out lute on my back. I rip the Rift off my face and log out. Lesson learned, don’t touch the lutes.
After logging back in, I resist the urge to make another attempt at the lute and instead go to the alcove on the side of the bar where the gaming table is. The table itself is about ten feet long and covered in a grid. As I approach, a pair of screens pop up beside me, presenting basic D&D character sheets and reference documents. It’s really cool. I tell the GM that I’d like to play and start perusing the available characters.
Suddenly, a white and green robot is all up in my way. It’s apparently decided that it wants to check out the table too and is just hanging out in the same spot as me. I try to politely ask it to move. There’s no response. I shrug and move to another spot at the table. Satisfied with my choice of a human fighter, I look up from my reference sheets to pick a miniature. The white and green robot is there again, but now it’s moved to the center of the room and its torso and head are springing up from the map. This will be a common occurrence.
“Get out of the table, please,” a handful of annoyed people say in unison. The white and green robot mumbles an apology and disappears.
After roughly half an hour, we’ve got five players and a GM. There are about 10 to 20 other people just milling around and logging in and out at random. A large number of the observers have live mics in crowded rooms so they roll around letting you listen to everything that’s happening in whatever room they are sitting in. Most of them will at some point loudly yell, “Come check out these guys playing D&D!”
The GM’s mic is very quiet. The player beside me has a very hot mic and is alternating between talking to us and talking to someone else who’s in the room with him. I smash the left headphone to my ear and take off the right. We go around the table to introduce ourselves. One of the players disappears in the middle of his introduction. He doesn’t come back. The remaining four of us get the lowdown on the situation.
Pirates attacked a town and stole a crate that the townspeople want back. What would it take for us to help?, they ask.
“You can keep your money,” I say, in the only line of in-character dialogue I would speak during the entire 3 hours, “Pirates killed my pa.”
This instantly gives my character, Dan the Fighter, a richer backstory and more complex motivations than any of the other characters at the table, so I am able to feel a bit smug about my high level roleplaying abilities.
The townspeople give us a boat and the GM presses a button on the table and a bunch of terrain tiles appear on the map in the rough shape of a pirate ship. These are the pirates that we will be assaulting. The GM turns to us.
“What’s the plan of attack?”
I don’t offer a plan, because there’s another random robot standing in the table, looking me right in the face. I turn away to look at my reference sheets and he follows, standing between me and the screen. This continues for several minutes as he makes it his mission to stand wherever I’m looking. At some point I realize that this is a coordinated effort. There are a half dozen of these guys wandering around and purposefully getting in the way. Hot mic guy beside me yells at one of them to get out of his face. The robot says nothing, but inches closer and shakes its head. No.
Eventually, they get bored, wander off, and we get back down to business.
“So, what was that plan going to be?” the GM prompts again.
“Oh, come on!” hot mic guy shouts.
There is a web browser on a giant screen behind the GM. It’s playing a looping gif of a man pleasuring himself. The scale of the room makes his penis roughly twelve feet tall.
“Seriously, guys,” the GM mutters as he shuts off the screen.
“I’ve got to go,” hot mic guys says.
We take stock of the remaining players. Apparently we lost another one at some point but none of us had noticed. There are only two of us left to fight a battle that was clearly intended for an entire party. The GM starts placing minis on the map. We are outnumbered about six to one. Seeing minis go out on the table causes the spectators in the room to try to see if they can move them. They can. They can also place new minis on the map. Soon, the pirate ship contains skeletons, gelatinous cubes, necromancers, and a wide array of hero figures which are continuously moving around the map at random.
We spend time cleaning up and making the map functional again. Finally, it’s time to roll the dice. There is a chandelier made of dice. You click them and they fall onto the table and roll. Anyone in the room can do this. It is bedlam again as all manner of dice are rolled and destroyed and rolled again.
Finally, we manage to sneak enough of our actual rolls in to more or less carry out the combat. We kill a few of the things around us and the GM suggests we call it a night. He had another 3 combats queued up, but at the rate we were going it would have taken us an additional 6 hours to get through them.
After the game, the GM tells me that he normally plays in private rooms.
“It’s a lot better,” he says.
I’m not sure though. With the tools available, you could definitely recreate the experience of sitting around a real table and playing D&D, but as a person who doesn’t really want to play D&D, I think the experience I got was exactly what I wanted. If nothing else, at least trying to figure out who to mute, fixing the minis, and ducking around random robots to try to get a peek at my character sheet gave me something to do while I waited for my turn to come back up in the initiative order.