Optimizing Online Play with Demiplane’s Adam Bradford – RPGBOT.Podcast S2E39

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss getting the most out of playing TTRPGs online with the help of Demiplane’s Adam Bradford. We discuss digital rules mediums, voice and video tools, virtual tabletops, finding online groups, and how you can use Demiplane and other existing tools to solve problems that have existed for decades.

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Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall 

Welcome to the RPGBOT dot podcast. I’m Randall James, your virtual tabletop victim and with me is Tyler Kamstra.

Tyler 

Hi, everybody.  And tonight we have a special guest with us, Adam.

Adam Bradford 

Hi, I’m Adam Bradford. I am the Chief Development Officer for Demiplane. And I was formerly the Vice President of Tabletop, which was a lovely made up title at a company called Fandom where I was one of the founders of D&D Beyond, and generally had been playing tabletop role playing games for 30 plus years. And it turned from the most beloved hobby of all time into a career somehow. So I’ve been enjoying that for the last six or seven years here. And really, really excited to be on the show, because I have used RPGBOT quite a bit when I am, you know, trying to optimize all the various characters that I play.

Randall 

Awesome. All right, Tyler, what are we doing tonight?

Tyler 

Tonight, we’re going to talk about playing tabletop games online. Adam here is a longtime expert on doing pretty much just that, especially with with the introduction of Demiplane very recently. So we’re going to talk about some things that we’ve learned over the the past couple of years, during COVID, years before that… the evolving tools that are available to us. And in general, how you can get the most out of playing tabletop RPGs in a virtual format.

Randall 

Yeah, I mean, so as a person, who most of my career at this point has been online, I started playing  5e, I started playing 5e online, because Tyler, you’re out in Washington State, and I am in Michigan, and our other friend that we play with is out in Virginia, most of my games have been constrained to the online environment. As we were putting together the show notes for this tonight. One of the things that occurred to me, like if somebody came and said, it’s like, well, what tools do you need in order to play an online game? I would look at them and be like, I don’t know, like, Roll20, D&D Beyond, and Beyond 20. And I’m good to go. Right? And that’s not an answer. Those are that’s a list of three tools. But like, what are these things? And how do they actually help us play a game.

Tyler 

So I like to think of it as essentially four major things that you need, you need… you need your game, you need your party, you need a communication medium of some kind, and you might need a visualization, we’ll dig into the specifics on each of those. And we’re going to hit on Demiplane a whole bunch of times tonight, because it has come through as a solution to a bunch of those problems, which despite being in a post COVID world for several years now. A lot of those problems still remained unsolved. And here we are with this wonderful new solution. So so let’s start with the game. Because I mean, that’s the first thing you think of when you go to play online, you’ve got to have your rules. And of course, the implementation of those rules. So if you think of playing at the tabletop, you’ve got your books, you’ve got your dice. That’s pretty much all you need. So you essentially need a digital replacement for that. So Adam here, you helped found D&D Beyond and now you’re working on Demiplane, which is doing the same thing for a bunch of other RPGs. Tell us a little bit about that for people who might not be familiar.

Yeah. So with Demiplane, as Demiplane was getting started, it was really just kind of a lofty and altruistic mission to make playing these games better. And it is always great to start from a place of, you know, hey, hey, we love playing these games, what are the tools? What are the parts of the experience that could be helped by technology. And so with Demiplane, it started out of a problem for our founders, Peter Romanesco and Travis Frederick. You may know, Travis from all pro center days with the Dallas Cowboys. But he, they had been friends are just years and years and years. And they were coming back together. So you said you play with people in at least three different states, They were coming back together to play. And they were like, you know, hey, wait a minute, we don’t have the time and don’t want to run the game. We want to show up as a player and play. And so how do we find someone who can actually run these games and so it really started trying to solve a personal problem, which is the way that a lot of great things start up, you know, necessity is the mother of invention. And so they’re like, Hey, let’s put together something with a matchmaking algorithm that can help people find other people that, you know, want to play the same kinds of games that that I want to play, you know, pretty quickly after they got into that. And this would have been around the time that, you know, I came to know them, you know, started talking with them. We, we got into things over playing a role playing game together, which is the you know, the best origin story for any kind of friendship. And so as we were doing that, it became clear that it wasn’t necessarily enough to just connect people to play the games, we also needed to do something to help provide that game content that you were talking about. And so this is where for Demiplane, you know, at the time, I knew my season was drawing to a close at D&D Beyond and I wanted to move on to some new types of challenges. And I always wanted to provide digital games support for the game content, you know, character creation, all those different pieces. I always wanted to provide that for other kinds of games that weren’t, you know, Dungeons and Dragons. And as things evolved at Fandom and D&D Beyond, that just wasn’t going to be in the cards. And so I really relish the opportunity to go out there for some of these other incredible games that are out there, because I play so many of these, right. And so I’m always looking for another kind of game to play. And, you know, go out there for those games and give those games nice things too. And so that really is where that started for Demiplane and was like, Hey, we can connect people. But what is really, really going to help people stay on the platform, and make the platform valuable to these groups, is to give them the game content that they need. And so this is where, you know, people for decades have played with books, and they have stacks of books at the table, I’ve got stacks of books behind me and beside me really all over a mess in my office right now. So we love books. But there is something just so incredibly helpful about being able to have that game content in a form that is digital that you can carry with you, I get so many stories all the time of thanks so much for everything that you do, because I can go to conventions now and my backpack and have merch in it, instead of all the books that I need. Thanks so much, I was in the line at the supermarket the other day, and I was able to look up a spell that I had on my mind, you know, so all those kinds of stories are really important. And so the game content itself is a very, very important part of playing online. And especially if you have that in that digital format, you’re able to copy paste things to people quickly, you know, if there’s ever a, you know, a will say a friendly debate over any of the rules that that moment where a Game Master is trying to remember what a spell does, and the player is able to just simply sense that a link to that, all of those things make it incredibly useful for online play. And I would really argue, especially at this point where we find ourselves, it would be so difficult to play online, if everyone was just using only physical books. And again, you can use it in conjunction for sure. But having that digital game content is really important part. And so for Demiplane, this is where we went out, we, you know, have been targeting all the really, really great games out there that do not have this kind of support. And we’ve been, you know, signing partnerships. And, and we’ve done that for all of this great game content. And honestly, we have announced three or four of those, I think and we’ve probably got 10 others that we haven’t announced yet, so so we have a lot of stuff coming up that we’re really excited about. And that game content is going to be a really core piece of playing online and a core piece of what Demiplane is doing.

Randall 

So for folks at home who are wanting to imagine themselves using Demiplane, what are the three or four that you have announced?

Yeah, that’s a great question. Let me let me plug what we have announced so far. And I’m going to have to be super super careful because you know, I live in a world where I’m working with all 12 in my head. So, so basically, with what we have announced to this point is we have Pathfinder Nexus, which is the official digital tool set for Pathfinder second edition. And we do have the… we absolutely have the license for Starfinder. And we’ve got a lot of pretty rabid fans out there telling us they’d love to see this for Starfinder. Nothing I can share on that front yet. But but we’re certainly paying attention to what people are, you know, asking for out there. And we also have announced that we have the license for World of Darkness. And so before I got on this, this interview here, I was actually in our internal tools, looking at pages and making pages look pretty for a World of Darkness content. And I will say I’m pretty proud of what’s coming together. It’s it really looks killer. And I can’t wait for people to see that. And so we’ve got that for Vampire the Masquerade. And we have also seen the World of Darkness team has announced that there is a hunter the reckoning a new version of that coming. So we will be supporting that. And then of course they have also announced Werewolf and so when Werewolf comes that’s something else that we will support when that time comes. And then we have announced Free League publishing. So they are one of the up and coming, and I say up and coming it’s been it’s been much longer than than I think we all realize now that Free League has been on the map, but they have just made such an impact in such a short amount of time. And you know, these incredible games that really you know, licensed games like Alien that really capture the feel of the IP itself just in an incredible way. But then you have just gems like Forbidden Lands that just makes you… it’s Mad Max in a medieval fantasy setting, and it just the feel of Free League games, and the production value is just unparalleled. And so we’re also working on the different games in the Free League catalog. And then most recently, we have announced a Marvel multiverse role playing game Nexus that is showcasing all of the content for the play test rulebook that has been released. And of course, you know, according to Marvel, there are plans to have like a full version of that game at some point next year. And so this is a really unique opportunity. Again, since having the game content in digital form is so important. If you’re going to come together and try to play in the play test for the Marvel game online. This is one of the first instances that I’m aware of any way that you have this level of digital support available from the get go even with a play test. And so it’s really exciting to, you know, be able to kind of start that kind of, you know, what I hope is a precedent, because I think that these tools really can do some really valuable things, especially for play testing some of the data that we can gather, some of the you know, who was looking at which pages in which archetypes are getting the most attention, you know, all of that can really help out in a play test. And so those are the ones that we have publicly announced at this point. But keep your ears open, eyes peeled for some other announcements here in the next quarter or so.

Tyler 

Well, that’s exciting know that those are coming that soon. So you you talked about a bunch of game systems that are going to be covered on Demiplane and obviously D&D Beyond does D&D. So all of those give us digital character sheets, access to the digital, like the digital rules content. So you can just read it like a book on your… on your computer or on your phone or whatever. I haven’t checked does Demiplane do digital dice yet? And for all those games that have weird, unique dice, like a lot of Free League’s games have their own dice systems? Are you guys going to do all those?

Adam Bradford 

Yeah, so you’re trying to squelch, you’re trying to scoot me a little bit here. But… But I will, I will go on and say, you know that I don’t mind answering questions. So I’m gonna answer this one. So at the moment, what we’re doing is all of the different nexuses that we have announced, and these digital tool sets are in our early access period. And the way that this works… and you know, for some, this seems like, you know, they might feel like we are doing this because, oh, it’s easier to do this one part over say character creation, because that is not character building. And the sheets are not yet available. We’re getting there. But they’re not yet available. And really, it’s a very practical reason that we go into early access with the digital reader, and then what we call the game compendium. And so digital reader is kind of as you said, it is being able to read something. A ll of the game content in the various books kind of in the in the book format. But then we enhance that with interactive tooltips, we have cross linking. So if it says Section A one, it’s going to jump you right down to section A one, you know, all of that really important stuff. And so it really is just much more than a PDF. And so that digital reader is a part of early access. And that’s really the place where we have to start because we have to take this content from the publishers that are typically delivered in Adobe InDesign files. And I will refrain from any expletives when talking about Adobe InDesign. But InDesign does a great job for what it does. But when it comes to translating that into something that is useful on the web, it leaves much to be desired. And so a big part of what we have to do on our side is we have developed internal tools that would really knock the socks off a lot of people if they can see them, that will take that content and digitize that, put it into a format that we can use an HTML, and all the other various ways that you bring things to life on the web. And so that is the starting point for us. We’ve got to get it into a digital format first. And so the digital readers kind of how that comes to life first. Then the next stair step is what we call the game Compendium. And this is where we are going to see you know, listings and what we call primers. So it’s taking, you know, Pathfinder, for instance, we’ve got a Barbarian and the Barbarian was a class that was released in the core rulebook. So you can go to the core rulebook in the digital reader read all about Barbarian everything about it in that book. But then when they released the advanced players guide, there’s going to be additional information… game mechanic information that is included for the Barbarian and so when you go to Pathfinder Nexus and look up the Barbarian in the game Compendium, you’re not only going to see what’s available in the core rulebook, you’re going to see everything. And, and that aggregation is a really, really powerful part. So it’s like if you’re looking at a spells listing, you can use advanced filters to find what you’re looking for. The other thing that we really, really take a look at with what we’re doing is the tech is really strong behind the scenes. And so when you start filtering and searching for that in the game Compendium, it really returns results really well. And we’re really dedicated to that. And so that game Compendium is the next step, because it’s kind of detailing and parsing out more of that information. So individual spells, individual items, etc, into the game Compendium. And all of that is required foundational effort, that then very naturally leads into the character management piece of being able to create a character and use a digital character sheet when you get on the other side. And so in the progression of how things are emerging here on the Demiplane Nexus platform, we’re taking those early steps. And so that’s what you’re gonna see today out there for Marvel, that’s what you’re gonna see for, you know, Pathfinder, that’s what you will see for the World of Darkness, you know, content pretty soon here, all of that is going to start coming together, and then the character pieces are coming. When the character pieces come, there is no question in the world, that we will include the ability to roll digital dice. Now, exactly what form that’s gonna take. Initially, it may be a little, you know, more simplistic that, you know, we will prioritize making sure you get results back first. But then after that, who knows where that’s going to lead. And I will just personally say that I’m a big, big fan of really pretty animated pixels exploding across the screen. So we’ll see where that goes.

Tyler 

All right, good. Good.

Randall 

I want a graphics card to roll dice. That’s, that’s where I want to be at.

Adam Bradford 

Enable hardware acceleration. Yeah.

Randall 

Exactly. Cool, cool. Right. So we talked about kind of what does it take to actually build the game. And I think what you just laid out is great. So one is like, literally, we want to reference we wanted to be queryable, we want to be able to build characters, we want to be able to manage characters. And as a Game Master, we wouldn’t be able to manage the game. And so maybe that means, you know, if my monsters I can essentially use these like blocks, I can roll dice, I can make everything happen. And if I need to share something with my players, I can share something my players. Okay. Speaking of the players, we need a party.

Tyler 

Yes. And finding players has been a a massive problem for for many tabletop gamers since long, long before, before COVID, before playing online was a thing. Like I remember, like, I moved to Washington as a teenager and was like, Okay, I’m here. I’d like to get a D&D group started. And I don’t know anyone, how do I make this happen? So, yeah, that’s been a huge, long standing problem. And basically, the best answer anyone has had until now is forums.

Randall 

Can’t just go make posts somewhere. I mean, I will make the argument, I feel like most people who aren’t playing tabletop games who want to be playing tabletop games, the reason they aren’t, is because they don’t want you know, they, they’re shy to talk to people in their everyday lives about it. Because, you know, that’s life, although I think it’s getting cooler. So that’s good news. And they’re a little bit intimidated about going into an online forum. And like, you know, hey, looking for game, looking for Game Master this sort of thing. So having a tool to do that matchmaking, where there’s success, and people are out there, and they’re happy with the results they’re getting, I think that’s going to be a key to bring in many more people into the hobby.

Adam Bradford 

So it’s interesting to think about, I remember the first time that I ever played, and it really used to be the case that every single person I talked to, and got their, you know, origin story and TRPG’s of like, you know, how did how did you start? What game did you play? You know, I’m talking 99% of the people said, because a cousin because an uncle because a brother, you know, because a close friend introduced me to it. And then you would occasionally hear, Oh, I wandered into a bookstore and somehow stumbled into their basement and people were playing it, you know, and so, but either way, when you really thought about that, the reason that people were coming to the game is because they knew other people or saw other people playing it physically, and you know, somewhere, and they were kind of pulled into it that way. And so one of the things that’s really challenging even about organized play in yesteryears, is you are walking up to a table of strangers. You don’t know exactly what you’re getting into. I played World Warcraft far too much, many years ago. And, you know, I was a tank. And so I had the luxury of never having to PUG and grab a pickup group. You know, where, but because, you know, tanks were always in demand. And I could find, you know, people that I knew, but there were so many horror stories of people, you know, that like, Hey, I had a pickup group, it went really, really badly. And so I think that there was some level of that going on for just decades in the TRPG space. I think there have been a couple of factors that have started to make that change. And so… Okay, so and when I say make the change, this is all anecdotal evidence, now I could probably get into some actual data that I can share, but it might violate some NDAs out there. So I can’t I can’t throw that out there. But, but what I will say is, you know, anecdotally, even I can talk to someone today and ask how they got started. And the reasons that I’m starting to hear are so they have so much more variety than they used to, but but if I’m looking at, you know, the top three reasons is, yeah, you know, my brother played and introduced me. So that remains a very viable way of onboarding people into our hobby. And so if you’re out there, and you’re playing with people that you know, that is great, you’re doing the Lord’s work and keep that up, and you know, that it’s going to, you know, continue to propagate that way. But what I will say is that I’m getting so many more answers today, that, well, I saw a stream. So you know, whether it’s Critical Role or any other stream out there, that is doing that work of playing these games, and showing people how to play through that, you know, kind of that just absorption that happens with that, that is such a key way, because even as people are seeing it. If they can’t directly connect with someone, they are motivated, because they like what they see, they’re motivated to overcome some of those social obstacles and the awkwardness and some of the other things there. And so I think that streaming has had such a profound impact on this. And I ultimately would say that, you know, the other thing that I am seeing is that the tools are getting a little bit better out there. And so with them a plane, we do have the ability, you know, for for matchmaking, and I, you know, maybe I’ll save that for a little later to talk about, you know, how sophisticated our algorithm is, and how it matches preferences and all that. But, you know, at the end of the day, because people are becoming more motivated, because it’s becoming more mainstream, because they see it on streams, they are coming to places like Demiplane, and they are able to, you know, find groups and we’re getting such wonderful stories now of, you know, hey… and there are two different types of stories that are so heartwarming to us. You know, number one is, hey, you know, I didn’t know any of these people, and they’re my best friends now, you know, we’re six months in, and they’re my best friends. And then we have other stories where it’s like, I’ve played with these people for 10 years. And because you have a little feedback loop, when when you’re playing the game here on me playing I’ve, you know, Game Master for these people for 10 years, and all of a sudden, I got this feedback that said, you know, somebody hogs the spotlight too much. And it would be really great if maybe they didn’t, and it like has improved our game dramatically, you know, but, but that’s an example of using the technology to really, really solve problems out there of being able to connect people to play these games.

Randall 

I think that’s really interesting, I think it’s probably actually worth talking a little bit more about. So the next thing that we want to hop into is kind of the communication medium itself. First of all, like you said, Demiplane has an ability to put together parties. And I do think we should dive into that, actually, I guess. Yeah, let’s dive into that now. And then we’ll talk about communication in just a second. You said you would talk to us about the fancy algorithms… how clever it is.

Adam Bradford 

Yeah. So, you know, we had some, you know, I don’t necessarily want to name drop too much here. But we had some people that were very instrumental into some of the kind of, you know, song finding algorithms on platforms like Pandora, et cetera, that really advised in the early days of what we were putting together here. And so we have established different kinds of play preferences. So what you like to play so for instance, one of the categories is puzzles. And it’s really interesting, because I’m playing in a game with Deborah and wall right now one of our streamed games, and she loves puzzles. And people really, she’s kind of famous for that at this point. And if you look on my Demiplane profile puzzles are going to be like super, super low for me, because I don’t know if I’ve ever had a good experience with them. Now that is actually changing because Deborah is that good. And so I’m enjoying everything that’s happening in that campaign so far. But you know, ultimately, if people don’t like puzzles, if they don’t like combat as much, if they prefer combat drastically to you know, kind of, you know, some of the social action of that. So all of these different play preferences are things that we record on your account. And so when you’re coming together, when you’re looking for games, you can of course search by a variety of filters so you can find different games. We hear all the time, Hey, I want to try out the expanse from Green Ronin and, and they’re able to find that game there. And once you find the game that you want to play, it is going to do its best and it’s gonna show you percentages of hey, this this seems like this would be a match for your play preferences. And one of the things that we have found is again, the psychology of being able to mark a play preference, the World of Warcraft example I was using earlier, one of the challenges of a pickup group there is you don’t really have it like, you don’t have the ability to know whether the group that you’re about to enter is going to be chill, if they’re going to be super, super hardcore, like wanting to get the dungeon over with as fast as they possibly can, which, by the way, I am kind of in that camp. But you know, all those kinds of things you don’t know that going in. And so that’s why it’s so blind. And you just don’t know how that experience is going to go. With this, and the way that this works, and the way the algorithm kind of puts all those play preferences in a pot and mixes them up, and then figures out, you know, what level of a match you are, it really can give you a lot of confidence that these people that you’re… that are strangers, maybe to you, that this is a place that you would excel. And one of the best use cases that we have seen so far, is something that I think we’ve all experienced over the years is that, you know, I have a group of people that when I was younger, I played with them just week in week out, and the group changed over time. But there was kind of a core, like a caucus that was, you know, always the same. And there would be, you know, one or two people that would kind of be swing people, and would rotate in and out. And what this does in the online space, is you can have, you know, three people that have been playing together for years. And they just want a little bit of an infusion of some new players. Or it could be three people that have lost their Game Master, for instance. And this is such a great way to just find that one or two people that you might want to kind of round out your group and those play preferences plays such a big role in that. And again, I don’t even know if I could explain to you exactly how the algorithm works. But we have seen just such great feedback on how the results match up. And, you know, of course, input in… output out. So if people you know, fake the results or whatever, you’re gonna have all those kinds of, you know, consistent problems that you’d have anywhere online. But when people you know, are being authentic in what they’re doing, these are the stories that end in, you know, hey, they’re my best friends. Now, we’ve been playing together for six months.

Randall 

I can go in, I can put in my preferences, is there some idea of like how novice of a player I am to a particular game?

Adam Bradford 

Yeah. And so the way that that works currently is we start just kind of at the top level of how novice you are, or how veteran you are at role playing games in general. And so, so that is kind of the entry point that starts saying that we don’t go to the game level yet. And one of the reasons that we haven’t is because as we have, you know, kind of pulled in that user feedback, we haven’t seen a ton of demand to do that. The way that we see that actually playing out is we see it playing out in a way where if you are a novice at a game, there’s a way to communicate ahead of time. So the way that matchmaking works, as you turn on matchmaking, there is a two key term system here. So even when you turn on matchmaking, you’re not going to have somebody just completely come in and, and blast, you know, horrible messages that you don’t want to see about. I make $50 an hour doing, you know, whatever, like all the stuff that you see in comment sections everywhere. You’re not gonna see any of those kinds of things because they, they will say, hey, I’m interested here, then they are kind of in a queue. And then the person running the game, or the leader, which actually on me playing can be separate, you can have somebody that starts the group, and you can delegate someone who’s running the game, right. And so sometimes they’re one in the same when that happens, they then accept that person into the group. And so there’s a two, two key turn. And that right there is really important for us for safety and security of people who are playing. But as that key turn is happening, there is communication. So it’s kind of quarantined to a specific area that you can ignore if you want to, but you can also talk with people and individuals there. And what we have seen is this is where people are like, Hey, I have never played… insert game here… before, you know, is this new player friendly, there is a way to mark that. So we do have some additional things that aren’t directly involved in the algorithm, but they are labeled type information that it’s new player friendly, that we like to use virtual tabletops that we like theater of the mind, you know, so all those kinds of preferences also can display on a group portal that people are putting together. And so, so rare is a really good way to see ahead of time to be able to broadcast that, hey, I’m new to this game anyway. And there’s a way for people to respond and say, Hey, reassuringly, that’s okay, we love new players or, Hey, you know, this might not be the game for you.

Randall 

Okay, so I’ve done that, right. I’ve gotten in, I’ve warned somebody, Hey, I’m a little bit new to this or I’ve never used the platform or I’ve never used this VTT, but you know, I want to play I’m excited. Now come scheduling, and if anybody’s ever had a party and then lost a party, they know what I mean. How is Demiplane helping folks like nail scheduling,

Adam Bradford 

Scheduling, you know, being perfectly transparent. And I told you before we started, you know, here today that I’m very transparent about a lot of things. And I will say that this, it’s, it’s just a problem. And it’s a challenge. And I’m not, I am definitely not convinced the Demiplane is solving it yet. But I think that it is, it is a really noble, noble, noble goal. And something that, you know, people who care about this space and who care about people, more and more people playing these games, it’s something that we are dedicated to trying to improve. And so the way that Demiplane is currently doing that is we are we do have a scheduling aspect where people can mark days and rough time periods. So it’s, it doesn’t necessarily get down to the hour. But there are these rough, you know, that I’m available and afternoons, evenings, mornings, you know, those kinds of things. And it, you can mark the different days of the week that you’re available. And so if you set that availability, and if a game is happening outside of that availability, then you’re not going to see that in the matchmaking feed. And so it’s going to kind of filter all that out and make that easier for you to find just the right game. But it also is a great way for groups to continue to be able to schedule recurring games. So you might get into a game, we do have, you know, some paid games on the platform. And some people you know, professional game mastering is becoming a real thing. And people are starting to whether they’re supporting themselves or not, they’re definitely getting some supplemental income. And as that starts to come together, you may jump into one of those games, and you may love the group, and you may want to play again. And so when you’re closing out a session, there is a way for the person running the game to be able to say, hey, you know, do we want to make this recurring, and then at that point in time, it will be able to send reminders to players that hey, you know, here’s the session coming up, you know, get ready for your adventure, you know, when when the day comes that the adventure is coming. So there definitely are some tools that we have in place in an early stage that are trying to start to get at some of those scheduling concerns. But I do think that it is a monster that we have not figured out, you know, we collectively, capital W here, have not collectively, you know, been able to figure out exactly how to vanquish yet, but, but I think some of us are giving it a really honest try.

Tyler 

So we’ve come from a world where the people you could play with was people geographically close to you, and then moved into a world where it was whoever you could find in weird places, online… Discord, forums, etc. Now, Demiplane has come along and built this really robust matchmaking solution for finding, finding players with similar tastes to you that, ideally will fit your schedule. I want to live in a world where I can have that kind of convention experience where I’m like, I have a few hours, I want to go play a game, there’s a table, I’m gonna go sit down. How close is Demi plane going to get me to that experience? Like if I log on to Demiplane, say I’ve got four hours right now I want to get into a pickup game can that happen?

Adam Bradford 

So we absolutely do have a game mode, we will say that is you know, a quick game, where it is going to intentionally bypass some of the key turning that I’ve explained there. And this is kind of, you know, everybody coming into the social contract of that of like, Hey, I am trying to find that quickly jump in, be able to play something, honestly. And again, very transparently. You know, we haven’t seen that take off too much yet. And I think that’s going to be a variety of reasons behind that, you know. I’m sure that what we are offering today isn’t quite meeting, you know, all the needs. Because I think that that’s part of it, is that once you get into a situation where you are trying to jump into something that quickly, there’s a whole lot, you know, it’s almost like a trust fall exercise. Right. And so, you know, as as that starts happening, there are parts of that problem that the tech hasn’t been able to solve very well yet. And, and I always I’m gonna say yet because I think that we’ve seen just incredible advances in every field imaginable with technology. And I think this is one of those places where there is a lot of room for growth. And I also, I completely agree, I think that that is the dream. That is how even video gaming goes for me these days. I you know, I think the next game I will ever play is you know, Breath of the Wild 2 probably and I can’t play Elden Ring right now. Because even though it looks incredible, I’m like, I do not have 500 hours to drop into a game. And so most of my games are Hey, I’m gonna jump into something for 20 minutes and do a match or, you know, whatever that is. And so I think that being able, you know, the video game industry really has been a lead to to some of the TRPG spaces lag. Right. And what I mean by that is, I think that, you know, even what we’re trying to do at Demiplane, we’re trying to bring some of the best parts of video games into the tabletop RPG space. While hopefully, this is almost always the threshold that we’re trying to walk, while leaving behind the negative parts of the video game experience that would hold back at TRPG. Right. And so we’re just trying to leverage the best parts of the technology. And so I think that is one of the places where video games are starting to figure that out, they’re starting to figure out how you can jump into something and do that quick match or that quick game, and be able to get in and out of something in less than an hour and have a great time doing it. And not necessarily have to invest too much into the people you’re playing with. But but everybody is still having a great time. And you’re right, I’ve seen that happen at conventions. And I think being able to translate that into the online space is a dream. And that is something that we absolutely a Demiplane will be chasing. And I think we’re starting to see it some now. You know, but it definitely takes somebody that’s pretty, pretty trusting and and maybe a little, you know, go with the flow to be able to make some of that work. But I think the technology can start to bridge that gap in the coming years.

Tyler 

Well, I’m super excited to see that happen. It sounds like we’re we are very, very close. So I’m very optimistic for the near future.

Adam Bradford 

Yeah, I’m convinced we’ll get there.

Tyler 

Let’s talk about communication medium. So Randall, Randall teased it just a little bit earlier. So communication medium just talking and seeing the other people at your virtual table. So playing in person, it’s just your communication medium is we’re in a room.

Randall 

I think it’s the air.

Tyler 

The air?

Randall 

Yeah, the air is the medium because it carries the… exactly.

Adam Bradford 

The sound waves.

Tyler 

Yeah. To the best of my knowledge. No one has played D&D fully submerged in water yet, but

Randall 

Didn’t want to… D&D in space!

Adam Bradford 

Somebody’s gonna do.

Randall 

Yeah. You know, in space, nobody can hear you roll your Click Clake Math Rocks.

Tyler 

Well, then why even play?

Randall 

That’s why I always say.

Tyler 

So in the brave, far Jetsons, Jetsonsesque future of 2022. We have these wonderful tools for video and voice in a post COVID world. But everyone is pretty familiar with Zoom and similar tools by now.

Randall 

I want to plug a Free League thing so we could play Death in Space in space.

Adam Bradford 

That would be perfect. I will talk to Thomas there who runs Free League about that, you know, next week when we meet and we’ll get started on that. You know, that might take us until the you know, 2030s to pull off, but we’ll figure it out.

Randall 

That’s fair enough. We’ll reach out to Elon we’ll let him know it’s very important. If need be. We’ll write in the road. Sorry…

Adam Bradford 

Buy Twitter. Make sure that you get to a point where you know we can play these games in space. Yeah.

Randall 

Yeah. Preferably not Alien with aliens. So I’m gonna go ahead and put them I’m gonna draw a line and we’re gonna say no.

Adam Bradford 

That’s just asking for it.

Randall 

Exactly. Communication medium. That’s what we were talking about.

Tyler 

Communication medium. Yes. So we’ve got these wonderful tools for video voice, Zoom, Roll 20, Discord, all these tools that that people are using day to day. And aside from issues of so called Zoom fatigue, where like, Oh, I’ve been on a video call for eight hours at my day job. And now I’m gonna go get on another video call to play D&D. Like, there’s some fatigue there. And I understand that, but just put that issue over here in a box and forget about it. So how do we improve the existing tools for video and voice like, we’ve had so many issues with just connecting to various video and voice tools? It’s pretty common for people to have issues with the video functionality in virtual tabletops. And then, you know, people usually default to zoom or Discord or something as backup. But like those take some time setup, you usually have to install them. And then along comes Demi plane with another wonderful solution built in voice and audio and every time I’ve I’ve opened it up, it just works straight out of the box. I’ve had zero issues with it so far.

Adam Bradford 

Yeah. So it’s, it’s such an interesting evolution. And I think that so much of it comes down to… it really is what the needs are and trying to solve those needs. And so I think that for virtual tabletops, they started out and as they started to really emerge on the scene, you know, 10 years ago. This is where with VTTs, there was a certain problem that they were solving. And this was more or less, you know, hey, we need to be able to, you know, visualize a map, be able to move some tokens, we might have some, you know, dominant dynamic lighting and fog of war. And, you know, that really is the core of what those platforms were trying to do. But then it was like, Well, hey, people want to be able to see each other. And to some degree, and this is, you know, trust me, this is, you know, as, you know, working in software development, you can’t really throw shade at anyone, because my goodness, there’s, like, always things that you could be doing that you don’t have time for. But you know, as a matter of focus, you know, it’s like, hey, video, parts of that came from, you know, user demand, it’s things that people wanted to see. But it may be wasn’t the, you know, initial plan to use case for it. And so, there’s always going to be some of that, you know, dichotomy between the legacy of, you know, the legacy technology with what you’re trying to implement, you know, new and so yeah, I’ve had the same experience. I’ve had problems with, you know, video connectivity and audio connectivity, and many of the VTTs out there. And it makes sense. And again, with what I do for a day job, like it makes total sense and understand what happens. I think the pandemic really did something super interesting that, you know, if you talk to someone, three, four years ago, how are you going to play online, the immediate response is going to be something like Roll 20, or Fantasy Grounds or, or one of the VTTs. And I think the pandemic through necessity, horrible necessity, trust me, I wish we could have come by this another way. But, but you know, as we’re in this, people started saying, you know, hey, I don’t play in that way. I don’t use grids. I don’t use maps, I don’t, I just need to be able to see and hear the people that I’m talking with. And so this is one of the reasons that Zoom just burst into huge popularity, not only from an enterprise, you know, company perspective, but people started turning to it in droves to play these games, people started using Discord, because Discord, Discord actually really fast tracked a lot of their, their video streaming things because of trying to meet that need. And so as all of that is coming together, people more and more people are starting to play that way. And even you know, in the past life, at that, you know, Dungeons and Dragons tool set, you know, where I was working, I won’t get into all the details there. But what I can say is, what we saw happening was fascinating to us. And that was a massive, massive trend toward, you know, what would be mind theater, as opposed to using, you know, maps and tokens and all of that. And so as that shift has been happening in the industry, and I think Fifth Edition’s popularity has something to do with that, for sure. But as that started to happen, as the pandemic is also happening, you know, kind of in the middle of all that, then people are looking for video solutions. And they’re not using maps, or if they’re using maps or using some screen sharing, and then their screen sharing them out while they’re using the video application. So for Demiplane, we had the luxury of being able to come in at a time, where we said, you know, hey, zoom in Discord, and some of these other applications are doing a great job with catering to this portion of the role playing fan base. But those solutions, those apps are not purpose built for tabletop role playing games, they are built for other purposes. And people are repurposing them for this kind of of experience. And so with Demiplane, we asked the question, what if we had video voice and the way to connect directly, but then it also that wasn’t all that it did. And then you could do, you know, you could find games, you could eventually have digital tool sets with the game content that you need. And so what Demiplane has for video and voice is tailor made and purpose built for being able to play these games. And that comes down to some of the technology that we have going on there. And this is the thing that I am really proud of what we have for our video conferencing solution. And that is that we prioritize audio over anything else. Whereas zoom and some of the other solutions, absolutely prioritize video and audio either at the same level, or they have settings that can turn video up. But what we discovered with user interviews and feedback that we were getting is that like, Look, if you can’t hear the other person on the other side, if they’re stuttering, if there’s latency. We were talking before we started this call about, you know, latency. If you have latency going on, then you’re going to talk over each other and there’s going to be so much cross talk that the experience itself is really bad. So I’m demiplane with our solution. We prioritize audio to the point that if someone’s internet is struggling, you will actually lose your video, and the audio was prioritized. And you’re still going to be able to hear people talking. And it takes a whole lot of problems on your internet and for your audio to start dropping out. And so it’s just little things like that, that are purpose built for the trpg experience. And you know, especially with the prevalence of people wanting to play more mind theater and what’s going on there. That solution is a really, really good starting point. And, and we’ve found a great deal of success and really positive feedback, we use it for our strains. So when we’re playing these streams, you know, most recently Children of Earte, we are actually using Demiplane, and we’re using that to stream and the reliability of what we’re seeing is really, really solid.

Tyler 

Yeah, and reliability is honestly, probably the biggest thing. And yeah, prioritizing audio absolutely makes sense. I agree. I agree with all of your user interviews that you did.

Adam Bradford 

Your representative. That’s great. Yeah.

Tyler 

Yes. Very, very small sample size. Yeah, that sounds awesome. And yeah, like I said, we’ve had plenty of problems with audio and video on our games before. So like, I’ve got to get to drag my group into Demiplane, give it a good try. Because it, it sincerely seems like a great solution to just such a persistent problem. And the fact that you’re doing it so well, for free, is pretty awesome.

Adam Bradford 

Well, and one of the things that I will also add to the video portion of this is again, I love getting into some of the the nuts and bolts of how this is gone. But you know, with Demiplane entering the scene, and trying to find our footing, and you know, how we, you know, it was kind of like we came in and we’re like, you know, how can we help like, you know, what’s going to improve games out there. And entering in from, you know, the matchmaking angle, and then video and voice and everything that we’re doing there. It was a situation where now that we’re like, Well, hey, you know, there’s a lot of demand for these great games out here to have digital tools. And so we have really shifted some focus on the that some of the way that these portals and everything else work are in a state where we’re like, hey, they’re not as integrated as we want this to be. And there are there ways to make this even easier. And so you know, some of the examples that we use is, you know, you have Slack integrations, that work that you can just kind of click a button, and you’re all of a sudden in a video call with it, you know, all those kinds of things. And I was looking at designs today, where we are going back and really taking a look at groups and you know, kind of how those are put together and how easy the onboarding is for that. And, you know, I really do see a day, as we come into the, you know, the coming, we’ll say weeks and months, you know, as that starts to kind of coalesce there, where you are going to be able to just kind of join a group and get into a video call with the same level of ease that you can with with something like a zoom and being able to send the link and all that so so we’re even making that easier in the days ahead. And because we have seen such a positive response to the video and voice aspect, that right now, it’s it’s under some layers, you know, it’s it, because it was a different kind of mindset that we had, you know, early on. And now we’re seeing that that is so valuable, that, hey, this is going to be something that we want to bring to the fore, along with these other great things that we’re making with digital readers, character builders, etc.

Randall 

Awesome. So there’s there’s a few other features that I think are useful in the communication medium. And I’m wondering if you’re already holding them. So one of the first ones that comes to mind is some mechanism for a Game Master to whisper to a player.

Adam Bradford 

Yeah, so. So one of the things that I haven’t talked about at all yet, that is certainly a core part of the communication is written chat as well. So we in addition to video and voice, some people prefer not to use that, and that’s perfectly fine too. But even in conjunction with that, we have a variety of chat channels that people can come in. And so you can… we have a game chat channel where anything that is typed into there, every single person in the group is going to see it, we have a party channel, and that is a channel where the party can scheme against the devices of the Game Master and the Game Master doesn’t see what’s happening there. And then we also have the ability to whisper and direct message, you know, other people in the party so you can you can always do that. There is another part of that though, you know, in something like an application like Zoom, you’re gonna call it a breakout room, but we also have the ability to, you know, sidebar with a player. So there’s is the ability for a Game Master to select the player and then enter more or less a breakout room with that player. So this was always intended to simulate that, that point of, you know, Matt Mercer getting up and walking over to a player and whispering in their ear, you know, like those kinds of things, you absolutely can do that even on video within Demiplane. So yeah, the written chat function is a really, really helpful thing. So this is where we do have dice rolling. Today, that’s not hooked up yet to, you know, character sheets, because we don’t have those quite yet. But you can go in there, you can choose your dice, you can roll, that’s all gonna output into these text channels. And, and it really works great for a lot of groups. And it’s all that they need for that. And so I encourage people to try that if they’re in there. But it’s also the place where, you know, even when we’re streaming, and we’re in the middle of play, and somebody is about to cast the spell, the player will just paste the spells, you know what the spell is going to do right there in the chat. And then as Deborah is running the game, no one ever knows that she’s just kind of glanced in the chat, she understands that she incorporates it in the story. So it’s, you know, that is a really, really useful tool, too. And then one other thing that I’ll talk about, because this is also a text based form of communication, is we have a journaling system. So everyone in the party is able to go in and essentially take notes like, so you’re in the middle of your session, you can take notes, it’s going to break it down by episode. So every time you come together in the session, it’s going to you know, let you take those notes, you can then take those notes and share those with your other party members. So you know, if you’re that person, which, you know, is not me, typically, but if you’re that person who is taking, you know, odious notes, you know, throughout the entire session, and you’re just really dialed into that, and you love doing that, you know, there are times that I’ve seen that pass where people share a Google Doc with me after the session within Demiplane, there’s the ability to just do that all there. And then unlike Zoom, and Discord, when you are, well Discord, not the same Zoom and Google need some of these, but it’s like, unlike some of those solutions, where you’re using that chat, I’ve seen people do this so many times of like, I sent that to you in the Zoom chat. And it’s like, well, once you close that it’s gone forever. Within Demiplane, all of that chat history is going to persist, as long as that group stays together in that pool.

Randall 

Awesome. No, that’s, that’s perfect. And that’s amazing. Like the idea that I can basically in one platform, do my comms, I can roll my dice, I can do my journaling. Everything’s there so that when I come back for the next session, I’m like, What the heck happened? I’m not searching some other interface. Like did I put that in Dropbox or Google Drive? Like?

Adam Bradford 

That’s all the time because I’m the person that has a lot of trouble remembering what you know, I ate for breakfast, so it works out well for people like me.

Randall 

Nice. Yeah, I think I feel like the equivalent for that, for me is like I have my standing meetings where I have the meet link, and then in the invite, I can go to a Google Doc and I can actually get to the notes and like, keep the notes there. Yeah, yeah, this this interface you’re describing, it feels very natural. And it feels like it’d be really nice for a player or a party. Okay, Master. Okay, so to recap a little bit, we’ve talked about, you know, the different things that we want to have to play an online game. The number one, maybe the most important, maybe not is the game itself. We want to have some digitalization of the rules. Eventually, we’d love to get to the point where we have character sheets, this sort of thing. You know, do we plan to head in that direction, we want to get a party together. And we want to be able to get the party together, maybe not once, maybe multiple times. So let’s play a campaign. That’s going to be a lot of fun. We need a way to communicate when we play the game. And we’ve talked about how to do this. I think the last tool that we brought up the beginning is some kind of visualization. Perhaps, you know, everybody at this point is used to talking about virtual tabletops. So what is the role of a virtual tabletop and an online game? And is it really necessary?

Adam Bradford 

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I’ve kind of touched on a little bit of that earlier in that part of what part of what I saw. And by the way, this was all very enlightening to us. You know, the D&D Beyond days gave us access, and I can’t get specific, but, but again, like it gave us access to so much data that had never existed before. And just the scale of that data was such a fascinating thing to see. And this went all the way from, you know, which classes are getting played the most. And, you know, Why does no one ever believe the Human Fighter is the most played character and it is, and it has been in every edition, you know. But it’s like the data, you know, especially when you have that level of significance to the data, and that sample size, it just doesn’t lie. And so, being able to see behind the scenes on some of that and see how the trends of gameplay are shifting away from from maybe what we will call just a really, really hard and fast graded approach. But, but I will say that, you know, there are many, many groups out there that are playing almost like a hybrid of that, right where they are focusing mostly on the video and the voice communication. But they will still use maps, but they might not use those maps in the way that are like, faithful recreations of I’m moving in five foot squares, but it’s like, Hey, here’s a map, that I want to visually let you visualize what’s going on in the scene. And then we are going to be able to, you know, approximate distances or whatever. So what we’re seeing, and to be very, very clear, I want to emphasize, people are absolutely still playing with grids. It’s just, you know, that 10 years ago, the amount of people doing that was a far higher percentage than it is today. And, and so I think that, that means that some of the problems that we’re trying to solve, need to also adapt and change with some of the way that people are playing. And so I think that for many groups, they are going to be very content to be on a video call, and be able to use screenshare, like you’d like you can in Demiplane to be able to pull up a map. And, you know, some people use, you know, Google Slides or whatever, and they’re pulling up maps, and they’re moving, you know, PNGs, around, you know, kind of just on the slide. So, so those kinds of things absolutely worked for a lot of groups, we have a lot of feedback where people are talking through that, that that’s what they do. But you also have some incredible VTTs is out there. And it’s becoming much more mature in the market now, where, you know, and there are some downsides to that. Because, again, you know, legacy tech debt and everything else that comes with that. And so some of the older VTTs have some interesting challenges that I do not envy, you know, ahead of them of, you know, how do they update, you have some great new, you know, new VTTs that are bursting onto the same like Tailspire who’s going in a really different direction with 3d visualization. So you have really simple and lightweight things happening like Owlbear Rodeo, you know, there are so many really great things and it seems like a new ones popping up every every week on Reddit, I see right. And so… you know, what that’s going to do, I think is it’s going to really, it’s going to create some some great, you know, healthy competition between, especially from features set of people figuring out what they’re really looking for in the VTT. And so as far as Demiplane goes, we do not have current plans. And I have to say current, because at the end of the day, we are committed to trying to make playing these games better. And so if that means at some point that going into a VTT route, we have to leave that open to ourselves. But right now, we don’t have any current plans to do anything with virtual tabletop. We want to make sure that we are filling in some of the gaps that we think the VTT’s struggle with, because they are outside of their focus. And so things like character management, things like having an incredible Compendium experience, all those things are what we’re focused on today. But I will say that within Demiplane, you know, the intent, and what we’re looking for, is the ability to, you know, integrate with and, and work alongside some of those great VTT is out there. And so in the future, you know, no, nothing I can say that’s concrete yet, but, you know, discussions are happening, thoughts are occurring of you know what that means. And I think that it makes a ton of sense, as we bring Pathfinder Nexus online, and all the things that are going to happen there, I think that it makes a ton of sense for you know, if you’re wanting to use Foundry, if you’re wanting to use Roll 20, if you want to use whatever solution out there, that, you know, being able to create the thing I can say, with a high level of confidence, that creating a character on Pathfinder Nexus is going to be an experience unlike any other like, I genuinely believe that we are going to nail that part of this. And so if this is your preferred method for creating a character, we don’t want to stop you from being able to take the output of what you’re doing with that character, and using it in any of those virtual tabletops that you want to. And so we’re going to focus on that in the short term. And and we’ll definitely see where we go from there. But yeah, I think first of all, virtual tabletops if that’s the way you like to play, then I think the really key thing is finding the one that everyone likes, which might be easier said than done, but finding the one that you know, everybody can commit to anyway, and and really focusing and dedicating yourself to learning it. And if you can learn all the ins and outs of that virtual tabletop. I’ve seen that really sing for some groups in the past and and so yeah, I think that groups are playing in a variety of different ways today. And I think virtual tabletops are a great way for people to play if that’s what they want to do. But I also think it’s really important, the Zoom and Discord and Demiplane and all of these solutions that are coming along to try to really cater to the way that, you know, a good portion of the fan base is playing today as well with mind theater.

Randall 

All right, Adam, thank you so much for being with us today.

Adam Bradford 

Yeah, thanks so much. It has been an absolute blast to be here. And again, I’m, I’m a big fan of what you’re doing. And I use everything that’s going on there quite a bit. In fact, before you reached out to me, the day before you reached out to me, I was on reading about Bard spells and you know exactly what I needed to do for one of my characters so, so it’s very useful and I appreciate everything that you do. I’m Adam Bradford and you can find me on Twitter because that’s the place I frequent because it’s the shortest to read. And it’s I don’t have a ton of time so, so I hang out on Twitter a good bit and you can find me there @badeyeAdam. I am certainly floating around the Demiplane Discord so you can join us on Discord and, and jump in. I answer questions there a good bit, you can also catch me on Dev Update streams each Tuesday morning at 9am Pacific on the Demiplane Twitch channel. So that’s twitch.tv/demiplaneRPG. And that is a place that if you have questions for me, that’s where I don’t shy away really from anything. So I you know, questions there run the gamut from what my favorite dinosaur is to, you know, where on earth are the bundles and what’s taking so long, so you know, those kind of questions. I jump on all of those. So you can come and ask me questions there. And then I do play Silas Jordan, who, you know, may or may not be named after the great Michael Jordan, you know, on Children of Erate our live stream that happens with the phenomenal game master Deborah Ann Woll Tuesday evenings at 6pm Pacific. Awesome. And we will have links in the show notes. So folks at home, go to the shownotes if you want to find any of this, you can find it get a hold of Adam in many of those places. Awesome. I’m Randall James, ou can find me at AmateurJack.com and on Twitter and Instagram @jackamateur.

Tyler 

I’m Tyler Kamstra. You’ll find me at RPGBOT.net Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at RPGBOT D O T n et and patreon.com/rpgbot

Randall 

All hail the Leisure Illuminati. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please rate and review us on Apple podcast and rate us on Spotify or your favorite podcast app. It’s a quick free way to support the podcast and helps us to reach new listeners. You can find links in the show notes. You’ll find affiliate links for source books and other materials linked in the show notes as well as on RPGBOT.net. Following these links helps us to make the show happen every week. If your question should be the question of the week next week, please email podcast at RPGBOT.net or message us on Twitter at RPGBOT D O T n et please also consider supporting us on Patreon where you’ll find early access to RPGBOT dot content, tools for future content and access to the RPG bot dot Discord. You can find us at patreon.com/rpgbot We can stick in a question of the week later.

Tyler 

Oh yeah.

Randall 

I realized, I realized we didn’t…

Adam Bradford 

I’m just joking. I’m just joking. I’ma let you kill the recording.

Randall 

Flip the table it’s gone.

Adam Bradford 

Nice.

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