Writing a tabletop RPG campaign can be pretty daunting work. From calculating encounters to give just the right amount of experience points, to practicing your repertoire of NPC voices, there’s quite a lot that goes on before you even hit the table. And when one of your group discovers a piece of augmented reality software that they’re dying to use, that feels like it’d double the workload, right? Wrong! Writing with AR can free you up to have a vastly more engaging role-playing experience – here’s a few tips on how.
1 | Augmented Reality technology is a completely visual medium
From a storytelling perspective, this lets you take the old adage of “show, don’t tell” extremely literally. There’s no need to describe an NPC’s formal attire, or the crystal formation growing from the mountainside the party is traversing, if you can instead put a card on the table and have the players point their phones at it.
2 | Think about the links between your main set-pieces
When you are putting together your adventure, you might have an idea in mind, but then see a model that you love and it just doesn’t fit with your vision. Well, why not? Piecing together these models and the roads between them can be a great exercise in brainstorming, and can help you see links where you might never have looked for them before.
3 | Hide things
Augmented reality being so visual means you can add in a loose brick, a hidden switch, or a secret door to your scene without having to either describe it – thereby ruining any real sense of exploration – or wait for a player to investigate it of their own accord. With an AR tool, players can instead easily notice things without verbal prompting, which is a great opportunity to hide important clues or bonus rewards without making it too obvious.
4 | Along the same lines as tips #2 and #3,
set up your scenes as playgrounds that beg to be explored
You have great models that excite you, so pack them with secrets, treasures, and encounters both good and bad. Engaging players with hooks and teases is the mark of a great DM, and having AR at hand makes those hooks a whole lot easier to land.
Long-time DMs will know the power of passing a note to a player during a session.
Putting the decision of whether to reveal a secret to the party or not into their hands is exciting, and the chances for great role-playing jump massively. One of the advantages of everyone at the table already using their phones for the AR viewer is that passing private messages is now a breeze. Ardent has a built-in feature for this, but even just a text message works great.
5 | Change up your models
One really awesome feature of Ardent in particular is the variability of the models in our marketplace. You can change light colours, add character models, animate scenery, cancel previously-seen animations, add outlines to important spots; a whole slew of alterations are easily added to models with the Creation Kit. Use this modularity to your advantage when planning big reveals or outlining clues to really double-down on player engagement.
7 | Augmented reality apps don’t work super well for tactical combat - not yet, at least.
Games like Dungeons & Dragons have evolved beyond strictly requiring grid-based battle systems, but a lot of players still enjoy the challenge and play-style that comes with a battle map. If your AR tool isn’t compatible with grid-based combat, make sure you bring your usual combat kit – for me, it’s a dry-erase grid map, a set of coloured markers, and a notepad for tracking health. Our fingers are crossed that AR can jump this hurdle soon, though!
8 | As every DM knows, players never do what you think they will
This can make using software like our Creation Kit seem daunting – why put in the work to make a complex story environment if there’s a chance the players will just skip it? This can be a hard hurdle to overcome, but remember that all that prep isn’t going anywhere. With a few tweaks – even in the middle of a game – and a little improv, any given model can be made to work how you need it to.
9 | Don't railroad
In the same vein, writing a campaign with AR tools can make the urge to railroad your players neigh-irresistible. You want them to see the tavern, the bridge, and the river troll in that order, right? But it doesn’t always work out that way; players always have their own plans. Part of your job as DM is employing the power of the “yes, and…”. If you stay flexible and aren’t afraid to duck away to a PC during a bio break, you can quickly slap together whatever encounters are needed in the moment.
10 | Power your campaign
Finally, here’s a practical one: pick up some tripods and battery packs! Holding a phone up and turned on for hours gets draining both for you and the phone. Also, it can really ruin a player’s time if their phone dies before anyone else’s and they don’t get the same experience as the rest of the table. Maybe this is a group investment, maybe it’s the host’s job, but keeping a solution at hand is a must!
Ardent Roleplay is the first augmented reality app for tabletop roleplaying games, Ardent Roleplay brings virtual scenery, creature, character and prop models to your face-to-face and online games. Show each player what their character sees to deepen immersion and stop the metagaming!