Playing Dungeons & Dragons can often feel like acting out your own personal video game or blockbuster movie – one where you and your friends are the main characters. The Dungeon Master (or DM), then, is like the director, writer, and extras all in one. They’re the ones who set the tone, guide the story, and leave space for the protagonists to have their moments of glory. Augmented Reality is emerging as the perfect tool to help DMs smooth out their games: being able to showcase characters and environments as if they were straight out of a video game takes a huge load off of the shoulders of the DM’s descriptive abilities. So how can a DM start using AR? Let’s have a look.
Firstly let’s explore everything AR has to offer to DMs. If you’ve been playing D&D for a while, you’ve probably had to describe more than a few taverns. Or sewers. Or castle corridors. Or shopfronts. It can start to feel burdensome and cluttered, constantly spending your time describing locations instead of driving the story forward. This is one of the huge advantages of AR: you can let the technology do the describing. Just find a model that works for your vision and show it to the players. They’ll explore and notice important things in their own ways without you having to flag them. You’re able to spend more energy on the things that matter: tone, character, and narrative.
So what do you need to get started? You’ll first need some software, compatible with your smartphone/tablet of choice. If you’re reading this, you probably already know about Ardent Roleplay, which is a great place to start (if we do say so ourselves). There are definitely a few other options though, so research and experiment to find what fits you best.
Next you’ll need AR markers. Ardent uses cards; some softwares use coins or other objects. These are what you point your camera at to load the miniature. Next are the digital models. There are a few places to find these, which we’ll go over shortly, but for now there should be some pre-loaded with your app of choice.
Another very important thing you’ll need is an adventure that can string all your models together. Ardent uses a piece of software we call our Creation Kit – it’s a place where DMs can quickly and easily allocate models to markers and group them as encounters, much like a DM would when planning a session regularly. You can also attach notes, hide secrets, and add special effects that make a model work exactly how you need for your scene.
Last but definitely not least you’ll need some players, some d20s, and a big ol’ table to play on. And snacks! Don’t forget the snacks.
Now, I said I’d tell you where to find AR models, so let’s do that now. We here at Ardent Roleplay offer our own marketplace of models we’ve designed. These cover just about every base you can think of: taverns, mountains, sewers, temples, player characters, NPCs, monsters. While it’s not a one-to-one of the Monster Manual just yet, we’re constantly adding new models and updating the bundles on offer. You can also scour the internet for community-created models – particularly sites like the Unity Marketplace or Gamedevmarket.net offer a huge range of options. One thing to remember when looking outside of your AR software’s own marketplace is that you’re using a smartphone, not a computer. The hardware requirements for smoothly loading and manipulating huge, complex 3D models just aren’t the same, so be sure to look for low polygon counts and simple textures.
Augmented reality is still in its infancy in the RPG space, but it has the potential to completely revolutionise how Dungeon Masters run their games. Being able to devote more energy to your story and less to the extraneous fluff that used to be necessary means that players will be more engaged with the narrative and their character’s development, leading to better role-playing and overall more fun. The tools discussed in this article can work for any style of DM, from planners to pants-ers and everyone in between, to help them create immersive games they’ll remember for years to come.
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!