Tag Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

Sketching Holographic Experiences

augmented reality D&D

These experiences sketches are an initial concept exploration for a pen and paper role playing game like Dungeons & Dragons augmented by mixed reality devices. The first inklings for this were worked out on the HoloLens forums and I want to thank everyone who was kind enough to offer their creative suggestions there.

I’ve always felt that the very game mechanics that make D&D playable are also one of the major barriers to getting a game going. The D&D mechanics were eventually translated into a variety of video games that made progressing through an adventure much easier. Instead of spending half an hour or more working out all the math for a battle, a computer can do it in a fraction of the time and also throw in nice particle effects to boot.

What gets lost in the process is the story telling element as well as the social aspect of playing. So how to we reintroduce the dungeon master and socialization elements of role playing without having to deal with all the bookkeeping?


With augmented reality, we can do much of the math and bookkeeping in the background, allowing players to spend more time talking to each other, making bad puns and getting into their characters. Instead of physical playing pieces, I think we could use flat player bases instead imprinted with QR codes that identify the characters. 3D animated models can be virtually projected onto the bases. Players can then move their bases on the underlying (virtual) hex maps and the holograms will continue to be oriented on their bases correctly.


All viewpoints are calibrated for the different players so everyone seems the same things happening – just from different POVs. The experience can also be enhanced with voice commands so when your magic user says “magic missile” everyone gets to see appropriate particle effects on the game table shooting from the magic user character’s hands at a target.


I feel that the dice should be physical objects. The feel of the various dice and the sound of the dice are an essential component of pen and paper role playing. Instead, I want to use computer vision to calculate the outcomes, present digital visualizations of successful and unsuccessful rolls over the physical dice, and then perform automatic calculations in the background based on the outcome.


The player character’s stats and relevant info should over over him on the game table. As rolls are made, the health points and stats should update automatically.


While some of the holograms on the table are shared between all players, some are only for the dungeon master. As players move from area to area, opening them up through a visual fog of war, the dungeon master will be able to see secret content like the location of traps and the stats for NPCs. It may also be cool to enable remote DMs who appear virtually to host a game. The thought here is that a good DM is hard to find and in high demand. It would be interesting to use AR technology to invite celebrity DMs or paid DMs to help get a regular game going.


When I started planning out how a holographic D&D game would work, there was still some confusion over the visible range of holograms with HoloLens. I was concerned that digital D&D pieces would fade or blur at close ranges – but this turns out not to be true. The main concern seems to be that looking at a hologram less than a meter away for extended periods of time will trigger vergence-accomodation mismatch for some people. In a typical D&D game, however, this shouldn’t be a problem since players can lean forward to move their pieces and then recline again to talk through the game.


AR can also be used to help with calorie control for that other important aspect of D&D – snack foods and sodas.

Please add your suggestions, criticisms and observations in the comments section. The next step for me is creating some prototypes  in Unity of gameplay. I’ll post these as they become ready.

And just in case it’s been a long time and you don’t remember what’s so fun about role playing games, here’s an episode of the web series Table Top with Will Wheaton, Chris Hardwick and Sam Witwer playing the Dragon Age role playing game.

The Mvp Program REORG Explained Through Gamification

Today chief Microsoft evangelist Steve Guggenheimer announced dramatic changes to the MVP program on his blog.


In case you are unfamiliar with the MVP program, it is a recognition Microsoft gives to members of the developer community and is generally understood as a mark of expertise in a particular Microsoft technology (e.g. Windows Phone, Outlook, Kinect for Windows). In truth, though, there are many ways to get the MVP recognition without necessarily being an expert in any particular technology and running user groups or helping at coding events are common ways.  The origins of the program go back to the days when it was given out for answering forum questions about Microsoft technologies. This is a good way to understand the program – it is a reward of sorts for people who are basically helping their communities out as well as helping Microsoft out. Besides the status conferred by the award, the MVP includes an annual subscription to MSDN and an annual invitation to the Redmond campus for the MVP summit. Depending on the discipline as well as marketing cycles, you may also have access to regular calls with particular product teams. MVPs also have to renew every year by explaining what they’ve done in the prior 12 months to help the developer, IT or consumer community.

As with any sort of status thingy that confers a sense of self-worth and may even affect income, it is occasionally a source of turmoil, stress and drama for people. Like soccer mom levels of drama. For instance, occasionally a product category like Silverlight will just disappear and that particular discipline has to be scrapped. The people who are Silverlight MVPs will typically feel hurt by this and understandably feel slighted.  They didn’t become suddenly unworthy, after all, simply because the product they had poured so much energy into isn’t around anymore.

Some products are hot and some are not, while others start off hot then become not. If you were one of those Silverlight MVPs, you probably would like to point out that you are in fact worthy and know lots of other things but had been ignoring other technical interests in order to promote just Silverlight. You probably would feel that it is unjust to be punished for overinvesting in one technology.

In response to situations such as this, the Microsoft MVP program is undergoing a re-organization.

I’ll quote the synoptic statement from Steve’s post:

Moving forward, the MVP Award structure will shift to encompass the broad array of community contributions across technologies. For our Developer and IT Pro oriented MVPs, we’re moving from 36 areas of technical expertise to a set of 10 broader categories that encompass a combined set of 90 technology areas—including open source technologies.


The best most fun way to understand this is in terms of Dungeons & Dragons. To do so it is important that I first try to explain the difference between class-based role playing games and skills-based RPGs. Diablo is a great example of a class-based RPG. You choose from a handful of classes like barbarian, demon hunter or monk, and based on that your skills are pretty much picked out for you. At the opposite extreme is a game like Fallout where you have full control over how to upgrade your abilities; the game doesn’t prescribe how you should play at all. In the middle are RPGs like World of Warcraft which has cross-class skills but also provides a boost to certain skills depending on what class you initially choose. Certain class/skill combinations are advisable, but none are proscribed. You have freedom to play the game the way you want – for instance as an elf hunter with mutton chops and a musket. Totally do-able.

Dungeons & Dragons is a game that changes its rules every so often and causes lots of consternation whenever it does so. One of the corrections happened between D&D 3.0 and D&D 3.5 when the game went from a simplified class-based system to a more open skills based system. This allowed players a lot more freedom in how they customized their characters who could now gain skills that aren’t traditionally tied to their class.

The MVP program is undergoing the same sort of correction, moving from a class-based gaming system to a skills-based gaming system. Instead of just being a Silverlight MVP, you can now be an fifth-level druid with Javascript and handle animals skills, or a third-level Data Platform MVP with interests in IoT,  Azure machine learning, alchemy, light armor and open lock. You can customize the MVP program to fit your style of play rather than letting the program prescribe what sort of tech things you need to be working on.

This, I believe, will help meliorate the problem of people basing their self-worth on a fixed idea of what their MVP-ness means or the bigger problem of comparing their MVP-ness to the MVP-nesses of others. Going forward, one’s MVP-ness is whatever one makes of it. And that’s a good thing.