Interviews

Demiplane’s Adam Bradford, co-founder of D&D Beyond on the future of RPGs and technology

Digital RPG tools are changing the landscape of RPGs, in ways both expected and surprising. I spoke with Adam Bradford, Chief Development Officer at Demiplane and Co-Founder of D&D Beyond, about that landscape, his place in it, and the future of tabletop gaming. I use this descriptor with some jest, given the transfer of medium from in person to online roleplaying games. Adam has more experience, context, and hard data on this than most people on the planet, all of which shape the experience of RPGs for many people.

My first hands-on experience with Demiplane gave me an overview of the features and implementation in Free League’s Alien RPG. Granted I have only used about four or five other platforms for digital RPGs, but I found it to be one of the most user-friendly experience, which makes for the most important feature the digital space can add to tabletop: ease of entry. One of the biggest barriers to entry when it comes to tabletop RPGs are the complexity of learning the rules and creating a character. Both can be eased or eliminated by the tools available on Demiplane. With a few prompts that don’t necessarily need to explain themselves (like how attributes/backgrounds and skills feed into one another), a total novice can have a character ready. That’s assuming they don’t choose a pre-generated character. From there, your options in and out of combat are made clear to you. Rolling dice or taking those actions dynamically calculate and present appropriate options.

For Free League RPGs, this is a nice but not crucial bonus. But for Pathfinder 2nd Edition, one of Demiplane’s more comprehensive interfaces? It’s an instant change to the dynamic of the game. Demiplane is well poised to capitalize on this. Built for flexibility, it has been attracting a strong sleight of publishers hungry for official adaptations. Without the resources to build proprietary software, the presence of a user and publisher-friendly platform is filling a niche that, as it turns out, isn’t that niche at all.

For the past few months, I’ve been conducting a series of interviews with RPG designers on the mechanics and pitfalls of their craft. One of the most consistent threads in those interviews and this discussion with Adam made clear that RPG’s time as a resented subculture are well and truly gone. More players from more backgrounds are interested in more games covering a broader spectrum of genre. Money is changing hands, careers are being made, and changes are abroad in the land. For many years, Roll20 and Dungeons and Dragons maintained a commanding presence due to sheer market saturation. As the sophistication and number of competitors grow, new ideas have room to grow and improve the medium.

That isn’t to say that Demiplane is a strict upgrade from physical gaming, but it does unlock access to a new tool that could shape the future of tabletop design: extensive, specific data. Playtesting relies on self-selected information from players. More specifically, the type of person with the time to playtest and make comments on design, and the hope that they have useful opinions on their experience. That limits the scope and reliability of your playtest, which will influence your game’s design. Demiplane is in a position to give a developer substantially more data, with more specific granularity. Every character, dice roll, damage roll, resource expended, can be tracked and placed in context. Proposed rules changes would be easier to tweak and adjust in real time. Not every game relies on this level of statistics, and not all necessitate a digital assistance in the first place. There will never be a total shift from traditional gameplay to a hybrid RPG/videogame design, but it’s intriguing to think of how this could change design in the next few years.

Demiplane integrates with Paizo, Free League, World of Darkness, Critical Role, and others. It has plans, but no firm timeline, on community creation tools, and all products you own can be shared with up to 24 friends. I have not had enough time with Demiplane to render an in depth opinion, but there’s no doubt that Adam Bradford and his team will soon be experts in some of the most obscure information at the heart of tabletop design. I look forward to hearing what they learn, and getting a more in depth understanding of the world of digital tools.

Senior Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

John Farrell is an attorney working to create affordable housing, living in West Chester Pennsylvania. You can listen to him travel the weird west as Carrie A. Nation in the Joker's Wild podcast at: https://jokerswildpodcast.weebly.com/

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