When I was a teenager in the early nineties some friends came up with a game called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition and invited me to a session.
I had always been a kid facinated with fantasy stories and had already read the Icewind Dale Trilogy by Bob Salvatore. Also, being a nerd, I had played Eye of the Beholder with my neighbor’s son for hours on end. So I had a basic relation to the Forgotten Realms setting when I first grabbed these weird shaped dice and rolled a half-elf fighter.
We played the Tantras adventure from the Avatar storyline and the campaign lasted just this one session and we never got to continue. But I was fascinated and added the AD&D core books to my christmas wishlist.
I totally got into the thing and soon invited some friends to be the dungeon master of my own campaign. The system was primitive and overblown at once and we used graph paper as basic dungeon- and battlemaps. The campaigns never lasted long but we had a blast. Later on we tried more systems like Shadowrun, Kult and Vampire and when nobody wanted to be the dungeon master we played Battletech on a ping pong table in my parents’ garage.
When high school (or Gymnasium as it is called here in Germany) was over we all went our ways to study and get jobs and my passion for RPGs and tabletop gaming left with my friends from school. For a few years it was down to PC gaming and weekends on LAN-parties and getting up my own PC shop.
In 2011 my life turned upside down. My company had to shut down in the aftermath of the last financial crisis, I got divorced from my wife and finally landed a new job as an IT administrator at the Max-Planck-Society, a big german scientific organization.
I told some of my new colleagues about my past playing D&D some 13 years ago and, believe it or not, not one of these nerds had tried playing pen&paper before! Well, the fire was stoked again and I bought the latest D&D 4th Edition books and scheduled a campaign weekly after work.
The 4th Edition was weird but we had a blast anyway. As D&D was heavyly dependent on battlemaps at that time and the old theater of the mind battle style I knew from 2nd Edition was impossible now I had to adapt.
Most adventures came with battlemaps that I simply scaled, printed und taped together for our sessions. We also got some decent minis to represent player characters and some not so decent ones for monsters.
New friends and more D&D
When D&D 5th Edition hit we happily changed systems. The first campaign was over, my players had dumped a flying city into the great chasm of Neverwinter to shut down the crawling bluefire mutants coming up from the depths and we rolled new characters.
In the meantime we had hired a trainee called Jan who had a history of playing RPGs himself and also liked Warhammer 40k. Jan had never played D&D though and reluctantly - at first - joined the party.
Jan had introduced me to a friend of his who wanted to lead a D&D campaign some months earlier and I joined that party as a player on the side. On the first session of that side project I met a girl called Nina who played the healer of the party. In the following months we fell in love and married a few years later.
Around the same time Jan met a girl named Jessi and some time later we all became big friends who play together until this day.
As an IT guy with a solid backgound in computer games I aimed for perfection in our pen & paper sessions as well.
Taping printed battlemaps was nice and fun, but I missed some serious features like Fog of War that was hard to imitate on the table if you did not want to draw your maps on dry erase on the go all the time.
So we tried this new service called Roll20. We went from table to couch with two notebooks. One for the dungeon master and one for the players to move the player and monster tokens around on a TV. That was nice and awkward at the same time. We missed the table and everyone being able to set her own mini on the map. So we got a beamer, mounted it on the ceiling and projected Roll20 onto the table. That was better as we could use Fog of War on nice looking maps that could even be bigger than the table!
Then we discovered Dynamic Dungeons. Video battlemaps! We were hyped and I joined the fray as a supporter on Patreon to get all those high quality living and breating battlemaps.
The only drawback for me was that running those maps was proving to be full of compromises. At the time no VTT had support for video maps and the software provided by Dynamic Dungeons was severely limited in our eyes. We bought and used it anyway to get Fog of War functionality and an easy way to switch maps. That worked well, but using non-video maps was a mess and having developed software myself in the past I knew this could be made better. Much better. With many more features and a better user experience.
So Jan and I were often sipping coffee at the office talking about our hobby and checking out the latest maps by Dynamic Dungeons. We talked about how the projection software should work in our minds and what features we were missing.
Finally it hit us: Why use video maps anyway? In a 3D game-like software the maps could be truly dynamic! The dungeon master could have full control over lighting, effects and even daytime and weather!
Could we do this? Well, Jan had years of experience as a 3D designer with Blender. I had 20 years experience as a coder in various languages and had built maps for Quake 3 Arena and its mods in the late nineties and early 2000 years. Sure we can!
So the plan took form to develop a hybrid: We wanted an app that could project 2D images (or maps) and video battlemaps with as many features and convenience as possible on the table. And it had to open up a whole new realm of infinite possibilities to tweak beautiful 3D battlemaps in any way a dungeon master may want.
And while we are at it… why not zoom out of the map and use it to enhance strategy tabletop games like Battletech or Warhammer as well?
- by Danny