Right now the Surfacescapes project is creating a prototype for playing tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) on the Microsoft Surface Table.  And they’re starting with D&D.  They released a demo (shown above) on Vimeo on Oct 18th 2009.  It’s generated quite a buzz.  Is there a geek alive that doesn’t want to play with this puppy?  This is a real big boy’s toy, a DM’s wet dream.  Or is it?

Let’s face it; a touch screen tabletop is an ideal platform for role-playing games.  Automating some of the game mechanics would make playing faster, easier and more fun.  This is an opportunity for RPGs to regain their wow factor and compete with flashy video games!  Inevitably not all people will like it, but others will be drawn in like a Magpie to a shiny thing.  Bringing new people to the hobby is always good.

But there’s a major drawback at this stage: this Surface is expensive.  At 8 – 10K this is hardly something new hobbyists would buy, in fact it’s only likely to appeal to the most hardcore – and they will be role-playing already.  That said, technology is getting cheaper all the time, and by the time this is fully developed there may be a Surface Table in every living room.  In the meantime we might see a return of D&D to gaming stores like the Games Workshop, as they host campaigns around this magic portal of wonderment.

Okay, before I go any further I must address a vitally important issue: Dice.  I’ve been role-playing for six years and in that time I have grown to understand that role-players have a very special relationship to their dice.  They collect them, they treasure them, and some have complex rituals involving them.  Dice are valuable; they are status symbols.  Don’t take them away and give us something virtual.  We couldn’t deal with that.  Virtual minis?  Sure.  Virtual dice?  No way José!

My fear for this is that it will be too much like a computer game.  I hope it will be customisable, to accommodate many different systems (especially D&D 2nd Ed!) and home-rules.  Role-play is all about the imagination which should be stretched, not limited.  Surfacescapes should remember they are not making a game, but a tool.

I believe Surfacescapes has a lot of potential, and I’m excited to see how the project develops.

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