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DnD’s official virtual tabletop is winning me over

I wasn’t sure Dungeons and Dragons could make its virtual tabletop Maps stand out, but its approachability is a major selling point.

Image of an Ancient Red Dragon token in the DnD virtual tabletop, Maps

At first, I was skeptical about Maps, D&D’s first-party virtual tabletop. Wizards of the Coast was entering the VTT market at such a late stage, and it seemed impossible that Maps could offer me something I couldn’t already get elsewhere. But after a play session, I’m officially won over. Maps is just so damn easy to use.

The Maps virtual tabletop is currently in Alpha, with an early version available to Master Tier subscribers on D&DBeyond while development continues in the background. A 2023 article says that Wizards of the Coast wants its virtual tabletops to be three things – fun, authentic, and convenient.

Convenience is certainly the name of the game here. Maps cuts all the crunch you’d usually see in a VTT.

A basic ruler tool helps you track distances. The Fog of War that DMs use to hide undiscovered areas can be erased like marks on a whiteboard. And the interface for players is minimal, with just a handful of ‘ping’, drawing, and area of effect measurement tools to play with.

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The DnD one shot I played on Maps was run by Wizards of the Coast designer Makenzie De Armas, who tells me the VTT aims to be simple. “It’s not simple in a bad way”, she explains, “but it takes the experience of drawing a map on the table and brings it to digital in the coolest way possible”.

While I’m busy adding silly nicknames to my character token and doodling on the dungeon, De Armas shares her favorite Dungeon Master features from Maps. “I know it sounds biased because of my position, but it genuinely is my favorite virtual tabletop”, she says. The square eraser for the Fog of War is apparently “underrated and immensely satisfying”, and it’s easy to “drop people in” for a game.

This is because the DnD character sheets on D&DBeyond are naturally built in. All you need to do is create a campaign and link it to your Maps game, and you can add player characters in a snap. Dice rolls from D&DBeyond automatically appear in Maps. Players I DM for have spent a lot of time using fiddly plugins to link their D&DBeyond characters to other virtual tabletops, so this is a very welcome feature.

Photo of DnD virtual tabletop, Maps

Another pro De Armas mentions is that Maps “doesn’t chug”. The phrase brings to mind another, more complicated VTT with a history of performance issues. It’s time to address the Tarrasque in the room – Roll20.

Right now, Roll20 is my VTT of choice. It’s browser-based, free to use, and pretty much everyone I know is already using it. There are a lot of features I love in Roll20 that I’d love to see make it into Maps (background music, for example, or symbols to show which DnD conditions are affecting my character).

But Roll20 can be pretty unreliable. There was a brief period during my current Wild Beyond the Witchlight campaign where one player couldn’t run Roll20 at all, it chugged so hard. Another player had to livestream the map for our VTT-less companion and move their character token on their behalf.

DnD virtual tabletop - photo of a bingo sheet for a D&D campaign

I like to play bingo during a digital D&D session, and the most commonly filled box for this DnD campaign is “Roll20 messes up”. I cross it out most weeks, as some animation, handout, or token causes problems for our enduring Dungeon Master.

Maps streamlines the VTT experience, making it simple for even tech illiterates like myself to use. Approachable VTTs do already exist (shoutout to Owlbear Rodeo). But the integration of D&DBeyond character sheets takes the cake here, and I think virtual tabletops will struggle to do simplicity as well as Maps does.

De Armas tells me that the Beta for Maps is coming “soon-ish”, though she can’t give any concrete dates. Whenever the update comes, I’m keen to see it – and have a few digital campaigns that might be migrating to Maps.

For more D&D content, here’s everything you need to know about DnD classes and DnD races. We can also tell you about everything on this year’s DnD release schedule, including the new One DnD rulebooks.