First look at D&D virtual tabletop in action is seriously impressive

D&D Virtual tabletop first look at gameplay
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Wizards of the Coast has given players a better look at the D&D virtual tabletop in action, complete with animated spells and a better idea of what it'll actually feel like to use.

Revealed via the D&D Direct stream, this preview shows off a party exploring a quintessential but fully-3D fantasy tavern before tangling with a giant insectoid monster and lizard-like Kobolds pulled from the pages of Dungeons and Dragons books. Although this means plenty of virtual dice-rolling of the kind players will be familiar with from D&D Beyond and programs such as Roll20, it also leads to our first glimpse of how animated spell effects are going to work via the use of a classic Fireball. This kind of visual spectacle - and being able to easily import your characters - seems to be the D&D virtual tabletop's selling point... along with the realistic lighting and textures of the Unreal Engine system used to power numerous video games. This is a far cry from the top-down 2D battlemaps normally utilized by competitors.

Curiously, the D&D virtual tabletop might have another feather in its cap that rivals don't - principal game designer Kale Stutzman hinted that console compatibility could be the goal alongside more standard PC and laptop use.

"There's a lot of ways to play D&D online, and not all of them are hitting the big three things we think are important: fun, convenience, and authenticity," he says during the stream. "What I want to do is connect all my friends. They're on their computers, they're on their phones, they're on their game console, but we're all together playing through the same virtual tabletop. So that's the dream, right there."

Crucially, this dream will include all the monsters from the current Monster Manual and a set of 'pieces' that allow you to create your own environments in any combination you like. 

There's no word yet on how much this will all cost, though - if anything. However, considering how ambitious it is, the level of tech involved, and the promise of customizable dungeons (as per the One D&D announcement in 2022), some kind of buy-in seems likely… even if it's just for individual map packs, characters, or monsters.

It should also be noted that the playtesters in D&D Direct's stream were using beefy gaming laptops to run this virtual tabletop. Considering the visual fidelity, it seems likely that you'll either need a decent graphics card or will have to lean on a good internet connection to run this thing.

According to the stream, the D&D virtual tabletop will be rolled out within the next several months - playtesting apparently begins in late 2023.

Naturally, this wasn't the only reveal for D&D Direct. To be precise, Vecna stars in a major new D&D storyline for 2024 and Minecraft Dungeons & Dragons promises a 10-hour campaign with branching narratives.

All of this will eventually culminate in a new set of core rules next year. Although we don't have an exact release date yet, we have had a glimpse of the new D&D Dungeon Master's Guide.

For more tabletop shenanigans, don't miss the best tabletop RPGs, the best board games, must-have board games for adults, or essential board games for 2 players.

Benjamin Abbott
Tabletop & Merch Editor

As the site's Tabletop & Merch Editor, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to Lego buying guides. I have been writing about games in one form or another since 2012 and can normally be found cackling over some evil plan I've cooked up for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.