Thursday, June 12, 2014

D&D 5e Digital - Codename: Morningstar

Codename: Morningstar is on many gamers' lips this today. But what exactly is it?

Information has been trickling onto the web, Facebook and Twitter, and some of it is pretty intriguing. It appears to be the replacement for D&D Insider tools (this is not confirmed and supposition on my part). One way or another, it appears Wizards of the Coast has decided to stick to what it knows best (games design and publishing) and let a 3rd party pick up the digital initiative. Based on Wizard's past track record with digital, this is probably for the best.

According to the the company's website:
Codename: Morningstar is an integrated toolset and rules knowledgebase for Dungeon Masters and players.  It combines rules, character sheets, and adventures together into a clean interface that allows fast and easy management of a face-to-face game.  But, to be honest, that’s not all it will offer.

Here are just a few of a large list of features we’re developing:

  • A powerful and customizable character sheet
  • Fast, guided, character creation
  • Adventure management and tracking as a DM
  • Party communications between players
  • Simple rules search, bookmarking, and annotations
  • Online or offline play

In short, it appears to be not only a replacement for the D&D Insiders tools (like Compendium and Character Builder), but a way to manage your game at the table using mobile devices (an app-based Obsidian Portal), taking the pen and paper out of the Pen 'n' Paper game.

The sample screen shot on the website appears to show a player looking up character attributes (equipment, skills, saves...). The lower navigation on the app has the following choices: Characters, Adventures, Campaigns, Parties, Forge and Library. This would appear to support a feature set similar to Obsidian Portal. One supposes you create Campaigns and add notes, etc to something like a wiki knowledge base and then add other users to your game, similar to OP. As the DM, you then have access to their character sheets. Players are not required to have/use the app. The DM can use the tool as a "stand-alone" for their own play needs.

Codename: Morningstar screen shot
Bottom Navigation: CharactersAdventuresCampaignsPartiesForge and Library.

Some of this next part is supposition and inference on my part based upon what I'm reading and seeing in the beta screen shots:

If you were to take a campaign manager like Obsidian Portal (wiki, party character sheets, adventure log) and add DDI tools to it, as well as an offline mode, this appears to encompass Morningstar's goals. Each player can have their character sheet on their mobile device and make changes during game play. Those changes are likely sync'd with the DM's instance so he always has updated statuses and conditions for all the PCs. They have also stated that there will be downloadable content when it becomes available in hard copy, which means the DM can have the WotC modules on their tablet as they hit the market.

One item it does not appear to include (and likely will not) is a virtual table top. Trapdoor Technologies appears to be an ebook and knowledgebase (database) company. Virtual table top technology requires a very different set of programming skills and technologies than a mostly text-based data system, so I would not a expect a VTT component anytime soon.

One surprising curiosity to come out of this announcement seems to be the lack of coordination between WotC and its digital partner on the messaging and PR about this digital initiative. Codename: Morningstar hit the internet with barely a whisper from Wizards of the Coast (4 sentence news article, few details and not linked from the D&D Daily page). WotC had to have known the beta was to be demo'd at Origins, but we have no real official details from them. The fact that there is little marketing coordination is a bit worrisome. The Morningstar crew are out in force on Facebook and Twitter and are pretty responsive (about what they can be... I'm certain many details are still under NDA), but I'd expect to hear more from the WotC movers and shakers.

Also, no word on pricing and this leaves a huge question mark about if Wizards is going to nickel and dime us to death. Will we need to subscribe to DDI for Dungeon and Dragon magazines and then also pay for this add-on app? Or will a single subscription include the license for the app? Details are non-existent and likely to draw a strong reaction from the internet. My concern is that if this isn't a part of a reasonably priced D&D Insider subscription model, it's really going to be a torpedo in the side of 5th Edition. It won't sink it, but may cause it to list badly. WotC's very poor handling of the 4e tools roll-out soured many on the subscription. Their recent cessation of any new D&D content for the last 6 month soured even more subscribers, including myself. Another mis-step in this arena is going to piss a lot of people off.

I'm very interested to see a more complete report on the feature set. Hopefully someone at Origins will post a report on the beta test. Were you in the beta test?  Let us know!

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