Arealm Augments the Reality of Your Video Chat D&D Game

It’s augmented fantasy now

Key Takeaways

  • Due to social distancing, tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons have found new popularity via video chat programs.
  • Arealm is an augmented-reality tool that adds features like virtual dice rolls and cosplay overlays to your chat window.
  • Game masters can use it for mapmaking, bookkeeping, and chat backgrounds that update in real-time.
Someone using the smartphone during a role-playing game of Dungeons & Dragons, map and dice in the background.

Cavan Images / Getty Images

If you spent some of your time during the Great Social Quarantine of 2020 playing games like Dungeons & Dragons via video chat, tools like Arealm are here to enhance that experience.

A little-known knock-on effect from last year’s lockdowns was a significant upswing in interest in tabletop and board games. D&D, in particular, had its most popular year on record, with thousands of new players jumping into games via Zoom, Hangouts, Discord, and other video chat programs.

That, in turn, has fueled a market for various programs and utilities to make "virtual D&D" flow better, and that’s where Arealm comes in. In addition to providing useful tools like a virtual dice roller, its marquee feature lets players masquerade as their D&D characters onscreen through augmented reality.

"In Arealm, it starts off in your regular video chat," said Antony Tran, co-founder of Foundry Six, the company behind Arealm. "It’s like lenses on Snapchat, where people will use it to turn themselves into potatoes or whatever. Our idea was, 'Well, can we just let people cosplay?'"

Release Your Inner Elf

Foundry Six is a Los Angeles-based tech startup that specializes in AR projects. Its clients include NBC, Paramount, and Sony, in addition to apps like Yas! Video Chat.

It’s been working on Arealm with a team of 15 developers, contractors, and volunteer players since last December, to make a virtual game of D&D more visually immersive.

That includes the in-game maps, which are a 3D environment built in the Unity engine. As characters move around the maps, they’re represented by tokens onscreen, and as those tokens shift in place, the interactive backgrounds behind each player will move to match. You can also upload images of your chosen environment.

Arealm also contains a way of openly tracking in-game data like hit point totals and status effects, which helps with the immense amount of math that tends to be flying around during any role-playing game.

"Probably our most-used feature is the on-screen virtual dice," Tran said. "We found that when people were rolling checks, they were doing it in weird ways, like pointing their cameras at their table or using software like Roll20. By putting it onscreen, it gives that in-person feel again. 'Hell yeah, I rolled a natural 20!'"

Foundry Six also plans to add more types of dice to Arealm over time to mimic the collectible aspect of real-world polyhedron dice.

Dungeon Masters Wanted

Arealm, at the time of writing, is in alpha, and Foundry Six is actively searching for more players and influencers to help refine the project.

"We’re still trying to get a lot more DMs to come on board for feedback," said Tran. "We call our DMs our advisory board, and they’re in contact with us every single day to tell us what they’re using and not using."

A screenshot of Arealm augmented reality during a gaming call.

As the project continues to develop, Foundry Six anticipates that Arealm will grow beyond video chat programs on your computer. Specifically, it’s designing Arealm to anticipate the new generation of augmented-reality hardware that’s planned to come out in the next couple of years, such as Tilt Five’s mixed-reality glasses.

"We’re hoping that our technology is something that tabletop gamers can use to stream and to make their streams more visually interesting, without necessarily playing with a green screen at home and then editing the video," said Kenneth To, another co-founder of Foundry Six, in a Google Meeting with Lifewire.

"A lot of the people in the newer generation of D&D players got into the game by watching, say, Critical Role. Their first access to the game wasn’t playing it but viewing it. These people might want to stream their own games, and by making it more visually compelling, because we’re building the video chat interface first, we’re hoping we can accommodate these people as they try to share their adventures with the broader world."

Interested (adventuring) parties, such as Dungeon Masters and influencers, are encouraged to apply for alpha access to Arealm via email or by joining the Arealm Discord server.

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