Something a little different this time: I’m reviewing a new 3D VTT called RPG Stories. This post isn’t sponsored, but Brave Alice did provide me with a Steam key for early access to the game.
Disclaimer: I am not a world-building or VTT expert, and this is the first 3D VTT I’ve ever used. Maybe that actually makes this more useful for noobs like me 🙂
What is RPG Stories?
RPG Stories is a 3D VTT by Brave Alice that was funded via Kickstarter in October 2022 and is planned for a full release, complete with a multiplayer VTT experience, in October 2023. It will be useable for games like DnD, with plenty of fantasy elements and monsters, but also has an equally impressive number of assets for modern and sci-fi settings.
In the meantime, Brave Alice has released an early access version of the world builder, which you can get on Steam now. It currently has 3,000+ assets, and more are being added with monthly updates.
Review of RPG Stories
When I first sat down with RPG Stories, I thought I’d mess around for an hour or so. Little did I know that I’d become addicted, and five hours would pass before I realized what had happened. My #1 takeaway is how much FUN it is to use. When I went to save my project at the end, and while it felt a little odd to see “Save Game” (since I’d just been buidling a map), I really did feel like I’d spent that time gaming.
That was my surprisingly engaging first experience with RPG Stories.
But I’m also an analytical guy, and expect reviews to be the same. So here’s my take on the good and bad, starting with the positive stuff:
Intuitive to use. As someone with no experience in 3D world-building or VTTs, my overwhelming impression as I got started with RPG Stories was how natural it feels to use. The hotkeys for moving, duplicating items, brushing on big sets of objects, and snapping things into place all felt incredibly intuitive from the start.
The room builder feature makes it very simple to quickly sketch out a whole building in minutes (sans details, of course).
While it took me a few minutes to get used to the camera controls (WSAD+QE+RF), it was quick and easy to get comfortable with them.
As I said in my disclaimer, I’m a complete noob with 3D VTTs and world builders, and even I was able to whip something up I was proud of 🙂
Fast. I’ve heard a major gripe of GMs is that 3D VTTs are cool and all, but who’s got time for all that? And no doubt, if you wanted to build a detailed city with this tool, it would indeed take you hours to do so.
But, if all you’re doing is whipping up a cave of goblins or a classic “5-room dungeon,” you can get that done in under an hour (especially once you get a handle on the controls and an idea of what options you have, as far as assets go).
Even without adding miscellaneous details like barrels, crates, or flora, the 3D environment alone is enough to make a more immersive experience.
Variety. I only messed around with the Fantasy assets myself, since I’m writing for my DnD site and likely a DnD-majority audience. But even a brief look at the Modern and SciFis looked super cool, and the pre-set (fan-made?) sample SciFi map is gorgeous.
Even within the Fantasy section alone, I was impressed with variety of assets. Pretty much everything you’d expect to find in a Skyrim dungeon, you’ll find here already. Although I am excited for even more assets to come out in the future!
Gorgeous. On top of everything, RPG Stories is just really pretty to work with. I’m pretty sure that this fact, combined with its ease of use, is why I had such an easy time becoming addicted to it.
The weather options are excellent, and environmental effects like smoke, fog, and dynamic lighting work in an extremely satisfying way. It took me a while to even notice the color grading option, and I was amazed to see what a difference it made. This is absolutely huge for creating the right atmosphere for the environment, and something I wish I’d tried out sooner!
Alright, that’s all the good stuff. Let’s now move onto some things that could be improved. And, remember, this game is in early access currently, so it’s not a finished product and these minor issues can definitely be addressed before October 2023.
Categories could be clearer. My biggest gripe, by far, with the platform’s usability is the organization of some of the assets. Room-building assets are broken down into Walls, Fences, Doors, Structures, and Objects. That makes enough sense to me (although I think walls and fences could probably be grouped together).
The problem is that sometimes the wall you’re looking for is actually in Structures instead of Walls. Or it’s in Fences. Or the door you want is actually in the Structures category instead of Doors. This was frustrating when, more than once, I used a wall that didn’t quite match my building, only to realize later that the asset I was looking for was actually in Fences or Structures instead.
Overall, the organization of categories and the assets within them could be improved a lot.
No painting on water. This is a much more minor complaint, but the floor painting feature is limited to be applied to an entire square of the grid at once.
However, I did find a hack to get around this — just throw some rocks around/on top of the water to create the line you want.
Levels need some work. Adding raised areas to your environment is kind of a pain currently. However, this is something that Brave Alice has said they’re currently working on and expect improvements for by the summer of 2023.
And, even with the limitations and some awkwardness, I was able to create multilevel environments. It just takes a bit of experience getting used the Advanced Selection Tool.
Crashing. RPG Stories did crash more than once during my multi-hour sessions, usually when using Ctrl + Z to undo something. Most often, it was a soft crash that made keyboard hotkeys stop working. However, it is still saveable in this state, and the game reloads remarkably quickly.
That’s my take on RPG Stories 3D world builder. I think it’s a lot of fun to use and could be just the thing for online DMS to up their game. And no, it doesn’t feel too video gamey — no more than Foundry or Roll20, in my opinion. It just feels like an elevated version of those things.
And if you’re worried about it taking too long to build maps, the RPG Stories Kickstarter page does mention a planned feature for Auto Environment and Dungeons Generators, which would be remarkably cool and infinitely useful. And the ability to add your own assets (I hope to see many artists and map makers get in on this).
It’ll also work with 2D maps, so if you’ve already got a bunch of those for certain adventures, they’ll still work just fine on this engine.
If you’d like to check it out for yourself, you can learn more on the RPG Stories Steam page.