Anyone who has played a game of Dungeons and Dragons knows how hard it is to play Dungeons and Dragons regularly. From crazy world-changing things like lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders to mundane things like the babysitter letting you down, it can be incredibly hard to get together around a table and play for four hours.
Of course, the modern world does offer digital alternatives — virtual desktops like Roll20, or just using Facetime, or Skype — but none of them are truly mobile, so you need to be sat at a computer play, which can be almost as difficult as playing in person.
A new app that's gaining traction on Kickstarter seeks to end the problems of timing and aims to make the Dungeons and Dragons experience genuinely mobile. It's called Fireball, and it looks fantastic.
Editor's note: For full disclosure, I am a backer of this Kickstarter campaign.
So how does it all work
Fireball is built around the 5th Edition ruleset of Dungeons and Dragons, but it isn't an RPG videogame in the traditional sense. This is not a railroaded game where the story is already written for you. We aren't talking Neverwinter Nights or something like that. Fireball is a canvas for you to create your own game without having to worry about the rules of D&D.
At the basic level, Fireball lets you play a text-based adventure of D&D with your friends around the room in real-time. That means you can play together whenever you have a spare moment, and you can do it all from your phone. It's also built for mobile from the ground up, so the entire game — from world-building to playing the campaign — can be played in portrait mode. This is especially helpful as the chat-based game needs room for text and a battle map.
The game allows for a Game Master to create an entire campaign within the app. Anything you need to do as a GM, you can, from writing notes about what perception checks the party will need, to laying out battle maps for your players to fight monsters. Because the game already has all the rules, spells, and monsters from the 5th edition Open Gaming License (OGL), you don't have to worry about inputting stats, you can simply choose the rules you want to use, and the game calculates it for you. You also get the security of knowing the game you are playing based on the official rules.
As a player, that makes your life even easier. Once you have built your character, you won't need to look up rules on their abilities; the game will simply use the rules your class/race has. This means that whether you are an experienced player or a complete newbie, you'll be able to have fun with the game and concentrate on the shared story experience. The game even comes with a digital dice roller that will factor in your bonuses from weapons and buffs automatically taking out all of the guesswork. Fireball is designed to take the guesswork out of the game without removing the fun that comes from rolling dice.
Playing with real people in real-time is the main aim of Fireball RPG
One of the most exciting features to me is that you can play the game at your own pace. The chat-based system allows you and your friends to talk in real-time and make decisions in real-time too. Of course, Roll20 lets you do that too, but on Roll20, at a predetermined time, you all have to say goodbye and leave. On Fireball, that isn't the case. You can keep playing in stolen five or ten-minute patches here and there. This means the narrative parts of the game can be performed, much like you would on a regular group text you'd have with your friends. It's only when you are going to be doing some serious fighting that you'll need to set aside some time. Even then, it's a turn-based activity — just like standard D&D, you have an initiative tracker —so if you need to go and do something, the game will wait for your turn to be over.
Fireball RPG will not only let you play with friends, but it will also have a "looking for group" system to let you connect with people who want to play but don't have enough people to fill a party. This is an excellent concept as often it is difficult to find people who wish to run a game in your friend group, so finding GMs through the app is very helpful.
One of the stretch goals is to create an automatic GM for the prebuilt campaign Fireball Studios is including with the game. The pre-built game won't have as many options as a real GM would give you, and it'll likely feel much more like a standard video game, but having the opportunity will be welcome in a pinch. Playing with real people in real-time is the main aim of Fireball RPG, but if you can't, that's ok too.
How can you get it?
Right now, Fireball is in the development stage and is already fully backed on Kickstarter. Fireball studios are now extremely active on Discord and working with the community of backers to work out things like the art style, and what players want to see in the game. The stretch goals also reflect that desire to work with the community, as they are all centered around community feedback. The most compelling reason to back now is to not only push those stretch goals to allow you to homebrew your content, separate from the core D&D rules, but to get a chance to be part of the early access coming in the Fall.
The game itself will be released, for free, on both iOS and Android by the end of 2020. The entire point of Fireball is to make it easier to play with friends, so having all phones supported is one of their aims. Fireball will also have a subscription model, much like D&D beyond, that will let you expand your library of available tools for GM's and players alike. The critical thing to note is that you won't need a subscription to build or play games, all of those tools, including the map editors, are free to use. The subscription just gives you some extra fun things to make it even better.
If it's going to be free, why should you back it?
Fireball Studios is trying something different with Fireball RPG. It's trying to bring something that I adore, Dungeons and Dragons, onto something I use every day, my phone. This kind of innovation isn't easy or cheap, and helping developers with original ideas makes the entire ecosystem a better place. Also, by backing the game now, you are helping to add content — through the stretch goals —that may have taken years to produce.
With the early access tier, including all the stretch goals, costing just $7, it feels like a no brainer. $7 is less than a new set of dice, less than a battle map, and certainly less than a set of rulebooks for D&D. All of those things and more are available on the Fireball RPG app, and I am looking forward to being able to play with my friends whenever and wherever they may be.