A team of students from Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, based in Pittsburgh, shared a demo of their Dungeons and Dragons game for the Microsoft Surface, which, if deemed scalable and bankable enough, could bring bring profit local companies Microsoft and Wizards of the Coast. The team's taken the venerable static tabletop role playing game and adapted it to a digital tabletop platform. It's a proof-of-concept for now, but the groups involved are very open to the idea of taking the game to market in the near future.

Called SurfaceScapes, the project focuses on using new hardware—like the digital Surface—to re-interpret old games. D&D is just the start, says Michael Lewis, a former Electronic Arts coder who started the project in his spare time. He says, "Once the blueprint is in place it can be extended to any role-playing game platform."

What's more, the project has the blessings of Wizards of the Coast, the local company that owns Dungeons and Dragons, as well as a large host of other role-playing titles. While the company has no formal involvement in creating the game system, some of its employees act as advisers.

Meanwhile, Wizards is keeping a shamanistic eye on the progress SurfaceScapes is making. Lewis says that there have been talks of taking the product to market with both Wizards and Microsoft. Eric Havir, a marketing manager for the Surface device at Microsoft, says, "I could see D&D-enabled Surfaces at places like Gameworks or gaming shops like Uncle's Games. You could have a few friends and rent it for a few hours a week and have a great time."

More on how it works after the jump.

The Surface is essentially a giant iPhone-like device, referred to as a "surface computer," with other enhancements thrown in, like optical cameras for object recognition. Currently they're being used in hotels and event centers as interactive guides, but there is potential for the device to do quite a bit more. Microsoft is lending devices to groups like the Carnegie Mellon team to come up with ideas on how to get more use out of them.

Digitizing D&D isn't anything new, of course. There have been video game versions for decades, but the team believes the virtual game, that doesn't have an official name yet, allows for a type of interactivity that's been lacking, and I'd have to agree. Playing on the Surface was a lot like playing in the traditional pencil-and-paper style, except the device did all the math for us. Calculating to-hit rolls, damage bonuses, initiative modifiers and more on the fly. It was much more enjoyable than I remember D&D ever being.

The system includes an interface for the Dungeon Master to control the game from a separate, networked computer. That way the players can't see what's coming before the story's ready. The back-end they showed off was pretty impressive and flexible.

As a nerd who loves applied technologies, the Surface for roleplaying is a no-brainer. As a righteous gamer I want these in production so that Wednesday night game sessions would move along faster and be more fun. Hopefully we'll see these going public in the near future. Who knows, it might even encourage a new generation of gamers to pick up digital 20-sided dice.

If you're still confused about the Surface and what it can do, we just learned that the new Hard Rock Cafe downtown has one installed that acts as a docent for the memorabilia collection. If you're down there, check it out. They're neat devices that could make the guys in Redmond a lot of money—if they can figure out how to market them.