What a Tool.

As a fan of RPGs, I suppose it was inevitable that I write something about Dungeons and Dragons. Well, maybe not inevitable. In fact some of my friends have never played. But anyway, here we are.

D&D was my introduction to gaming; I can still remember the night my friends brought it out. It was TSR’s Silver Anniversary box starter, back when TSR was still TSR. Back when you had a THAC0, and all that good stuff. I was instantly hooked; finally getting to enact adventures like the ones in my books. For the next several years my weekends were filled with dice and soda and erasers.

Then college came. My group was split up. You might think it’s easy to find interest groups in a college town, but, well, I was a nerd and that would involve talking to people. Besides, I was busy studying, or playing WoW, or catching up on all the TV I’d missed out on in my childhood (I quickly discovered I had not missed much). D&D sort of fell by the wayside.

I had a few games over the years, but none of them ever lasted very long, and most were falling apart from the beginning. I kept trying, but there were always (what seemed like) insurmountable obstacles in my way. Then, a couple of months ago, I finally did it. Through bribes, coercion, pleading, at least one letter bomb, and The Internet, I was able to assemble an online D&D group.

What this rather long winded introduction is for is the medium over which we play: MapTools. Now, I’ve played with a few other options over the years, most notably OpenRPG, but for me MapTools immediately struck me as a cut above. In fact, some of the features are so nice that if (when!) I get a face-to-face group, I would like to continue to unitize it. Here’s some of the highlights:

  • Tokens. 4e requires them, 3e and even advanced rules for 2e strongly recommend them. This way is cheap (real models, as cool as they are, are expensive), mess free (don’t tell me you’ve never knocked a token or three out of place), and has lots of helpful tools (counting how far a particular move will take you, or the ability to revert to your previous position).
  • Digital Character Sheets. You can enter all of your characters information digitally, and more importantly, tell the program what that information means. Combine this with some basic scripting, and all of your attacks, skill checks, and the like can be done with a single button click (oh god this attack does 17d4 damage, gimme your dice guys). And they will update as you acquire new levels and items.
  • Sight. This is particularly excellent for GMs. Players have Line of Sight, Fog of War, and you can even have monsters (or characters) stealth. This is great both for keeping players guessing, and so they don’t have to ignore the cave troll sitting behind some lines on paper.
  • Tracking. The program has an initiative tracker. No more losing track of who’s turn it is, or wondering if you’re up next. It even tells you which round it is.
  • Polish. I’ve nothing against hand drawn maps. But if I can import a full color picture, add a grid, put in some line of sight, and fill it with hidden baddies… I know which one I pick.

Here’s an example,  stolen from the premade adventure The Keep on the Shadowfell (may have to view the full image in another window):

Before

After

And, one you get the hang of it, the entire process is very quick. The above took maybe 10 minutes.

So… yeah. If you’re at all interested in turning a P&P RPG digital (not just D&D: MapTools isn’t game-specific), I highly recommend checking this one out. Even if you’re only interested in the face to face, you might still play around with some of the tools. They can come in handy.

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