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Old 06-06-2008, 05:08 PM
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Software for DM'ing
In a traditional Tabletop RPG sense, nothing ever beats a good notepad, pencils, a handful of dice and a stack of books, right?

But lately I've been preparing to run a D&D 3.5/Ptolus campaign online for my guild, and have decided to explore around with the different software available to see if it's possible to use the computer to enhance the game without taking away or distracting from it.

I've decided to share some of my finds on here to open up discussion; I'd love to help any DM's get some ideas for their games, as well as hear from others about any tools they use in hopes someone might know something much better. Also, with 4E released this week, I'm hoping some peeps will give some trial-by-fire reports on their findings for the premium online tools, and see how well they can hold up against the fan-made products. We already know they have the flash, the glitz and the showmanship of a Wizards product; but how will they fare come game night?


Anyways, here's the assorted programs I've been using for my campaign preperations:

GameTable
http://gametable.galactanet.com/

Those who followed the D&D 4E thread have already heard me talk about this program. It's a simple, free Java-based whiteboard gaming client that has a simple chat interface with dice rolling commands. Recently they've released their 2.0 client, and I'm just enthralled with both the simplicity and ease of use paired off with some features that actually make it a very flexible and a great tool for online gaming. To get some ideas on how this program can be used, I recommend checking out this site. Gwindel, the site's maker, has demonstrated how Gametable can be used for various RPG's and Wargaming sessions, and even mentions how he uses the table for his real life games by pairing it off with a monitor and Laptop.




RPTools
http://rptools.net/doku.php

RPTools is a collection of Java based tools to assist the DM. They have their own virtual table/game board software for online play available, which appears to have some more features and organized layout than Gametable. I didn't spend enough time really testing their table software out, but I felt Gametable was better for me personally as the simplicity will be beneficial for my players and keeping the flow going. However, I implore anyone interested to try both and see which one suits their needs.

Even if you don't use their table, the other programs may be of use. Their dice roller is considered one of the best ones for keeping track of complicated rolls, and their Initiative tool is handy for anyone who has trouble keeping the turns in order, especially during large combats.

The tool that really shines for me though is their simple Token Maker. Drag an image into the window, align your "pog" cap ring, set the dimensions you want and save in the desired format. It's handy for making quick online miniatures/Tokens, but you could also use it to make your own for tabletop play with quick ease.

DM Secretary
http://occultentertainment.50webs.com/DM_Secretary.html

Alright, this freeware program has its kinks but overall I found it very useful. Essentially, it's a collection of different tabs for keeping track of details for your D&D 3.5 Campaign (although you could easily probably use it for any game). Pretty much it comes with a bevy of d20/OGL Rich Text documents which you can access through the program for quick reference. (I'd like to mention the Monster document is in the folder but I couldn't find it; so I added it to the Reference tabs.)

It sounds simple but considering you can edit the documents from within the program, and add your own document files...that feature alone means you could theoretically keep the entire d20 library broken up into text files assorted by topic, and keep them organized in a very "DM" screen layout (and it has a document search feature...so thanks to the OGL format, if you need stats for an orc, just search ORC to go straight to the stat block.)

That's just one aspect of the program, mind you. On the front page it has 3 tabs for Campaign Notes, Last Sessions stopping point, and NPC's Players Met. Again, it's just blank document files, but it's all kept there for ya for quick access.

You also get a Calendar feature that is fully editable (Ptolus has its own Calendar with different months/days) and you can also put in different moons for your campaign and their cycles. So yes, you can actually put in what date it is in your world, and get a lunar cycle. There's also the BATTLE BOX! It's a screen where you get to keep track of turns for combat, and can keep a quick list of all combatants, initiatives and even their attacks, defenses and saves. It even has counters for turn durations, and a dice roller incase ya need it.

I'd say the only major flaws are some of the fluff put in: Weird anime-style image blocks that, granted, if you click allow you to load a different graphic. It's just an aesthetic feature, but I plan on replacing with non-distracting tables or notes. The sounds can be distracting as well (do I really have to hear a church choir at startup?) but they can be turned off. The final gripe I have is just the formatting on the documents loaded in the program can fall off sometimes -- tables don't seem to translate well and result in stats going out of the boxes. Nothing some simple edits can fix if it really annoys you.
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Old 06-06-2008, 06:42 PM
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One other program I forgot to mention:

If you're looking to build world maps, but totally suck at drawing like I do, you make interest in a program called Pixia. It's a freebie graphics program like GIMP or Paint.Net, originally designed for people who were wanting to illustrate Manga or Anime.

I found it useful because on the color toolbox is a nice feature to quickly load up graphics as a "color" or texture. In the past I've used this for world maps in D&D using modified tile sets from 16-bit RPG games or textures from map tile PDF's for D&D or other games. I got bored today and made 2 different maps; they're not awesome or pro but it only took me the time to find some cheap tilesets on the net and start drawing.

Here's a small forrest map for an encounter, using some textures ripped from some free D&D tiles:


And this is a crappy rush job of a world map using some freebie RPGMaker tiles:



Not winning over the masses but I'm hoping it demonstrates that all you need is some cheap texture files and a little creativity, and any joe-schmoe can slap together some maps for Tabletop or online in minutes without it looking like scribble in notebook paper.
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Old 06-07-2008, 04:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rev_lazaro View Post
I've decided to share some of my finds on here to open up discussion; I'd love to help any DM's get some ideas for their games, as well as hear from others about any tools they use in hopes someone might know something much better.
I've compiled a comprehensive list of all the virtual tabletop software that is available for playing RPGs online.

Also on that page, you will find many useful links to help a GM enhance their online or offline games.
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Old 06-07-2008, 04:54 PM
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Awesome thanks for the list!
Mad respect for being one of the top dogs on the market but still promoting the alternatives on your site. I've seen this in some of the other projects, and I'm glad to see everyone's keeping the community as a focus.

So aside from Battlegrounds as your tabletop, any other software you've had positive experiences with for various bookeepings or keeping your games going? I'm always up to hearing others recommendations.
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Old 06-09-2008, 04:58 PM
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In the past - and I mean a decade ago - I used OpenRPG for a few gaming sessions with friends. At the time, we were anxiously awaiting the release of NWN so we could do our online gaming with that. Sadly, I was the only one of our group who picked it up.

It was a shame, really, that the rest of the guys (and one gal), never got it. I worked my tail off to translate our Forgotten Realms game to NWN and it never got used. *sigh* Now, two computers later, all those files are gone.
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Old 06-10-2008, 02:29 PM
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OpenRPG is actually still around and kicking. I used to really enjoy that community back during the height of the 3.0/d20 craze when I could actually meet authors and developers and playtest some new games/settings.

It doesn't seem to be as epic as it once was, but in the event Gametable can't hold my group (haven't tested it with a full group of 6-8 yet) I may look back into it as a format for my online game.
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Old 06-10-2008, 06:07 PM
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I haven't tried most of these, I've been playing by email so I don't quite need some of the functionality. At any rate, I like PCGen for making npcs and d20srd.org for a quick reference (as long as its in the srd anyway). I've been using evernote to keep track of my campaign notes, etc, and the gimp for mapping.
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Old 06-10-2008, 09:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rev_lazaro View Post



Not winning over the masses but I'm hoping it demonstrates that all you need is some cheap texture files and a little creativity, and any joe-schmoe can slap together some maps for Tabletop or online in minutes without it looking like scribble in notebook paper.
Actually, that's pretty slick. Hell, I've played one or two games that didn't look nearly this good.
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Old 06-11-2008, 11:14 PM
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Originally Posted by rev_lazaro View Post
Awesome thanks for the list!
Mad respect for being one of the top dogs on the market but still promoting the alternatives on your site. I've seen this in some of the other projects, and I'm glad to see everyone's keeping the community as a focus.
Thanks, but Battlegrounds is a relative newcomer to the VT market, so I wouldn't call it a top dog by any stretch. More like the underdog, competing vs. not only the other commercial offerings, but also against quite a few free VTs.

As for providing links to the competition, my main goal is to get people playing and help them make an informed decision before committing to a particular VT. Regardless of what others may say, there is no "best" VT. It's completely a matter of personal preference and each group's particular needs. Fortunately, there are lots of choices to suit all tastes and budgets.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rev_lazaro View Post
So aside from Battlegrounds as your tabletop, any other software you've had positive experiences with for various bookeepings or keeping your games going? I'm always up to hearing others recommendations.
I'm a huge fan of Dundjinni, a program for making battlemaps than can either be printed out for use with real minis, or used in your virtual tabletop of choice (you can save a lot of money not printing those huge full color maps!).

And if you like making maps, I highly recommend rpgmapshare.com, where you can get loads of free art for map-making, or download completed maps for your games. And all that art is also useable in virtual tabletops, of course.
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Old 06-12-2008, 01:35 AM
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Ah man, I was under the impression Battlegrounds was more widely used. I first saw your software when I was dabbling with OpenRPG some times back, and most sites I go to looking for a good VT often sites your name first.

I liked what I saw of Dundjinni; and there's a good chance I'll blow cash on it sometime. Right now I'm playing Dungeonforge and while overall I enjoy that project, I found it limiting to a small degree (seems to trap itself in tiles, and doesn't like the idea of diagonal walls.)
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