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Thread: DMing in a Digital Age

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    DMing in a Digital Age

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    4th Edition has brought to the forefront many new digital features such as the D&D Insider and online magazine content through D&D Insider.

    At the same time, new programming languages and extensive open source and freely available libraries make it a breeze to make your own customized computer applications to crunch the D&D #s.

    I just recently tried an experiment at my D&D Table: I ran the entire adventure from my laptop, with no pen or pencil in my hand, and didn't have to open a book once. I hope that someone may be enlightened if you aren't aware of those available tools, and if others have already done some of this I hope you'll share your experiences.

    The Tools

    1) D&D Insider:

    For a DM, I think purchasing this service is a no-brainer at locked in rate of $4.95 per month if you grab a year long contract. DDI includes the Compendium, which allows you to easily find the monster, equipment, or other rules elements you're looking for and puts things in a nice html format you can copy and use yourself. Combined with the fact that the compendium is updated with new content every month (new books, the magazines, and even new RPGA adventures) and already you have over a 1000 monsters to pick through to find what you want to add flavor to a given encounter.

    In addition to the compendium, there are several other features of DDI that adds value: The character generator, which is publicly available for 1-3 levels, and will soon be upgraded to 1-30 (a brilliant and easy to use tool), an encounter builder, and a monster maker. The online magazines add new encounter ideas, rules elements, and good articles about how to improve your DMing. At its low rate right now its a steal... there are a number of books announced right now that will make it into the compendium, and you save yourself purchasing those, plus all the extra content. Don't expect for the rate to remain this low when they release the full character builder though.

    2) The D&D 4e Campaign Manager: http://www.codeplex.com/DnD4eCampaignManager

    I was just about to start creating a program myself when I stumbled across this one. This application right now is pretty simple... it is an encounter tracker, but it has tremendous promise. I've done some work on myself, and plan on improving its ability to communicate with D&D Insider. Its main feature is a encounter list, in which you can add players and monsters. All stats of the monsters are tracked, so you don't have to crack open a book. It also allows you to keep track of conditions, and color codes everyone to make those conditions stand out. It works very well at a table, flexible enough to change things on the fly.

    3) Good ol' word processor:

    I wrote all adventure information into documents. Long term story arc, possible NPCs the players will encounter, and the information for the session itself.

    Preparation

    Preparing the adventure was a breeze. I started with my idea, that of a Pirate-style campaign (with a high fantasy twist). To introduce the idea, the PCs were going to be on a ship with mysterious cargo, escorted by a air-elemental bound warship with a full complement of mages and artillery for protection. These ships were going to be attacked by a red dragon (who would rip up the larger ship) and an orc longship (who would go after ship the player's were aboard).

    Knowing that I wanted various orcs and goblinoids on this longship, I searched out several monsters I thought might help out, picking ones that fleshed out a challenging encounter for 1st level PCs, using the D&D Compendium mentioned above. It didn't take me very long to have a good list to choose from. I then plugged these monsters into the Encounter Builder, another DDI tool. I chose the right mix (including several minions) that would create the kind of encounter I was looking for. It generates a formatted (html) document, which I then saved for later reference. I also saved the html for each monster stat block.

    After that encounter was done, I fleshed out the other encounters with ease. One interesting one was where the PCs were the sole survivors of the above attack, rescued by the navigator of their ship that had a rod of invisibility that concealed their retreat by rowboat. Stuck on a jungle island they had to make their way across. I at first didn't know what to do for this encounter, had a mental block. So I used the Compendium and searched for all monsters within the level range of the players to see what ideas came up. Bingo, found a good monster and created an ambush by plant-keyword creatures. Flavored it by having quicksand hazards all about.

    Just before the session, I prepared the Campaign Manager (also listed above). I added all the monsters the players would encounter to the list of available monsters, and set up the first encounter.

    I opened all my adventure documents, and opened each monster's html statblock into a multitabbed browser, one for each encounter.

    Execution

    The session ran very well. The PCs were thrown neckdeep into this new campaign world by having to fight orc pirates and watching their escort warship being fried by the dragon (setting the tone for the campaign, and providing for future plot hooks). The players however, were well prepared for this kind of encounter, with several push/pull abilities that forced orcs overboard (they'd be back in a bit, drenched and mad, but they were out of the combat for a while at least).

    Through brilliant tactics, the PCs beat back the orcs and their buddies, and started to counterboard the orc ship, something I didn't plan for. I had to improvise, and the digital tools made it easy. More and more orcs and goblinoids poored up from the hold (this was a longship afterall - lots of rowers), and yet the players held out for a long time. They finally abandoned ship, but not before having an astounding total of orcs to their credit, and were rescued by an invisible-rod wielding gnome navigator aboard a rowboat.

    The PCs continued on, and ended up stealing a small ship from a pirate encampment on the island, preparing them for the remainder of the campaign.

    Conclusion

    This test was a resounding success. I didn't have to spend much time in preparation with all the tools available, and I think the players had a good time. With all the digital tools, it was easy to change things up on the fly, and in the future I think I'll be able to create sessions with very little structure so the players can take it whatever direction they like. I plan on improving the tools of the parts that were a tad more tedious (such as calculating experience afterwards), but I think my laptop is here to stay when it comes to running D&D sessions.

    Developer for Darkage Warlord, a Pen & Paper Games exclusive Medieval Wargame.

    If you are in the DC metro area and like to trade D&D minis (1.0 or 2.0), please send me a PM!

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    Great info. Keep us updated. Also, these appear to be Windows only tools.

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    Does the DDI encounter generator only allow for creatures in the MM or is there a way to make your own?

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    The monster generator can be used to make new works as well as updating the level to any monster in the manual. I don't use it, personally, and use a 3rd party monster generator that I came across on the forums (and subsequently forgot who made it) that allows for somethings that the DDI monster generator does not. For example, unless it has been change, last time I used the monster generator I could not make a minion, elite, or solo monster on there. That is the only reason I use the 3rd party product.

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    MmmMmM.. can you link the location of the 3rd party one please?

    Also, I updated my martial controller based on input. Please check it out Kalanth.

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    Exclamation HTML Composer

    I'm using Seamonkey's Composer to create a cross-linked html file for my campaign. It should be great for sessions, because a main page will have a list of all the prepared encounters, each of which will have a map, links to important references (NPCs, monsters, etc.), and a blurb on the important rules to know for the encounter.

    If you haven't already, check out d20srd.org for an idea of what this looks like.
    Powered by: Modos RPG, version 1.21
    http://www.enworld.org/forum/rpgdown...ownloadid=1087

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    Quote Originally Posted by Meeki View Post
    MmmMmM.. can you link the location of the 3rd party one please?

    Also, I updated my martial controller based on input. Please check it out Kalanth.
    I will definetly check out your update. As for a link, to be honest I don't even remember where I got it and it does not have a help folder (smart move by the maker) so it might take some work to find it. Once I do I will post the link.

    EDIT: Here is a link to one that is similar in style to what I use. Since I am still at work I will have to dig around some more. http://asmor.com/programs/monstermaker/index.php
    Last edited by Kalanth; 01-08-2009 at 12:48 PM.

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    I, like you, use a combination of a number of different electronic aids. For monster creation, I use Wizards' Monster Builder. For existing monsters, I use a combination of the printed books and the Compendium. The Compendium simply lacks some extra information about monsters, such as knowledge check information and pictures -- who doesn't like pictures? If I am feeling ambitious, I will take the stat block from all of the monsters and paste them into my Word document for easy reference. The Word document has information about encounters I intend to run, places and scenarios the party can explore, things that are meant to happen, et cetera. I also have taken to printing out special magic items (things with more than just an enhancement bonus) to hand out physically to the players.

    And finally, the coup de gras of my electronic aids, if you will, is the Excel spreadsheet I built to keep track of player and monster statuses. In my game, I don't have the players track their own hitpoints. Instead, I keep them on my laptop and let them know their statuses (bruised, winded, bloodied, injured, incapacitated, dead). I have the same setup for the monsters, which is extremely helpful. I cap that off with an electronic dice roller that allows me to scroll back through the different rolls I have made so that I don't have to keep figuring out the pluses and damages for various monster attacks.

    All told, I've become very spoiled on using my laptop to run my games. So much so that when I left my last job which provided me a personal laptop, I bought a new one for myself for the sole purpose of using it at D&D games!
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    I've been mulling over the applicability of Web 2.0 tools for a campaign recenly and yesterday, I came across a website (suggested to me by Google adsense in gmail)

    Individuals can track characters and objects in their own accout. The DM can set up a campagn then and add the characters to the party, and they get a camplaign blog, a Wiki (with DM only sections), an NPC tracker, a place for comments and an area to upload zoomable maps.

    It appears to be free with premium memberships running at about $5 a month (if paid monthly) or $40 a year. Free members are only allowed to set up 2 campaigns and only one map. Premium can set up any number of campaigns and have 10 maps and get the site advertisement free. Also, only premium memebership can set their campaigns as anything resembling private, otherwise anyone in the world can look at the campaign logs, wiki and maps.

    If I were running a campaign, I'd also want a forum for the players, but otherwise this looks like what I was mulling over. I'm not going to provide a link, because I don't want to advertise this site on P&PG, when I think P&PG could grow into something like this.
    "You know spies gamers, a bunch of *****y little girls." - Sam Axe

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    Quote Originally Posted by ronpyatt View Post
    these appear to be Windows only tools.
    Only the Campaign Manager is Windows only, and even that might be able to be cross platform with Mono. The others are all web apps.

    Quote Originally Posted by Meeki View Post
    Does the DDI encounter generator only allow for creatures in the MM or is there a way to make your own?
    The Encounter builder does allow you to put a placeholder with the proper level/type (to keep the exp total right). You can add traps and such in the same way.

    Quote Originally Posted by DMMike View Post
    I'm using Seamonkey's Composer to create a cross-linked html file for my campaign.
    Sounds like a great tool! I'll have to look it up.

    Developer for Darkage Warlord, a Pen & Paper Games exclusive Medieval Wargame.

    If you are in the DC metro area and like to trade D&D minis (1.0 or 2.0), please send me a PM!

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    That's a very solid summation of how you use the tools. Please keep us updated as you find and develop more. You definitely have me interested in considering an all electronic setup.
    --
    Grimwell

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    Quote Originally Posted by grimwell View Post
    That's a very solid summation of how you use the tools. Please keep us updated as you find and develop more. You definitely have me interested in considering an all electronic setup.
    We better be careful, or we might make the domain "penandpapergames" obsolete

    Developer for Darkage Warlord, a Pen & Paper Games exclusive Medieval Wargame.

    If you are in the DC metro area and like to trade D&D minis (1.0 or 2.0), please send me a PM!

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    I'd say a "Pen & Paper RPG" is defined by its look and feel, not by the tools being used. Even if you're not using actual pen and paper, you're attempting to create the look and feel of a tabletop game, rather than an MMO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward View Post
    I'd say a "Pen & Paper RPG" is defined by its look and feel, not by the tools being used. Even if you're not using actual pen and paper, you're attempting to create the look and feel of a tabletop game, rather than an MMO.
    How true that is. I have never really felt like I was playing an MMO no matter what edition I played. The story drives the game, and the players drive the story (in my games) and the last thing they do is feel like any MMO. I have stolen dungeons from MMO's before, but then I give them their own spin. You have any idea how annoying it is to map out a quest from a game like Dungeons and Dragons Online or WoW onto paper?

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    Is there a compendium of digital tools out there?

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