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  Click here to go to the first special guest post in this thread.   Thread: Ask a GM [03/16/09]: GM Aids

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    Ask a GM [03/16/09]: GM Aids

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    mrken asks,
    "What is the general concensous of GM aids?

    I have used a dice roller and really like it. But I also use name generators and place generators and plot generators to a certain extent. These tools make my job easier, now I would like to know what those of this forum think of others. I am thinking of downloading the program DM Secretary. Is this something you find helpful and why. What might be some other GM aids that are helpful and in what ways."
    Robert A. Howard
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    I would recomend that anything you find that aids you as a DM/GM, be sure to make use of it. For myself, the main tool that I use as a DM/GM is my computer. I prefer to have all the major events typed up and printed out (I have a pc as opposed to a laptop). This allows me to have all the information inside a binder, right in front of me. This way when it says that a creature has 6+6 Hit Dice, I have already previously rolled this and have the number ready. This holds true for any bit of information on people, places, or things in the game. Of course, the computer also gives me access to sites such as P&PG to be able to find players, get ideas from fellow DM/GMs, and a place to keep my campaign log.

    I have never used a name, place, or plot generator. As for DM Secretary, I must admit that I do not recall seeing it mentioned since before this question. As for a dice roller, until Farcaster added it to the Chat feature on here, I had never used one. I have used the one on the Chat feature. It does come in quite handy. Myself and a few other members did a small impromptu D&D game using primarily 2E rules. Having the dice roller meant that none of us had to have a bunch of dice on the table along with the computer to roll

    Now some may say that this doesn't qualify, or isn't what what meant by the question, but I feel that it does. One of the best tools that a DM/GM can use is the other members of the group. Be sure to make use of the knowledge that your players have. You may have one person that is so into making characters that they will know most if not all of the bonuses and flaws of a particular class or race. Another person may be really good with spells. What ever a certain persons forte is, be sure to use it to your advantage. Anything that can keep from having to completely stop and research something is always a big plus for gaming.

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    Aside from PBP dice rollers and language translators; I don't use any type of generator. However, I may make up something on my computer, such as a handy-dandy list of names or towns/nameplaces, in addition to whatever campaign notes I made up, but the lists I keep are used occasionally.

    In regards to DM Secertary, I don't know anything about it, so I can't really say anything for or against it.
    There's nothing to fear except fear itself and, of course, the boogeyman.

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    I tend to tinker with just about any tool, and when I find one that I like I will use it obsessively. I'm pretty picky though, so tools that work for others tend to not work for me for some reason.

    When I was playing 3.X D&D I was a huge fan of DM's Familiar. This program had everything I needed to handle a game, and worked well with the need to do things on the fly. I like to run open campaigns, and "I'm not ready for that!" isn't a welcome excuse when players start to wander to locations I haven't made ready yet. If you are a fan of 3.X D&D, I'd check this one out. If you can get into the flow it has, it works quite well.

    For 4th Edition D&D I have yet to even go looking for tools. I'm to the point where I am pretty comfortable running the system, but not to the point that I have a feel for the tools I want to make certain aspects of the game fast and easy. Once I have that sense, and know what I'm looking for, I hope to find a few!

    Of course, I do have the most important tools for running a game no matter the edition. Time (less of it than I'd like, but still), ideas, and an energy to run a game. Those three things are the key, and if you have them and a pencil and paper, you can get the job done without any fancy computer tools.
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    Grimwell

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    I must admit that I have become so addicted to my electronic aids; I loathe to even consider playing without them. Point in case, I forgot to bring the power cable for my laptop last game, so I borrowed my hosts laptop so that I wouldn't be without my favorite tools. Perhaps that is a byproduct of playing a fairly complicated game such as D&D and not something easier to adjudicate like the Story Teller system. Add to that the fact that I prefer to keep track of everyone's current health status, passive perception rolls, etc. Whatever the case, I haven't run a D&D game without a laptop at my disposal in over five years.

    As to what I use at the game table? I have never really tried anything such as DM Secretary or the DM's Familiar that Grimwell touted. But, I have created an Excel spreadsheet that I use to keep track of player and monster hitpoints alike, experience, names, places, dates and other such. For map generation, I tend to use the Aurora Toolset from Neverwinter Nights to build my maps and then screenshot a top down view. And, yes, I do use a dice roller. I've found it really speeds things up, since the dice roller I wrote for my own use keeps track of my most recent rolls. That allows me to quickly return to a previous dice combination and roll it again when switching back and forth between attackers, for instance. I even programmed it to play the sound of dice rolling in different quantities based on what I rolled so that my players still have that audible feedback that so subtly conveys just how JACKED they might really be.

    The one thing that I am completely unwilling to digitize from my gaming experience is my books. I want to have a book in hand. PDFs actually end up being slower for me to search and I don't really care for reading my gaming manuals from the computer screen. Besides, it's so much fun to open the Monster Manual to a random page and just throw whatever it is you flipped to at your group...

    J/K.
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    wikis

    Just started it for my new online chat game, but I set up a wiki for sharing of character sheets and backgrounds and updates.

    I think it is nice, especially if you are the kind of player who likes to be fully aware of his/hers partners strengths and weaknesses.

    Some are a bit hard to use if not familiar with computer stuff, but the one I use a lot (I have my students use it for class too [senior design not fighter type class]) is pbwiki.com. The base version is free, and you get 1 GB of file storage. Maybe 2. It edits like any word processor, so if you can reply in this forum, you can use a wiki.

    Post PDF's of character sheets, take a photo of the map of how you last left it when your game ended last session, keep tabs on current hp and other variable things. Also, announce if a session needs to be canceled or whatever.

    Basically it serves as a central database for player's and GM's alike. With all of the hyperlinks, a DM could use it to help organize all the bits of his organization. Have a table of contents on the front page, linked to all of the predetermined encounters (each with a page of its own). Or scan in entries from the MM to each encounter page so you don't have to flip through your book to have an encounter with multiple monsters.

    Now that I think about it, that's a good idea. With PDF version of books, it is easy to take a screenshot and paste it in.

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    I can understand many folks need for dice rollers, it can turn out to be quite handy. I checked Grimwell's link to DM's Familiar, yeah, I recognized it from several years ago. Very useful but not my cup of tea. I do keep name lists and plot generations, on taplets, not on comps. But, then, I don't have a laptop to carry around ... yet. I probably would use all these things once I do get a laptop.
    As for the books, I'll keep my books. but when it comes to rule checking or doing other work to get a game up, I might find a program that helps me to look up info to be very useful.
    I do not use any of the suggested material at present. But, I am sure I soon will.
    Sure, Life IS like a bowl of cherries, but how SWEET they are depends on how much crap your willing to take to fertalize your DREAMS. Michael L. Cross

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    I use DMGEnie and CoreRules CD 2.0 which came with campaign mapper.

    I also found online printable index cards for DM's that are used for monsters - a quick reference card. As a DM, I had to fill in the card, but one card for one monster. The card isn't writte on, you just use if for main reference and use regular paper for keeping track of monster viality, etc.

    I do recommend a speadsheet and having players providing d20 rolls for different skills. They'll provide say 5 to 10 rolls for either certain skill rolls or for unexplained. This way, I can check the pre-rolled numbers and apply it to secret events.

    I prefer this at times because I want to surprise the characters because they are, not because they roll and I tell them they aren't allowed to know why they were rolling just now.

    Other game aids? Minis and dry or wet erase maps. A dry/wet erase board, size 8 x 11 is good, for players to keep track of initiative rolls, active spells, keeping track of rounds.

    Our group had a combat sheet that each player completed each round, detailing their move, standard, and free actions - this allowed for writing narratives later instead of trying to do it in-game.

    I have dice that are not quite microscopic in size, but the really small dice make it virtually impossible to hear the die roll for those little surprises...
    Come, cords; come nurse. I'll to my wedding bed' And death - please let me be death!

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    I am a TERRIBLE GEEK for such things.

    When I started my current campaign over two years ago I used a tool called "GM's Second Brain" (google 'second brain'). It was free, simple, easy to create entries and link them to others. But it really lacked something: the ability to share a portion of that information with the players. If we as DMs go to the trouble to write such descriptions of the setting, it would be a valuable tool for the players as well. Second Brain did have an export function, but it didn't have a means to separate DM vs player info.

    So my next campaign will use some kind of wiki. One that I am checking out is called Obsidian Portal, which is a hosted wiki customized for running campaigns. It also has group forums, maps, blogs, etc. It has free and advanced memberships.

    My current campaign uses a yahoo group. Having a place for files and a message list that can be searched is really helpful (again, Obsidian DM may be a better integrated system... but that is from looking at it and not actually using it.)

    Other tools I use: PDFs! Unlike Farcaster, I can search a properly bookmarked or OCR'd pdf very quickly. I win races with my players when I don't just have them look it up.

    I use generators, especially for names. I use them only rarely at the table (I can tend to over prepare) but they are great for overcoming writer's block. I got great ideas from a tavern generator for instance (how else would I have come up with the name 'Guilty Sausage'?) For every 10 results I use one.
    Also very helpful to my own personal geekiness are things like Chris Pound's name generator page, which is tailored to be consistent with languages. If I want a culture to sound Sumerian (or at least have a consistent flavor), I can do that.

    Character Creation: I DM 3.5 (and won't ever ever do so again) with a lot of bells and whistles. So I use Heroforge excel spreadsheets for NPC generation. Heroforge also has experience point calculators and monster creation sheets.

    4th edition: As a player I dig the Character Builder. The Compendium and Encounter Generator are also fantastic tools.

    Maps: I create maps with Fractal Mapper (pay, but a lot cheaper than Campaign Cartographer) and GIMP (free). Again, I'm a geek: I put the maps into Maptool (from http://rptools.net ) and then put that on a projector for the players to see.

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    i am a fairly extensive user of computer and online based tools. i have electronic copies of all the rpg books i own, ocr whenever possible for easy text searching. i have the srd downloaded, as well as pretty much the entire wotc website (as relates to 3.x d&d) mirrored as well. i have a mirror of the dragondex site, and am still searching for a similar thing for the dungeon mags.

    i make extensive use of gametable (http://gametable.110mb.com) for its simplicity, ease of use, and price tag (free). it is a java-based shared whiteboard mapping program with built in dice and text-chat features.

    if i'm playing real-time, then i usually use a voip program or conference call on phones, instead of text chatting a session. usually skype or ventrillo.

    as for my character sheets, i have my own methods that i use, ranging from custom stuff to my absolute favorite utility program, crystalball. (http://www.crystalballsoft.com) while the current release of cyrstalball is mac-only, the next release will be cross-platform mac/pc.
    it has a built in character generator, custom character sheet printer, text block output, customizable random name generator with an extensive library of place, people, and object names, monster generator, dice roller, xp calculator, treasure calculator, turn based combat manager, customizable class files, customizable skill lists, customizable race files, campaign file tracker, and treasure generator.

    for the non-mac crowd check out crystalball-lite (http://www.crystalballsoft.com) from the same site. this is for both mac or pc, and is a lite sneak-preview version of the upcoming release of crystalball. it has the new dice roller with it's amazing features-custom buttons, dice sets, the new notes section, network support for both text-chat and the dice roller, and the new cascading tables/variables/limited-scripting-for-die-rolls support.

    It is well worth your time to look it over. your best bet is to start with the faq-if you download a copy of crystalball-lite it will come with the complete faq, in the help menu. for basic usage, it is intuitive, don't bother with the faq. but if you like having things like a button that tracks your hp (or ammo, or power points, or status, or whatever) both numerically and/or with an hp bar indicator, complete with custom sound effects... or a complete recreation of a complicated set of cascading tables... or asking a connected player's instance for a spot check and deciding whether the player gets notified or not, (and much much more) then dig into that faq!
    nijineko the gm: AG16, CoS. nijineko the player: AtG, RttToH; . The Journal of Tala'elowar Kiyiik! .
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    I have a friend that uses his iphone for all his dice rolling. Pretty cool little program with visual choices of all the different-sided dice, including the sound of them rolling on a table when selected. Very cool, indeed.
    Thoth-Amon, Lord of the Underworld and the Undead
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    I'm using my laptop to keep track of all my stuff (including ambient music; <3 the ditigal age~), complete with wiki software for chronicle notes and house rules. Other than that, I come to a game with the same tools the players do

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    i must be that far behind the times, i still do everything by hand and use no electronic devices for the game i run. not so sure but it seem to me that using those things may take some of the fun out of it. i know you want it to go fast and smooth but that just might as wel be a pc game the likes of warcraft or some other like neverwinter nights

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    As long as we're talking GM aids, how are you guys set for mood music? I recall one GM who used his stereo to put out background music for the game session. He finaloly confessed to one player that 'if they listened closely, they would get a valueable clue' to where the party should next head. Very neat, but I didn't have a clue ...
    --- Merged from Double Post ---
    Of course this was well before ipods and palm pilets.
    Last edited by spotlight; 03-30-2009 at 04:35 PM. Reason: Automerged Double Post
    Sure, Life IS like a bowl of cherries, but how SWEET they are depends on how much crap your willing to take to fertalize your DREAMS. Michael L. Cross

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    Arch Lich Thoth-Amon is offline Cursed by the Gods
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    I find putting on movies like The Thing, Alien, etc., in another room enhanced gameplay. The tv MUST be in the other room and volume be on low for this to work.
    Thoth-Amon, Lord of the Underworld and the Undead
    Once you know what the magician knows, it's not magick. It's a 'tool of Creation'. -Archmagus H.H.
    The first step to expanding your reality is to discard the tendency to exclude things from possibility. - Meridjet

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