I recently got a new text processing program called Scrivener. It’s oriented towards the writing process; you don’t use it to format text and produce final output. You use it to outline, shuffle, and put down words. I think it’s awesome for pen and paper gaming work, and I wanted to document my current workflow with an extended example.
I tried using a stack of index cards instead of an initiative tracker last session, and it worked out pretty well. I put most of the monster stats on each card, plus checkboxes for hit points. I think it was smoother than using the tracker.
I may need to put more of the stats on each card; I kept having to go back to the book. Maybe only for more or less simple monsters, and Big Bads can still require book reference?
I really like the ease of having defenses and hit points all in hand, though. The checkboxes in particular fit how my mind works.
Referring back to this post…
The DM’s screen fits on the card table with the battlemaps, so that’s all good. Alea Tools magnetic markers work like a charm if you remember to use them, and your players are happy to take care of slapping down the markers for effects they generate. Chris suggested clipping the Encounter Manager sheets over the GameMastery initiative tracker; that worked fine too, with magnets and all. I may look for slightly stronger magnets or something, but it works well enough as is.
So yep. GMing continues to get easier. Tools are fun. And it’s a good group.
As per request, quick summaries of the tools I’m using to GM D&D 4e:
First cool tool: the GameMastery Combat Pad Initiative Tracker. It’s a wet/dry erase board with a steel core and a bunch of magnets that you shuffle around to track initiative. It works very well; in the first session, I was pretty much able to run combats with the module and the tracker held in one hand. However, it’s got a lot of wasted space.
This last session I added the printableDM Encounter Manager to my toolbox. It’s nice; I tried the ones without the initiative trackers but I think I’m going to swap over. As noted, the GameMastery tracker is a bit clunky in that half the space is chewed up in ways that simply aren’t useful in combat. Holding two full page sheets in one hand is obviously a lot harder than holding one full page sheet; if I can track initiative easily on the Encounter Managers, that’s a win.
I think the right thing to do here is find a slim steel clipboard of some kind, clip the Encounter Managers to it, and use the GameMastery tracker magnets to track initiative. That gets me back to one sheet. Unfortunately, steel clipboards are hard to find.
The Wizards Dungeon Master’s Screen is very good. I just need a better place to put it, since I’ve been DMing standing up. I’ll figure that out with time.
Alea Tools is good magnets for tracking status effects on miniatures. I didn’t use them enough last session, but I will.
Jim Goings’ Condition Cards (scroll down a bit) are great easy reminders of which PCs are undergoing which conditions. Also it’s nicely intimidating to say “you’re weakened” and slap down the big indicators. There are a bunch of other nice tools on that page, btw — I particularly like Kiznit’s character sheets.
If I’m going to draw maps, I want them to be old school maps. Black lines, graph paper, no shadows, no textures. You can pretend this is because I am unartistic if you like; you will be correct in large part. Still.
Just about nothing does good old style maps. Dundjinni is really oriented towards neat battlemaps. RPG Map Maker is unpolished and is a paint program rather than a draw program. Map Tools is nice but is also more of a paint program, I think.
So OmniGraffle. You can set up a nice old school graph grid and you can include that grid when printing or exporting images. Snap to grid is easy. If you do everything as lines, it’s not too hard to add a hole in a wall. I figured out how to do round rooms. Caverns and river lines may be hard, but I’ll cross that obstacle when I come to it.
I begin to have a sneaking suspicion that my tabletop gaming inclinations are back. In full force.
The old school D&D guys (you know, the people playing first edition AD&D or blue box D&D or whatever) are way into the megadungeon concept these days. Big massive dungeons with dozens of levels and hundreds of rooms that can contain an entire campaign. Or multiple campaigns.
And when I say “way into,” what I mean is 30 page threads about dungeon mapping and design considerations. I’m talking an entire forum dedicated to megadungeons. There’s some serious thought going into this stuff — people theorizing, diagramming dungeon layout to determine the linearity or lack thereof of a dungeon, so on and so forth.
Plus maps! Hardcore.
I am reminded that when I was sketching out Tarnished Brass in my mind, I was trying to come up with a rationale for a dungeon crawl, although it promptly got all political on me. 4e makes a better system for a dungeon crawl than Reign, though.
Those inclinations I mentioned earlier seem to be very retro at the moment. Although neo-retro. I keep wanting to take old school gaming and put fins on it so it can go faster.
I also played some D&D 4e. Tom runs a nifty game, plus it’s always fun playing with new peeps. Rock on, teenage love triangle, rock on. I’m trying to decide if my Felix is crushing on Geoff. It seems likely.
That link there is a good description of the game and I agree with all of the points made therein. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a remarkably movement-oriented system. Most of our fights were in clear space, and by the end of the game I was just moving thirty feet every turn, because I wanted to tag enemies with my Curse and you can only do that to the closest enemy. The one fight where my back was to a wall, that made me sad. Playing a Warlock is like playing a GEV with a howitzer bolted to the top in Ogre. Zip zip zip. BOOM. I very much regret the failure of my 5d8+1d6+6 bomb single-turn attack sequence.
It feels like D&D. Lots more powers, and much more to do, but it’s a d20 and you roll it and you hit things and do damage and move six squares and take attacks of opportunity and flank. The changes just sort of supercharge it in an alarmingly Hong Kong actiony sort of a way. Also, there are still weird little side cases that make you go “hm, not sure how that should work. Please send lawyers, runs, and FAQs.”
Cian, who I mentioned in comments a few posts back on the LJ side, was a cleric with a side business in being an archer. I spent a lot of feats and points on that, because I was expecting to get very bored if I was just a healer. I knew I’d run out of spells and I wanted to be effective in other ways.
If I was using 4e for him, I wouldn’t need to screw with any of that. He’d have a lance of pure holy light zapping out of his fingertips on demand, a million times a day. There is nothing bad about this. I like that I don’t have to spend feats to avoid boredom.
It is lacking in out of combat skills, albeit not to the degree that detractors claim. Also I don’t know if I like skill challenges. We did one and it felt a touch artificial. The old ad hoc system that Jeffwik or someone described based on an early leak, where you did whatever you wanted and rolls just applied? That seems better. I think Tom was running ours sort of like that, but since we were not RP-focused we were a bit slow to get into that mindset.
That, however, was my only beef. I have already created a spreadsheet to assist me in choosing 1d6+3 rolled against Will vs. 1d10+4 rolled against Reflex. It is a good system for the crunchy side of me, and it is simple enough to be fun for the non-crunchy side of me.
After too much time spent poring through forums for D&D 4e character sheets, I wound up with this one, which worked out great in play. The form-fillable version, by some new Adobe magic, allows you to save your filled out sheet. Handy.
The landscape one found here is also very nice — much more compact — but not form-fillable. Plus I really liked the power card holder on the previous one. Yeah, I assembled it. Rubber cement and scissors and all. It’s handy.
Oh, yeah. Five hour one shot, four combats, a smidge of RP. We were focused on system. It’s a quick little combat system. It feels like D&D to me; you’re rolling a 20 sider and doing damage. Certainly PCs are way more sturdy early on. Still and all, rolling d20s, rolling damage, all that fun stuff.
Combat was really mobile. Lots of shifting and hitting and movement. I kinda wanna play Sunless Citadel in 4e to compare and contrast. Maybe I’ll go write up Cian now.