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Tools I Use

Well I was going to post another encounter but I got distracted along the way…

In running my games, and preparing for them I do everything on my notepad (A Samsung NC10).  In fact I acquired the notepad just for this purpose! This lets me manage things (when prepared) very quickly and easily, and the notepad combined with my dataprojector lets me do some things that I couldn’t do otherwise in running a game.

I have tried quite a few tools over the last 12 months for preparing games, from starting with Word documents with everything labourisly typed in to using 3 or 4 different programs at once I’ve progressed down to only four programs: GIMP, Masterplan, Adventure Tools and Token Tool.

DDI Subscription – Compendium, Adventure Tools, Character Builder

My annual DDI subscription, for me, has been worth every penny I spend on it. I constantly use the DDI Compendium to quickly look up powers, magic items, key rules terms and so on. For me as a DM the Compendium is nearly worth the price of admission alone, add in the magazines from which I get a few ideas every now and then, and the Character Builder and it is definately worth the money I spend on it to me (and trust me I don’t have money to just throw at such things so every price hike gets me to re-evaluate the usefullness it has to me).

The DDI Adventure Tools’ Monster Builder is very useful – checks monsters (roughly) against WotC’s guidelines and generally keeps your homebrewed monsters on par with the ones that WotC publishes. It also handily has the ability to export to xml which can be imported by MasterPlan and export as an image which can be pasted into GIMP for saving and uploading (yes it would be nice to be able to skip the GIMP step :)). Oh it also has all the DDI Compendium Monster entries in it and is searchable etc etc – this makes customising existing monsters into something new pretty easy as well. In short it is very handy for the DM on the go because it saves a lot of page turning.

The DDI Characte Builder – ok so I love it as a player, but it is also quite useful to me as a DM. Want to make an NPC – it is a snap to whip up a fully fledged character with the character builder and then “down size” for passing over to the Monster Builder to be converted into a monster. Of course the other thing it is really handy for is keeping track of the PCs in a campaign – most noteably checking the math (just remember sometimes the program gets things wrong).

Get a DDI Subscription here.


I’m not the worlds best at image manipulation but I manage ok. The truth is that GIMP is way more powerful than what I can do with it, but still even with my limited ability it is quite useful. From creating the world maps for my setting, to doing a little “photoshopping” of images (like the narrow path, and zombie images from the last week), to getting the screenshots of the maps, and monster statblocks sorted out for posting up here I’m always doing something with GIMP. The best thing about GIMP of course is that it costs nothing! Love that free stuff. 🙂

Get GIMP here.


If there is one disappointment I have with DDI it is the lack of an equivalent to this free community program. It does everything just about, heck it does things that I still haven’t even tried using yet, and they are still improving and adding functionality! This is the program I am now using to make maps (I used to use PyMapper and MapTool but no longer), balance encounters, track xp, award treasure, and run the encounters. It has an encyclopedia function so I can keep the campaign setting worked out, it attaches image and lets me project them for the players so that when they are talking to the NPC I can put a 1m high picture up for everyone to see! If I didn’t love minatures (and have a huge collection) it would let me run all my combats with the map projected up for the players to see (or I guess I could set up a mount for the projector above the table and project it down and have the best of both worlds like some folks have done).

Anyway the point is that if you are looking for a tool to manage your campaigns then MasterPlan is very hard to go past.

Get MasterPlan here.

Token Tool

Sure I could use GIMP to do this but why bother with GIMP when this tiny little ap will turn out awesome tokens faster and easier? I know the last map I posted had black circles, but I could have created it with images as well (ok I learnt how to do this after the fact but… technically :)). It is a nice little program that lets you pull an image (or take a screen shot) and plop it into the workspace drag it around and put a border (or not) on the part of the image you want to use and then saves it nicely as a png file.

Get Token Tool here.

(Or just search around in the community Gallery maybe someone has already made the token you want!)

Also if you want to play online MapTool at the Token Tool link is one way that can be done – though I’ve nver used it for that.

Making Maps

Fortunately MasterPlan does this – either you can create tiles to use in the maps or you can import tiles other people have handily made for you. If you are of the “import tiles” persuasion like me (because say you have 2x every Dungeon Tiles set or something) then the Dungeon Tiles Yahoo Group is your good friend.


There are a few different websites that I utilise as well the key ones are:

  • iPlay4e.com – intergrates with MasterPlan and has campaign management tools. Also means a missing player is less of a drama because you always have their whole character on hand.
  • Treasure Generator – need random treasure in a hurry? This site is a great way to quickly generate those pesky treasure bundels for a whole level and even tailor them to your party quickly.

So there we go, all the little things (and not so little) that I use in prepping games (even if they are 1 encounter long).

Categories: Ramblings
  1. Sam
    April 12, 2010 at 4:07 am

    You mentioned that sometimes the character builder gets the math wrong. I never noticed this; do you have examples?

    • April 12, 2010 at 5:43 pm

      Before the last update for example I made a Sharpshooter rogue and the bonus to hit with crossbows was not added, instead the character was still getting the Rogue Weapon Talent bonus. It still incorrectly calculates the AC of Brawler Fighters equipped with 2x Spiked Gauntlets. Little things like that which require keeping an eye on it.

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