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I’m an overpreparer, so I don’t generally use things like random dungeon rooms. In fact, I tend to run games without dungeons. Still, I’ve played in enough games that had delightful dungeon crawls that lasted for session upon session, run by a GM with a bunch of random monster generation tables and an endless thirst for blood and death to know that such things can be fun.

…for the GM.

Anyway, I did recently see a neat set of last year’s Kickstarted Dungeonmorph Dice. Each face of these dice shows the picture of a different dungeon room, and when rolled and put end to end on a table, they produce endless strange maps of dungeoneering goodness. You can even get the images on the die faces as a font for Mac/Windows/Linux so that you can produce your own maps in any word processor. A quick check of the map symbol key shows that the dungeons include plenty of landmarks and points of interest that could encourage roleplay beyond hack n’ slash, and a GM could easily write a series of encounters based on the symbol key before rolling (or letting a player roll.)

If you like the idea of random dungeon generation that can be done on the fly and that allows your players to interact with the “tables,” this product might hit the spot. Or mark the X. Or something. Wait…is that the symbol for big owlbear which kicks my ass?

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I know many of you have been out at GenCon, playing your fill of games and seeing more stuff to buy than you could possibly purchase in a lifetime. I just thought I’d mention a neat Kickstarter project that has some really great potential: Brass Monkey’s Dragons Gameboard.

This nifty little package would let you display a battle map on a TV or large computer monitor for your players to see during tabletop gaming. Each of them could, in turn, manipulate their own tokens on the map via smartphones or tablets.

I absolutely, positively LOVE this idea. Using individual handheld devices at the table would keep my players engaged (and would keep their phones on something game-centered instead of on Twitter or Facebook.) A system like this cuts down on prep time, too; I wouldn’t have to set up a table full of cardstock buildings and minis, spend the morning keeping the kitten off the table, and then switch out a million tiles and buildings mid-session when the PCs moved to a new area. On the other hand, I personally dislike the art style here–I’d like to see something that looks more like an actual hand-drawn map, something less griddy/pixelly. The games I tend to favor don’t focus on strategic battles, so I use maps flavor more than for tactical clarity, and a bunch of colored blocks don’t really add much flavor to a game. The project promises to remain open source, though, so DMs would have the opportunity to implement their own tilesets and could undoubtedly figure out how to make use of the system for other sorts of RPGs.

This project is definitely one to keep your eye on; Brass Monkey has a solid idea, and for those with limited table space, it might mean the difference between making your home a viable place to play and always having to tote your minis and chips to someone else’s house.

I have a love-hate relationship with RPG maps. I love the beautiful, professionally-created ones that FFG makes, and I hate my own when they fall short. During campaign prep, I often regret not having a degree in graphic design (a field in which I have absolutely no interest other than this.) On the other hand, I find in my own group, maps tend to decrease the bickering about what’s going on and increase the suspense. My party tends to think that if something’s in the picture, it needs explorin’, which can lead to some hilarious moments when they sidle up cautiously to an innocuous (but mysteriously on-the-map) table.

I generally use Campaign Cartographer in spite of its steep learning curve–which I have to learn again each time I use it because I use it so seldom. I had high hopes for Ortelius, but as I said here, it doesn’t yet seem to fit the bill, so I find myself returning to CC over and over again. Yet I do hesitate to pull out CC when I only need a quick little image; it can take me an incredibly long time to remember how to use it, and I hate having to move from my Mac to my PC to work.

I was excited, then, when the link to Pyromancers’ online mapping software floated across my Facebook feed the other day. (Thanks, Rob!) This free, web-based mapping program doesn’t have the extensive graphics library of CC, but it does have quite enough to make a very nice sketch of a generic dungeon, tavern, or ruin, and you can import your own existing graphics if you’re feeling up to a bit of clicking around. I easily figured out the commands in about two minutes. You can save the maps you’ve made onto your hard drive; export them as PNGs, JPGs, or PDFs; or share them via an online gallery. The program supports both hex and grid maps, and will mark coordinates for you for ease of tactical use.

Here’s the simple tavern map I made start-to-export in about three minutes:

The website offers a way to include a map in a forum post and have players manipulate tokens on the map directly from the forum itself. I’m not playing in any forum-based games, but for those wanting to do online play, this solution might be just the ticket.

Overall, Pyromancers offers a great set of tools on their website. It strikes me that contributors to fan supplements and e-zines might make great use of this tool, and it’s certainly useful for any GM looking for uniquemaps. Do check it out!

So, I’m relatively excited about Plaid Hat’s new Mice and Mystics game. It looks like more of a story-driven coop board game than a true RPG, but it might be just the ticket for gaming groups like ours, since we sometimes have months where we can’t commit a full Saturday to playing our RPG of choice. Plus, it’s got awesome mouse miniatures! What could possibly go wrong?

(Lots of things, actually. I know that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hope it will be AWESOME.)

In other news, I finally got around to looking at the Roll20 videos this week. Everyone on the planet has already talked this thing to death, but it really does look as awesome as its hype. I hope they can live up to what they promise in these videos. The only downside I can see is the GM’s limited ability to download his own artwork, since games like Warhammer or Mouse Guard might require vastly different maps and minis than more traditional fantasy games. Still, for a decent online RPG delivery system that incorporates streaming sounds and music with video chat and is system neutral, that’s a small quibble.

It’s road race season, which means that my posts may become slightly more sporadic as I try to keep up with the demands of the end of my training. Luckily, my half marathon is on the 20th, so things will calm down a bit after that. In the meantime, though, I’m putting in some longer-than-usual (for me) workouts and getting together a costume for my upcoming race. I’ve never run in a costume before, so we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I spent some time this weekend recovering my aching muscles and playing with Ortelius, a mapping software package for the Mac. I have both a Mac and a PC, so Campaign Cartographer has been my go-to software for creating RPG maps. CC’s software is unparalleled; it’s powerful and designed specifically for use by GMs, so it has whole libraries of graphics that a GM might need to make, say, a crypt full of coffins spiced up with a few zombies here and there. Unfortunately, as a full CAD program with a great deal of power, CC has a steep learning curve and can be a real pain in the ass to use. Since I don’t make maps for every game, I tend to have to relearn to use CC again every time I pull it out. That’s great when I have mounds of free time, but not so great if I just need to make a quick map. Further, CC runs only on my PC, and I tend to think of PCs as gaming space, not as serious work space–and I do tend to view GMing as closer to serious work than play. (That might sound horrible, but since I love my work, there’s no real dichotomy between work and fun in my world.) I write all of my scenarios on my Mac, combine all of my sound files on my Mac, create preview videos on my Mac, and keep all of my finished graphics files and notes on my Mac. It would be easier if I could do my maps on my Mac, too.

I noticed Ortelius in the Mac App store not too long ago, and I downloaded a free trial, but didn’t really get around to messing with it until this weekend. It’s a beautiful program for serious cartographers. Like CC, its features can be a bit unintuitive, as it encourages the user to combine and/or cut preexisting shapes to make objects. Most of the advanced features are buried in menus, which kept me away from many of them, although in just poking around the menus, I realized that there’s a whole slew of stuff ‘under the hood’ that would be useful if I put the time into learning it well. The trial program has a great set of simple tutorials to get you started with the basic tools, so you can get up and running quickly.

All that being said, Ortelius is very much designed for the modern mapmaker; its real strength lies in having a whole set of map symbols for the labeling of routes that wouldn’t exist for a GM. (I can’t think of the last time I ran a game in which players needed to locate the snowmobile route.) Since it works heavily on Stamps (the equivalent of symbols in CC,) the lack of fantasy-themed content hamstrings the product a bit for GMs. I haven’t looked into whether or not you could import CC’s objects (or Dungeon Designer’s, or Fantasy Floorplans’, etc.) into Ortelius, partly because I’m not sure I’m going to buy Ortelius; if someone ended up confirming that you could use the CC symbols in Ortelius–even if it took some doing to import them–I’d probably buy and use it for mapmaking from here on out because it makes slightly more sense to me than CC does. Until then, I think I’ll stick with the demon I know, because, well, I’ve already paid for him. Although it occurs to me that I haven’t paid for the third iteration of the demon; I’m still stuck with CC2, I think.

Hmm…in going to the CC website, I just noticed this. Uh-oh. I may need that.

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