Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Software for RPGs

I've been looking around at various Windows applications or web services to help out with organizing or running rpgs. Once I sit back and look at all of the options available it's mind-boggling. We're in a virtual golden age (no pun intended). Here are some of the tools I've used or have found that help me out a ton when it comes to planning and running RPGs (this isn't including smartphone or tablet apps, because for gaming I use my laptop).

Google Drive should be a no brainer here - it gives access to everything a GM could need without having to invest in an office suite. It's been invaluable to me. The one drawback to using Google is they do have a track record of discontinuing services people actually use (or, at least, those people really like). I think, however, that Google Docs is likely going to stick around for a while. Dropbox is the obvious non-Google alternative (I use both, but nothing on Dropbox is shared publicly).

With just those tools, it's perfectly possible to organize and run a campaign. There are a couple more useful tools: Google Sites is somehow a wiki, but I haven't quite figured it out yet (it is a "simple wiki" and documentation is non-existent for it other than saying, "It's a wiki!"). Otherwise, I've found Wikia to be a reasonably good free wiki. There are also options like Obsidian Portal (which I haven't used yet although I did register).

One thing I really like are mindmaps. I've used both The Brain or Mindjet MindManager extensively, but I prefer Mindjet. The Brain does have an awesome feature that exports the map to a website structure. They are very good at creating relationship maps, and I actually once did a campaign map solely with a mind map. The one complaint I have with these types of software are kind of limited in how elements can be structured, and I wind up spending too much time fiddling with arranging things. The other drawback is they don't print well (as in at all), so you pretty much have to have a screen to display the map. There is an open source mindmap application called Freemind. I've played around with several mindmapping extensions in Google Drive, but they just don't work as well as a stand alone app.

Two words: the Internet.

Aside from that, I've found just learning the basics with GIMP and Inkscape have worked wonders in preparing for games. I can edit images, create small graphics, do character sheets, maps, handouts, etc. I think any GM should at least know the basics of with these two applications (or something like them). For maps I'm not a huge fan of Campaign Cartographer, but I have used Dundjinni for both small and large scale maps and really liked it. It's too bad it is defunct from a development perspective.

The last one is the true treasure: YWriter. It's similar to Scrivener, but free. I have yet to fully delve into the program, but it allows for setting up characters, scenes, locations, items, and notes. All of these things can be cross-referenced and repositioned within the structure as needed. It also has a storyboard feature. The biggest drawback is it is a standalone Windows application with no Internet connectivity.

I don't have much new for actual play, particularly because I don't use character generators or any kind of system software. I've toyed with creating an Access database for helping with various things, but I think my noggin, a rulebook and paper probably work just fine. One application that does look useful for play has been right under my nose, probably for years: StickyNotes in Windows (I understand that Mac OS has something similar). You can create any number of notes, change the colors, adjust the size, and as I recently found out you can even cut and paste spreadsheet cells or tables into them. I think that from a perspective as a Fate Core GM, I'll be able to use it and save a ton on Post-It Notes.

This probably doesn't scratch the surface of what's available to help with games. If there are any other awesome tools out there I'd love to hear about them. I'd definitely like to see web-based solutions geared specifically toward RPGs. Something like Obsidian Portal, but with a YWriter like scenario manager and possibly integration with Google Drive, Hangouts (or Roll20) and possibly Blogger.