Online and Software Tools

You’re here and we’re here on this blog because we — you and us — are Web-savvy. Although not every gamer is a ‘Net-head, the RPG community that doesn’t maintain a strong Web presence is cutting itself off from a vast pool of gamers. There are two big reasons to have a well-organized Web base for your gaming community: promotion — it’s your virtual front * door and perhaps the only front door you’ll have; and convenience — you have a toolbox available to help you communicate, organize, and rally.

(This is an article in progress.)

Group Tools

Online Presence

There are many tools you can use to allow community members to communicate with one another, promote discussion, and help organize events. The following are options for your “front page”, your discussion base. This is the place where conversations happen.

  • E-mail list: Requires a list owner/administrator and possibly some support software or list server. Members have to sign up or register.
  • Web-based group: Requires registration with a provider (e.g., Yahoo!, Meetup or Google group), a list owner, and optionally, some moderators. Unless you open your list to the general public and potential spamming, all members will have to register.
  • Shared Planner: Like Backpack.
  • Gaming blog: Requires a blog (e.g., LiveJournal, Blogger, Yahoo! 360, MySpace, WordPress, etc.); unless you plan on accepting anonymous comments and/or screening them individually, this requires every member to sign up for a blog ID. Many members may not want to make this effort.
  • Forum: Requires a host and some software, and a tech-savvy administrator. Optional: moderators are useful.
  • Wiki: Collaborative platform such as Wikidot, RPG.net wiki, or Pbwiki. Useful for shared writing, but a large number of members will never take the time to unerstand how to use a wiki. Can serve as a nice addition to a standard forum or list.
  • Web site: Requires a host and a Webmaster. New material goes through the Webmaster for posting, so this is best used as a supplemental presence, not as your main contact and discussion point.

Online Play

These are tools to help you when playing online, whether play-by-turn, play-by-e-mail, virtual tabletop, chat-based, etc.

  • Virtual Tabletops
    • RP Tools offers a dice roller, map tools, initiative tracker, etc. Free, multi-platform (Java + Webstart).
    • Caxino Prototype, a community platform that supports dynamic virtual tables online for games
    • Gametable is a remote RPG whiteboarding client designed to play RPGs online, providing an interface for all players to use a shared map. Includes a die-rolling macro system. Free, multi-platform (Java).
    • Invisible Castle offers a set of online tools, include dice and d20 stat rollers.
    • OpenRoleplaying offers random generators, a die roller, galleries, etc.
    • Four Ugly Monsters is an online community devoted to virtual table-top RPGs; it organizes virtual conventions (!) and offers a nice comparison chart between various tools for virtual play.
    • VASSAL is a game engine for building and playing online adaptations of board games and card games, as well as a few apps for role-playing games.
  • Campaign Journals and Environments
    • GRiP is an online campaign support environment. $35 for GM license, free for player, Window-based.
    • RPGtonight is a free online “virtual tabletop” site offering tools to play pen-and-paper style role-playing games on the Internet.
  • Virtual Boards
    • CyberBoard allows you to graphically design the various parts of a board game on your computer. The players can make their moves and exchange recorded versions of the moves with their opponents. The opponent can then play back the moves.
    • VASSAL is a game engine for building and playing online adaptations of board games and card games.
    • OpenRPG offers a virtual experience trying to mimic miniatures-based games. Free, multi-platform (Python).
  • General Online Collaboration
    • Skype allows voice communication over the Internet.
    • Campfire is intended for “business chat, file sharing, group decision-making”.

Collaboration Tools

These are a collection of tools that allow multiple people to share and organize information, documents, etc.

  • Wikis: Such as this RPG.net wiki or PBwiki. Wikis are somewhat less about having a conversation between participants, and more about sharing or preserving information, regardless of author. Very good for collaborating on writing, for keeping character sheets, recaps, house rules, etc., and for making the information available to the gaming community.
  • Google Documents and Spreadsheets: These tools are very useful to share information and allow editing among several people but not the whole world. They’re collaboration tools, not broadcast tools.
  • Calendar: If you’re reading this, you’re probably online and Web-savvy (unless one of your friends took the time to print this for you.) So the tool you definitely should use to make your life easier is an ”’online calendar”’ to post your game schedule and send reminders. Whatever your platform for group discussion is (mailing list, forum, blog, etc.), chances are it offers a calendar feature. If you haven’t looked into it yet, here are some of your (free) avenues:

Make sure the calendar you pick offers the following features:

* Set recurring events: So you can program your weekly, monthly, etc. game.
* Edit even recurring events on a one-time basis: So you can add details for a specific game.
* Send automatic reminders to the group: So you can nudge potential players a few day before the game.
* Some access protection: So only your group can change, add or delete events to the calendar.

If one person in your group can take charge of updating calendar items, you may find the system works better. While we functioned for a long time with different arrangements, right now we have one person who makes sure that all anounced games are on the calendar, auto-reminders for time and place are up-to-date, and any changes are added. That way, we no longer get reminders for events that have been cancelled or rescheduled, etc. Getting obsolete reminders just confuses everybody and makes your event appear less reliable.

  • Forum: For a free package, take a look at Tangler.

Promotion Tools

Tools you can use to promote a game, event, or group:

  • Actual Play threads: Threads on forums like RPG.net, The Forge, The RPG Site, and Story Games. Check also the Actual Play Portal. These are great to get the various participants to give their feedback without dilution in the regular chatter of our gaming club; it also allows you to get feedback from other interested people, even the game’s designer. It’s a good spot to keep your game’s info so you can refer to it several months later when you suddenly want to run a new episode!
  • Videos: Either game footage or slide shows of the game, can be posted on YouTube or Google Video.
  • Game Blogs: Blogs are somewhat less egalitarian than an Actual Play thread (because there’s a main author and subordinated comments for each entry), but they can fulfill much the same function. Examples of places where one can set up a free blog include LiveJournal, Blogger, WordPress, Yahoo! 360, MySpace, etc.

GM Tools

Mapping

Game Management

Webs and Flowcharts

Freeware:

Commercial software:

Drawing and Image Editing

Freeware and shareware for picture editing:

  • GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program — Open source, free, available for Mac, PC, Linux, etc. Allows quite a bit of editing and drawing; highly recommended.
  • Aviary — an amazing set of free online tools that include Phoenix (image editor that lets you do crazy things like morph pictures), Raven (vector editor to create shapes), Toucan (colour swatches to help you create or select colour combinations), and Peacock (visual laboratory to create special effects). Highly recommended.
  • XnView — Excellent for image viewing and editing, and format conversion.
  • EasyThumbnails from Fookes Shareware (just like it says, great to create thumbnails in batches.)
  • PhotoFiltre — Mostly useful for photos, allows retouching and post-production filters.

Not freeware or shareware, but darn affordable:

PDF and Printing

  • A useful way to move formatted documents to a different printer (e.g., to go print at a copy center) without headaches is to save it as a PDF file. You can find several freeware or shareware utilities that act as PDF printer drivers; I have had good success with PDF Creator and with PDF995 (the free demo version of PDF995 has nag screens but otherwise works perfectly well). Another popular one is CutePDF Writer.
  • PDFill is a shareware that allows the creation of fillable forms, very useful for character sheets. The free demo places a watermark on saved PDF forms and does not allow you to save the filled form but you can print it, including to another PDF that will no longer be editable, but will have your data.
  • PDF Hammer, a free Web-based PDF editor. Pretty damn handy.
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One Response

  1. Another really good virtual tabletop I’ve used with much success is OpenRPG ( http://www.rpgobjects.com/index.php?c=orpg ) it’s a free, open source program for playing table-top RPGs over the Internet. It has a map area, chat area with integrated dice roller, and spot for game files.

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