MapTool – my new friend!

My online D&D game is currently in the middle of a three and a half week (at least) hiatus.  We last played one week ago when Barbara and I were in Boston and had to use OpenRPG instead of our preferred Gametable because of problems with networking from the hotel connection.  Lane is busy with work every evening this week, and then she and Zach are leaving for a two week vacation (though fortunately we’ll get to see them this Saturday as they pass through Denver).  So, we probably won’t be able to actually play again until mid June – unless Lane and Zach decide they want to spend some vacation time on the computer playing D&D.

What’s an online DM to do when he can’t run a game?  Research!  I’ve gotten more involved in the broader online D&D community (I’ll put up a links page eventually).  I’ve discovered lots of blogs that I really enjoy, all via the RPG Bloggers Network.  I’ve applied to join the network, and I really hope to be accepted.  I’ve been reading lots of posts on ENWorld and keeping up with new info on the Wizards of the Coast D&D home page.

In a few of these places, I’ve seen references to MapTool.  Now, I had briefly encountered MapTool early on, before I ever thought I’d actually be running a D&D game online, and then promptly forgot about it.  Seeing all of the people who said that they use MapTool for their games online, though, I knew I had to check it out.

I haven’t run a game yet, and I haven’t even tried any of the networking yet, but so far all I can say is “Wow.”  MapTool appears to be OpenRPG except much, much better.  In common with OpenRPG, it assumes that you’ve created your maps in advance, which you then load into the game.  Gametable, on the other hand, is better for drawing maps on the fly.  Maybe MapTool can do that, too – I don’t know yet – but I’ll admit that even in Gametable I’ve created maps in advance so far.

MapTool really shines in the token/mini/pog department.  First, a note on nomenclature: Every program calls the representation of characters and monsters on the map something different.  OpenRPG uses “Miniatures.”  Gametable uses “Pogs.”  MapTool uses “Tokens.”  They’re all the same thing.  MapTool’s are flat-out better, though.  You can use any image you like as a token in MapTool, and when you drag it onto the game table MapTool will resize it automatically to one square (“Medium” in D&D parlance).  If you want it to be a bigger monster (two squares by two squares), simply right click on the token, select Size and change it to “Large.”  With other objects (tokens too, though I think it’s less useful for tokens) MapTool will let you resize them freely just by clicking on a corner and dragging.  You can distort them this way, too – making a square object rectangular, for instance.

Token Conditions

An elf token that's prone (flipped), bloodied (red dot), incapacitated (gray X) and dazed (yellow triangle)

MapTool has built-in functions to let you change the way tokens look and how they’re named.  For instance, when playing in Gametable or OpenRPG, I would literally change the name of a token whenever it was bloodied from, for instance, “Goblin 1” to “Goblin 1 – Bloodied.”  This was a pain in the butt, and it made the screen very cluttered with all of these long name boxes overlapping with one another.  In MapTool, you can put a red border around the token to show that it’s bloodied if you like – done.  There other similar options – a black X over the token if it’s dead, a gray X if it’s incapacitated, various dots and shapes to put over it to show any conditions you want (slowed, dazed, etc.).  You can even flip the image vertically (which I’ll probably use to show prone) or horizontally.  You can show a life bar if you like (I can’t imagine using this, but hey, you never know).  Also, you can create your own conditions and markers for them – dots of any color in any corner, shapes of any color over the token, etc.

When moving tokens, you can drag and see how long a given path is, add waypoints to show that you’re going up diagonally three squares and then down diagonally three squares to avoid an enemy, measure the distance between two points, etc.  There’s just a lot of power and flexibility when it comes to tokens.

Of course, MapTool doesn’t have EVERYTHING that I want – or at least I have not yet found everything.  It does have a built-in dice roller using the text box – you type “/roll” followed by the instructions for what you want to roll.  For instance, you could type “/roll 2d8+4” and get the result of rolling two eight-sided dice and adding four to the total.  There’s also an add-in called Dice Box that gives you a slick-looking interface for rolling dice, with images of each die you’re rolling (but using fundamentally the same built-in functions in MapTool).  I have not yet found any functionality that replicates the dice macros from Gametable, and I have to say that I grew to love those dice macros.  As a DM, I would create macros such as “Goblin Warrior Spear Attack,” “Goblin Warrior Spear Damage,” “Goblin Bombardier Javelin Attack,” and so on.  Once I set these up, I never had to look them up again.  “The goblin stabs you with his spear – the attack roll is (click) 18 versus AC, and deals you (click) four damage.”  The players could do the same thing for their own various attacks (though Barbara prefers to roll physical dice and tell us the result – I trust her).  MapTool doesn’t seem to have this, though I know that you can program your own macros.  Maybe I can figure out how to set this same thing up.  If anyone out there has used MapTool and has advice for me about it – especially rolling dice – I’d love to hear it in the comments.

Over the next couple of weeks I plan to play around with MapTool to see how good it might be compared to OpenRPG or Gametable.  I’m pretty certain that it’s strictly superior to OpenRPG, and if I can figure out the dice rolling it might even replace Gametable.  We’ll have to set how the networking goes, too, but I’m very optimistic so far.

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