So last weekend in RL we tried out a game map program called MapTool. The program and its counterparts allow the user to build a digital map, based on a grid if desired, for running games.
Up until now I’d been either not using a grid at all or building small-scale grid-based maps in Photoshop and uploading them as jpgs throughout the session.
Not using a grid:
Okay for non-combat scenarios or very small-scale things. A combat scene with four PCs and one or two enemies, for instance, runs fairly well without visual orientation. But it tends to mean the DM has to keep track of things mentally or on paper, and somehow communicate enough of the mental map to keep people aware of the room.
Potential pitfalls: very difficult for executing flanking or complex maneuvers. Cover works okay though.
Okay for short scenes or for simple visualization. In another game this past weekend I used a simple jpg layout for a puzzle map so that the players could reference the exact layout of the room, but precise character locations weren’t as important. Short combat scenes are okay here and it allows for easier conceptualization for executing flanking maneuvers.
Potential pitfalls: if you’re keeping track of character positions and enemy positions on the map, it means constant updating. Program lag and server delays may impede speed and clutter gameplay. If you’re not using character positions, you have to keep track of where people are another way.
So why MapTool?
MapTool allows the DM to create a map and host a server. Players, armed with a player-specific password, can connect to the server and be given control of a token or tokens, allowing all PCs to be user-operated, as well as any NPCs like mounts, cohorts, minions, or summoned creatures.
The DM (GM, in the program) uses a different password, so it might even be possible to let a second DM join the server. I haven’t checked this yet though.
The map can be as interactive or flat as desired. Objects like chests and tables can be moved or flipped or burnt as the players need.
But one of the best things about it to me so far is lighting. The program has three lighting settings: off, daytime, and night-time. Off and daylight treat the characters as able to see anything.
Night-time, however, limits the players’ visibility to the sight setting given to the token of his character. Humans, for example, have normal vision, so they can see only as far as any light source illuminates, plus “shadowy illumination” for a distance after that, which is determined by the strength of the light source.
MapTool allows the DM to set vision settings and light settings manually—and it’s fairly intuitive and well-explained. After poking around on forums for a little bit I even managed to fix a bug that limited darkvision and low-light vision far more than it should have been.
Ffffff so cool.
The program actually does a lot of things that I haven’t even messed with yet, like building macros and keeping rolls in game. The program has a randomizer so that dice rolls can be done in the program chat room. So far I’m not going to use this just because I and most of my players agree that part of the fun is in the physical dice-rolling, but it’s an option open to me if I need it, which is definitely cool.
- Light settings
- Measurement for keeping track of character movement distances
- Easy visuals for distinguishing dead, injured, and healthy characters
- Allows for complex combat maneuvers and movement (flanking, using cover, climbing onto raised surfaces or walls, swimming, etc)
- Potential for lagging or delays or disconnections
- A lot more prep work is on the DM
- Initial image library is okay, but not great, and will need to be supplemented with other resources (for someone who is not terribly good with “google-fu,” this can be a hefty drawback)