This isn’t meant to be a “here’s the right way” kind of post but I don’t see a lot of talk about the tools available to GMs these days on the digital front. It’s definitely a great time to be a GM if these tools can benefit you and you campaigns.
Hero Lab and Syrinscape get a fair bit of well-deserved attention and recognition. I’ve been a Hero Lab user from early-on and I love the fact that PCs, NPCs, and monsters are built using the same rules. Hero Lab allows me to quickly create those elements without sacrificing detail. Great, great application and timesaver. I’m getting more proficient in using the Tactical Console as well which is making it much easier to keep track of conditions and effects without bogging down the game. Syrinscape has added much to my game but from a day-to-day perspective, but it’s dessert not meat-and-potatoes. So having given these two great tools their kudos, here are two other tools that have truly revolutionized my game.
This tool is a straight-up godsend. No more 3-ring binders, no more loose pages of notes that get lost. Realm Works allow me to build and manage not only my campaign but utilize all of that information at the game table while also providing my players a means to refresh their memories or reference info without disrupting the game in-session.
I’ve catalogued PCs, NPCs, deities, pantheons, organizations, kingdoms, locales, house rules and maps in Realm Works. All hyperlinked for easy expansion or following topics. Information can be tracked as to whether or not it’s been revealed to players so I don’t have to try and remember anymore or worse, unintentionally reveal a secret. Oh, and I can import Hero Lab stat blocks, too!
I now use Realm Works exclusively to build out my plots, scenarios, and encounters and running it at the game table is a breeze. Realm Works provides a fog-of-war effect for maps, so I can control what has been revealed. I use this for primarily for exploration and recon as combat still takes place on the battlemap or map packs.
I can import images and maps. So, I don’t waste a lot of time describing NPCs anymore, I just throw up the NPCs picture.
I can sync to the cloud and run multiple realms. With the new export/import function, I was able to take the world framework that I built for one campaign and use it for two other campaigns without having to re-enter everything by hand.
Now, I wasn’t a kickstarter backer, so I take the application for what it is and use it. I don’t try and make it my word processor or an Obsidian Portal-style web page. It is a content creation and campaign-session aid and that’s what I use it for. Lone Wolf continues to refine and improve the application and it is now as essential a tool for me as Hero Lab.
Campaign Cartographer 3
Map-making and customization has lots of options available but CC3 has always worked well for me. As with any application proficiency gained equals efficiency achieved so generating detailed maps takes less time than it used to and is far faster for me than hand-drawn.
I’ll be honest that it’s the ability to leverage my CC3 maps in Realm Works that moves CC3 from the “nice-to-have” to the “must have” column for me.
If you have the funds and like leveraging technology to make your GM prep easier, I heartily endorse these applications. They’ve transformed the way I create and manage my campaigns (Pathfinder & Savage Worlds).
I'll throw a few on here:
PCGen is similar to Hero Lab except that it (a) is free, (b) doesn't integrate new material as quickly, (c) is probably a bit harder to use, and (d) is free. It's also open source and a volunteer project, for those who want to tinker or help out.
Hexographer, Dungeonographer, and Cityographer are tools to fairly easily make certain kinds of maps. They don't give the full control that CC3 does, but they have less of a learning curve. I believe there are still free/website versions available, or you can pay some money to get some more features. They've recently successfully Kickstarted Worldographer, but it's not yet complete. And I don't know if Worldographer will have a free version.
Combat Manager is also pretty great.
Very simple program to manage your encounters beforehand and keep track of initiative, also has a built in database for quick access to feats, spells, monsters, etc.
Also, it's free for the PC version, and I think 5 bucks for tablets, but from what I've heard PC version is updated more often.