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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Nuketown's Windows RPG Tools Page

by Ken Newquist / June 11, 2006

Geeks love role-playing games. They also love computers, so it's not too surprising that the two interests have converged to spawn numerous tools for aiding in the creation of pen-and-paper RPGs.

This page is dedicated to chronicling those tools for the Windows operating system. My focus for this page is on tools for all game systems, but when it comes to d20-based role-playing games, I'm only listing those that comply to rules set out in the Open Gaming License. Mac users need not lament this page's Windows-bias; I've created a parellel for that platform as well: Nuketown's Mac RPG Page

For purposes of testing these programs, I used a Mac Book Pro (2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) running Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard that I dual boot into Windows XP.

If you know of a utility you'd like to see added to this page, please use Nuketown's feedback form to send me a message.

Ken Newquist
Nuketown Editor

Mapping Programs

What game master worth his salt doesn't need maps? Most GMs I know make do with hastily hand-drawn maps, but there are plenty of computer mapping programs available for folks to use that can simplify the process (or make it a hell of a lot more complicated, yet yield far more attractive maps.

Campaign Cartographer 3

Campaign Cartographer 3 -- or CC3 for short -- is legendary mapping program thats reknowned for both its excellent maps and difficulty of use. The biggest challenge with CC2 is that it is based on a computer-assisted design (CAD) program called "Auto CAD". That's the same program that engineers and artitects use in their day jobs, and it offers a radically different approach to map design from the graphic editors (like Adobe Photoshop or Macromedia Fireworks) that people might be more familiar with.

Fortunately in recent years its creator -- Profantasy -- has heard the laments of the users as they were driven before CC2's fierce interface, and have taken steps to make it easier to use. What's more, those steps actually worked! The program in its present incarnation is easier to use than any previous edition. There's still a learning curve, and would-be cartographers really do need to read the manual before trying to use it, but it's a significant improvement. Perhaps the best thing about CC3 is the number of expansions that Profantasy has released for it. There are city and dungeon-specific expansions, as well as a new "perspectives" expansion that allows you to render two-dimensional maps in 3D -- very cool. There are also several artwork expansions, as well as the new "map packs" that include complete floor plans of castles and such.

Fractal Mapper 8

  • Developer: NBOS Software
  • Web Site: www.nbos.com/products/mapper/mapper.htm
  • System Requirements: Intel PentiumĀ® IV class PC or faster with 512 MB ram; 150 MB free hard disk space; Microsoft Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP

Another popular mapping program is Fractal Mapper by NBOS Software. The program is a strong alternative to CC3, offering an easier-to-use, more intuitive interface. With this program, it's not essential to read the manual before trying to create a map, but its still probably a good idea. With Fractal Mapper, I was able to render maps as quickly as I could have drawn them, which is not a claim I can make about Campaign Cartagrapher.

The biggest drawback to Fractal Mapper has been its relatively limited art libraries, at least in comparison to what Profantasy offers. There's enough artwork included with the mapper to build most city and outdoor maps, but don't look for a lot of specialized icons.

Game Master Tools

Campaign Suite & Campaign Suite Extended (beta)

Campaign Suite is a tool design to help Game Masters with every aspect of adventure design, from character generation to random encounters to keeping track of session notes.

The original version, Campaign Suite had an impressive array of tools, but took me a while to figure out the interface. The beta for the new version though, Campaign Suite Extended looks to be truly impressive. Known as CSX, the tool kicks things up a notch by incorporating a bunch of new features, including Village Generator, Manor Income Generation and Town & City Generation (all taken from Expeditous Retreat's fantastic A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, an Initiative Tracking tool (always useful) and a customizeable statblock generator.

Very cool. I've played around with the CSX beta, and while its not the be all and end all tool I'm looking for, it has potential. In fact, it could easily evolve into that tool with a few more refinements. As is, it excels at building random lists (though I wish it came with more), can quickly generate fully-loaded NPCs (including pre-assigned skills and equipment lists), incorporates note taking tools (which I wish were saved as XML, rather than Rich Text Format) and can even generate weather for your campaign.

The program is obviously biased toward d20, but many of its tools are generate enough to be used with any sort of campaign, and you can always build new tables specific to your campaign.

GMGen

  • Developer: n/a (open source)
  • Web Site: pcgen.sourceforge.net
  • System Requirements: According to the site: "PCGen will run under Java 1.3.x or 1.4.x. Java 1.4.x or later is strongly recommended due to the speed improvement and mouse wheel support. The Java runtime environment is available for all common PC platforms, including Windows, Macintosh, Solaris, and Linux."

GMGen is actually a subset of the larger PCGen Character Creature, but it's unique enough to warrent its own entry (and who knows, maybe it'll get spun off into its own application some day).

At this point, GMGen is PCGen's little brother. It offers a number of GM-friendly tools, though not as many as one might expect give the amount of data included with PCGen. Among its tools is a very basic, expression-based dice roller (i.e. you type in 4d4 and it rolls four six sided dice and displays the results), a Random Name Generator (using both real world and fantasy names), an encounter table, an experience calculator, an iniative tracker, a note taker, and a calculator for overland travel. The most recent "alpha" version of the program incorporates a network play option, but I couldn't begin to tell you how it works (ok, actually, I think I can -- it's basically a barebones chat client, with one machine working as the master terminal, and the others as clients).

Of these, the Initative Tracker is the most intriguing. Once you enter in the character names and monsters, it will automatically roll initative and then track the status (alive/dead/incapacitated) of all the combatants, while simultaneously tracking spell effects and special events. It all gets record to a log, which is the part that intrigues me most 'cause I like to take detailed notes on my campaign sessions.

A major plus for DMGen is that it's actually platform agnostic; it'll run just as well on Linux and Macs as it does on Windows.

I wish GMGen had more in the way of random generators, particularly treasure generators, since those are the type of tools I use most frequently when preparing for a game (or even during the game).

Character Generators

PCGen

  • Developer: n/a (open source)
  • Web Site: pcgen.sourceforge.net
  • System Requirements: According to the site: "PCGen will run under Java 1.3.x or 1.4.x. Java 1.4.x or later is strongly recommended due to the speed improvement and mouse wheel support. The Java runtime environment is available for all common PC platforms, including Windows, Macintosh, Solaris, and Linux."

PCGen is an open source d20-based character generator built with the blood, sweat and tears of programming geeks who love gaming. It's a robust, if occasionally frustrating program that includes the 3.0/3.5 D&D rule sets, as well as those for d20 Modern. It's also incorporating support for the Spycraft espionage game.