Category Archives: RPG tools

Quietly beavering away

Today’s RPGaDay2018 question is something like “Which non-dice systems appeal to you?”

This made me think of a strange little RPG called ABS 12. I will say right from the start that I don’t like ABS12 as a game. It and I are on very different wavelengths. ABS12 has, or had I haven’t checked it out recently, just a single stat to describe characters. The author, Ken Wickham, is an extremely clever chap and ABS12 is all about Verbs and things. It is fair to say that I may not be doing the best job at selling the game to you but that is not what this post is for.

One of the curiosities about ABS 12 is that it uses a d12 for all its rolls. Being a single dice you have an even distribution with the same probability for each and all numbers. Many rolls are look ups with a table 12 columns and 12 rows so 144 possible options. The other curiosity is that it was set up to use a pack of playing cards with the kings discarded as a random number generator. It was that feature that made the connection with today’s question.

So I had a quick look on RPGNow and it turns out that Ken Wickham has 50+  games and supplements on sale. Most seem to be Pay What You Want, a great many seem to be just $1 and then there are a few more expensive items and bundles. Ken basically has a d12 based random generator for just about everything. A quick scan of the list showed up the body language generator and mood/emotion generator as two stand out unusual items. The intention is that when you need that NPC you can just roll 2d12 and a quick lookup on a single grid tells you how they are feeling. On a different grid you can roll their motivation. I cannot say they are endless but there are plenty of them and they seem to being added quite frequently.

Ken is one of those indie game creators that has been quietly beavering away creating what he does until he has virtual shelves full of supplements.

I can see a lot of value in what his tools offer. If you are a DM/GM that is known for rolling a lot of dice. I used to have a DM that would make loads of fake rolls so we would never know when he was improvising and when he was trying to mask an arranged encounter. He would also roll for no reason just to make us paranoid. He never really got that if we stayed in character whatever happened behind his screen was irrelevant. Then having a few of these tables within sight means that even the most casual of NPCs can have a lot more depth as soon as a PC casts an eye over them “Who is at the bar? There is a fairly shifty looking feller with a hunch that looks depressed and a severe looking gentleman with a military bearing that you can see.” is a lot more colourful than “Who is at the bar? Just a couple of locals.”

Yes, we could all create colourful locals if we had to but these tables mean a consistently high quality of NPC every time. Using one table gives just 144 options, not that many but use two together gives nearly 21,000 combinations and three (say mood, body language and motivation) and you have nearly 3 Million random NPCs. That is more than you will ever need in your gaming life unless you are playing Bowerick Wowbagger in a long running campaign.

And yes, you could draw playing cards rather than roll dice making it a non-dice system.

D&D Beyond

Let’s face it: Wizard of the Coast’s track record when it comes to their digital offerings is – let’s say –  spotty at best. So it was probably a good idea that they let Curse handle D&D Beyond. Over the last few days I’ve extensively used the website and app to look up rules and to play around with the character creation tools. And I have to admit I am impressed.

But let’s get some things out of the way first: D&D Beyond is in my opinion a bit too expensive. If you want to have access to the full rules and perhaps some of the sourcebooks or modules you have to basically buy them a second time – assuming you already owned them in print. I get that WotC doesn’t want to give the materials away for free, but $90 for the digital access to the PHB, DMG, and MM is a bit steep for my tastes. On the other hand, D&D Beyond allows you to share access with your gaming group, so the offer gets quickly more affordable if you split the costs with your players.

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So what does D&D Beyond offer? Even if you don’t want to pay a dime, you get a complete rules compendium including everything the Basic Rules have to offer. This compendium is fully searchable and the display was optimized for the web (or smartphone and tablet via the app). If you buy additional material, you get access to it as well. People who have subscribed to the Master Tier are allowed to share their library with up to 12 people per campaign (up to three). This sets you back about $6/month. There’s also a cheaper Hero Tier which is meant for players (it doesn’t include the sharing feature) which is only $3/month. Free users have limited character slots and can’t use other people’s homebrew material with the character creation tool.

There are also tools for creating characters, magic items, and monsters. From what I’ve read they plan to add more features in the future, but even now, it’s a pretty nice thing to have. You can also share your homebrew materials with other players but I haven’t really looked into this part of the offer.

The app (which is available for both iOS and Android) currently only gives you access to the rules compendium functionality, but this might change at a later date. What I really like is that it allows you to download your purchased content (including the free Basic Rules) to your device, so you don’t need internet access to look stuff up. If you want to read the D&D 5th Edition rules on your commute, then the D&D Beyond app is the way to go!

Aside from the fact that I consider it a tad expensive, D&D Beyond is – to my surprise – pretty impressive and I haven’t even tried every feature. The ability to look up rules, stats, etc. and a device-optimized display alone is worth it. And even if you don’t want to put down any money, the D&D Beyond app with the Basic Rules is a must-have for any serious D&D player!

GM Binder

You might have had the same problem as I faced a couple of days ago. I wanted to create a short primer for my upcoming campaign for my players. I already had some ideas on what I wanted to write, and I knew I wanted it to look great, so that they might actually be reading it, but I wasn’t really in the mood of tinkering with QuarkXPress (or any similar software all day). That’s when I remembered GM Binder.

GM Binder is an online tool which is just awesome if you want to quickly create good looking documents for your D&D game. It uses a version of Markdown, a simplified markup language which is easy to learn but quite powerful. With the GM Binder editor you write your document in one window using the aforementioned Markdown language and in another window you can see what the final document will look like. If you are familiar with HTML or a similar markup language you should feel right at home.

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The resulting document can be shared via a link, can be exported as a PDF, or can be printed. The basic theme is based on the look of the current D&D 5E core rulebooks, but you can easily switch to another theme using so called “Snippets”. If you’re fluent in CSS you can also create your own theme or tweak the existing one.

Snippets are actually quite handy. There are snippets for inserting a cover image, for stat blocks, tables etc. With just a few button presses pregenerated elements are quickly inserted into your source code which can then customized by you. If you are not afraid of code, GM Binder is a great tool for quickly creating good looking documents for your D&D game (or any other game). The learning curve is definitely less steep than in professional desktop publishing tools and the results are quite impressive.

Listing all the features and a deeper look at all available snippets is beyond the scope of this post, so I recommend you check out GM Binder yourself. There are a couple of great example documents available and there’s an active community on Reddit.

GM Binder is free but you can support the creators on Patreon. I also should mention that there’s a similar tool called Homebrewery which shares a lot of GM Binder’s features. After trying out both I stuck with GM Binder because it was easier to use. If you’re looking for a tool which allows you to turn your homebrew material into a gorgeous-looking document, you definitely should check out both GM Binder and Homebrewery.