Online D&D Tools

When I’m running my sessions – whether that’s in Roll20 or around the table – I’m increasingly finding that there are online D&D tools scattered around the web that just make my life easier. I’ve already talked about the mapping tools available through Pyromancers.com and how that saves me a ton of time in setting up for sessions; and I’ve mentioned the online references available through the D20SRD website and DndTools. So here’s a few more snippets I’ve found recently that have made my life easier.

The first one is actually based on the D20SRD site, but unless you go digging you probably wouldn’t notice it at first. One of the bits of admin work that I have to do after each session is the calculation of experience. I usually post it on our campaign forum on the Roll20 website a day or so after the game, and it generally involves me looking up tables in the Dungeon Master’s Rules and making snap decisions about the relative encounter strengths of the monsters and challenges that my players have defeated.

Or, as I noticed this week, I can plug the numbers into the form on the D20 Encounter Calculator and get an instant figure per player that I can post online. As it also draws on the tables published in the rulebooks to suggest treasure amounts, it looks to be a useful tool for impromptu encounters if I’m winging things so I’m sure I’ll be using it a lot.

Of somewhat less immediate use is the D20 Dicebag, also on the same site, which simulates dice rolls without my needing to open up the Roll20 website and using their built-in dice simulators. Or, you know, I could just use the physical dice that I’ve got stashed around the house in a variety of containers and bags. As a long-time table top player I have more than a few that I’ve accumulated over the years, but if I ever need to use a “bucket of dice resolution” – say 30d4 for some strange reason – then at least I’ve got this quick little tool to save me some time rolling and re-rolling and adding results up with a scratch pad by my side.

The rather unpromisingly named D20 Monster Filter seems to be a bit of an oddity, but like the Encounter Calculator really comes into its own when dealing with players’ ability to go haring off on complete tangents. I’ve lost track of the number of times over the years that players have decided to go somewhere quite different to where my carefully laid plans and pointers have been suggesting – and I’m loathe to try and railroad them straight back the way I want them – so having this tool which suggests potential opponents (and provides hyperlinks to statistics for them) based on a range of difficulties, terrain and desired moral and ethical approaches from the standard list of monsters is extremely useful. It saves me from having to flick through the small mountain of monster manuals, fiend folios and other creature listings for something appropriate, which is always a godsend.

The D20 Spell Filter performs a similar task, though at the moment I’m finding it of limited use – this may be of more use to players than the GM unless I were looking to script an encounter.

I know that several of my players are using Hero Forge to generate and maintain their characters, but the service is currently being migrated to new servers, so I’ll do a writeup and exploration of their service in a while. I’ll be interested to compare it to the hosted character sheets that have just been made available on the Roll20 site – so will have to do some digging to get into that while I have some time.

Anyway, hope you find these Online D&D Tools helpful – there’s a surprising number out there, and I’ll be focusing on the ones aimed at 3rd Edition for now as that’s the game rules revision we’re currently using. That said, any online tools that can be adapted or that seem useful regardless of rules revision will no doubt end up being discussed here at some point.

Updates and Medications

It’s already Wednesday? How did that happen? The most recent Roll20 session writeup has just been posted, for those who are following that. We all had a great deal of fun, mixed with fear and it all got sufficiently shouty that Lady M had to poke her head round the door to tell me to keep the noise down. I shall be endeavouring to only wear one headphone at a time in future to keep my sense of perspective on the amount of noise I’m making!

This week has also seen the battle against starting on blood pressure medication end. I’ve impressed on my GP that I need information if she wants me to give informed consent to anything, and that I continue to take an active interest in managing my condition(s). By far the biggest headache for me was the ongoing protestations that if I was not diabetic, then my blood pressure would be entirely within the bounds of normality.

The context in which it has been put to me today however is that diabetics rarely die of diabetes, but instead from the other conditions surrounding it. In particular those around kidney function and the cardiovascular system. I’m already using a low dose of statins to keep a lid on my cholesterol and I have been asked to start using an ACE inhibitor called Rampiril. ACE stands for Agiotensin Converting Enzyme.

Rampiril apparently works by decreasing my body’s production of substances that can raise blood pressure; makes my blood vessels widen and relax; and makes it easier for my heart to pump blood around my body. The main things from my reading through of the comprehensive leaflet in the packaging seem to be to avoid ibuprofen and aspirin, watch out for dizziness and headaches while getting used to the new dosage and possibly getting a cough – in which case there’s an alternative that they will give me. There’s also mention of possibly bruising more easily, and possibly kidney and liver damage – wait? what?

Well yes, possibly, which is why there’s an alternative that I could be switched to, but is also why I need to go for a blood test in three week’s time to double check all is well, and another drug review in six weeks (just in time before I go away on holiday – lovely timing).

Oh well, nearly pay day, woo hoo!

Summer’s here at last

OK, technically that’s true because it’s the Summer Solstice (The longest day of the year), and so officially the beginning of Summer in the northern hemisphere. But today has also felt, suddenly, like Summer as opposed to a generally undifferentiated sunny and warm weekend day.

A bench in the sunlight
The only way this could be more summery would be to stick a barbecue on it.

How can I define that? Well I think its a combination of factors. They range from the purely physical sensation of sunlight and gentle breezes, to the sight and sounds of kids playing games on the grass in the middle of the estate and the feel that, actually, life is not so bad. I’ve watched my daughter riding possibly the world’s most neurotic horse in the glorious sunshine, and then spent the afternoon with family and friends at a small informal gathering at one of my brothers’ houses.

Money may be tight – but it’s pay day next week and we have enough food in the larder to see us through – and compared to many people that’s wealth enough. I have to also put my hand on my heart and admit that a large part of money being tight this month is down to our having just paid the final instalment on our Summer Holiday. There’s all sorts of amazing shenanigans lined up for that, so I’m happy to just rest quietly in anticipation.

Being British however, I will no doubt find myself complaining about the heat while I work, and will find a secret joy in rain clouds descending on the country in short order – but that’s what a British Summer is and to paraphrase Bill Bailey, we all crave disappointment here…

Is there some kind of kickball thing going on?

Depressed Darth tells it like it is
Another stellar England kickball competition

I love our estate in the summer when big competitions are on – the shouts and screams are deeply amusing, and just distorted enough by echoes to mean absolutely anything. This Twitter post seems to encapsulate this evening if the various groans and screams are anything to go by…

 

Roll20 Updates and Other Nonsense

I’ve been copying the Roll20 write-ups to their own section and as of this week will be updating those pages directly rather than tying up the more general blog – we’ve got all manner of oddness taking place this week, so go check it out. I’m also probably going to put up a section on the various characters and NPCs that crop up in it to help fill in the blanks – there are some amazing bits of roleplay going on in the group, and if nothing else they may inspire your own characters.

I’m going to try putting more unpublished fiction up – just small 500 word pieces for now – that I mostly do as block breakers, or that are things that were submitted to competitions and didn’t get anywhere. The most recent of those is The Archive, which is just a bit of fun really.

Other than that, it’s been a weird sort of week. Monday was hectic, but capped with one of the funniest sessions of Roll20 we’ve had in a little while. Tuesday was quiet in that ‘really can’t get much done’ style, and today hasn’t been as productive as I’d hoped. This has mostly been due to having to wait in for a delivery for Lady M that didn’t come, and so not being able to settle in to anything or go out. Onward into the rest of the week then..!

 

Busy Week

There are times I open the nearest journal (I have three on the go), look at the blank page, and just let dialogue fall out. Sometimes it will be a continuation of a scene that I’ve been working on, and sometimes it is a complete non sequitor that blossoms into something wild and weird and absolutely demanding to be used.

The secret, for me, is to throw nothing away that I’ve written. Even if it just lives on a page between shopping lists, project objectives and surreal doodles, I now realise that at some point I will find a use for that orphan text. If I don’t use it as it currently sits, I will find it inspiring a short story or a sequence in the novel that is currently struggling through it’s second act to race ahead to the finale.

And then I get weeks like this one, where the writing has been a slog, largely concerned with making separate strands gel together or with inserting space for beats to stay distinct. I have quite a lot of writing from this week that I now need to type up, and that ill-defined feeling that the week has gone too quickly again.

Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t allow that other things have got in the way. Work at the library has been busy due to staff shortages, I had a thankfully short-lived stomach upset, my voice has continued to fluctuate, and I’ve also been playing a bit of Watchdogs.

The dual non-game, almost nostalgic reasons, for me, for exploring the vast virtual Chicago of that game have come from trying to trace locations from Jim Butcher’s Dresden novels and from tying in locations from GMing Vampire: The Masquerade many moons ago. It’s been quiet fun. While the game has a few flaws, in much the same way that the original Assassin’s Creed was flawed before being polished in later iterations, the many side missions have suited my mood to occasionally just dip in casually, rather than fully immerse myself in the rather uneven tone of the main story.

Still, the week has sped by, with more library work tomorrow while the sun bakes our little corner of the world and keeps our impromptu balcony vegetable patch flourishing. We may even get to some rollercoasters on Sunday. I think this is called having a work-life balance, even if the writing instinct keeps beating me up for not keeping my nose to the grindstone..!

Roll20 – Discoveries

This week’s session continued straight on from the end of the last after a week of OC (Out of Character) debate among players about the nature of their elusive nemesis. With reserves running low therefore, the party spent as much time shoring up defences in the refinery as searching in the ruins.

With only a minimum of GM prompting, sense was finally made of cryptic inscriptions and how they related to an enormous map of the continent inlaid in the floor, but the arrival of more shambling forms led by a tall, emaciated figure in rich robes, with sharp teeth and glowing eyes prompted a smart retreat. Who knows what other treasures remain as yet undiscovered in that ruined village.

Their guide and provider of transport was initially unwilling to take them further, as the destination indicated was within the eerie mists surrounding the Mournlands. A mixture of diplomacy and threats changed his mind however, and so the group was able to make good time into the mists.

The Mournlands were created in a magical devastation some four years ago that killed pretty much the entire population, and mutated whatever survived. Furthermore, all the slain bodies encountered still appeared freshly dead, making for increasingly unnerving battlefield scenes as they progressed.

After an early ambush by mutated wolves when they stopped to investigate an early scene, the party adopted a policy of “stay on the cart” that served them well until they reached their destination.

An apparently abandoned mine lay before them. Paused only by the sudden assault of a zombie vulture that had been tracking them, the party readied to venture below, aware that someone controlling the vulture now knew where they were.

Running a Roll20 Session

Running a Roll20 session has become one of the regular highlights of my week, but it isn’t something that is easy to run without a little preparation.

By far the most important element from a visual point of view is making sure that any encounters are properly mapped. The free graphics available through the site are useful for tiling most terrains, but it can feel like a chore when setting up indoors encounters. What I prefer to do instead is employ a two-part process.

The first part is to use what I refer to as my map painter on the Pyromancers.com website. There’s enough flexibility to paint both regular and irregular shaped floorplans that can either snap to a grid, or be drawn freehand. I then export that from the website as a jpeg file and upload it as a graphic to Roll20.

The export process allows me to define the pixel values of the grid so that aligning and resizing the graphic as a background layer is relatively simple. I then dress the background with other elements and tokens. In painting terms, it’s like using one site to block out the colours and outlines befire using the second to do the detail work.

I tend not to do anything too complicated with the monster tokens beyond setting up metatags so that I can more easily search them by encounter key or common terms. Certain key npcs will have a full block of statistics to ease things through, but I’m lucky to have a lot of the physical reference books for v3.5 Dungeons & Dragons to hand.

As an alternative set of references, I also keep www.d20srd.org and dndtools.eu/rulebooks/ bookmarked. These allow me and my players to paste URLs referencing rules and references in the Roll20 chat sidebar through the session. Their use tends to be generally positive rather than being conducive to rules lawyering munchkinism, but if you have those issues with players these two sites can help level the playing field.

After that it’s down to you and your players. Getting the sound levels right between microphones and headsets is essential, but using Google Hangouts has eliminated a lot of the problems we’d had to overcome using the native chat client. With eight of us round the “table” it’s a relief to find it still basically stable, but there is still the occasional cutout when everyone tries to talk at once.

Getting into the habit of taking turns and letting people finish isn’t just good manners but an essential session management skill. Give it a go because running a roll20 session isn’t as complex as it first seems. Get out there and enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we are.

Roll20: The Refinery

Despite the noise and carnage of the previous week’s fight, the entire thing had lasted just under a minute in terms of time elapsed. Perhaps it wasn’t such a surprise then when the adventurers realised that they could still hear the sounds of metal on glass and stone from further north within the quarry. After a few moments to apply healing spells and resupply from the camp’s armoury, they continued to explore.

They very quickly discovered the source of the noise. Two large stone buildings had survived more or less intact where the wooden framed village had burned. On one side of the road was a chapel, dedicated to the Sovereign Host. On the other side of the road was the House Cannith refinery. This is where much of the distinctive red marble used in all Cannith buildings used to come from, carved into building blocks and statuary by the same dwarven artisans whose twisted bodies had been reanimated to fight them.

The party decided to scout around the two buildings, having noticed at least one more zombie carrying debris out of the refinery. At the back of the chapel they found the graveyard, where zombies had been set to work disinterring the dead. The zombies moved to attack. At the same time, scouting around the refinery revealed more zombies, still intent on excavating the ruins. These too moved to attack. The adventurers were caught between the creatures, and so prepared to defend themselves.

In last week’s session Quilynn, the halfling cleric, had successfully turned most of the undead that were fighting alongside the soldiers, so the warriors hadn’t really had a chance to appreciate how resilient these foes were. The glass still coating the dwarven zombies gave them an extra layer of protection that blunted their attacks, and while slow their flailing fists hit hard when they connected. The cleric managed to get into a central position to try and drive away the undead with her faith, and at first it seemed to work. The adventurers began to relax, and then something counter-turned the zombies, sending them straight back.

The fighters continued to pound away at their opponents, and a feeling of dread began to permeate the battlefield. The more spell-learned among them recognised it as the effects of a desecration spell that opened a link to negative energies. These reinforced the zombies, making them harder to banish through faith and making them fight harder. More zombies emerged from the refinery, making it a fight on three sides. Keil, the shifter druid tried to get closer to the refinery, but a wave of fear overcame him, making him flee for his life, carrying Quilynn with him. The rest of the zombies were quickly despatched after Koff used a scythe he had appropriated from the camp to land critical blows that cleaved the attacking creatures apart.

A silence fell, with no sign of who or what had been bolstering the undead forces, so the decision was quickly made to approach the refinery first. A hail of crossbow bolts from within the building announced the presence of more soldiers. Using a smokestick to cover their advance, the adventurers fought their way in and defeated them, but not before something within the smoke used the opportunity to reach out and burn a ghastly handprint into Gear – the faithful wolf companion to Ruin. It didn’t kill Gear, but it was a very serious wound. As the smoke cleared, the adventurers found themselves alone with the bodies of five dead soldiers – one of them obviously their leader from her battle prowess and the quality of her gear – but no sign of whatever had been tormenting them.

Aware that their time here was probably limited, they began to investigate the refinery for the clues they had been told would be here. Something that would lead them to the abandoned Cannith research laboratory and the schema that so many people seemed determined to find.