Overworked Dungeon Masters make Masterworks with Masterplan
I have a long list of things I want for gaming purposes. It started in 1983 with a photocopier. Oh how I dreamt of having my own personal copy machine. No longer would I need a pocketful of dimes and a ride to the library. When the modern computer – and its accessory the all-in-one printer – arrived on the scene, a gaming itch of many years got scratched. It didn’t take long for the ubiquitous computer to make itself felt to even the most Luddite table-top game. With my computer, I would spend hours scanning maps, pictures, even text entries in books, then using those entries to build my adventures and encounters. Years passed, pdf’s became available, the internet exploded, and it was nearly impossible to be a DM without at least some computer usage. Besides dungeons, I have become a master at cutting, copying, pasting, taking screen captures, and then going back and editing all these diverse tid-bits into a unified package which I would prepare for my next Dungeons and Dragons session. One of the things I have longed for these many years is a program that could help me manage all this data and put it into a format suitable for play.
I am here announce I have found that program, and it has all the capability I could hope for in one sweet suite. It is called Masterplan, and it is (for now) a freely download-able program on the web with regular support and upgrades. In fact, when I started using the software last month, it was version 8.3, but in that one month it was updated four times. This program is the ultimate tool for a DM to create quickly and beautifully. Let me run down the list of major features: Dungeon Tile Map editor; encounter, adventure and even campaign builder; monster, trap, hazard, and magic item compendium (updated with DDI subscription to include every single official listing.) And with each of these features comes the ability to customize and/or to randomize! The list of features goes on, and there are new things I notice every day while using it. In short, this is a full featured adventure design software suite that will help a DM with almost every single aspect of dungeon mastery.
Use it at the gaming table, if you dare!
In addition to above usage, it also is designed to be suitable for use whilst gaming, and allows for player views and DM views. It even allows importing PCs from the Character Builder for this purpose. I admit to being somewhat anti-technological at the gaming table – too many times have I seen eyes distracted by LCD screens of varying size to be comfortable having them around (and I include myself in that category.) But for those groups who can control the almost instinctual need to “look something up” whenever they are within 100 feet of a computer, it could be a boon while playing. So I haven’t tested its usefulness at the table, but I could see a scenario where I import my player’s characters into Masterplan to help gauge the difficulty of an encounter.
Mapping Your ideas
First off, the map editor. The Dungeon Tiles Map Editor is one of those holy grails of game aids I have searched for over the years. At some point a few years ago, Wizards put out a “beta” dungeon tile mapper. It was a great idea, but it was never fully developed or supported, and faded into the mists of time. Other programs tried and are still being developed (and I have a sneaking suspicion that Wizads will add a Dungeon Tile editor to Adventure Tools at some point) but none work so well or effortlessly as Masterplan. The biggest difficulty is finding the dungeon tiles libraries, but there are resources online to help with this, and I believe the program comes with a small assortment pre-loaded. It is also possible to scan tiles and convert them for use with Masterplan, and it is possible to import other maps and graphics. It is even possible to import an image, tell it how many squares in size it should be, and it will plop it down just like a dungeon tile! One could create an entire library of their own, and this makes the editor infinitely useful and customizable. In fact, a great feature for a future release of Masterplan could include a set of “classic” dungeon tiles that could be used to make old-school style dungeon maps.
The usability of the map editor is simple and effective. Choose to show tiles from specific sets, and order them by size, set, and subject. Drag and drop tiles into place, rotate, delete, bring to front-or back. The desktop re-focuses to include newly placed tiles, so there is very little zooming and panning required unless it is a larger map. The map can be rotated, divided into regions or areas, named, and it can be exported to a graphic file. When making larger maps, it has a tendency to slow down, sometimes making it frustratingly difficult to drag a tile to the proper location. This could be a problem on my end, but it does seem like the map-utility could use a little optimization in the memory or processor department which is my only complaint, and it is better than any other Dungeon Tiles mapping program I have used.
Building a Better Adventure
It is easy to jump right in and start creating. The basic functions of this Adventure Design Studio are very easy to navigate and use, while the myriad of additional features can take a little time and some digging to find – use the manual, which incidentally is updated with the software. Once a new project is started, it is time to assign “plot-points” to a flow-chart. Then it is a simple matter to add elements to each plot point, such as encounters, quests, treasures, etc. It is very straightforward, and once the adventure is complete, it will export it to an HTML or web file. The professionalism of the final product is amazing, and I only wish that it would export to pdf rather than HTML.
The plots points can be as simple or complex as necessary. There are areas for read-aloud text, as well as background and other customizable headings. The software will keep track of experience point values for the encounter and the adventure. It will also gauge the danger level for a group of at-level adventurers, and it can even be set up to show only those elements which fall in a certain range, which makes encounter design even easier. The plots themselves can be a straightforward delve, or they can be dynamic with multiple paths. Sometimes the menus can be hard to follow, and the more complex a thing is to do, the more windows will have to open to get it done, but no more than expected from a product like this.
Its the little things that count
My personal favorite feature of this feature-rich software suite is the skill challenge creator. It has such an elegant design for creating skill challenges, that it actually helped me to understand some of the finer points of skill challenge design, and made me a better DM for it. That is high praise indeed, but these little utilities are what make Masterplan shine. It is a snap to bring in any monster, trap, hazard, or treasure that is available with a current DDI subscription, and with just a few more clicks it becomes possible to edit or even create brand new. Once again, it is the customizability which makes Masterplan great.
The monster editor is especially potent. Besides being able to modify every single piece of data, it is possible to add themes and templates to creatures and encounters. This is something Monster Builder can’t do, so thumbs up to the developers behind Masterplan. Recently Wizards announced that they were changing the way monster stat blocks read, by grouping the creature’s actions, and within days Masterplan had an update with all new stat-blocks. As well as monsters, the same versatility exists for traps, obstacles, and hazards, and it is a simple matter to browse through the list of available options until finding the right choice, or modifying a close one.
Masterplan is a masterpiece of usability and versatility. It can improve every aspect of dungeon mastery, from building and populating maps and encounters to creating involved story-lines. Masterplan is right there, helping to keep thoughts organized and focused on the adventure. And not only that, but it is a continually evolving project with updates and new features added regularly. Add to all of the above the complete and total customizabilty of every element of the game, and Masterplan becomes a true masterpiece. After nearly 30 years of being a dungeon master, Masterplan became instantly indespensable to me, and I foresee a long and glorious future. it is rough around the edges in a few areas, and I would really like to see pdf support, but I am confident the developers will fix any problems it has.
There is one last feature that turns Masterplan into an incredible masterpiece: ITS FREE! It can be found here.