From Tabletop to the TV, Part Two — Preparing a Delve

A couple weeks back I wrote about our first session using a Virtual Tabletop to replace the minis in my current D&D campaign. This week, with a little bit more prep time and experience under my belt, I was able to return for another session with the digital setup that went infinitely more smoothly. First off, the solution to our “blinking out” problem with the video: This whole time my laptop apparently had an HDMI hookup. Go freaking figure. The picture didn’t blink out on us once this session and the image looked crisp in delightful high-definition. I was also impressed how well my laptop was handling running so many applications at once: Gametable for the map/miniatures, Masterplan for the combat tracking and adventure plotting, and the D&D Insider Character Builder (with two characters loaded up for NPC’s assisting the party) were all running without a hitch. Mostly.

For this week’s adventure, I decided to grab another crawl out of the Dungeon Delve book. What follows is sort of a quick and dirty run down of the process and steps I took to prepare a pre-published crawl to be ran using a digital setup. While it did add some setup and planning time, the end result was a session where combat ran smoothly and we weren’t bogged down with excessive book keeping or paper shuffling.

The Setup:

  • Adventure to be ran: Delve 14 from “Dungeon Delve.” Tailored a bit for my smaller group of 4 players, and to fit in better to my campaign. Like all of the Delves presented in that book, the adventure is three encounters long; intended to be played in one or two sessions.
  • Software to be used: Masterplan is to be used for combat and encounter tracking; Game Table is being used for virtual tabletop. It should be noted Masterplan has a pretty decent virtual tabletop that can be used for a local game, even supporting multiple screens with a “Player view.” I personally use Game Table just so I can import customized pogs/icons to act as miniatures, as well as being able to draw on the map on the fly. Speaking of which, TokenTool is used to produce pogs and icons for NPC’s and Players.

Part One:  Prepping in Masterplan

The Delve itself is a simple chain of three encounters; so I just setup three plot points to be used for each one.

Take note that once Encounters are filled out, a summary of the plot point appears to the right. This includes read aloud text, monster blocks and maps linked.

If I wanted to be technical or put more into it, I could have setup more plot points for before or after the base encounters. For instance, the session didn’t just start with my players arriving in the first room. I could have detailed the plot points of them arriving on the scene, but instead decided to ad-lib it for the sake of feeling out the moods and motivations of my players this evening.

Another step for those who are more inclined would be to jot down in the encounter cells both the scene description, the read aloud text, and the skill checks for the area related to Perception and what not. Instead, I was personally lazy and just noted which pages the encounters were on. I’m personally not a big fan of double-entry, but a DM who would want to leave the books at home and keep all of their resources at one source could put as much or as little details and notes they want in each plot point.

Adding monsters to an encounter can be a simple measure of just dragging and dropping an entry from the Masterplan library into the encounter window. If you have a subscription to DDI, you won't even need to mess with putting in your own info.

My next step was setting up the combat encounters. There are many ways to build up the Masterplan library of critters and foes. The most basic way is manual entry; but Masterplan also allows you to import from the DDI Monster Builder. But if you have an Insider Subscription, you might as well do yourself a favor and just do the bulk compendium download of every monster and trap on the service! Since this is about prepping a published adventure for use, it’s a no-brainer to just search for the NPC/Monster called on and drag and drop the foes as needed. If you’re wanting to alter the enemy stats, you have two choices: create/modify a custom creature with the Monster Builder, or create/modify an existing creature in the Masterplan library. If you’re just wanting to augment stats or hitpoints, this is probably one of the faster ways to do it for your game.

While the monsters are easy to drag and slap in, setting up the encounter maps can be tricky. Masterplan does have a neat little dungeon tiler; and if you check out the dungeon_tiles Yahoo! group, you can find Masterplan-ready versions of the first five Dungeon Tile sets released by Wizards. However, Dungeon Delve uses some later sets in their adventures, and attempting to re-create them can be tricky. Luckily, Masterplan does allow you to import and scale your own map images as tile libraries. Even luckier, someone has provided the Dungeon Delve map images on that same Yahoo! group. It took a little tinkering, but I was able to import the maps needed for the encounter to a “close enough” scale in Masterplan. Another nice feature is the ability to export screenshots of the maps you make, which remain to scale. This means if you are using another program for the Virtual Tabletop, you’re to take any maps you make right out and slap them in as needed. Still, I like to setup my maps and tokens in Masterplan just so I know what to grab and where to put it.

On an added note: The actual combat tracking in Masterplan, for me, is a dream. I know there’s other combat tracking programs out there, and I’ve tinkered with them and they all seem

Initiative, map tracking, stat blocks AND damage/condition tracking all from one window. Players and Monsters both.

to have their advantages.  Hell, while setting up this Delve I was tinkering with D&D 4E Combat Manager. For a combat tracker, that program accomplishes what it seeks out to do with flying colors. The only thing that made Masterplan stand out on top for me in the end, as far as combat tracking was concerned, was the fact that importing monster stats from DND Insider could be done all at once and by the bulk. Importing monster stats in the Combat Manager involved copying and pasting Rich Text from the Monster Builder into the libraries, one by one. In the end it’s a matter of preference; but where D&D 4E Combat Manager is focused and specialized on one thing, Masterplan covers a wide range of needs and utility for the DM, all in one program.

Hell, I would almost use Masterplan exclusively, except I’m a pretty vein dude and I love being able to import images and design pogs/minis for my tabletop game.

Part Two: Prepping and Running in Game Table

Setting up Game Table is a cinch. As I mentioned earlier, you can export screenshots of maps in Masterplan, perfectly to scale. Of course, sometimes, importing images from scans or other sites doesn’t always go perfectly. Luckily, in Game Table you have the freedom to go gridless, and place your tokens just about anywhere you’d want. This is handy when the squares or tiles in an image or map don’t line up perfectly with Game Table’s grid lock.

Matter of fact, half the charm for me using Game Table is how every window can be “undocked” from the main view. The chat window, the mechanics and the Pog/Overlay selection can all be undocked as their own windows. This is very handy to me, since it allows me to setup a full screen window of the players view of the dungeon map on the TV; meanwhile I have my aresnal of pogs and counter images on standby on my laptop screen, away from prying eyes of players and not spoiling them with what’s ahead. Also handy is that I can setup dice rolling macros ahead of time, and use the chatbox as my personal dice roller. If not that, Masterplan also has a dice roller tucked away in the Quick Reference menu.

Another nice thing about using Game Table is the assorted tools for basic line drawing, square circle drawing and measuring. The ruler tool actually allows you to set the scale for what every inch means. By default, this is 5 feet, but can be changed to meters or just units with ease, larger or small numbers as needed. The scale of the measuring tool also applies for the square and circle drawing tools, as it measures out the total radius from the central point. This is real handy for ad-lib area effects when a template isn’t handy. If that’s not enough, you can set names and attributes to each token easily. This comes in real handy when needing to mark bloodied opponents, or even Fighter-marked foes.

The end product of all of this is a nice, organized and fast-flowing use of a laptop (or any computer) as a DM’s toolbox, screen and assistant for managing the game. All this while also providing players a great visual that requires no boxing or cleanup, doesn’t take up any table space that is needed for character sheets, books and other assorted accessories, and can be used comfortably in a den or living room while passing munchies and drinks. Not to mention, aside from the cost of the computer/laptop and a decent monitor or TV for the players to view, it costs practically nothing in terms of software and images. It allows the DM to have more creative flexibility as opposed to using marketed miniatures or tile sets, not to mention saves him or her a fortune from having to purchase those sets.

And keep an eye out on Masterplan….soon they will be introducing Version 8, which is supposed to be one if its largest updates yet!

Edit: I just found out that Masterplan DOES support custom pog/token images. Under the Player’s section, you can add portraits under each of their entry. If you edit the Monster library info, at the very end is a “picture” tab. Way to freaking go Rev for not reading the damn instruction manual pdf thoroughly! To be fair, there is so much to take in with this software suite, it’s incredible to see how many different functions are covered in a single application! That said, the virtual tabletop used with it I *believe* doesn’t have any online/network capabilities, so I still recommend GameTable for your online sessions just for sheer simplicity.

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