Paperwork is a big part of my DM game. I tend to plan way in advance and add layers of complexity to my worlds that, I’m happy to admit, they don’t really need. The trick to this is keeping the fine balance between the layers of detail that bring the game to life and the realities of needing to run the game without getting lost under a mountain of charts, maps and narrative descriptions.
To that end, I use a number of digital tools to help keep my game world in check and assist me with everything from world building to running encounters. I’ve mentioned them on Twitter a few times and been bombarded with questions (I kind of figured everyone knew about them which, in retrospect, was stupid of me) so I’ve decided to list my five favourites here in the hopes that others will get as much use out of them as I have
Donjon is a one-stop website for all your RPG random-generation needs. This site is filled with charts that cover everything from the super-useful “Fantasy Name Generator” to producing randomised cargo and passengers for your next intergalactic flight.
One of the first pieces of advice I give to newbie DMs is “always have a list of names on hand”. Calling every new guard or merchant “Bob” is funny for about five seconds, so it plays to have random names available. Being able to name seemingly unimportant NPCs adds to the verisimilitude of your world and helps connect your players to their game. I’ve also found that PC’s are less likely to randomly murder NPCs that have even a smidge of backstory to them.
This is where Donjon really shines. Rather than generating generic fantasy names you can set Donjon to generate names for a specific gender, race or geographic area, all the better to fit into your campaign.Not super excited about all the name generating possibilities? Well. there are also random generators for:
Not super excited about all the name generating possibilities? Well. there are also random generators for:
- Magic item
- Dungeon generators (equipped with a map-builder and trap-setter)
It’s also not game-specific. There are sections for 4th and 5th edition D&D, but there are also sections for Pathfinder, Microlight and D20 along with generators for generic Fantasy, Sci-fi and Wierd settings. If you can’t find something useful on this site then I will eat my digital hat!
One of my most frequent questions I hear asked about DMing is “how do I balance encounters?”. I won’t get into whether you should or should not be trying to balance your encounter now, that’s a whole other article. I will, however, acknowledge that the CR chart in the DM’s guide is opaque at best.
Kobold Fight Culb is a far simpler and more user-friendly. It allows you to set up an adventuring party and test combinations of monsters against them, rating the encounters as Easy, Medium, Hard or Deadly.
The site has the details of all the entries in the Monster Manual and nearly all of the printed 5e material. You can search for monsters by:
- Challange Rating
It will also let you run the encounters you have created in the form of a combat tracker, although I found this to be the least useful of its facets.
If you are looking to create balanced encounters as per the DMs guide, or just looking to find interesting monsters to put up against your players than the Kobold Fight Club is a quick and easy tool to use.
If you are wondering why you wouldn’t really need to balance your encounters, then I suggest you check out this video by Matt Colville, his thoughts on the matter very much mirror my own – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xANZTijbrw8&t=1s
Keeping your campaign notes in order is a big task, especially if it’s been running for a few years. I’ve seen a number of usable ways, Evernote, Onenote, Google Sheets even the obligatory ring-binder full of tattered papers.
Obsidian Portal allows you to keep all the tendrils of your campaign tucked safely into one bag of holding, enabling you to do the following things:
- Build a Wiki to keep your players in the know
- Keep track of the progress of your adventure
- Keep info on your major NPC’s
- Schedule games to keep your adventure on track
- Track your characters and allow your players to edit them
It’s also free, which is nice, and system agnostic. There is a premium version which adds more functionality but I’ve yet to see the need for it. If you’re struggling to tie the threads of your campaign together then Obsidian Portal can be a great help.
Running combat encounters is one of the more detail-heavy parts of D&D. eRpg Tools is here to help with that. It’s an Andriod app with a number of cool Dm tools, the most useful of which is its combat tracker.
Monsters need to be added in by hand, which is easily done and prevents any copyright issues that might arise from downloading them as a .XML file and importing them. It also means you can create and add custom monsters. Once that is done you can create an adventure, for the purpose of keeping your encounters organised. You then add in your party and their details: race, class, HP, AC etc.
When you’ve done all the prep you can create encounters and then run them through a combat tracker. The tracker allows you to keep tabs on the following:
- Whose turn it is
- Character and Monster HP
- Turn number
- Which creatures are dead
It really takes the stress out of running encounters and keeps the bits of paper you need to shuffle to a minimum. One of the best parts of eRpg tools is the fact that it gives you the monsters vital stats and actions, meaning you don’t have to keep fishing out the Monster Manual.
Added to the super-helpful combat and encounter tracker is a random name generator and a random-treasure generator. There is also a list of spells and their details to refer to. I have found it indispensable during my games.
This last one won’t be a whole lot of use to DMs who prefer “theatre of the mind” but I come from a wargaming background and have a passion for terrain and miniatures. I used to use WOTC’s dungeon tiles, but they are lot more trouble than they are worth, especially when you have a large collection of them to sort through.
I found Ross and his maps on Twitter and was immediately a fan of his idea and his art. Designed to be printed off and mounted (there is a guide on his website) Ross produces high-quality gaming maps that are a real pleasure to play on. There is already a large number of maps available through his site and he produces new one on a regular basis. A large number of his maps are free and the rest only cost $1-2, which is a ridiculously low price for the quality of battle-map you are getting.
If you like what you see I would strongly recommend that you follow him on Twitter @2minutetabletop and support his Patreon for variant maps and regular updates.
There it is, my top five digital DMs tools. Hopefully, some of those will be of use to you in cutting down your prep and streamlining your game :). As always I would love to hear your comments, do you have any indispensable digital tools you use?