Saturday, 18 February 2012

Maptool is not a play by internet program

Some GMs I have encountered tend to disregard Maptool because they don't play through internet and so, they don't see what the program could bring them.

That's quite understandable: Maptool (and other virtual tabletop programs) have been developped to help playing through the net and are still being presented mostly as a solution to play by internet.

They, quite logically are associated with online gaming. Which means that VTT attracts mostly online gamers, which in turn reinforce the image of an online tool. That's quite a vicious circle.

Here is how I setup my Maptool display:

-I launch one instance of Maptool on my computer. I go to Files and set it as a server.
-I launch another instance of Maptool. I go to Files and connect it on the LAN at the server.
-I move that second instance on the second screen connected to my computer (just grab and move).
From then on, any moves or change that I'll do on the first instance of the program will be visible on the second screen, but with the possibility to hide parts of the maps, display or not informations or handouts, manage NPCs without the players seeing what is not intended for them,....

Using Maptool as simple replacement for your whiteboard (paper, cardboard maps, minis,...)

A gamemaster could think that it shall be more work and more difficult to use Maptool instead of wathever they use now.

Just dabbling a little with a VTT program will show that it is clearly a mistake, because it can be a real plus in “normal” face to face games when used, even as a simple display.

Using Maptool as a display is not only going to make a more interesting and beautiful representation of the tactical situations that arise during your game sessions, but it is going to be much easier to manage , to setup and to save. Don't forget that you don't even have to setup the online connection with firewalls and all this kind of stuff when using Maptool in face to face.

Think about it:

-No space taken on the gaming table for placing tiles or maps.

-All the miniatures you need are available on your hardrive, no unpainted orc to represent an ogre anymore and no reason not to field 20 or 50 kobolds if that's what the scenario calls for.

-Most maps are already available instantly without drawing, but there is the capacity to sketch on them or on a blank page if you need

-Just save your map at the end of the session and all the scenery and minis are back in place when you resume your game.

-Each mini (token) can have an associated portrait if needed, giving it more personnality

-Tokentool can be used to turn any illustration you find on internet (or in your pdf scenarios) into a miniature for the game.

if you are reading this on a computer, you have already all you need to use Maptool during games. But for a few dollars more, you could add another screen or tv and turn it in a real display.

You could also use a beamer if you want the tactical display visible for more peoples. Probably not much use in your home game, but if you are making a convention game, having the display of what is happening projected behind you and visible for the players, but also for all the public passing by, should attract more attention than players hunched around (and hiding the view of) a handful minis.

To use Maptool as a simple display, you don't need to do anything more than start the program and place maps and figures.
There is a problem for beginning users: when you launch the program, there are a lot of windows visible, you don't know what they are about and that can be quite intimidating. Close them.

You won't need any of them until (and if) you decide to use other features of the program.

You only need the map window to display the maps and the explorer window to find the files containing maps and tokens you are going to use. That's all.

Using Maptool other features for face to face games.

But there are a few more things you can do with Maptool.

Maptool is game agnostic. It means that it comes witout any reference to game rules. Some of the features it sports shall work with any game you could play:

-You can hide the map (fog of war) and then only reveal it to your players as they progress.

-You can measures distances and movements on the map

-You can draw on the maps, modify or change them during play

The next step depends on the game you play, but it is a really easy one:
-You can define the stats you use on your game and the states defined in your rules (stunned, wounded,...), which lets you record those informations for all your PCs and NPCs. What is really useful, is that once you have recorded those informations for a token, you can then save it (it shall be saved with a .rptok extension) and then be re-imported when needed, with those stats, in other games. So once you have recorded stats for the standard orc, you won't have to do it anymore.

-Then, you can decide to go the whole way and define a framework for your game. Frameworks are collections of small programs that makes calculations for you: localisations of wounds, use of skills, a real character sheet,... Well, anything you want. Luckily, there are already lots of frameworks available (for all popular games) that you can use or modify for your game.

Promoting Maptool to play face to face.

I think that one of the mistake that makes VTT programs much less succesful and widespread than they should be is the fact that they are mostly marketed as online tools.

It would be far more productive to stress the face to face use. It makes sense: there are much more peoples playing around one table than through internet; it is easier to begin in face to face (no connection problems, no synchronisation problems, players allergics to computers don't have to setup one), and once hooked to playing that way, they can always “upgrade” to online play if they want.

So, if you want to convert peoples to VTT use, don't tell them about your last game online, but show them a display of Maptool in use at a table. It shall be much more convincing.


  1. Hi, sorry to contact you through a blog comment, but I couldn't find any other contact info on your blog or website.

    I saw on another blog that you have Heritage's Knights & Magick rules. Do you have that in electronic format? Would it be possible to get a copy?

    You can contact me at Thank you for your time.

  2. I run my games this way (face to face gaming / non-internet) though I never thought about running two sessions and putting the second session on the TV screen, I'll have to give that a shot at the next game.

    I have quite a collection of Tokens / Miniatures. as well as maps and images, and one thing I enjoy is that the token might look like a Snake from the top down, but I can use a different image that pops up when I select the Token on screen... an image of a snake with it's jaw open and dripping poison from its fangs tends to get more of a reaction than just a miniature on a bottle mat does.

    I've noticed that when you have a graphical representation of the map on screen with all the light settings and objects that block line of sight, it minimizes the amount of questions players have about the map and lets you dive more quickly into the action.

  3. Combining tokens and portraits is really useful. It lets you use the same token for different characters (or even change the portrait of a token during play).
    I have been testing Roll20 lately. It seems really promising, but it is something sadly lacking now.
    As for the use of two instances of the program, the main benefit is that you can hide things from the players, because they only see the end result of your actions and you can use fully the fog of war and the hidden layer.