So a while back I mentioned in one of my HtSLaaGM (that’s how I refer to them in my head, pronounced ha-too-sel-ahh-gum) articles that I am quite seriously and unhealthily in love with the free GMing software package Masterplan. This amazing suite allows you to do virtually everything a GM would need to do for creating and running any sort of pen and paper RPG, and then some. I would go so far as to say it is the best tool available to any GM out there, save for your own mental capacity. That said, despite being immensely powerful and useful, there are a number of people out there who still don’t use it. I will attempt to educate you on how silly that is.
I spoke on Masterplan briefly in the Tools of the Trade article and how it has defined my GMing style as one that revolves around the use of a computer. Obviously this article will cater to the audience that sticks to digital formats of GMing, but for those of you who don’t, please stay a while and listen. Its not sacrilegious to use a PC at the table, and it doesn’t need to be impersonal either. Give it a chance, just once, and I think you’ll understand why it works better this way.
Masterplan definitely caters to the D&D 4e (and eventually 5e, as they announced mid-January) crowd, without question. From the combat to the stat blocks to the default organization methods throughout the many libraries included within — its intended for that format. But again, it doesn’t need to be for this specific group. I have been building both a 7th edition Gamma World and an Iron Heroes campaign using Masterplan, and it simply works wonderfully. It is certainly less useful in combat and keeping track of player characters, but the map system, libraries, plot tracking and just about every other item included therein have become integral with my thought process in developing a campaign.
With that said, lets get down to what Masterplan can do for you.
In my opinion, the mostly useful tool in the whole suite in the plot workspace. Here you can easily plot out the adventure chronologically, adding read-aloud text and GM-only information as you see fit. Each plot point can also be opened up further, allowing sub-plots to be made, allowing each plot point to become as complex as you desire it to be. You can even designate what in-game date the PCs reach this point, allowing you to plot out a timeline of events on the built-in calendar (which you can totally customize for your setting). It makes figuring out what is going on at what time hundreds of times easier by giving a graphical representation of events and decision points. And boy do I love graphical representations!
Maps are also integrated directly into the plot workspace, as you can set regional and location-specific maps (generally combat maps) for every single plot point. By double-clicking anywhere on a map you uploaded into Masterplan, you can create locations. Any of these locations can be tied to a plot point and, when you have multiple plot points tied to the same map, create a chain that tells you where the party would logically go next. The last bit isn’t so much a necessary feature as it is a cool one, but its the polished bits like location linking that really make Masterplan shine.
Another awesome part of Masterplan is the built-in encyclopedia, which acts as a database for lore within the game. Entries can be linked to one another, set to have specific categories for greater organization, and given both public and GM-only descriptions. Public descriptions can be sent to an external monitor of some sort as a “player view” item, which I haven’t personally used yet, but would love to in the near future. Its just damn convenient.
The encounter design tools are also quite thorough and incredibly helpful. Designing a monster is exceptionally easy, as all stats are calculated for you, allowing for adjustments as you see fit. Traps can also be created, as can combat maps (drawing from dungeon tiles or files you upload), but skill challenges really shine. They’re incredibly easy to make, and require about 5 minutes to make a fairly decent one. Its as simple as designating the challenge itself, choosing a few skills and figuring out how many successes and failures each grant, and you’re done. You can add flavor text for just about everything, but at this point you can run the challenge without a problem. There is a simple tool for tracking successes and failures in the plot workspace that is easy to use in-session.
Libraries are what make up a majority of Masterplan’s content. Unfortunately, due to some legal issues, Wizards of the Coast disallowed any sort of integration with the D&D Compendium (despite it being completely legal and really just convenient). So nowadays, the only legal method of using using content within Masterplan is creating the libraries yourself instead of downloading them from WotC. Luckily, this hasn’t stopped the authors of Masterplan from continuing development.
Anyway, libraries allow you to sort monsters, templates, equipment, traps, and other things into various databases that can be accessed from a master library page. It allows organization into different sections, allowing you to easily sift through the sea of monsters and magic items that flood your libraries.
I had actually planned for more to go into this section, but it dawned on me that even sharing images of the libraries I have created using WotC content could cause legal troubles should the Wizards’ gaze fall upon We Xogo for but a second. So, sorry guys.
Management & Integration
Player characters can uploaded directly to Masterplan (seamlessly, from what I have seen) using either classic Character Builder files or iPlay4e files, allowing you to view their stats, adjust their levels as they progress, find passive insight/perception easily, and so on. You can also add characters in by hand, which is a necessity in the case of playing a non-4e game as of right now. Adding players is a great way to integrate them directly into combat, as well as assign them treasure parcels in the future.
Interestingly enough, Masterplan is completely capable of running 4th edition combat on its own. You can automatically assign initiative to monsters that you add from various libraries, automatically assign initiative to everyone, or just type in what is rolled. After that, should you have entries for all of your player characters, you can keep track of combat safely and easily. This is by far the best way to keep organized during any game, and the most efficient way I have ever encountered to keep combat at an intelligent pace. You can assign status effects, keep track of damage (including types and resistances), reference and use powers, and so on. There isn’t another tool that is as comprehensive as this one, and in some cases is reason enough to use Masterplan.
The random dungeon generator is another really great feature of the toolset that seems like it would be invaluable. You set the number of rooms and encounters, and it builds a dungeon based around the level of the characters, as well as the dungeon tiles you have built into the system. Encounters, traps, everything is done for you. This is the ultimate lazy GM tool, and I’ll admit using it once when I didn’t feel like drawing out a tunnel system. Plus its really fun to see what the random generator will create.
And that concludes my overview of Masterplan. Should this garner enough interest, I would love to do more in depth looks at the various tools and perhaps even tutorials (though Guy Parisi has created some great ones already). So, if you found this interesting or useful in any way, please drop us a comment and let me know!