Monday, December 26, 2016

Using MapTool with DragonQuest

If the reason you aren't playing DragonQuest currently is that your gaming group has become geographically scattered then you might consider using a Virtual Tabletop (VTT) program like the free MapTool from the folks at  VTTs allow you to connect with other players via the internet and have a shared virtual table top through your computer.  Even for face-to-face gaming sessions VTTs can be a great gaming tool.  MapTool is the VTT I have used for years now and is what I'm going to talk about.

Getting and Running MapTool

If you already have used MapTool you can probably skip this section.  An example campaign file setup for DragonQuest can be found at the end of this post.

MapTool is written in Java which means it can run on Windows, Mac and Linux.  As it is written in Java that means you'll need to have a Java run-time environment (JRE) installed.  This is easily acquired from the Java download site hereNever download Java from any site but the official one.  If you are running 64-bit Windows, I recommend you first download the 32-bit version of Java and install that.  Then download the 64-bit version and install it.  They can co-exist side-by-side without problem.  Uninstalling any older versions first is probably a good idea.
  1. Uninstall older Java versions (unless you're a developer and/or you know you need these older versions).
  2. Install the 32-bit Java release.
  3. If you are on a 64-bit OS, install the 64-bit Java release.
Once you have Java installed (or verified you have Java installed) then you can grab a version of MapTool from the RPTools site.  I've been using 1.3.b91 lately and it is stable.  I haven't run a game session with any of the 1.4 releases yet but in local testing they seem fine.  Starting with 1.3.b91 to get familiar with MapTool and later moving on to a later version is a safe strategy.  Campaign files created in 1.3.b91 (more on those later) can be loaded in 1.4.x but not the other way around.
For Windows you'll have downloaded a ZIP file containing MapTool.  Unzip the archive to a convenient location but not under Program Files.  Putting it in your user directory or a directory you have created like C:\gaming\RPTools\ would be better.  After extraction you should have something much like this:
There is a Java-based launcher for MapTool (highlighted in the screenshot).  Double-click on that a this window should appear:

Click on the Launch MapTool button and the MapTool interface will appear.  It can be a bit overwhelming initially but it is fairly easy to use.  There are a number of YouTube video tutorials on using it that are pretty good and worth the time to watch.  This is a recent one:

The MapTool forum on is also a great resource for new users.
The GM will run his MapTool program as a server and the players connect their MapTool clients to the GMs server.  For most folks connected through DSL or cable this is usually very straightforward but some environments (like on a university or business network) often present challenges.  There is a write-up on the MapTool wiki site on Introduction to Game Hosting.

Running DragonQuest with MapTool

One of the strengths of MapTool is that it is, for the most part, game system agnostic.  It supports hex grids for systems like DragonQuest as well as square grids, iso grids (1.4+) and gridless maps.  As installed it is primarily a map sharing program that allows the GM to display maps to the players and move miniatures (called tokens in MapTool) around those maps.  It is hard to emphasize just how handy it is to be able to instantly call up prepared maps and show them to the players or, when the players go off someplace you haven't anticipated, you can quickly sketch out a map just like with markers on an erasable battlemat.  Drop on some of the awesome free tokens that Devin Night has on his website for use in VTTs like MapTool and you've got an encounter.  He has a lot of additional sets of tokens that are well worth the money.  Of course you can always make your own tokens with the free TokenTool from using some of the millions of RPG related images you can snarf off of the internet.
Getting back to the maps, they can be as simple or as detailed as you like.  They can also be as large as you like.  MapTool has a basic set of drawing tools for creating maps within it and they can be no fancier than markers on a battlemat.  You can step up a level a draw with textures and drop in graphic images to represent terrain objects or dungeon furnishings.  Alternatively you can load in maps created in other map creation tools or paint programs.  You can find a large number of maps that can be used in MapTool on map-making forums like the Cartographers Guild, on the Deviant Art web site or on the Google+ Map-Making in Games community.  There is a huge wealth of maps, graphics to put on maps, character/monster images and the like to be found on the net.  Here a few maps that were used in various gaming sessions.
A map created with Dundjinni. The PCs at the Cloister.
Hand drawn in MapTool.  Little info pop-up for the players.
The PCs back in Seagate at their home. An illustration off the net.
Another hand drawn MapTool map.  The PCs just finished a battle with hobgoblins.
A map created in Gimp. The PCs are hurting bad here.
The bottom two show a little of the Light and Vision handling of MapTool.  You can see where the Fog of War layer has been cleared automatically based on the PCs ability to see in the dark or with light sources.  As these are GM views you can also see the uncleared areas through the partially transparent (for GM) Fog of War layer.
Another major function of VTTs like MapTool is handling dice rolling.  In MapTool dice rolling is done through the chat window with simple commands like:
/r 1d100 - rolls percentile dice
/r 1d10+3 - rolls a d10 and adds 3
Or you can write macros ranging from very simple to very complex and have clickable buttons for the GM and/or players to use.  This screenshot shows the Campaign macros tab on the left with a number of macro buttons visible that we use when playing DragonQuest.  On the map display you can see a fictional encounter where a party of characters has run into some ghouls in the sewers.

MapTool interface showing Campaign macros, Chat window and Map.
On the bottom left is the Chat window showing the output of the macros.  A good deal of automation can be had by employing macros and for games run across the net with MapTool it means that the players don't have to type as much information into the chat window.  Instead the macro can prompt the user for info through a dialog and then generate the results.  Here is the prompt from the fairly simple Melee Attack macro used above:

Simple Melee Attack dialog created with a macro.
Each of the tokens on the map represents a PC or NPC and you can define a set of Properties for tokens to go with the game system used.  Here is the MapTool dialog where they are defined:

The Token Properties tab of the Campaign Properties dialog.
You can see the familiar DragonQuest characteristics there along with various tags that determine whether they should be displayed or not and to whom.  Here is the built-in MapTool statsheet:

Built-in MapTool statsheet and token portrait.
This shows up whenever you hover the mouse pointer over a token you own.  It can show as little or as much of the token properties that you like.  Or you can create your own character sheet with a macro like this:
A macro-created character sheet for DQ.
The character sheet above shows two images as tokens can have both a base image for the tactical map and a portrait for things like the statsheet or a macro generated display like above.  Using macros like these cut down on the amount of typing in the chat window which is important when playing over the net.
Another way to cut down on the typing in chat is to use voice chat software like Ventrillo or even video chat software like Google Hangouts.  This way you still have the more personal interplay between players and GM while leaving MapTool text-based chat for handling the game mechanics.

Using MapTool for Face-to-Face Gaming

The vast majority of my use of MapTool has been in face-to-face settings where everyone has laptops running their own MapTool client.  This allows each player to see what their character sees (and only what their character sees) on the map(s).  Instead of the clutter of miniatures and a battlemat you've got laptops and power cables but you gain the ability to quickly change maps and you don't have worry about remembering to clean the battlemats so that they don't get permanent markings.
Some GMs like to use a single player client displayed on a HDTV that all the players share while the GM uses his own laptop/PC and some have crafted gaming tables with a large display mounted flush with the table surface.

Example DragonQuest Campaign File

To give fellow DQ GMs a kicking off point for using MapTool I've uploaded a campaign file for MapTool version 1.3.b91.  This has a set of properties for DQ characters as well as various macros for automating some aspects of game play.  You can grab off the Downloads page.  Once you have MapTool up and running on your PC just Open the downloaded campaign file via the File menu.
[Update] I should mention that the macros are of course dependent upon the Token Property names (aka the DQ characteristics) and so changing any of them is likely to break one or more macros.  So before making any changes to the token properties you should probably look at what macros might be affected by the changes.


  1. Unfortunately my computer can't read your program. Any idea what I'd need to download to correct this?

    1. As I mentioned at the top of the article MapTool is a Java program and you will need to have Java installed on your system. Also the download I provided is a Campaign file for MapTool and not the program itself. You need to download MapTool from the RPTools website as I mentioned above.

      This is not really the right place to get into details about Java installs and running MapTool. I recommend you either go to the RPTools forums or the RPTools community on Google+. Myself or others will certainly try and get you up and running.

  2. I'd like to chime in here with some thoughts. Last used MapTool in 2014. It is very powerful and customizable. The way MapTool handled line of sight/fog of war made it a compelling choice of VTT. There have been a release or two since then and it my understanding that GM port handling was improved which was one of my peeves on the software. It is an open source (ie a labor of love).

    I did just a little DQ-related customization. I really need to get my desktop running again to personally check Phil's customizations out.

  3. I've done quite a few changes to the macros lately so I need to put up an updated sample campaign file. Should probably put in some minimal documentation as well for those with no MapTool experience.