Friday, December 16, 2011

Maptooling Around...

Alright.  So last night I played my first game of Savage Worlds using Maptool and while I think the whole setup had some issues, overall I am favorably impressed.

For those unacquainted with it, Maptool is a virtual tabletop that allows map graphics and tokens to be placed and arranged in viewable layers.  Place a character token atop a background map, and there you have it, the most basic virtual tabletop.  Maptool goes a number of steps further by including embedded character sheets, fairly robust scripting options, die rollers, chat windows, server/client functionality for hosting private games, drawing functions, and preset scaling for map tokens... Of course, these were just the things I saw in a couple hours of playing!  Personally, I found myself wishing I'd taken the Growth power so I could justify constantly resizing my character token. Its one of those things that a real table top cant do that Maptool can.

As for play itself, the game moved along fairly easily.  We used a group call function in Skype to supplement the game play, though once the game began I muted my microphone so it was (mostly) just the GM talking.  Everything game related was managed via the text Chat window in Maptool.  While the person GMing the session seemed passably familiar with how Maptool works, he needed to add quite a few scripted buttons, plus new skills and abilities, all on the fly.  I'm impressed enough that Maptool allows on the fly changes and additions, though it drives home the point that Maptool definitely will require some work up front on the part of the GM in order to provide a more seamless experience.  Movement was very well implemented, with it automatically displaying the distance (and path) between your starting position and desired end point.  The die roll functionality is also nicely robust, with the ability to roll custom die strings and define which dice are exploding.  After a while, I found myself preferring to type out the die roll commands manually instead of clicking through the buttons.

This leads me to perhaps my biggest gripe with Maptool -- the interface.  The screen is cluttered, and while the map allows a scroll-to-zoom function (which was a life saver!), there are way too many little windows that take away from the map's usable space.  Most of those windows seemed either redundant or of questionable use to a player anyway.  A feature that annoyed me was the inclusion of a macro window (empty) on the default screen, but no clear instructions on how to make macros themselves.  After a little while, I'd rearranged things to better suit my preferences, but the user interface always felt like it needed a bit more polish.

Any other concerns I have with the software all stem from my inexperience with it.  Most of Savage Worlds specific scripts were focused on the older Explorer's Edition rule set, so there were a few updates that needed to be made (or in some cases, things that just needed to be circumvented).  I can see a dedicated GM spending hours on end tweaking scripts to make the perfect play experience, but in reality most of us don't have that kind of time.  Luckily, there is nothing that forces you to use any but the most basic of scripts. Honestly, I could get by tracking most things manually, just like I do on the tabletop anyway, with a few features tossed in just to help me out.  Benny tracking, for example, was especially helpful when you can click that the benny is being spent to soak damage.

Overall, I am pleased with the experience and Maptool has proven itself to me as a viable alternative when face to face gaming at the table just isn't possible.  Is it perfect? No.  It is usable, definitely, and with its scripting functions, it can only improve.  Best of all, it is free.  Honestly, I've been considering picking up Fantasy Grounds II, but the cost keeps pushing me away since not only does a GM have to buy more expensive software, but every player has to buy the basic player client.  Using Maptool would just save me money, and despite FGII's added polish, it requires that I pay for EVERYTHING or take (possibly just as much) time configuring it to work how I want for my game, just like Maptool.

Three and a half hours of playing allowed us to liaise with the local city guard, fight several magitech enhanced attack dogs and a pile of evil cultists summoning a hungry version of Shai-Hulud beneath an ancient tower, save a sacrificial victim, bring a cult leader to justice, and reap the rewards from a job done well.  Yep. I'm content with that.


Bhoritz said...

I use maptool in face to face games, so I don't know if my view is relevant;
I have a limited number of windows to keep open (macros, explorer and initiative). They are all placed on the left side and tabbed, which means that I have to switch from one to another but they don't take much space.
I suppose that if I was playing online I would also need a chat window open all the time, but the clutter in maptool is, I think, quite manageable if you organize your windows depending on priorities. After all, Maptool lets you make your own interface.

Nevereverend Slaine said...

I made things manageable but moving some windows, closing others, etc. So I can see how more experience with Maptool would improve my opinion of its usability. I also think I'd find it much easier to use if I wasn't using it on a wide-screened laptop (1366 x 768). The lack of vertical real estate was problematic.