Gnotes from Gnome Stew HQ

RPG Mapping Software

For many years, I’ve felt like I wasn’t a true gamer because I didn’t have a world I’d been building since I was a little kid. I’ve built pieces of worlds, and helped write plenty of worldbuilding fiction, but never had a world all my own, like so many gamers do — one that I’d been adding to, bit by bit, until it became a rich and interesting place.

A couple weeks back, that changed. Fellow gnome Don Mappin almost talked me into doing NaNoWriMo with him this year (and I wish him the best of luck — godspeed, Don!), and while I was considering it I decided the first step for me would be to get a fantasy world sketched out.

I had an idea I really liked a few months ago, and everything came together in a rush. I’ve started working on that world I’ve always wanted to have, one that I hope will prove to be rich and fascinating and complex and entertaining enough to be the setting for future work.

And apart from a much-needed kick in the ass from Don, one of the things that got me there was Campaign Cartographer 3. I snagged a copy for half price on Loot, and I’m glad I did.

Everything I’d read about CC3 seemed to fall into two camps: “This software is like smooth, silky butter that will have you creating professional-quality maps in no time!” or “Trying to draw a line in CC3 is worse than getting a root canal while someone stomps on your balls!” For me, the truth is somewhere in between.

Is there a learning curve? You bet! It’s not the most user-friendly software around — but it is powerful, and doing the entire tutorial taught me the basics. I can now muddle together a world map, evaluate it, discard it, and start again with something a bit better.

I have no intention of producing maps professionally, so as long as I can produce maps that are useful to me I’ll be happy — and I’m well on my way. Is it for everyone? Nope; nothing is. But so far, I like it.

In the course of settling on CC3, I also checked out some other options. These were all suggested by Shane Knysh on Twitter — if you’re not a CC3 fan, maybe one of these will tweak your nipples:

Worldbuilding with wikidPad

The other tool that collided with CC3 and my world idea was wikidPad, free wiki software recommended by one of my favorite authors and worldbuilders, Brandon Sanderson. (I wrote an article about the signing where he recommended it.)

Now instead of populating a Word document and an Evernote file with random world tidbits, I put every single thing I come up with for my world into wikidPad. I’m not a wiki conoisseur — most of my experience comes from using Obsidian Portal to run my Star Trek game (and I love OP), and from hating most other wiki software I’ve tried — but wikidPad is amazing.

It’s lightweight, simple to use, and does exactly what I need it to do — and not an ounce more. I already can’t imagine worldbuilding without it; it’s really that good.

Adventure Writing with Scrivener

On a related note, Don also recommended Scrivener for novel writing, and having downloaded it, done the extensive tutorial, and played with it a bit, it’s pretty awesome.

Scrivener should also work well for RPG writing, as discussed in this piece over on Population: One (via Stargazer’s World). It’s not free, but it’s quite reasonable — and via a NaNoWriMo promo you can get it for 20% or 50% off.

GMing Roundup

In no particular order, here are some interesting GMing-related things that have crossed my email/browser/desk in the past few weeks:

Subterranean Design is a tumblelog about caves, holes in the earth, weird portals, and other real places that nonetheless make for great inspiration for games. (Thanks, Kurt!)

rpgGM is a GMing blog I only just learned of, and it’s quite good. They also publish a book, The Adventure Creation Handbook, that might be of interest to Gnome Stew readers.

I’ve always said that one of the best things about GURPS books are their extensive bibliographies, and SJG has gone and made it incredibly easy to get access to them — all of them. You can check out the bibliography of just about every GURPS book in existence online, for free.

Monsters and Manuals has an interesting and passionate take on a rarely-considered reason why you shouldn’t fudge die rolls: because you suck at it, and your players can tell.

Before I close with some RPG background music recommendations, I wanted to draw your attention to this fascinating look at the disparity between the depiction of men and women at GenCon 2011 on Go Make Me a Sandwich (via RPGGeek. I had never realized just how one-sided much of what you see in the Exhibit Hall actually is, and it’s worth considering as a human being, a consumer, and as a GM who portrays the world to your players.

And Lastly, Some Music

I’ve been digging the crap out of the Hanna soundtrack (awesome movie, too). It wouldn’t fit as BGM for most games (perfect for some, though), but it’s amazing music to write to.

Kudos to Gnome Stew regular Rafe for recommending Two Steps from Hell (thanks, Rafe!): I recently picked up Archangel, and it’s excellent RPG BGM. The tracks are a bit same-y, but in the context of a larger playlist on shuffle, that’s not going to be an issue.

I haven’t bought their other album, Invincible, yet, but it’s on my list. They do trailer music — literally, the music movie companies buy to use in their trailers — so it tends to be epic, action-packed stuff.

That’s it for this edition of Martin’s Mentions — thanks for reading!