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Posted by on September 11, 2010

I think MapTool is a great tool and has worked out pretty well, but at the same time I have a significant problem with it:  it gets in the way of being a GM.  At least, it gets in my way.  Part of this is my own fault as I can’t play with a tool without trying to fiddle with it to make it a little bit better, part of it is just unfamiliarity (despite the fact that I’ve logged a lot of hours in the kit), and part of it is just that it’s an additional barrier between me and the players.  None of this is really MapTool’s fault, well, not most of it anyway.

When I think about the way that I used to run games as a GM, a simple thought-picture might look like this:

  1. Develop A Campaign Idea
  2. Flesh It Out
  3. GM <—Communicate Through the Campaign World using Hex Paper If Required But Usually Not—> Players
  4. Develop the Campaign Out In Accordance With the Players’ Contributions to the Narrative
  5. Repeat Steps 3-4 Until Finished Or Bored

In the current campaign, it looks more like this:

  1. Develop A Campaign World
  2. Flesh It Out
  3. Develop Systems in MapTool, Test Them, Refine Them, Test Them Again
  4. GM <—Communicate the Campaign World via MapTool If Required But Run Into Bugs And Incomplete Bits—> Players
  5. Fix MapTool And Retest, Etc., Taking Time Away From Campaign Development
  6. Work On Campaign Development Anyway But Start to Tailor It Around the Problems You Run Into Using a Virtual Table
  7. Start To Burn Out
  8. Repeat Either Steps 4-7 or 5-7 Until Frustrated

Now, having been through this before, I know the symptoms of GM burnout pretty well especially as they relate to tool fixing, as by the time I got thoroughly fed up with Neverwinter Nights that was just about all I was doing (plus playing babysitter to sociopaths).  The problem is there’s not a whole lot I can do about it; my options are to just man up and fix it anyway, forge ahead and fix things as best time and sanity reserves allow, or quit.

The seed of this insanity was the first big fight session involving about 20 combatants, which (1) was played way too late anyway, and (2) ran really really long.  I know that moderate-sized skirmishes must happen given the narrative (actual large scale combats are really better handled by fiat/narrative dictate), and I have an inborn distaste for suddenly changing the rules to be simpler for the sake of speed, unless it’s a part of a metagame joke.  Plus, simplifying the combat system in MapTool for some of the combatants doesn’t really reduce the scope of the system work that must be done, since ideally you tailor the tool to handle the maximum complexity level that will logically be in play (by the players); faceless killing targets just bypass that particular if(),code:{} statement.

In the interest of the campaign and everyone’s insanity, I am going for option 2 for now.  I’ve tooled up a fairly mad set of combat macros (which are considerably more complex than when they were posted here) and am just going to roll with it.  If I need more, I’ll figure it out.  Game on.

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