Mustered Out on Regina
Traveller GM Tools
I have spent an unhealthy amount of time searching for Traveller ‘stuff’ online in order to put this game together. Just in case anyone might be interested, here is a list of tools and resources that I’m using:
Well obviously you know about this site as you are already here! I am delighted that I stumbled across this site right in the very early days when I decided I would like to get back into roleplaying. I don’t know of any other site on the Web that offers so many tools for GM’s and players in such a user-friendly way. While I can see that it has its uses for face-to-face games, it really comes into its own for online games where the GM and players are spread across different continents and timezones.
The software we use for running the online games every Sunday. I am certainly not claiming that Gametable is the best Virtual Tabletop program out there. In fact I can categorically say that it is not as there is a lot of room for improvement in many areas. But the advantage is that, because of it’s quite ‘bare bones’ nature, it’s easy to figure out how to operate for players and GMs alike. The more technically advanced who want more functionality in return for a steeper learning curve would be advised to check out either MapTools or OpenRPG. There are also some beautiful paid-for applications like Fantasy Grounds but I didn’t want players to have to reach into their own pockets or stump up for a quite expensive master license for everyone.
Not being great with hardware, I had a hell of a job getting Gametable (or any of the other virtual tabletops to work). I knew the problem was probably something to do with my firewall, but had no idea how to fix it. The solution came in the form of Hamachi which I discovered from a BBS where someone else was having the same problems as me. If you’re clever enough to figure out how to punch a hole in your router’s firewall yourself, you don’t need it. But if you can’t, it’s a godsend.
I wanted the game to keep the feel of the rulebooks in having a comic-book feel to it and so wanted to show this in the graphics. With Cartoon Photo, it’s just a question of finding appropriate images through a search of Google Images, running them through the online converter here and – voila! – instant cartoon images.
TokenTool is a sister product to MapTools as mentioned above, but is completely stand-alone. It makes creating the pogs that we use for the game a matter of simplicity itself as the whole process is automated. Without this tool, creating a platoon full of adversaries for the party to mow down in a couple of turns would require a whole night of fiddling around with Photoshop, so it was a very useful find indeed.
Part of the Campaign Cartographer suite of products (see below). The program creates beautiful worlds using data from a world’s UPP. It also generates climate ranges and vegetation types which should be accurate if you feed in all of the data from Traveller World Builder’s Handbook. I have not spent too long fiddling around with this yet (and am rather hampered by being clueless about such matters as what the hell is an albedo factor, etc. anyway!) but the results alway look amazingly cool even if they are not 100% accurate. As with all Campaign Cartographer products, this is insanely expensive and so I wouldn’t have paid good money to ‘acquire’ it as nice as it looks (the Heaven & Earth software described below creates perfectly adequate maps for free, even if they don’t look nearly as pretty).
Works with Fractal Terrains, as described above. There are two main disadvantages to this software – the first is that it is really not at all user-friendly (I’d have give up in frustration very quickly was it not for Joe Sweeney’s set of wonderful instructional videos on YouTube). The second disadvantage is that this set is insanely expensive – as in around $640 to get the whole suite of products. No way is it worth that kind of money – especially for a dabbler like myself who has only figured out how to use perhaps 10% of its functionality anyway. It is, however, a wonderful tool for making maps and plans. The different tools in the suite allow you to create a world in Fractal Terrains, import a section and put geographical features on a regional map, create whole towns or cities, before going down to the scale of creating floorplans for individual buildings – so any map or plan you could possibly want, it’s possible to make. They have a special ‘space version’ – Cosmographer – which is totally Traveller orientated, allowing you to design ships and systems which I would love, but have not found a way of ‘acquiring’ yet. For those who can’t afford Campaign Cartographer, there is a similar freeware product called Autorealm, but it is a very poor imitation with nowhere near the same quality of graphics.
I love this program which has a beautiful and very user-friendly drag and drop interface. It’s my favourite tool for creating high-resolution floorplans of ships and buildings and is sensibly priced at around $15. The main downside to the product is that it is originally designed for the results to be printed out on A4 paper to be used for miniatures, which means that I have to make all maps in tiny sections and then join them together on the Gametable, which involves a lot of trial and error (with an emphasis on the ‘error’ when the pieces don’t join up properly and I have to redo them). Also, because the results are so high-resolution, large maps would slow down the software too much and so it is only possible to use them for small buildings and ships.
An incredibly useful resource for anyone using virtual tabletop programs, RPGMapShare is a vast library of items, vehicles and maps where I grab things like air/rafts and ATVs from in incredibly high detail. There are some wonderful maps there too, but the file sizes are so big that it crashes the Gametable for anyone on a slow connection and so it’s not possible to use them.
Pretty much every piece of graphics I create has to be cropped and resized before I can use it. IrfanView is a free graphics manipulator which is incredibly lightweight, loading in seconds rather than having to boot up Photoshop each time. The plug-ins package solves the problem I had that most of the PNGs I was creating were huge file sizes. With the ‘Save for Web’ plug in, I can reduce the number of colours down to 128 and reduce the filesize by two-thirds for very little reduction in quality.
Heaven & Earth
My harddrive is now littered with various bits of Traveller software. As Traveller has been around for ever and seems to attract techie-types, there are lots of pieces of software for automating this and that. Most of it seems to date back to the ark and I found it difficult to run on a modern-day computer. Most of it also didn’t seem to be terribly useful either. Heaven & Earth is the grandaddy of all Traveller software for creating world and systems though – it does everything – system maps, planetary maps, animal encounter tables, some trade tables, NPC encounters – everything you need for the background to a world.
TravGen Character Generator
There are a lot of character generators around, but nearly all of them only use the standard character generation rules of Book 1/Supplement 1, making characters generated in such a way weak compared to the PCs who were all generated using Books 4-7 rules. TravGen is the only one I have found that uses the full system. It is meant for MegaTraveller but it is not a major problem to convert back to CT and there is a very interesting range of ‘Other’ character options available such as police, pirates and journalists.
Signal GK Character Generator
If I am just rolling up cannon fodder, there’s no need to work out all of the skills for every grunt who is going to get shot within 15 seconds of meeting the party anyway. Signal GK is a simple online program that can roll up dozens of adversaries very quickly with basic parameters in place.
Evernote is a popular virtual scrapbook program which I find very useful for collecting links for the adventures off the web and putting them all in one place. The pieces can be tagged so that I keep everything connected with one world together. It can also grab images and other documents as well.
A fabulous site – the whole Traveller universe mapped out and completely zoomable. Saves ferreting around for the Spinward Marches supplement every five minutes.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Traveller sites on the Web. Wikia has the most entries though and so is my first port of call for any information before having to knuckle down to some serious Googling to find what I am looking for (if it’s there at all).
It costs $20 for two years’ access to the archives, but it is well worth it for the wealth of adventures and material on this site. It’s a shame that it is for GURPS these days and set well after 1105, but it is never too difficult to convert most items back to CT versions.
A very comprehensive site with a wealth of CT information on it which is still very much alive and thriving today.
The Zhodani Base
Another of the Traveller sites I keep coming back to on a regular basis.
Containing 25 sites for the price of one (including several of the links on this page). Quite a few of the sites here have now been abandoned, but there is still plenty here of interest worth exploring and several gems hidden away.
Free stuff is my favourite type of stuff, but even a tightwad like myself understands that sometimes you need to get your wallet out to get your hands on something really useful. If you are like me and live nowhere near any game stores and can’t bear to wait for more than 10 minutes to get instantly gratified, buying downloadable PDFs is the best solution. DriveThruStuff seems to have the best selection on Traveller material and the download process is very simple and painless.
Forums and Mailing Lists
Citizens of the Imperium
The most active of the various different Traveller forums. If you have a Traveller related question, this is probably the best place to ask it.
Classic Traveller Yahoo Group
Not the most active group on the Web, but you get some interesting questions and answers on this list from time to time.
Traveller Mailing List
The TML has been going for decades and is still very active. Personally I find it very intimidating, as it seems that all of the regular posters there have degrees in astrophysics and the conversations make me realize how stupid I really am. It’s worth lurking and getting their digests which usually comes through a couple of times per week though just to see what the really hardcore players are talking about.
So that’s my little list of the resources and sites that I find really useful. If anyone knows of any really, really special resources that deserve to be added to the list, then please let me know. But I am really looking to keep it as ‘the best of the best’ as there are hundreds of link lists to mediocre resources out there already.