Monday, December 13, 2004


Paper/Pencil Fantasy Role-Playing Games for Life, Yo

Or at least until everyone has wearable computing. I'm flexible on the actual dead trees.

I've been DM'ing this game for 17 years now and someone finally made a cartography program that is flexible enough and produces good-enough-looking results for artistic nitwits like myself. And it's powerful enough to produce the frequently-quite-unusual-and-challenging maps I like to produce for my games. It's Dundjinni. The best part is the ease-of-use, oh and the user art, oh and the cross-platformality, oh and the actually-quite-surprisingly-good builtin adventure authoring tools. The tools have automatic statblock generation, give you lots of places to organize text, include room-by-room authoring, and produce printable pages that actually look good.

The neatest part of the authoring tools is that they're actually integrated with the mapmaking, which is surprising given the raster-based nature of Dundjinni. The way it works is you paint the map layout, stamp objects on the map, and Dundjinni remembers what the object is. This sounds trivial, but remember that Dundjinni is not tile-based; everything is done with stamping PNGs into place, and you can even use an eraser on the stamped images to shape them or remove parts of them as desired. Dundjinni apparently remembers the bit pattern (in technical terms I think this would be known as collision area) for every single object on the map, even if the object is not contiguous. It's almost a given that you can move around, rotate, resize, and edit each object after it has been placed on the map, but then DJ takes this concept a step further and remembers that objects have certain categories they fall into, with game-rules implications: Right-click on a treasure chest, and you can create a list of treasure items to put into it; right-click on a "token" (monster icon) and you can fully edit its D20 stats and description, or load the stats from the included database of d20-SRD (and other) monsters.

Then as a final step, you use any of the paint tools--paintbrush, bucket fill, marquee, whatever--and create a visible (to the map maker) colored region that corresponds to one numbered room or encounter. Every object that overlaps that region, even partially, is listed in the room's contents. For example, when the adventure prints out, monsters in that region will have their statblocks appear in the description of that room. You can even have more than one room overlapping a single object, which makes sense for doors, for example.

This is all brilliant, and works together terribly well. DJ is still obviously a young product, and could use some usability and performance enhancements, but they absolutely worked on the right things for their version 1.0 and created an insanely useful DM tool.

I expect an open-source version of DJ will show up in 3-4 years or so.