Zombie Murder Mystery

The Digital Tabletop Gamer’s Toolbox

Written by Nicholas - Published on September 19, 2009

Things happen to gaming groups. Folks move away, get married, have kids or for whatever reasons just aren’t able to get together anymore. Sometimes people just cannot find groups in  their area at all. That doesn’t mean you can’t play! The internet is a good for more than just brilliantly written blogs and killing time at work, it can let you game with people all over the world. Online games can be a bit tricky, but with right tools you can find them much easier.

Voice Chat

This one seems like an obvious one, but it is sometimes overlooked. Voice is easier and conveys more emotion than text. A computer microphone is a very small investment for each person to make. Many gamers already have one if they play video games. There are several free voice chat programs out there which you can use for your games. I recommend Skype or Ventrilo. If you run a simple game you can get by on just voice chat conferences and an appointed game time. A few more tools can really enhance the experience however!

You could also play via video chat, but a webcam represents more of an investment for some people. Additionally, I have yet to find a program that does free group video conferences, just one on one. If you know of such a program please share in the comments!


If you like using battlemats or are playing a system that requires one, this presents some difficulties for online play. The lowest tech solution would just be to point a webcam at a physical map and have your players dictate their moves. But your options get so much more advanced than that. There are a number of different programs out that that serve as virtual battlemaps that the DM can host while other players log in and move their respective pieces as they would on a normal mat. I have two recommendations for battlemat programs depending on what you are looking for, luckily both are free!

MapTool by RPTools is an incredibly expandable program. It makes potentially infinite maps with art assets imported from anywhere, can be loaded with the framework of any game system, track light and visibility for tokens on the map including their light sources and special vision, and much much more. Of course, all these options make for a steep learning curve. MapTool represents some amazing possibilities but demands a large time investment to see those possibilities realized. I can recommend some great video tutorials, but there is still a lot to learn.

Gametable is the total opposite. It doesn’t try to manage rules for the group, it comes with the simple assets you need and has a very minimal UI. The lack of features doesn’t make it bad, it makes it easy. Anyone can learn to use Gametable in just a few minutes. You can draw on it just like your battlemat at home, drag pieces around and make simple shapes with easy. If you are looking for a virutal battlemat that lets you play and doesn’t complicate your life, this is it.


In some cases playing online is an advantage! Normally bringing your computer to the game can prove a burden or distraction, but in online play it is entirely an asset. You can take advantage of digital tools during your game. For instance, an Obsidian Portal wiki can keep players engaged between sessions but you can also reference your story notes in a very organized format during the game itself. You can even expand your notes and add NPCs to the tracker as new things are introduced in the middle of the game!

Our own Dungeon Mastering Tools enable you to save your database of monsters, encounters, treasure and traps for quick reference during the game. We also have a new DM screen tool that enables you to very easily track all of your monster stats, initiative order and notes while running encounters.

Lastly, if you’re running a 4e game the D&D Insider compedium is a great tool. You can look up keywords you may have forgotten in the glossary. If the game goes in a direction you don’t expect, you can easily look up new monsters, treasure and traps and your players will never be the wiser.

Do you run an online campaign? What tools do you use in your game?

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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6 Responses to “The Digital Tabletop Gamer’s Toolbox”

Zombie Murder Mystery
  1. Barbalith Says:

    This is not relay completely on topic but i thought i would share it with you guys any way. It deals more with integrating technology at the table when all the players are thee: I recently received an invite to Google voice which allows me to (among other things) text message from the web and since i already use a lap top as a gm screen. thanks to obsidian portal and you guys with your great gm tools, i have started using text messages when i want to pass notes to players. I have found it to be a bit more sneaky since several people in our group are habitual texters anyway, and less intrusive on the game.

  2. Durian Says:

    We use Skype – Gametable – Google Docs/Spreadsheet & WordPress for our online games.

    Skype for in game voice chat
    Gametable for the tactical combat
    Google Spreadsheet for sharing character data and stats
    Wordpress for organising games and sharing campaign data

  3. kaeosdad Says:

    http://www.myth-weavers.com/ is a cool site. It’s for play by post games.

  4. Vroomfogle Says:

    How can you blog about this topic without mentioning Fantasy Grounds?

  5. Nicholas Says:

    @Vroomfogle: The whole group having to buy the program was a deal breaker for me. There were plenty of free options that work so that’s what I investigated for my personal game.

  6. The Digital Tabletop Gamer’s Toolbox | The RPG Hub Says:

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