Saturday, April 18, 2009

RPG Tech #1: Online Whiteboard

A few years ago, the History Channel started a series of shows called Wild West Tech hosted by Keith Carradine. The shows focused on the "tools and tricks used by the baddest men in the Old West, and by others who lived by their wits in those days." Topics included train tech, gambling tech, mining tech...well, you get the idea.

At the time, I was currently GMing Deadlands, so I watched every show faithfully. And, since I spent a lot of time watching Gunsmoke with my Dad during my formative years, I've always been fascinated by that time period and genre.

With this same concept in mind, I'd like to start a little series of my own called RPG Tech.

First up in the series is the online whiteboard. In a typical pen-and-paper RPG, there are always times when you need to draw out a map, whether it is for navigating through a complex dungeon or providing details for a specific room where the next hack-n-slash encounter is about to begin. There are a number of things you can use when you're gaming together in your parent's basement: graph paper, battle mat, chalk board, or a white board.

For the past few years, I've been trying to find a way to provide this same experience in the online arena. It's getting to the point where the only way I can game with my old college buddies is over the net, so I've been trying to put together a collection of tools to make that happen.

A few years ago, it was tough to find these types of tools. But, with the rise of social media and the non-stop evolution of interactive tools on the internet, the options are becoming plentiful.

Now, I realize that there are a number of products out there that provide an online RPG experience, whether it be maptool, gametable, or fantasy grounds, just to name a few. But, I had the following requirements in my search for an online whiteboard:
  • Free
  • No installation required (browser based)
  • Run on Mac OS, Windows, or Linux (I'm a Mac guy)
  • Easy to use (a couple of my friends are not computer wizards)
  • Everyone can update the whiteboard
  • Ability to add tokens for PCs/Monsters or graphics
  • A simple grid
  • Free (yea, I want to spend my money on more dice)
With all of these requirements in mind, I finally found what I was looking for. The product is called Dabbleboard. I've used this tool successfully for both my real-time online RPGs games and my play-by-post games, and it's exactly what I've been looking for. I've had email conversations with the designer, and although he never intended it to be used for an RPG, it works really well.

But, don't take my word for it, go and check it out. Here's a screenshot of one of the maps I created for my Evernight campaign. It's crude, it's simple, but Dabbleboard does the job and it doesn't bog down a game. The focus remains on the important goal: good old fashioned "pen and paper" role playing.

Now, I just need to figure out how to get my group together more online so I can keep using this great tool. Unfortunately, I haven't found a technical solution to that problem yet.


  1. Exactly what I've been looking for in order to play my own D&D games with friends online, much thanks.