Dumping Core to the Blogosphere

March 11, 2007

A few weeks ago, while driving back from a D&D session at Nate’s, my brain began to kick around some ideas for a new personal software project. I have not had much interest in personal projects of this nature lately; spending the bulk of my week writing code for pay seems to lessen my drive to do it for fun. Instead I find myself more inclined to practice guitar and fiddle, play capoeira, or take care of my apartment. However, this project seems, at least at a glance, reasonably simple and somewhat fun.

What, you may be wondering should you still be reading, is this project? If you hadn’t guessed from the opening sentence, it is gaming software. Unlike my old hobby horse, Palantir, this application—or rather, applications—is intended to be supplemental for a game played in person rather than a game run over the internet. There are really two pieces to my initial idea. The first is a piece of software for the DM that can be used with a projector to provide information to the party as a whole without having everyone crowd around a piece of 8.5 x 11 piece of printer paper. Some pieces of information, such as maps, is difficult to maintain and share with everyone scattered about the room haphazards. It is especially difficult to communicate information of a geographic nature when you are frequently as verbally challenged as Nathan.

The second piece to my idea—and the one which is less of a pipe dream at this point—is simply a digital character sheet. I had been lamenting the difficulty of maintaining all the information required for my current character, who now has three classes which all require spell information to be recorded in addition to all the normal character nonsense. There is a lot of erasing and rewriting information—especially regarding spells—and tracking of data across multiple sheets of paper involved in this character (though it is worth it, having successfully blinded a wyvern, a thief, and a necromancer).

I’d had the Nokia N800 on my mind at the time as well and was thinking how nice it would be to have a gadget like that running a little application that handled all this for me. It would know, based on my ability scores and levels, how many arcane and divine spells I got per day, which I had prepared, what slots they occupied, etc. It would track AC and ability modifiers based on the gear I had. And all of this without me gradually wearing through a piece of paper as I erased and re-wrote this information time and again.

So talking with Mark this afternoon the idea changed from a desktop app to a web-based one. This happened for a couple of reasons. One was that I was already considering a web-based component for sharing characters. Sharing this data is possibly interesting and of debatable usefulness for players; it has more potential usefulness to the DM. In any case, the idea of having a whole group sharing this data on the web struck me as fun, if not useful. The second reason I began to consider a web-app is that it doesn’t preclude my windows-using friends from using the software. This is a somewhat dubious excuse, in my opinion, but I don’t think there’s anything about the application that makes it a poor candidate for webification and it does mean if I give into temptation and get an N800 I don’t have to struggle with getting it running on there.

I’m still not entirely convinced that this project is sound. Part of me almost feels like using computers to do the work of maintaining my character sheet is cheating; as though it’s a betrayal of the principles of table top gaming. This notion is absurd, but I am prone to absurd notions. I also fear that, as Ajay suggested, the requirement of a laptop or other computing device to make use of this gaming mechanism will deter users. I further fear that in practice this application will not be as useful as I imagine.

The advantage of a tool such as this is that it automates some of the more tedious aspects of game play; in particular a lot of the work that goes into maintaining a spell caster. I find myself spending a lot of time making sure that I have selected all the correct spells for each day. Often I just reuse the same configuration from the last time just to save time and move the game forward, but this detracts from the usefulness of a wizard since their power is in their diversity. Other times I spend quite a bit of time selecting spells and maintaining my spell book; time that could be spent focusing on what’s going on in-game.

So the end result of this brain-dump is that I’m not convinced that this project is worth the effort of undertaking it and I am welcoming comments and opinions and thoughts. I suppose at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if this software is a waste of time or not. I’d be doing it for fun, so as long as I enjoyed working on it that’s probably all that matters (like Palantir). I think I would welcome the chance to play around with Django in a pressure-free context.

I also need a name for the project, should I choose to undertake this effort.



  1. Before you reinvent too many wheels, check out OpenRPG. It has map support (that a DM with a laptop could pipe to a projector) and pretty versatile, if not automated, character sheets. I’ve been playing online D&D on it for several years now, and have gone as far as using it for my character sheet for a couple offline games. You could maybe hop on as a developer on that project.

    Granted, I don’t expect a lot of handheld platforms have much Python support.

    -Brian (linked here through Ajay at some point)

  2. I remember looking at OpenRPG many years ago for playing some online campaigns. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite cut the mustard for me for a number of reasons. The two major ones that I’ll point out now are that I hate wxwindows. Cross-platform GUI toolkits never work well; they’re always broken in small annoying ways. Second, I’m not interested in anything for playing online campaigns, I would rather play in person or not at all (this is really just a personal thing). To that end, this project will not support any features intended for online play; it is an experiment to see if a digital tool can be successfully used for a face-to-face campaign. Further, OpenRPG seems like a little bit of a shotgun approach if you’re just using to for character sheets.

    I did a little googleing last night and came across nothing that looked like what I’m actually trying to attempt. Which either means it’s a bad idea, or nobody’s thought of it yet. Time will tell.

    Perhaps I’ll post further ruminations on this project later.

  3. So long as you use it who cares how many other users you get 🙂
    You should call it.. moosebeans!

  4. It should be called the:(Insert your character name here)’s Navatron-GoldMax-GoblinCrusher. Im not asking much…

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