For the past four days all of my off time has been spent shoveling out snow amid wind, occasional rain, and general discomfort. No, don't worry, I'm not going to turn this into a whining rant against Mother Nature and her sick sense of humor. No, this is going to be a short topic on some of the tools one can use to help speed up your RPG planning when life starts getting hectic.
I've got to run this weekend's game for my group and, thanks to my schedule, haven't had much time to plan out any kind of plot advancement after they completed the last major plotline. I can, of course, just wing it, but that could be trouble if I don't mentally prepare myself. I could also just run a one-shot, but that's not my usual purview.
So what do I do? I take to the Internet and use some (or all) of these handy free tools to make my job just a little easier. I expect you'll already know about some of them, or maybe all of them, but if not, perhaps you'll find some use out of them as well.
Inkwell Ideas Hexographer.
Possibly the single best hex mapping tool out there today, Hexographer is extremely easy to use, runs on Java so I can use it on my Windows PC, my Linux PC, and even a good number of mobile devices, and it has two flavors: Free and paid. The free version is great and runs smoothly, but requires an Internet connection, won't let you expand a saved map, and doesn't allow for the use of custom icons.
The paid version costs $22.95 and adds in some additional functionality (including expanding existing maps, adding custom map items, add notes to hexes, and child maps).
Inkwell Ideas Random City Generator V2. (Note: Link leads to V1 of the tool. Click the link on that page to try V2)
One of the older and well liked RPG tools was a little freeware city generator called (so cleverly) RPG City Map Generator. Unfortunately, it hasn't been updated since the advent of Windows XP and won't run properly in Linux. Fortunately, Inkwell Ideas comes through again, with the second edition of their wonderful Java city generator.
The original version was good, but this version, though lacking in the graphics department, is more customizable and more likely to provide an output you can work with. So long as you don't need a street-by-street editor, it works brilliantly at creating a basic layout.
Another mapping tool, and possibly my favorite, this genius little tool takes a ginormous number of geomorphs from different artists around the web (including the awesome geomorphs of Risus Monkey and Dyson Logos), and using them to create random dungeon maps.
I fell in love with this tool for my B/X campaign months ago when it first premiered, and now it works better than ever, allowing you to swap out individual tiles, move them from one location to another, even cap off the dungeon with special tiles for that sealed in feeling.
There are about a million different random name, place, or plot generators out there. So why bother including this popular site? Well because it features a random generator for just about any situation. From names to plot points to sudden twists, this site has a generator to help even the most frazzled mind.
Some favorites include: The Lovecraftian Name Generator (for those Elder Gods without vowels), Tavern Names (why must all adventurers seeks out those damned taverns?!), The Adventure Site Generator (we all want to have fun sounding places to loot, don't we?).
None of these free tools will supply you with a full adventure, but they can all help to urge your own creativity on when you've had a bit of a brain-freeze.