GM Workshop: Tools

So every four weeks I get together with my buddies back in Indiana to play Shadowrun.  

The six of us are an intrepid fleet of douche canoes, and our best rules lawyer is dyslexic.  So in reality, we just break-up the fart jokes with dice rolls and call it gaming.  

But, because I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, I’ve built a system to run the show from six-hundred miles away.  Here’s the crap I use, which is all free via internet magic.  


I know, I know, you’re all like, “Google+?  Isn’t that just for college kids with dead moms?”  

Nope.  Idiots can use it too.  We like using the hangouts option because it showcases the individual currently speaking in the center screen, and at the bottom, you can watch everyone else multi-task.  


MapTool - backgrounds, battlefields , and settings

It took me forever to figure out how to use MapTool because I was so reluctant to watch the hopelessly complex tutorials crafted by the UberNerds who do all their own macros and animations.  

I’ve got a toddler.  I barely have time to apply my Rogaine every day.  So I had to learn some shortcuts:


Google Earth Exteriors

I steal my exterior background images from Google Earth, plucked using the CMD-SHIFT-4 shortcut.

When pulling from Google Earth, I like to set the eye altitude to 90-100 meters above elevation, and the MapTools grid to 9 pixels per grid-square.  



If I want more detail/higher resolution, I zoom in on Google Earth, and pull the image in a screen grab.  Then, when I paste the image into Maptool, I just adjust the square pixel size proportionally (or adjust the picture size at the lower right hand corner), until a compact car is about three squares by two squares.

Common Interiors

In this age of terrorism, you’d be amazed how many blueprints and layouts you can find online of popular nightclubs, stadiums, and even banks.  (Hi there, NSA!)

If a layout matches what I’m looking for pretty closely, I’ll pull the image from google, and then drag and drop into the backgrounds layer for MapTool.  When you drag and drop an image into the background layer, it sets in its native size.  You can then click on the image and re-size to the current grid dimensions by tugging on the corners.  


Custom Interiors - Autodesk Homestyler

Interior Images  can come from The Autodesk Homestyler at  The sheer volume of flooring and furniture options is pretty amazing.   But I really only recommend this if the internet doesn’t have what you’re looking for.  You can lose whole weeks picking out the best toilets for the office restrooms that your players will never walk into.

I’m looking at you, Will.  I spent a god damn month working on that office layout.  You set off the alarm right at the front door.  Everybody had to run away.  Thanks, buddy.



This app is easier to take advantage of than Sookie on True Blood.  Drag an image from the internet into token tool (there are literally dozens to choose from), save it, and then you’ve got any character you want to plunk into a battle.

Side note: It’s extra fun to raid Facebook photos for friends to shoot.  


Documentation - Microsoft Word (or free on Open Office)

"Hey, remember when we did the drive-by on that group of Wendigos in the wasteland?  How much did we get for their teeth?"

Be honest.  Who hasn’t been asked this question?

I used to just make-up that answer.  “I don’t know.  Like, 500 nuyen?”

But now I use a standard format for session minutes that documents who attended, who accomplished what, and how much money the team stole in the process.  I know that answer!  

The minutes aren’t just for me, either.  I share the doc on Google Drive, putting the Karma awards in there, so I know my players at least read that part.  


With the format being rigid, and pre-set, it’s easy just to go in and update the bullets, copying and pasting the pertinent crap from the last session. 

I use the top section for player/character attendance.  The Agenda Items section is for the job description, outcome and karma awards.   I tack any miscellany and impressions down at the bottom.

I also dig this style of record keeping, because after about session five, nobody remembers a god damned thing.  

These notes provide a fully documented story that anybody can go back to and see a session’s specific history.  Also, this easy-to-read log of key events reminds me of the overall arc of the campaign when I sit down to pen the next adventure.