Don’t let the name fool you, MapTool is far more than just maps. While it does include  powerful tools for the creation of detailed maps, it’s primary role is a Virtual Table Top replacing pen, paper, battle mats, and dice. It is the primary and founding RPG product in the RPTools suite. MapTool includes Initiative, Chat, and Token Management functions that are easy, intuitive, and fully integrated into the product. The Chat Window supports HTML syntax and includes a feature-rich dice parser, MapTool is much more than mapping program. Not only does it include powerful tools for the creation of detailed maps, but also a chat, token management (allowing you to track properties of the units placed on the map and display health and status information), and initiative tracking functions.

These features enable your computer screen to function as a virtual table top, filling the role of battlemats and dry-erase markers and providing for infinitely scrollable maps and the ability to use a large-screen TV or video projector.  It is “game system agnostic”, meaning that while MapTool has special support for some game systems (like hexes for GURPS or square templates for D&D 4E) there is no requirement for you to use these features.

The best part is all this isn’t limited to a single PC. You can utilize the integrated server function to connect to players wherever there’s an Internet connection. Miss your buddy in Singapore? Not a problem. Roll up that character, and then your sleeves.

And we don’t stop there! Not content with just emulating the tabletop, we seek to improve upon the tabletop experience. This, truly, is where MapTool shines. A set of “topology” and vision features enable the GM to limit the view of his players, revealing the map as they explore it. Walls and other objects can prevent players from seeing what lies behind them. Darkness can be made to fall, blinding players who lack a light. Lights can be set on objects or on tokens that illuminate however much of the map you wish. If the GM wishes, s/he can limit the view of players to what their specific token sees, adding a whole new level to the experience of splitting up the party.  Woe be to the character who can’t see around the corner of a wall but steps out into the view of the enemy!

Most impressively, MapTool includes a tremendous macro function that allows you to automate just about any facet of your game that you wish. These are entirely optional bits of code you write yourself (or borrow from others you meet in the forum).  They can read or modify statistics saved in individual tokens to speed up your game by automating the number-crunching and constant rules-checking that can otherwise bog down a gaming session. Rather than looking up the finer details of a rule in the middle of the gaming session, if you’ve set things up it’s as simple as a mouse-click. If you wish, reports on the results can be output to the chat window and displayed to whomever you wish (just the GM, for instance, or to everybody). You can even use macros to keep an updated visual display of things like hit points, mana, or ammunition right on your token.

MapTool is open-source, and is actively contributed to by a large number of gifted persons. It is frequently improved and updated. This can lead to the impression that it is “unfinished” or “in development” and thus unstable or difficult to keep up to date with. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the tool is constantly evolving, build 1.3 has been stable for a long time, and if you’re ever worried about things changing on you, you can just stick with a version you’re comfortable with until word gets to you of a new feature you just can’t live without. New 1.3 save files have been backwards-compatible for a long time, meaning you won’t have to re-create your campaign to use a new version of MapTool. They should load just fine. Keeping up to date couldn’t be easier. MapTool’s 1.3 development is slated to be finished in the very near future, resulting in a build that will be the standard, no doubt, for a good while until the new 1.4 builds are fine-tuned into stability.  (In fact, MapTool 1.3b91 is expected to be that “long-term, stable” build.  You can see a list of currently running servers by clicking here.)

So don’t worry. Fire up the tool, draw a map, and call your friends. It’s game time!

MapTool is powered by Swing Components from JIDE.