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Aug 16, 2021

My 9 Favorite Creative D&D Tools

I've been a DM for just over 4 years now, and I've learned a lot during that time. Though I most of the time prefer "theater of the mind" for my games (it's a lot easier than you think!), I also enjoy a good game on Roll20. With the advent of Inkarnate battle maps and Hero Forge in color, there are a wealth of tools available to enrich your adventures. Here are my favorite creative tools when I'm preparing my games:

1. Hero Forge

Hero Forge was okay when it first came out. I never really intended on spending money on my own miniatures, especially since I was most often a DM instead of a player. But once Hero Forge came out in color, it became an invaluable asset for character creation. Besides using it to supplement this very blog, I use it to make depictions of my player characters, which I can then make in different poses to represent actual moments in gameplay. I also use it to make specific NPCs, enemies, and even races to illustrate to my players more clearly who they're addressing so they can have a mental picture of them.

The best part is, Hero Forge is constantly gaining new features, both in objects the mini can hold and wear and new features like decals, which have been amazing. I highly recommend subscribing to this tool. It's easy to use but has a big learning curve for exercising creativity in making a variety of characters.

2. Inkarnate

I've used Inkarnate for quite a few years for world maps. It's another tool that's grown extremely useful as new assets have been added to it over time. It's great for making detailed color travel maps as well as parchment-style maps you could use as handouts. However, the real use for grid-based combat came when they started offering battle maps.

I used to use Dungeondraft to make maps for Roll20, and it was okay for a while, but it was cartoony in comparison to what Inkarnate now offers. The tools and UI are also much less buggy, and while I miss the dynamic lighting and ease of making walled areas a little bit, the beautiful artistic look of Inkarnate greatly makes up for it.

3. Token Stamp (RollAdvantage)

This is a great, simple tool for making player character tokens and monster tokens alike. I like to give each player a different color that matches their color in Roll20. The variety of borders and customization options makes it easy to make your tokens look exactly how you want them to. The only feature I wish they'd add is the option to make larger tokens, because when they're blown up on Roll20, the border looks rather large.

Here's a recommendation while using this tool: Treat "Medium" creature type tokens as the standard for how large a creature's face should be. I've realized a Huge token of a hill giant looks dumb if it just looks like a gigantic head. It's better to take size into account when making Large, Huge, or Gargantuan creatures. A hill giant token should show its entire body, since when it's enlarged to fit the grid, its head will be about the size of a Medium creature token anyway.

4. Kobold Fight Club

This is an invaluable tool for planning encounters and organizing plans for creatures of a similar home environment, creature type, size, CR, or even alignment. This makes it easy to tell what encounters are Easy, Medium, Hard, or Deadly, as well as how much experience the encounter is worth and how much each player gets. It doesn't get much simpler and easier to use than this, and I'm a real fan of it.

5. Tabletop Audio

This guy does such good work I signed on as a patron on Patreon, the first time I've ever done so. His site offers free 10-minute audio clips with ambience, music, and sound effects built in. He updates once every couple of weeks, so there's always new stuff to find, and if you're a patron, you can download alternate versions of each track in case you just want ambience or just music of one you like.

The site has virtually every RPG environment covered you can imagine: everything from battle music to taverns, deserts, rainforests, swamps, mountains, and even sci-fi and modern ambiences, so you're not limited by genre. There's also a tool offered called "SoundPad," which is a way to broadcast a live feed of sound effects to your players. This makes it fun to add sound when a player casts a spell or triggers a trap, and you can modify subtle ambiences like horse noises, a blacksmith working, or even rain falling or flags waving. I don't use it much because of the effort involved in doing it alongside all my other responsibilities as DM, and the music selection (which is what I like most as background noise in my games) is limited. But it's still a great tool for some types of games.

6. Statblock Generator (Tetra-Cube)

I'm a perfectionist editor at heart, and to me, consistency is everything. I hate when people publish homebrew content and put their own spin on the 5e stat block's format, font, or really anything. It has to look exactly right in my eyes. That's why I love this tool. Not only does it generate perfect stat blocks consistent with published material, it makes it easy to edit any part of the stat block, style its shape in whatever way fits on the page you're trying to put it on, and generate ability scores and things as well.

The generator comes with all of the Monster Manual entries as samples you can edit, which is invaluable. I just wish they would expand this selection to blocks in Volo's Guide and Mordenkainen's Tome, since they have a lot of useful creatures that can be turned into sidekicks with this tool, but alas, they just offer stuff from the Tome of Beasts and other unofficial homebrew stuff I have no interest in.

7. Abelhawk's D&D Tools

I feel no shame in showcasing these tools, because I worked very hard on them and frankly, they're super useful and more people should know about them. Need an NPC name on the fly? Use my Character Creator to determine a race and a gender, and it just takes a click. What about the name of some far-off place an NPC talks about but you don't have a ready name for? My Town/Place Generator offers a ton of specifications for crafting the right name. If a player roots through a random drawer and asks what they find, you can use the "Pickings" option on my Loot Generator to generate something much more evocative than "Just some personal stuff and garbage with no real value."

There are even options for in-combat tools like random traps, as well as calculators for mob battle damage. As I realize more things that would be nice to randomly determine, I'll add to these tools, so I highly recommend trying them out and seeing how they can help you out in your game.

8. Homebrewery (NaturalCrit)

I don't use this tool as much as I used to because of its lack of UI. You have to know basic CSS to organize things on it, which is inconvenient, but it does make things look like very official 5e resources. Most of the time I'm fine just using Google Docs or Google Sheets to keep track of notes for my own use, but this tool is great for when you actually want to publish homebrew content, or make things like spells look official. 

9. Notion.so

I've tried Obsidian Portal and World Anvil and Scabard, but my favorite campaign managing tool so far has to be Notion.so. It's simple, which is a big plus for me. You can essentially make a wiki for your entire campaign organized however you like, with internal links in the pages that can navigate to others. It supports images, emoji-based identifying icons, tables, checkboxes, and everything else you'd need to organize all your NPCs, storylines, loose ends, magic items, player characters, and anything else you can imagine. I highly recommend Notion.so as the go-to for campaign structuring; however, I recommend trying other tools like the ones I mentioned above as well to find what's right for you and your own group specifically.

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Being a DM and creating entire worlds and mechanics has been one of the most fulfilling creative ventures I've ever experienced, and these tools make it a lot easier. I would also recommend DnDBeyond, which is pretty obvious, as well as Beyond 20, which is a Chrome extension that makes using DnDBeyond with Roll20 a lot easier, both for players and for DMs. Have a tool that you find invaluable as well? Reply about it in the comments!

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