GameMaster's Notebook

by Bruce A. Gulke

A Review by Rebecca A. Downey

Special thanks to Tim Dugger

GameMaster's Notebook is a slick little freeware program designed primarily for Mr. Gulke's own Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign. It can be found at: http://pwp.starnetinc.com/akira/ in the downloads section along with several other utilities that may be of interest.

The GameMaster's Notebook allows you to configure several other details to help you manage your campaign world. These common buttons remain atop the screen regardless which GameMaster's Notebook utility you use. All the GameMaster's Notebook files (.tab, .cfg) can be changed using a standard text editor to better suit your campaign world.

The GameMaster's Notebook breaks down into seven separate utilities that mesh together nicely into a handy role-player's utility.

1. HTML

A simple HTML viewer that allows GMs to view a series of HTML files through a built-in browser. One navigates the directories through a graphical interface similar to Windows Explorer. The familiarity of the navigation technique makes finding and organizing your files easy - especially if you already have all of this data available in HTML. The files the HTML browser presents must have the minimum required HTML within their structure; that is the <HTML> and <BODY> tags - and not just any old file with the extension of HTM or HTML. The files are stored in the HTML subdirectory beneath the GameMaster's Notebook directory. All HTML files stored there are displayed in the left-most window, while the HTML files contents are displayed on the right. It can handle colored text, embedded graphics (specifically GIF and JPEG files) and tables. The HTML browser can also view .gif and .jpg files directly. However - all files should be in a subdirectory of the HTML directory otherwise the viewer cannot see them.

Editor's Note: The HTML files are not required to be in a subdirectory of the HTML directory, but if they aren't, the only way to access them is by creating a link to them on an HTML page that is in a subdirectory of the HTML directory.

2. Sounds

Any directories under the Sounds directory are displayed in a listbox on the left hand side of the screen. The directory names are used primarily as categories. It displays all WAV, MIDI and MP3 files. Click on a file on the right hand side of the screen to play it.

3. Tables

This screen allows you to create your own lists of randomly generated events with a relatively simple scripting language that reads files with the extension .TAB. These TAB, or table, files can be fairly long (I wrote two over 200 lines with no ill effects) and quite detailed. The tables can roll a given number of dice [like {2d6} = 2 six sided dice], look up information in tables in either the same TAB file, or another TAB file and format the random results according to user-specifications. It can also store information in variables and perform mathematical functions with those variables. The Table files can also contain a limited amount of HTML. This lets you format the information into a more appealing display than straight text. This utility is available as a stand-alone program called TableSmith, also from Mr. Gulke.

The screen is broken into three windows: in the upper left is a list of headers or table categories. In the lower left (directly below the headers table) is a list of all the tables in that category. And to the right is the display screen for the results.

The tables are organized with a catalog file (tables.cat) that lists all the headings and tables. If the table does not appear in this catalog file, it will not appear on the screen. The headings are just titles to help you better organize all the tables and are not reliant on subdirectories, as with the Sounds or HTML utilities. You can specify the number of times you want the table file to perform (up to 999 times), and the utility allows you to save the results as an HTML file in the HTML subdirectory.

Adding or modifying a table file is easy using a text editor. The Tables utility recognizes subdirectories beneath the TABLES directory, but the files must be listed in the tables.cat file as \SUBDIRECTORY NAME\filename with the extension omitted.

4. DM Log

This utility allows you to list the characters (up to 7 in the original file, up to 14 with the upgrade) of your campaign and keep track of their special items and XPs. This screen divides into three tables:

And when you do finally fill up the item or action screens, you can use the handy buttons in the top navigational bar to save your data to an HTML file for later reference.

5. Notes

This is a note-pad like utility that allows you to type in text and it is saved to the notes.txt file in the configuration subdirectory.

6. The Calendar

The calendar is configured using the calendar.cfg file in the configuration directory. This file holds the date, special events and moon-phases of a year. While the number of days per week and month are variable, the number of months are fixed at 12. The same file lets you name each day of the week. In the main navigation bar, a user can cycle through the days by pressing the forward or back icons beside the date. The special events pop up in their own window. The phase of the moon appears as one of eight possible graphics. If you don't recognize the graphic, click on it and a new window will appear showing the name of the phase.

Changing the day does not change the time. There is another configuration file (hours.cfg) to allow you to name each hour of the day. The day is limited to 24 hours.

7. Weather

Weather is equally configurable. The sky conditions (clear, partly cloudy, overcast, or precipitating), general temperature (freezing, cold, cool, or warm), wind speed, wind direction, and both the type and duration of precipitation are all randomly generated each time the date is changed or the sky condition graphic is clicked. Weather is determined from the weather.cfg and precip.cfg files.

Conclusions

The GameMaster's Notebook comes with a few text files filled with information, suggestions and examples. These must be read carefully to understand the limitations of the Notebook and its associated utilities.

OK, I've told you all about how the utility works without reprinting the help files. Now we get down to opinions. Here are mine on the product:

The Pros:

  1. The GameMaster's Notebook is a nice, small utility that runs in Windows 95/98 and NT. I've been running it on and off on two systems for three months (with fairly heavy usage) and it's not crashed my set-up yet.
  2. It allows a user to create their own data, manipulate and store it conveniently. Random ideas for adventures, names and other table-lookups can be done and saved to either an HTML or text file quickly and easily.
  3. By using HTML to format the data, Mr. Gulke does not force the users to learn yet-another specialized scripting language. His use of variables and calculations are simple and straightforward. This keeps the learning curve gentle giving us more time to generate more table files and update our HTML rules.
  4. The GameMaster's Notebook may have been written for AD&D, but it's for just about any system. I play HarnMaster by Columbia Games Ltd. (Shameless plug), and I use the GameMaster's notebook to store my rules, character possession charts and such as well as the various tables to generate random bits of data as needed. Using this utility has helped me fill out my web page nicely.

The Cons:

  1. The interface, unlike the data is not configurable. The pages cannot be reorganized or removed if unnecessary. For example the experience page is not useful for those who do not play an experience-based game. In addition the special days listed in the calendar appear in their own pop-up window that must be cleared before continuing. It would be more convenient if the user could choose to place that information somewhere more permanently on the screen. In addition not all the data is that configurable. You cannot set the number of hours in a day, nor months in a year.
  2. The table utility cannot handle conditional statements (ifs), nor can it lookup a given value as opposed to a random one. It would also be nice if Mr. Gulke had mentioned that a .TAB file has a maximum number of lines and columns. His error messages are straightforward enough (something's wrong) but give little clue as to what, exactly, caused the error. For those not used to programming, it can be an annoying experience to build and test tables.
  3. The help files take some patience and perseverance to go through. While most possible questions do seem to be answered by these files (and a little intuition) - they are enough to scare off potential new users.

One more pro than cons.

On a scale from 1 to 4, I'd have to give it a 3 1/2 because it is easy to use, if not well documented. Most of my Cons are more related to a wish-list for my own GameMaster's Notebook than any real flaw in the product. Mr. Gulke warns in the documentation that it was written for his own campaign needs. The GameMaster's Notebook is a handy utility for any game master regardless of their system of choice.

There's a fair number of TAB files floating over the various gaming resource pages on the web. Who knows. In a few months maybe a few will even alight on my web page -- but they'll be for Hârn of course.

Editor's Note:

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