There are a ton of different resources out there for D&D players to use to create maps, host games, and delve into their own worlds to fight monsters. One new tool that is completely free for players to try, with only the DM being required to fork over a small amount of cash, is Game Master Engine.
Game Master Engine is an early-access game on Steam that you can try for free before deciding whether or not it’ll be the new way your party plays D&D or really any other tabletop role-playing game. The beauty of Game Master Engine is that it can fit any tabletop RPG that uses hexes or cells and a dice-rolling system, but we’ll get into that more later. Here’s a quick review and peek at Game Master Engine.
Creating Battle Maps
Probably the best thing about Game Master Engine (GME) is the ability to create battle maps for your campaign or one-shot easily. Even if you’ve never used a program to design maps before, the tutorial is easy to follow and fairly intuitive. We quickly found ourselves designing a forest encounter with goblins and even a small castle courtyard.
You can choose between different battle map sizes that use either 5×5 squares, hexes, or other custom measurements. If your battle map is too small, you can always add more tiles to it on the fly. This also helps create more dynamic-looking environments that aren’t just 20×20 squares.
Remember, it is in early access, so there are some limitations, and the number of monster and character figures in-game is lacking, but thanks to the Steam Workshop and modders, we definitely expect to see a ton more in the future.
Speaking of which, the Discord Server is fairly active and has channels where people showcase different maps they’ve made. You can even download these maps and use them in your own campaign if you wanted. We had some trouble downloading and getting one of the maps working, but after refollowing the tutorial on the server, we were able to load it up and play.
The game also allows you to paint different surfaces with different textures. You can easily create a shipwreck cove with water, sand, and stone textures. Really one of the most entertaining things about GME is just taking a few hours and getting lost in the map editor. They have lots of little models you can add to your world to make it feel more alive, like carts, sacks, skulls, gravestones, and lots more.
DMing a Game
When it comes to DMing, GME has just about everything you need but could definitely use some improvements. All the usual dice are available in-game, along with health bars and even spell overlays to see who takes damage from your haphazardly thrown fireball. You can add status effects above characters and easily name different minis.
For character sheets, don’t worry about having to create your own 5e template manually. The Discord has different templates you can easily import into your game and plug your character’s stats into. This also works for Pathfinder and other tabletop RPGs, of course.
When it comes to talking to your teammates, Discord is almost certainly your best bet, but you can also just use it for any in-person D&D meet-ups too. Groups that have a table with an in-laid TV or monitor can easily connect their computer to it and load up GME. The map creation environment is good enough for me to recommend it to players who might be interested in that.
The Short-Comings of GME
There are a few things GME could improve on, but you have to remember that it is in early access. If you don’t like what you’ve seen so far, wait a few months and check back. The game has a dedicated developer and is constantly being updated with new things. It’s come a hell of a long way since it was first put on Steam and will definitely be one of the top DM tools when it nears release.
There definitely needs to be more models and an easier way to share maps and character sheets. Steam Workshop is perfect for this, so once that feature comes along, expect a ton more content from the community. The other thing that could help it is a better UI. The current UI looks like something out of a crummy Unity 3D game, but we understand that UI isn’t exactly at the top of their list, especially when you don’t exactly need something flashy right now.
It can also be pretty resource intensive depending on what kind of computer you’re running. Older PCs may take longer to load and can heat up, but that should be less of a problem in the future with optimization and whatnot. We also hope they add in diagonal squares so we can round off maps and make them look more realistic. A bunch of squares that abruptly end isn’t exactly eye-appealing.
You should also keep in mind that this isn’t an official game from Wizards of the Coast (WotC), the creators of D&D. Game Master Engine isn’t exactly allowed to use anything that is copyrighted by Wizards of the Coast, which explains why you have to import 5e character sheets and any external models that could be considered the property of WotC.
All-in-all, keep your eyes on Game Engine Master. It is free, so you might as well add it to your library, play around with it for a few hours, and see how you like it. If you don’t think it can replace whatever DM tool you’re using right now, check back every once in a while to see what’s new.
The best part is that it is a one-time purchase by whoever wants to DM; your players don’t need to spend a dime to hop in with you. Other services might force everyone to toss in a few bucks every month; some even charge for access to more content. GME is so far a one-time purchase, and we have high hopes for it if Steam Workshop support ever gets integrated.