The Best Freeware for Gamers

Updated 20190423 – 

I’ve been a gamer to varying degrees for roughly two dozen years and I’ve seen all manner of software come and go when it comes to gaming supplies. For many years, smaller companies have tried to take on the Big Boys in an effort to squeeze out some small piece of the market pie. The problem is that gaming is, at least for most of us, a hobby. Hobbies sometimes get a good chunk of people’s spending cash, but I’ve always delighted in the fact that gaming can be inexpensive.

Yes. Inexpensive. Aside from the basic rulebooks, a pad of paper, some pens and pencils, and a set of dice, I’ve spent very little directly on the hobby of gaming. Practically nothing. That’s what I want to talk about today – software that costs us nothing and yet is greatly useful for your gaming group.

Google Groups

Google Groups are a great way to collaborate online. It’s how Nevermet Press is able to collect all of our Content Developers in one place and review / modify the many projects we’re working on all over the world. Create Pages, Discussion groups, upload/share files, and maintain email lists all via this simple and oh yeah, free tool.

Google Docs

Use the services of Google Docs in combination with Google Groups, and you have yourself a nice stable means of storing/editing just about any documents you might use in your game. Character sheets, maps, tables and more are all easily accessed wherever you have an internet connection. In fact, you can even read most documents on your cheapy cell phone and (I believe) all documents on your smart device! You’ll never have to hear “I must have left my character in my other folder…” again.

Update 20190423 – I’ve created a post about how you can create a random generator for just about any RPG content (or any content, really) using Google Sheets as the platform. Learn how to generate random content with Sheets here.

Open Office.org

Yes, I use Google Docs for most of my document editing and storage, but I use Open Office’s suite of software to do some of the creation of those docs – especially map creation. I’ll be creating some tutorials for just that purpose soon, so keep an eye out here. Also? You can keep a portable version of Open Office on a thumb drive so you don’t have to lug your laptop around if you’d rather not. It really is a spectacular suite.

Inkscape

Inkscape is a burgeoning software package that allows you to create vector graphics much like Adobe Illustrator. Vector graphics are great for the creation of maps because the can be scaled to any size without the deterioration or pixelation of bitmap images created by programs like Adobe Photoshop or the Gimp. The downside? Detail work tends to take a bit longer to do in vector oriented programs.

The Gimp

The Gimp is the other option that I use for mapping purposes. Because it’s a bitmap oriented program it is a bit faster for the detail work than something like Inkscape. The downside is that bitmap images break down when you blow them up past a certain point.

Wilderness Mapper

Update 20190423 – Sadly, Bruce has removed Wilderness Mapper from his site. Perhaps it was time as it was a little long in the tooth, and there are many new alternatives. Speaking of which…

Fantasy Mapping Software

Really mapping software can be broken down into two primary categories: Random Map Generators and Cartography Software. For my purposes here, I’m going to define Random Map Generators as “Click a button, the gears whir, and out spits a map (and possibly location information) that you can use.” I’ll define Cartography Software as “You do the work of crafting a map, but this software makes the process more efficient and look better.”

These aren’t perfect definitions and certainly there are programs out there that have elements of both, but I think these descriptions are sufficient to break the candidates into the two categories and simplify taxonomy.

(More on this shortly.)

Your Favorites?

So how about you? What freeware do you like to use in your game?