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Modern Games, Modern Tools

Running a modern game has been far easier than I expected because of a number of modern tools. Most of these are digital, but convert quite well to my archaic retro “index card” style of GMing. An exhaustive list would be near endless, but here are most of my go-to tools.


The modern online lifestyle puts an amazing amount of information at one’s fingertips. And since game prep generally involves the management of information, either through outright research or inspiration, it’s no surprise to find endless resources for a modern campaign.

Google Maps

Obviously, Google Maps is indispensible for determining how long it takes to get from Excelsior, WV to Oklahoma City, OK (about 18 hours, if you’re curious). But it can also be used to find the basic layout of an industrial park, a suburb, or a busy city center, and much more.

Google Street View makes for great visual aids, too. For instance, parts of Detroit make for an excellent post-zombpocalytic city. (Link [1])

You can even make a custom Google Map [2], and insert descriptions into an existing map. I initially did this for my 1980s monster hunter campaign. It’s a pretty cool effect, but the game really didn’t use it very often. A campaign in which geography really matters would definitely benefit from it.


One of the biggest advantages of the modern game is that the players already know the setting. We all are somewhat familiar with modern world’s history, cultures, countries, and technology, and how they all tie together. Of course, we all put our own spin and interpretation on things, but the modern game is generally based on the real world. Wikipedia is my go-to tool for learning about the real world. Where else could one learn about the decline of Japanese biker gangs [3], the legends and relics of the Knights Templar [4], and the hazards of modern Scuba Rebreathers [5]?

Floor Plans

A simple Google image search turns up all kinds of floor plans for modern games, from apartments to mansions, and from shopping malls to prisons. Many of them also show front and rear elevation views, so the players can see what it looks like from the street, or from the back alley.


The modern ‘connected’ lifestyle can enrich a game as well. We normally think of communication as a way to facilitate group communication between sessions, but here are a few ideas for using modern communications in-game.


Have you considered setting up an email account for a recurring NPC? (It might be stretching the Terms of Service, but how about a Facebook or Google+ account as well?) Send each player a slightly different version of an email, and watch the sparks fly. Or send information to just one… Just make sure you follow the proper laws and such, or at least don’t blame me if you don’t.

Chat, Text, Etc.

I’m certainly not the only GM who has used text messages in lieu of the ‘passed note’. Nor am I the only player who has used a chatroom to conspire against the GM (with permission, of course).

One character in my current game has an amulet from his dear departed mother, who warns him of things in-game. A quick text message makes for a private warning that the other players are unaware of. Her old-school Italian nature makes for some interesting (and guilt-laden) messages.

Don’t tell my players, but I’ve always wanted to use text to communicate the status of a distant ally, and give the team a choice of completing their mission or assisting their ally. “Alpha Team, this is Bravo Six. We are pinned down by multiple opponents with heavy weaponry, have taken extensive casualties, and require immediate assistance.”


A simple phone call from a distant NPC [6] can contribute to a game. Or a Skype session might make for an interesting briefing. You could even record a video and use it to emulate a one-way Skype briefing that was horribly cut short.

Of course, the time period in which you set your campaign will determine what kinds of communication devices are available to the players. In the 1970s, cell phones were unheard-of, but in the 2010s, everyone has one, and most of them are smarter than their users. For what it’s worth, choosing the 1980s works for me. Cell phones are available, but unreliable at best.

And More…

I’ve only scratched the surface; the number of modern tools and information sources for a modern campaign is nearly limitless. Sound off in the comments if you can think of any others, or innovative ways in which to use them.

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Modern Games, Modern Tools"

#1 Comment By shortymonster On November 13, 2012 @ 4:20 am

I ran a live action Vampire game a good few years back, when people were only just getting used to having mobile fones about their person. me and the other GM would occasionally text/call players when they were sneaking about to remind them to keep the mobiles on silent. Almost killed more than one PC doing that…

#2 Comment By black campbell On November 13, 2012 @ 9:29 am

I’ve been thinking about using text messaging or email to players for information I want them to know, but not the others. My players have been pretty good about not using player knowledge for their characters, but with the new crew, I haven’t judged their ability to do this just yet.

#3 Comment By Roxysteve On November 13, 2012 @ 9:41 am

I’m loathe to increase the visibility of the cellphone at the gaming table. Before you know it everyone is texting instead of gaming.

While I certainly use high tech in my game prep, I go paper for all my materials in-game. I find it easier to use and less distracting than my laptop. Also, leaping around in a paper rulebook is just easier than in an e-book.

I will admit to making several steampunk tech things to put on the table as a -d-i-s-t-r-a-c-t-i-o-n- focus for my Space 1889 players, but these have little effect on the game other than to help players get in the mode.

#4 Comment By SeeleyOne On November 13, 2012 @ 10:01 am

I used to game with a group where my friend had several computers set up. We had the table in the middle of the room and then several computer workstations surrounding it. The battlemat was in the middle. Each computer had a chat program and we were able to chat with each other or the GM as needed. We only used that for secret messages or transferring data, but doing so did facilitate a session full of intrigue.

That group had a lot of intra-party conflict. Most of it was pretty low scale, but sometimes “party fights” broke out. Personally I have gotten weary of having such tension in gaming groups, but at the time it was fun and fits certain settings.

#5 Comment By daeumling7 On November 13, 2012 @ 12:49 pm


after GMing a long Fantasy Campaign I recently started a Hunter the Vigil Campaign taking place in 1999. I was also very glad I could use all the information like digital maps, bus schedules, general information on certain cities etc.

One other medium I use is photos: I love to show my players pictures to give them an idea how a building, a landscape or an NPC looks like, and of course it is much easier to find photos of real buildings or people with modern hairstyles and clothes.

#6 Comment By Lugh On November 13, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

There are a LOT of benefits to a modern game.

On the communication front, splitting the party is no longer the impossible headache it once was. Just make sure they all have some sort of radio to stay in contact with each other.

I have to second daeumling7’s note about photos. Google Image Search can turn up some really amazingly useful photos for people (especially troll through actors’ head shots), places, and things.

But for me one of the best advantages to modern gaming is that you have an infinitely rich setting that most of your players will already be intimately familiar with. You can reference McDonald’s, and everyone not only knows what you are talking about, but has an instant sense of the feel of the place. When players are giving their PCs hobbies and connections, they can get much more detailed than “hunting” or “gambling”. They can reference subcultures like paintball, BASE jumpers, or Whovians, and delve deep into the jargon, organizations, and attitude without anyone having to make anything up.

#7 Comment By randite On November 13, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

Though I’ve mentioned it before, timeanddate.com . You can create a calendar for pretty much any time period you need. For modern settings knowing the date and day of the week basically becomes a must. Plus it becomes a convenient way to track the campaign.
Need to know when werewolf/PI Dick Stone is gonna go lupine in the May of 1930? [7] <— Paste that in your browser to find out.

#8 Comment By Silveressa On November 13, 2012 @ 10:18 pm

One excellent tool that’s become my “go to” for modern day games in zeemaps ( [8] ) It’s essentially a free to use site that gives you a private Google map template to play with and let you place up to 10,000 color coded markers and add your own custom descriptions.

This lets you easily mark down locations for strong holds, looted buildings, enemy controlled territory, and detailed notes on what supplies (or dangers) lurk in each area.

The free account can also be set up to be private and require password access, and with options to allow your players to add points of interest as well.

#9 Comment By Josiah Bradbury On November 18, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

I have a few netbooks laying around, I might set one up to be a hackable computer or perhaps as the Party’s own mission database.