My “Masterplan” for 4th Edition D&D (Get It?) @andy_aiken @Luddite_Vic @flashedarling #4e #DnD #RPG #TTRPG

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

I recently discovered Masterplan by Andy Aiken, which is campaign planning, management, and execution software for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (“4e”). You can download it here. Just click on setup.msi and follow the prompts. If you’re not a 4e player, he’s created a similar online only tool for 5th Edition, Dojo, here. But enough about that. This post is about 4e. 🙂

This tool is fantastic, but it’s 4e-based, so adapting it to my 1st Edition game would be too time consuming without much benefit over what I’m doing now. Because I’ll be a player in my upcoming 4e campaign for the foreseeable future, my first step was to create libraries for my my synDCon Dungeon Delves (referred to as “synDClash” for the convention), my divine stat blocks (with corrections) for the Egyptian and Central American pantheons (which occasionally generate interest on my blog), and some other stat blocks I thought were pretty good.

I’ve finished every pre-existing element I planned to input into Masterplan except Monster Manual 3. That’s going to take a while. Because of WordPress restrictions, I can’t upload the library unless I change its extension to an allowed extension. So, for example, I’ve changed Central American Deities.library to Central American Deities.pdf. Likewise, Giant Problems.masterplan was renamed Giant Problems.pdf. You can download everything I’ve done to date using the links below, but you’ll need to change the extension back to .library or .masterplan. Libraries must be placed in your Masterplan/Libraries directory on your hard drive, but projects can go anywhere that’s convenient for you. They aren’t loaded automatically when the software boots up, so the system doesn’t need them to be in a particular place. Adobe Acrobat/Reader can’t read these files, so you won’t be able to view the material until you change that extension and load them into Masterplan. I’ll add more libraries as I create them, so expect hyperlinks to be added to this list. Well, that’s my master plan anyway.

(Now do you get it?)

Libraries (must change extension to .library)

Go to my 4th Edition Resources Page for the latest files.

Project Files (must change extension to .masterplan)

Go to my 4th Edition Resources Page for the latest files.

synDClash Pre-generated Characters (created by @flashedarling)

Go to my 4th Edition Resources Page for the latest files.

Player View

I want to point out a great feature that mimics what I’m doing in my 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons game with Roll20. You can run your maps and minis online. If your computer has two monitors, you can hide one from the players, but a “player’s view” appears on the other monitor. This obviates the need for a battle map on your table. This isn’t exactly Earth-shattering to a 2022 audience, but this was implemented over a decade before the COVID pandemic accelerated the need for tools of this nature. As such, this doesn’t facilitate remote play over the internet, but as someone who runs my games in person but places maps on a computer screen, this works really well. It’s better than using Roll20 because it’s all self-contained. I can do this on a single computer within a single software application. With Roll20, I have to bring up a second browser, switch to player view, then always bounce back and forth between the two to make sure what’s on my screen matches what’s on the players’ screen. This isn’t a huge burden, but it’s technically a little more difficult. Masterplan makes it trivial. Of course, you may prefer the battle map to either solution for a game like 4e. Players may want to move their own minis around the board, but from the DM’s perspective, moving multiple minis is a lot easier on the screen than on a battle map.

Bug/Defect Report and Wishlist

I’m just getting started with Masterplan, but with what little I’ve done, I’ve already encountered some consistent defects. First off, some of the issues aren’t defects. The system doesn’t properly calculate suggested attack expressions because those depend on how many targets a power targets, but you often enter things like “one or two creatures in the burst” manually, so there’s no way for the system to calculate the proper attack bonus. For the record, an attack against multiple targets’ ACs suffers a -2 penalty in relation to an attack against one creature’s AC (-1 if the monster is a controller). So, you just have to watch your attack expressions.

That said, initiative isn’t even close to correct. According to page 184 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide (“DMG“), a soldier has an initiative bonus equal to its Dex bonus + 1/2 its level (rounded down) +2 because it’s a soldier. For Quetzacloatl, that’s 8 (27 Dex) + 17 (level 34) + 2 = 27, but Masterplan suggests 21. In some cases, Masterplan is off by as many as 9, but I haven’t yet figured out if there’s a pattern.

Defenses are also off. A soldier’s Fortitude should be 12 + level, which in the case of Quetzacoatl should be 12 + 34 = 46. This is exactly what Masterplan recommends. However, Masterplan doesn’t account for how ability scores change the default calculations. Specifically, each defense relies on the higher of two paired ability scores, which are Str and Con for Fortitude. The average ability score for a monster should be 13 + 1/2 level (rounding down), which is 30 at level 34. In the case of Quetzalcoatl, his Str is 36, and his Con is 30. So, take the higher of the two (Str 36), and compare that to the average (30). Accordingly, Quetzalcoatl has a Str 6 higher than average, so you should add half that (3) to his Fortitude, giving him a Fortitude of 46 + 3 = 49. As I said, Masterplan recommends 46, not 49.

I get that small differences in defenses may not matter too much, especially considering that one’s choice of ability scores is often based on flavor considerations or downright arbitrary. However, as the DMG suggests, sometimes you need to give monsters those bumps for game balance. Moreover, the pairing of ability scores facilitates making, for example, a low-intellect character whose Reflex defense can still be competitive due to a solid Dexterity score. Besides, for whatever reason, I’ve included the bumps, so I wish Masterplan factored in that aspect of the games’ rules.

Some of the math is solid. Hit points are good. Skill bonuses are good. Masterplan doesn’t provide damage expressions, so there’s nothing to check there. Also, I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet that performs all the correct calculations and helps me catch the errors, so where there are systemic issues, they’re easily corrected. If you find anything wrong with my calculations, please let me know, but I think I have it right for monsters. Just to make sure, I created and started populating the missing Monster Manual 3 library, started entering creatures, and found my Excel spreadsheet to match the WotC entries perfectly in most cases (exception: Silverback Ape), while the Masterplan recommendations still suffered from the same math errors. NPCs are treated a little differently than monsters (see DMG, page 186), so those aren’t relevant here.

Masterplan gives you the capability to copy an existing monster and paste it. That sounds like it makes things easier, but I find myself ignoring that feature. If the pasted stat block is of a different level or role (i.e., artillery, brute, etc.), when you adjust either, Masterplan will add miscellaneous bonuses to trained skill bonuses to keep them from changing. You’ll have to go through each one and delete the bonus. Moreover, you’ll inevitably have to change most of the attack expressions anyway, so why not do that from scratch? Still, there are some exceptions where it’s easier to make a copy, so YMMV.

To make a change to a part of stat block (e.g., a power), you open a dialog box, make your changes, then hit OK to save it. It returns you to the main stat block but jumps to the top. I’d rather the position of the view not change so that it returns me to where I need to be to continue making changes.

I’ve learned (far too late) that if you’re creating a monster, and you leave the “range” entry blank for a power, the next time you open the software and bring up the monster, whatever you entered in “power details” will be moved to range. To avoid this issue, I’ve started to enter “self,” “melee 1 (see below),” or something similar. You may find yourself having to modify my stat blocks accordingly. This isn’t a fatal flaw. It’s just a bit annoying to see “Range:” before the power details because they’ve been moved into the wrong field.

I’m not permitted to add a trap/hazard to an encounter map even if the trap/hazard has a stat block and is added to the encounter. I’d like to be able to add the trap, but then make it invisible on the “player view” screen.

Notice that the stat block for the sinkhole doesn’t appear in the list to the right of the map. Therefore, it can’t be added.

In the aura dialog box, the tab order for the keywords field is off.

But seriously, this software is amazing. These are nitpicks, and as long as we all help each other identify these problems, we can work with them even if the software is never patched.

Many stat blocks crash the system!!! I did a significant amount of testing, and here’s a strange error I discovered. If your monster (or one that comes with the system) has the word, “hobgoblin” in its name, and if the NPC isn’t of a certain level, the software crashes whether you’re creating the stat block or just trying to view it. A hobgoblin of 5th or 6th level seems to work, and bugbears and goblins aren’t affected. I initially got around the problem by calling my Hobgoblin Warcaster a “Hobo Warcaster” instead. The presence of “hobgoblin” within the powers doesn’t create the problem. I hope Andy has the time and desire to fix this, but I think he moved past this project a long time ago.

Also of note: If the system crashes, you lose all your work since you last opened the program. So, if you’ve made significant changes, exit the library, then exit the software so that it will properly save. You wouldn’t think this was necessary considering that the libraries are separate data files, but it is. Nothing is saved until you exit the program. I’ve lost a good bit of work after unwittingly attempting to open a corrupt stat block entry.

Below is the list of monsters that are confirmed to crash the system. You should expect this list to grow as I continued to plow through the program. I’m replacing them with renamed creatures I built from scratch. “Hobgoblin” is now “Hob Goblin,” “Mezzodemon” is now “Mezzo Demon,” “Nycademon” is now “Nyca Demon,” and “Wereboar” is now “Were Boar.” That seems to solve the problem no matter what else is in the name of the creature.

  • Dungeon Master’s Guide 2: Hobgoblin Legionnaire of Avernus (page 113); Mezzodemon (page 214).
  • Monster Manual: Hobgoblin Grunt (page 138); Hobgoblin Soldier (page 139); Hobgoblins Archer (page 139); Hobgoblin Warcaster (page 140); Hobgoblin Commander (page 140).
  • Dungeon Magazine: Advanced Hobgoblin Warcaster (issue #155); Nycademon Warmaster (issue #174).
  • Monster Manual 2: Firbolg Hounder (page 108), Firbolg Bloodbear (page 109), Wereboar (page 158)
  • Draconomicon — Metallic Dragons: Admaaz Draconian (page 189), Kobaz Draconian (page 192)

I also made changes to the Monster Manual 2 library. I added all the stat blocks that were missing (there were about a dozen IIRC), replaced the malfunctioning one listed above, and categorized all of them. What that last one means is that, for example, Blizzard dragons fall in the section labeled, “Dragon.” There’s a field for that in the database labeled “Category,” but it’s not an indicator of the type of creature. Keywords handle that. Category refers to the section in which the monster is found. Blizzard dragons are in the Dragon section, so Dragon should be its category. An elder brain is not a mind flayer, but it’s written up in the mind flayer section because it’s part of their culture. Thoon hulks are mind flayers, so they have the mind flayer keyword, but they also need to have the mind flayer category. If category is empty, the creature is placed in “Miscellaneous Creatures.” Most of the monsters were missing that piece of data, so I went through each stat block and added the category to the stat block. In other words, the creatures are now better organized and easier to navigate. That process didn’t change the underlying data (other than replacing malfunctioning stat blocks of course).

Complete Rework of the Libraries

I’m just now adding this section almost a week after initial publication of this post. I’m annoyed by the crashing stat blocks, but the other things that bugs me are 1) the “Miscellaneous Creatures” mentioned above; and 2) the fact that some of this data entry was performed before WotC changed how they write the stat blocks. For example, the range entry (e.g., “Melee 1 (one creature)”) didn’t exist until Monster Manual 3. Sometimes, this resulted in strangely expressed stat blocks (e.g., the Solamith from Manual of the Planes, page 123). So, I’m going through all of the libraries and cleaning up the old data. I wouldn’t have expected Andy to do that and am glad he didn’t. I’m glad he spent his time polishing the functionality. Leave data entry to the community (i.e., me). I’ll provide all of the libraries when I’m finished with them. In the meantime, here’s an updated Monster Manual 2 library (also posted above) placing all of the creatures into their appropriate “section,” replacing the corrupted stat blocks, and adding the missing stat blocks. I haven’t yet updated the stat blocks to the new format yet. I won’t do that until I’m finished with Monster Manual 3, though Manual of the Planes is finished, so download that one now. I’ve also provided updates to Draconomicon Metallic Dragons (I replaced the crashing draconian stat blocks) and Underdark (I properly categorized a few stat blocks), and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (I replaced crashing stat blocks, corrected errors, added missing monsters, and updated the terminology to the later format). Again, they have *.pdf extensions, which must be changed to a *.library extensions and placed in the libraries folder.

More Downloads

If you want to complete your 4e downloads with the offline Character Builder, then use one of these three videos for instructions.

I provided three videos because at least one of them didn’t work, and one of them I never tried. I’ve forgotten which is which. However, whatever I installed doesn’t include later material, and it appears there’s a newer version of the CBLoader here. This one may include the missing material, but I have no idea how well it works. Caveat emptor. (It’s free.)

Play what you want.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Luddite Vic @Luddite_Vic
Follow Andy Aiken @andy_aiken
Follow Galen @flashedarling

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)