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Creating Turn Watcher — An Adventure Unto Itself

I think I'm like just about everyone else. I have the work 'me' and the play 'me'. Only difference is, the two once merged, and what was born was Turn Watcher.

I have played in D&D campaigns for many years, but never thought of running my own campaign until I got a very unusual present for my 40th birthday — the Dungeon Master's Guide. I started reading the book and was hooked. How fun I thought it would be to create encounters and intriguing situations and worlds for my players. It wasn't until I ran my first game that I realized that it would take more than creativity to run a game, and that the details of tracking each PC and monster would bog down my encounters and hamper my story telling.

I tried using a pencil and paper technique to handle combat rounds, but found it difficult to manage when players started delaying and readying actions. Sometimes I would accidentally skip combatants, annoying my players. Being a software developer, I thought of the idea of automating the task of tracking each combatant and handle the task of delaying and readying of actions. Thus I wrote Turn Watcher.

The first game I ran using Turn Watcher was so much easier because it managed my list of combat participants and allowed me to walk through each combatant's turn. Characters who delayed or readied actions were no longer a problem, since the state of the user was in a column all to itself. Instead of being bogged down in paperwork details, I could focus on the strategy of the combat and the flow of the game. And the program was so much fun to use, I found myself wanting to run more games just to get to use Turn Watcher!

At my last full-time job I was surrounded by creative, fun co-workers who also loved to RPG game. One was none other than Karl Miller himself, the lead singer and songwriter of the band Warp 11! He and his buddies like to play Dungeons and Dragons with a twist: during combats, they would re-roll initiative every single round. This is fastidious, to say the least, and inspired me to adapt Turn Watcher to handle this. We call it "Ultra Initiative."

My GM friends were thrilled when they saw what I had created. They suggested adding "Spot" and "Listen" checks and "Will" saves for each combatant, since asking players to make spot and listen checks and will saves tips them off to the dirty work afoot.

This brought me back to one of my games, where I had an evil cleric disguised as a good cleric accompanying the party on a quest. When the evil cleric was killed and one of the PCs touched his holy symbol, I had to ask the player to make a will save against the illusion on the holy symbol. Even though she failed the save, she was now suspicious. If only I had had Turn Watcher then! I could have made the check for her, in secret, without even having to make a roll behind my DM screen. She and the other players would not have been the wiser to my ploy!

I also grew tired of adding and subtracting hit points and constantly erasing these numbers during encounters. So I added the ability to track combatant health. Not only will it automatically subtract damage and add healing, but when a combatant reaches zero (0) hit points, it is labeled "Disabled", and further damage puts it into the "Dying" state. I even programmed it so the combatant is automatically bled out each round until it is "Dead" or "Stabilized". This also had the added benefit of not having to rely on players to keep track of their own hit points, and when they got to negative hit points I could simply say 'you drop' and keep them guessing.

Turn Watcher has now taken on a life of its own. I still have many ideas on the back burner. The next version will include three new major features:

  • An effect tracker to know when someone is affected by a spell or other effect (such as Rage).
  • A way to add custom columns for other skill checks and saves.
  • The ability to interface with the popular PCGen open source application and import monsters and generated characters.

Turn Watcher changed the way I run my in-game combats. It has made my life a lot easier, and my other GM friends agree. If you want to try it, I encourage you to download the demo. Drop me an email and share your experience with me about Turn Watcher!

R. Douglas Barbieri
Made to Order Software Corporation



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