Mote – The Map Tool Fork

I was contacted by Sam of Idle Ideas keen to show off the MapTool fork that their developers have been working on for the past couple of years called Mote.  He was very forthcoming with a good deal of information about the tool and also patient to receive the review as I did not want to put it too close to the last Virtual Tabletop review.  I don’t know what it is about RPG Knights but we certainly see a lot of this request come through.  perhaps it is my focus on this in my own games and my own experience in the software industry.

Mote at first appearance is very MapTool in appearance and has not deviated a great deal from the form.  Or so it would seem.  MapTool has been a Java development project for a long time and with such projects it has picked up a wealth of code.  Some of it is almost certainly legacy code and therefore likely to be one of the things that can cause “quirks” like myself never being able to load it in the past.  The focus of the Mote team has really been to clear out the folders of this type of code and replace it with current, state of the art code to ensure the system runs as well as it can and be truly cross platform.

Mote User Interface
Starting a new map in the User Interface

One of the reasons I agreed to review this so soon is that Mote is truly cross platform.  It has a release for Linux, Windows and Mac on the download site.  So I decided to do my review in Linux as it is my system and choice.  Mote works seamlessly on my desktop and even requires very little Linux Foo to set up and get running.  I am going to assume it works the same way on Mac.  I did get a mac to test it on but one of my students placed a password on it and I have no idea what it is so I have to wait until I see him again!  Being that OSX runs on a Unix background system I am certain that it will run fine and most people develop in Windows so I did not test it there either.

Much of the problems that users of MapTool have Mote developers have targeted for a fix.  The user interface is very similar to the UI of MapTool but the running of it is much smoother and it performs better in most circumstances.  They have added the ability for IRC and SQL management as well as the ability to code and edit scripts inside the tool itself rather than having to take it to an external editor.

Mote is a free offering and in Sam’s words, will always be free.  This version also has the dynamic lighting of other versions of MapTool and that means it is worth looking at.  Sam tells me that the vision system has been enhanced, making it much quicker than other versions of MapTool.

There is one problem that I encountered here though.  Let me tell you that the stuff above may seem like techno babble to you but it means that they have done a lot of work on improvements and added a lot.  But without changing the interface overly much there are serious issues with screen real estate.  Many of the default views just overwhelm the interface and while you can size stuff as you go, this is a big ask.  I would have loved to have seen some clever use of space but it really does suffer from overcrowding a lot.

Mote screen real estate
Some views in the tool are just too cluttered and this needs to be adressed to make the tool that much better

There are not a great deal of resources for you to use straight up either.  You are going to have to go looking for them and copy them into your resource folder.  They have one complete map, some textures, some basic tokens and the drawing tools.  I had a little play with the drawing tools and they are not going to provide you with a sophisticated map in the long run.  If you have a heap of tokens for Roll 20 or bought some map packs it should be nice and quick to deal with, otherwise you are going to need to either donate some cash to brilliant token makers like Devin Night and import some maps.

Once you get a handle on the interface things work well.  There are some in depth tools here that are the legacy of MapTool and it can contain a lot of information.  With no real connections or interfaces with existing reference documents there is a lot of work to be done here, but once that work is done you would have an excellent, fast and efficient system to build off of.

In the longer term Idle Ideas sees themselves moving into a web space much like Roll 20 where they provide services and shops through a web interface.  They call this “Sandstorm” at the moment and various parts of this may include paid services, much like Roll 20.  This is their intended funding model and thus Mote will be supported this way.  Mote will still be a downloadable product though an upgraded, more feature rich Mote-X will go on sale at a later date for a one off cost.  What extra services may be included in this are yet to be seen but it may be something to keep an eye on.

Full map in Mote
It is a swift beast and quite usable when you get the hang of it

If you are a fan of MapTool but have been frustrated at some of its features due to speed or other related issues it will pay you to download Mote and give it a try.  I am imagining a lot of your work on campaigns might be able to go easily into Mote with minimal changes.  For those yet to try out a MapTool product this could be a good place to start if you have some resources that you can throw into it and get under way.  They have some great resources to help you get started and I am sure you will be an expert in no time.  I found the tool a bit overwhelming at the start of it but with a little help from manuals and the like I found it to be quite efficient.

It is a different breed of beast to SyncRPG that I reviewed a few weeks back.  They are both forks of the same tool but the interfaces are much different and they are really offering different things to the end user.  For this reason I have let the comparisons go between the two and will let you all make your mind up where your efforts are better used.  Until next time, keep rolling!



  1. Wow. Thanks, Mark. It’s very well written, and we couldn’t say most of the parts any better 🙂

    If I could clarify a couple of points, the default layout that has all that crowding going on, is a default inherited from MapTool. To help alleviate this, we introduced the concept of “Perspectives”, which is just a fancy term for customized layouts. There currently 5 default values for these, and can be toggled by using the buttons provided on the toolbar, or by doing Ctrl (or Cmd on Mac) + the numbers 1 to 5, when over the map.

    A user can customize each view by moving and docking windows where they want them, and then clicking Save Perspective on the tool bar. This has to be done for each perspective, if one wants to use them all. From that point on, preferred views can easily be switched on the fly.

    As for art assets, anything that works in MapTool, works in Mote. Backward compatibility with existing MapTool campaigns is not a 100% yet, but very close. People are welcome to work with us to get it to that mark.

    On the point of Mote-X, it’s not a direct updgrade or enchancement to Mote. It’s an application we’ve written completely from the ground up, though several of its features were donated / incubated in Mote. In hindsight, we should have used a different name from the start, but Mote-X is as good a placeholder for a brand name, while we decide what to call it on release day.

    We’d like to invite interested parties to drop by our sites, if help is needed, or if there are questions to be asked. We’ll be glad for your company 🙂

    Thanks again for the awesome review, Mark! We hope to see you again soon 🙂


    1. You are more than welcome and glad to hear that you are pleased with it!


  2. Thank you for the review. Very interesting. As we looked at
    SyncRPG earlier I am actually curious what the differences in the two approaches are. What would you use Mote for that you wouldn’t use SyncRPG for? And vice versa. Thanks again for the great review. 🙂


    1. If you’ll allow me to answer :), it’s all up what type of user you are. SyncRPG’s forte, is that it more of a service built on top of MapTool, with UI elements put in to take full advantage of it. If you’re a PathFinder fan, it’s very compelling, since they’ve taken pains to make it a good experience in MapTool. I can imagine that, if they get more support, they’ll be able to spread out to other game systems as well. What they have for PF is very meticulous, and made the most of what they can do with the limitations MapTool has.

      They have artists, and authors in their fold, which is a good thing, if customized content to their application is considered. Judging these alone, it’s obviously a labor of love.

      However, what is their strength can also be a weakness. All things considered, it is still MapTool under the hood. While there is no doubt they are more than capable of expanding on that as we did, they adhere to the main source, to be part of the main fold that is the MapTool user base. Deviating to far would mean backward compatibility issues etc.

      Mote is more like MapTool, in terms of system agnosticism. There is no specialization toward any system, other than what was inherited from MapTool e.g. rolls for Hero, D&D etc.

      However, where others have forked MapTool to extend on it by adding something on top, we went the other way and dug down under the hood and replaced a lot of clunky internals. Once that was cleared, we built back up, adding the features it has in it today, that work well, since we took pains in writing the foundation first. The overall goal of this project is convenience in spades. If you’ve tried MapTool, and other forks, you’ll know what I mean once you use Mote, especially when you’ve had difficulties with the others.

      Hence, no other fork and MapTool itself, has its feature-set of SQL, Audio, IRC, updated Dice logic, etc. and none are as fast or as memory efficient, nor is any as convenient. Things may look the same on the map surface, but what runs underneath is very different. Long-time users of MapTool who’ve switched over to Mote, can attest to this. For example, most, if not all veterans are very happy about the built-in macro editor that has IDE-like capabilities.

      So, to answer your question, Mote is useful in creating something beyond what MapTool can do. It also runs anything that MapTool can, and this means products from other forks of MapTool as well, though Mote lacks the UI elements to take advantage of the custom buttons etc, and the interfacing with exclusive services these other forks have. But art and data, should transfer over just fine, in principle.

      Lastly, you would use Mote if you want to support our upcoming plans, and future projects. By being part of the community we’re growing, you will be privy to what we think will be something amazing 😉

      Best regards.


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