I don't want to be one of those people who start off with an apology, so I am sorry for what follows. I read forums way more than I post, so for now, I won't be having much in the way of links, or cools tags, etc. After having used map tools for the last 6+ months, I find I want to contribute to this fine community and so I am starting small, here.
FYI: This post is about what I have achieved with Maptools to run DD4e games.
For those who don’t want to read all this, a summary:
With Maptools, I have been able to get many resources together, and have learned to take advantage of the flexibility to the point where I can mostly DM on the fly.
Current MT build: 1.3.b84
Framework: Rumble's v5.1.1
6-7 players at a friend's house every Sat (12pm to 1-3am. Or 5am.).
The players view Maptools on a giant flatscreen. It is fed by a laptop connected wirelessly as a Player to the server I run in the room with them. 99 percent of the time they do not interact directly with the laptop except to move the map around.
Having DM'd since the 80's, mostly with a make-it-up-on-the-fly style I am accustomed to, I have finally achieved a peaceful reconciliation with the new game-style I needed to work with map tools. These new sessions with MT are our new golden age of D&D (so thanks to Rumble and all within the MapTool universe)
We have played "Keep On the Shadow Fell", and are now doing "Thunderspire Mountain"
Feedback or What I've Learned So Far (and this is mostly aimed at using Rumble's framework):
For anyone that wants to try more freestyle DMing with maptools, but still run a module, let me say I've found a trade off between time to prep and how much you can do. It’s counter intuitive: The more you prep, the less you can do. If you try to build a world with a lot of places on the off-chance a player might want to visit a castle, forest, Keep, shore, or finally, thank goodness, someplace actually in the module, you'll either need a ton of free time or you'll be stuck with a lot of pre-made choices but nothing much in them. Here’s how I get around that.
1) I make the NPCs first. Trust me, get good at this. I make the ones in the module, and then I make 10-12 or so more for random encounters. I use whatever encounter builders I can find. There is one on DDI, but you can find them elsewhere.
2) I make the module maps. I copy a map image into MT then trace it. There's a lot more to it than that, and I do this in more than one way, but I am sharing the process I use for using MT, not making a tutorial. Bottom line is I learned tracing techniques to get a map created real fast. If I have more time than usual, I chuck in note icons for things like secret door DCs, Treasure chest contents, etc.
Now let me pause here and say that my players throw black oil on stairs, prop up beds and use them as tower shields, and Map Tools has let me keep up with representing this type of playing on the fly.
3) I shamelessly load all the free maps out there into my resource library. I organize by Outdoors, Caverns, dungeons, interiors, etc. Same is said for small miniature images of people, things, items, etc. You really only need to mass download this stuff once.
If the players go to a module map, great. Monsters are sitting on the welcome wagon, and hopefully stuff I don't want to look up is noted in the map on the hidden layer. But if I improvise and they hear that the Inn of the Happy Nymph was named after a local Nymph known to be in the woods, then they suddenly want to go see her, I tend not to say stuff like, "Oh, She got married and moved. And changed her last name. And doesn't look like she used to because, um kids. Yeah." Old school pen and paper D&D had no problem with me riffing in that direction, and put in hooks for the adventure along the way. Back then, making the scene was like writing a book (just type, "and so you walk in an enchanted forest and, oh look, a bunny"). But now, it’s like making a movie: I would need to get a Location with Grotto, hire a Nymph, and bring in a stunt coordinator if there is going to be a fight.
What I've learned to do is grab an outdoor image that matches the site closely. I spend time with my maps so I know what I have. More grottos out there than you'd think.
Then I grab a female image. Most looks like Nymphs. Rumble's pack lets me make a token out of it quickly, and all I need to do is chuck on some hitpoints.
Here is the key part: if the players go off script like this, I find they can wait a bit as long as I create content IN FRONT OF THEM. Yeah. I drag in a map so they can see it brought on. I draw a pool where it looks good, and say what I am doing as I go ("okay, you move through a forest where the trees are turning orange. Up here in the right, you see this pool of water. Ok, wait, a smaller pool than that, there. No Nymph to be found, she might be hiding.")
It's no different than when we drew on a grid for miniatures, except Maptools is light-years beyond that. No Vision Blocking (tm) done at all. Don't need it; -I save that for module maps. If a creature is hidden, I just use the Not Visible option, and make it visible when they find her. IF I DO need vision blocking, I just block where they are, and add more as they go.
Players talk a lot, so there can be time to create things off screen before they get to it.
So, all in all, I have had about 30 games since August 2010 and have found I can quickly do more with less given how flexible Maptools is. The savvy amongst you might have put together that 30 games of 12+ hours a game means 360 hours, and only 1 and a half modules covered. They side quest ALOT. My fault. But at least I can pull it off with this stuff.