About Draw IO

Draw IO is a free diagram creation software. You can use the software as a flowchart maker. Or to map out diagrams that you are interested in visually representing. There is a web-based and a desktop version of the software. Welcome to a new article series on Earthmote called Tools of the Trade. In these articles, I will review different tools and resources that I have used for running my D&D Games. The first tool we will review is Draw IO.

Using Draw IO for D&D

Since using Draw IO, I have found several different uses for it as a dungeon master.

Adventure Synthesis

When I get to the idea synthesis stage of my adventure creation, I like to map it out at a high level first. I can use Draw IO to arrange the scenes/events that are likely to happen. And I can draw connection points between them. This helps me think through the most logical flow of an adventure. If something relies on a previous event, then I need to have information for the players to connect the events.
Adventure Synthesis

Story Webs

I have used diagrams to map out story ideas. What would a campaign arc look like? What are the major events, locations and characters involved? How do they relate to one another? The story web can keep your focus on the events that you think will play out. Of course, the story web is a good planning tool, but your players will have their own ideas. As they make their choices in the game, you can update your story web with the logical consequences and reactions of their choices.
Story Web

Villain’s Plans

Related to the story web, you can map out a villain’s plans. What is their goal? What are the steps they need to take? Are the steps sequential? You villain’s plans are easy to map out with no interference. But, the heroes will have something to say about the villain’s plans. Assuming they took your hook. You’ll want to think about how does the villain react if the players stop their plans? You can map out contingencies diagram too.
Villain Plans

Character Relationships

If you are running a story that involves a lot of NPCs, you may want to create a character relationship map. The diagram visualizes how the characters are all related to one another in your story. This is helpful in an intrigue style game. You can keep this diagram as a living document. Update it when the relationships change, and you’ll stay on top of the latest action in your game.
Chracater Relationship

Diagram Dungeons

You can even use Draw IO to make dungeons. You won’t be using this map as a battle map. But you can abstract the layout of a dungeon with a diagram. Use the boxes to identify rooms, and arrows with the passageways that connect them. Your players will not notice the abstraction in the dimensions of your dungeon. I have found diagram dungeons are best for simple dungeons. It lets you create something quick for your next session. I find that’s a great option if I don’t have a lot of time to invest before the next play session.
Diagram Dungeon


For being a free software, draw IO has a lot of functionalities. More than I’ll be able to call out here. My goal is to share some of the basics as an introduction. If it looks like a tool you might want to add to your DM kit, then you can play around with it more. From there, you will be able to decide how it best works for you.

Saving Options

When you first browse to Draw IO, it will ask where you wish to save your diagrams. It gives you several options to select from that you can see in the photo below. You can decide later as well, which lets you start playing with the software immediately. I like this option, because you can test if its for you before bothering to set any save options.
Draw IO Save Diagrams
In a single file, you can have multiple diagrams saved. This is great if you want to compile multiple diagrams for an adventure. You can even manage campaign-level diagrams all in one place.

Interface – Left Panel

When the software opens up, you will see options on the top, left and right sides of the window. On the left side, you will find the different shapes and elements you can add into the diagram. You can drag and drop them onto your page and edit the from there.
You have the option to search for a specific shape you are looking for. But honestly, I use the “general” shapes for 90% of my diagram needs. The scratchpad allows you to upload images that you wish to use on your diagrams. In practice, I don’t use this much. But it is nice if you want to codify what the diagram is for with an image.
Draw IO Left Panel
At the bottom of the left panel, you will find a More Shapes option (see photo). This pops up a whole catalogue of other shapes you can add into your diagrams. Most of these are more valuable if you are using the diagram tool for database schematics and the like. But you can explore around and see if there is anything that would work for your needs.
Draw IO More Shapes

Interface – Right Panel

The right panel controls the stylistic choices. Here, you can change the settings of the diagram as a whole. If you have particular shape selected, it will give you setting options for that element.

General Diagram Options

If you have nothing selected, you will see the controls for the overall diagram. The diagram tab adjusts the page settings: grid, background, paper size and so on. You can also control the ability to make connection arrows and snap to points on a an element. We’ll talk more about these features below.
The style tab lets you adjust the color scheme of the page. You can also adjust whether the arrows curve or use 90 degree break points to connect shapes that are not parallel. The sketch option, provides a more “rough” stylistic look to your diagram. This lets the diagram look like it was hand drawn.
Draw IO Right Panel Gen. Diagram Draw IO Right Panel Gen. Style

Shape Diagram Options

If you have a shape selected, the right hand panel will show controls to adjust the element rather than the page as a whole. The style tab adjust the color, fill, board lines, and opacity of each element.
The text tab modifies your element’s text. You can change fonts, text size, alignment, or add stylistic elements. You can change the color of the font to match your needs. Finally, you can adjust the spacing of your text to change how it looks within your shape.
The third tab is the Arrange tab. The arrange tab lets you resize the image by input the desired pixel size for width and height. You can adjust the position of the element by inputting a new position with left and top coordinates. You can also adjust the angle of the element if you want it to appear as anything other than zero degrees rotated.
Right Panel Element StyleRight Panel Element TextRight Panel Element Arrange

Interface – Top Panel

The top menu bars provide you access to many of the features you see in the left and right panels. Additionally, you access the save, import, and export features from the file section. I’m not going to go in depth here. I think the top features are pretty standard if you are at all used to Microsoft Windows style programs.
The only call out I will make is under the “Help” menu. If you click on the help menu, you can select “Get Desktop”. This will take you to the downloader website to get an install file for the desktop version of Draw IO. They have installs for Windows, macOS, Linux, and Google Chrome OS.

Ease of Use

I found Draw IO very intuitive to use. You drag and drop shapes onto your canvas you start creating from there. Once you have dragged a shape out, you can adjust the size like you would with any other image you paste into a document. When you hover over a shape, you will see a bunch of little blue “x’s” that appear around the element and four blue arrows. By clicking and holding on either the x’s or blue arrows you can then drag out an arrow line. You can snap that line to your next shape in the diagram. From there, it is quick and easy to build out your connections.
Draw IO Shape Hover
Text can be a little trickier to manipulate. I’ve found its easiest to double click on the center of your shape. That should open up the text editor, and you can write from there. On lines, you can double click in the center of the line and it will do the same. Overall, I’ve had no issues if I’m using a mouse. But if I’m using my laptop trackpad, then it is a little harder to get it to cooperate.

Wrap Up

That’s a quick overview of Draw IO. I have found it to be a valuable tool in my DM preparation kit. You can make your visualizations as fancy or simple as you’d like. What’s important is that it helps you understand the flow of your ideas. It has an easy to understand interface, and its a free program. All benefits in my book. Let me know if you use Draw IO as a dungeon master. Is there other ways you are using it in your preparation that I missed?