This is a guest contribution from James Ramage.
I have a slight obsession with tech, so it comes as no small surprise that I have tried with varying degrees of success to implement my obsession into my gaming sessions. I would like to share with you three of the best apps I have come across in recent years that can help you keep your notes clean and organized or bring a whole new dimension of play to the gaming table.
From a purely practical perspective I find a tablet to be the ideal piece of hardware at the table. I find laptops to be too cumbersome and intrusive at a typical game table, but a medium-sized tablet (I use an iPad) takes up very little room and works great with the correct applications to make your job as GM easier. You can find some nice apps for a smart phone, but in most cases they have the problem of being too small and fiddly a display to make efficient use of the software (gaming software that is, they play Angry Birds just fine).
I have never found such a thing as the perfect program, each app has its own advantages and disadvantages and I will weigh in on these based on my practical experience using them. All of these apps are available on the Apple App Store and most of them on Google Play Store as well.
Evernote is my go to app for just about any sort of note these days. I use it in both my normal life and gaming life to snap down ideas, clip articles from the web (using the excellent Evernote Web Clipper for Google Chrome) and prepare my notes for an upcoming session. It can store any sort of multimedia as a note, whether it be the motivations of your NPC’s, an image of that nasty monster the group will be fighting tonight, or a particularly ominous tune for when they start delving into the Underdark. The possibilities are endless and with a nice, clean interface and the ability to access your notes on just about anything (barring actual paper of course) you will always have the information you need at hand.
One potential downside to the app is that it can be so useful that your note collection can quickly get out of hand. As it stands right now I have 870 notes on my Evernote, and although the program offers tags, notebooks and a nice search feature to keep all of this organized it can sometimes be a pain to find exactly what you are looking for, particularly when you use also use Evernote for non-gaming stuff.
Pros: Multimedia functionally, nice clean interface, excellent support, free to use.
Cons: Free use has limited storage, you have to really keep on top of organization.
Top Tip: Create a tag called ‘current session’ and shortcut it. Tag all the notes you expect to use on game night so you can find them quickly.
3D Virtual Tabletop
3D Virtual Tabletop is a compelling idea. It’s essentially a 3D representation of minis on a battlemat that you can customize to your liking. It comes bundled with some nice premade art and maps with a fantasy aesthetic, and has a convenient feature that allows you to import your own images and convert them into backdrops or minis.
The app itself is very easy to use with minimal clutter on screen. Dragging minis into place, swiping to rotate, and pinching for zoom feels very intuitive and with a feature that allows you to snap to a grid, getting your minis exactly where you want them is a breeze. The ability to hide certain parts of the map with a fog of war is also a welcome addition.
Of course this program works best for games that use fairly exact units of movement like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder, but you can easily use it as a quick representation of combatant positions, or to slowly reveal a dungeon map in any game. A very interesting feature that I have not yet had a chance to implement is the ability to play with others via Google Plus. In theory this would allow all those at the game table to have their own view of the map via their tablets, or even better, stream the view to a nearby television screen so everyone can see it at the same time. This may not be to everyone’s taste, but it sounds like a very interesting use of technology to replace traditional gaming implements. Of course, this kind of setup would have a large cost attached to it if your players did not already own their own personal tablets.
Pros: Easy to use and intuitive interface, potential to make a true digital gaming experience at your table.
Cons: More useful in certain games than others.
Top Tip: Single tap a mini and press the prompted icon to delete it from the battlefield.
I find Index Card to be an excellent resource for my notes that I am physically using at the table, such as my session prep. The app allows you to make virtual index cards with most of the utility of real ones, and far less clutter.
Your index cards are neatly displayed on the screen with a variety of sorting and organizational options. One neat feature is the ability to organize your cards into “stacks” just like real ones, so you can create handy stacks of NPC’s, locations, encounters or whatever else you need for the upcoming game.
Much of the advantages of this app are the same advantages you have with real index card. As stated in the Lazy Dungeon Master by Sly Flourish one of the key advantages of writing your game notes on index cards, is that they are a finite size, and thus limit the amount of information you can put on them, preventing over preparation.
Pros: Easy visual representation of notes, very quick and easy to find what you are looking for, keeps tight focus on gameplay.
Cons: Limited formatting options.
Top Tip: Organize cards in a stack by color so you can see the most important ones at a glance.
So what are digital tools something that you use at your table? If so have you tried some of those I have mentioned and what are your experiences with them? Perhaps digital tools just don’t have a place at your table and if so why?