So I found what might be my favourite DM tool for D&D since my dry-erase battlemat; an iPad.
I know, I know, calm down. I’m not suggesting we remove books or imagination from D&D or that we all sit around staring at screens rather than at each other. But I was playing around with Numbers, the iPad’s official spreadsheet app, and something clicked: it’s actually really useful for running battles, and in some ways, better than a pencil & paper! I’ve just written a tutorial on using Numbers for your D&D game, and afterwards I’ve got a few brainstormed ideas on other ways you could use iPad or another tablet to level up your D&D game. So, without further ado, let’s roll!
First, set up a simple table featuring the stats of your PCs. Toss in maximum HP, basic stats that you’d want to reference (AC, Fortitude, etc). Make the first non-header row a row of checkboxes, and label that row “Turn”.
Something sexy like that. You can see that I named the chart “PCs”, and the sheet it’s on “Fellowship” to indicate that this is the base sheet for my party. Had I spent more time preparing this idea (I literally created this 5 minutes before I started writing this post) I’d include a second table listing skill bonuses and other things about the PCs you’d like to reference, especially stuff you want to reference without them knowing, like Passive Insight scores. But it’s key that those things should be in a second table, especially if you’re going to be detailed, because we’re going to copy this simple stat table.
So, copy the first table into a new sheet. If you’re planning an adventure and you know the PCs will be getting into three fights, make three new sheets and paste that simple stats table into each sheet. Then go ahead and add in the monsters that the PCs will be fighting, each with their own stat column, although you could condense 1 HP minions. You don’t need to have Initiative filled in, we’ll be entering that later. Then tap the new sheet tab at the top, and choose ‘New Form’. Set the form to be for the table you just created with the PCs & monsters. You should end up with a setup like the following:
Note how I’ve named my sheets. Weathertop has all the core stats I’ll need for the Weathertop fight, Weatherform is my form entry for Weathertop, and Fellowship is the sheet I created earlier that has all the standard stats. So you can quickly see your different fights and move from one to another, like Weathertop, then Balin’s Tomb, etc. Our preparation is essentially done!
Let’s fast-forward to the battle. “Roll initiative!” I cry. And as players start shouting out their initiative numbers, I can fill them in on Weatherform. I don’t need to worry about ordering them or making sure I write the Initiative down somewhere where I won’t lose it, this bad boy keeps track of it all for me.
And when I swap back to the actual table, my initiative will be all filled in. I can just tap on the header and drag the various columns around, so now I have this:
And now the fight can begin (man, these players are screwed, look at that HP). I’ve got all the stats I need right here, so I don’t need to constantly ask Frodo what his AC is. The different columns indicate turn order, so in this case, the Nazgul King is going first. Aragorn’s pitiful Initiative result puts him in dead last, even behind the generic Nazgul A & B. The check boxes allow for easy tracking of who has taken their turn and who hasn’t; great if you’ve got a pile of mobs to keep track of, or if your players tend to let their minds wander (I recommend using form entry to check the boxes). After a while, your sheet might look like this:
Note how I’ve been using the Turn checkboxes (so it’s Aragorn’s turn) and how poor Frodo has already slipped down to -9 hit points. But there’s a little surprise I never mentioned yet. If you take a bit more time to prepare, you can really turn this up to eleven. Check this out:
Now i’ve got images of the minis down there. Imagine putting art of weird monsters down there, or even in another sheet. If players ask “What the hell does a Nazgul even look like?” you can either zoom in and show them the art, or describe it to them. Also, imagine putting a mini underneath each column so I know exactly which mini corresponds to which stat-column. This is great if you don’t have a huge selection of minis, so you might have a Skeleton Archer representing Nazgul A and a Bandit representing Nazgul B. You can drop quick images of those minis beneath the columns to remind yourself of which is which.
I even have a stat block down there, so I have all their attacks and traits and things also at my grasp, but with the super-key information like HP really easy to reference and change. I also imagine you could put a picture of what you want the battlemap to look like, to help you arrange your Dungeon Tiles and get everything set up. And it’s all on the same sheet!
And the best part? This is all doable/changable on the fly. If a character’s initiative changes, you can re-order the columns in about five seconds. If you realize that Aragorn is blowing the Nazgul away and the players need a trickier fight, duplicate the Nazgul column twice and suddenly reinforcements climb up the side of the mountain! And with the Turn checkboxes, you’ll never miss a turn or forget whose turn it is if you all go out to grab some pizza before continuing the fight. No awkward erasing and quickly writing things down, the paper getting more and more difficult to read as the battle wears on, no more losing where you wrote down the Nazgul King’s HP, no more accidentally writing on your Monster Manual when you meant to write on your scratch paper but you’re juggling 3 books at once …
There are some other sweet uses of the iPad for games like D&D. I won’t go into detail here like I did above; consider this section just a bunch of ideas I’m throwing out.
Obviously, having a Safari tab open to the Rules Compendium would be fantastic, and if you’re running a home-written adventure of a Dungeon Magazine adventure, having that sitting in iBooks as a PDF would be invaluable. Being able to look up art on the fly would be pretty killer too; imagine a player asking what the hell a Barghast is (seriously, what the hell is a Barghast?).
And if the players are all carrying smartphones, firing off an email or text with a secret message (“Boromir, the Ring has taken control of your mind. Try to take the Ring from Frodo when the two of you are alone.”) can help keep truly secret info secret, without passing around a giant note or calling a player aside. Or imagine if the guy playing the Wizard couldn’t make this week’s session due to exam studying; maybe he could send a message to the party warning them of danger via Skype or FaceTime, or provide buffs via Twitter (@Wizards_DnD style). It’d be silly, sure, but I bet it’d also be pretty awesome. And if your group isn’t too distractible, turn on some generic fantasy music to set the tone.
The non-DM uses are pretty nifty too. Get a drawing or sketching app and suddenly dungeon cartography isn’t so bad! Running up against the edge of paper and finding out that the Mines of Moria keep going is a total pain, but with a tablet, you can just zoom out and keep drawing. Keep all of your power cards on one small screen (I’d recommend a smartphone over a tablet for that purpose), and write down your loot digitally so the scrap of paper won’t be lost. Send messages to fellow players if you’re planning something secret that you don’t want your DM metagaming about, or send him a message if you want to investigate a fellow party member without arousing suspicion (“Boromir is acting odd, can I use Insight without letting him know?”)
Now, those are just ideas. Maybe they’ll be totally useless for your game. I know that adding technology to this inherently non-electronic game is often viewed as something dangerous. And sometimes the appeal of D&D is that you aren’t playing around with touchscreens and sending emails, and I’d never want to take that appeal away.
I’m not presenting any of this as the way you should be playing, but I do enjoy experimenting with new ideas, and I think some of these would be a lot of fun, depending on you and your group. Feel free to experiment with them, and if you ever do try anything along these lines, let me know in the comments! Or if I’m missing some really sweet idea, feel free to sound off as well. Do you use technology in your game at all?