I thought I’d take a break from game reviews and share some thoughts on tools that I use to enhance my gaming experience. No, I’m not talking about screwdrivers or hammers but rather a few computer, smartphone and tablet tools I’ve found very useful.
No doubt it you search the internet or your phone or tablet storefronts, you’ll come across a variety of different tools. I’ve seen dice rollers, character sheets, initiative trackers, etc. I won’t be covering all of the vast variety of tools but simply the ones I’ve had some experience with which I use on a regular basis.
I’ve come to enjoy the Android platform for my phone and tablet so that’s where my experience lies. If anyone wants to comment on any iOS platform tools, I’d love to hear from you.
My most used gaming tool has to be my tablet. More and more games are being put out in PDF format. Before I got a tablet, I HATED to read PDF documents on my computer. It was a real hassle to sit in front of a screen and read games in this manner. Until I made the leap to a tablet, I was very much old school in using books. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the tactile feel and smell of books, however I’ve come to embrace 21st century technology and almost always read gaming material on my tablet. The PDF app that I favor is called ezPDF Reader. I like this app because it’s got some great annotation features that let me highlight, underline, and add sticky notes to my PDFs. If I decide to save these PDFs from my tablet to my computer, the annotations are exported as well. In this way if I’m reading a PDF for a new game I’m trying to learn (or review), I’ll highlight various sentences or paragraphs I want to come back to later or to discuss with others. The beauty of doing this on my tablet is I can review these PDFs at home, in bed, on work trips, at a restaurant, etc.
Probably my next most used tool is an app called Evernote. This is one slick tool indeed! Evernote is an app you can use to synchronize notes between all your different electronic devices. Here’s an example: I travel frequently for work and usually I drive; some of my best and most creative thinking is done while behind the wheel. Heck, what else are you gonna do besides listen to the radio and watch the world zoom by? A big part of my thought process these days is on games and gaming. Big surprise, right? Anyway, let’s say I get a campaign idea and I’m cruising at 65 MPH. I could pull over at the next rest stop and jot down my thoughts or I could endanger my life (and my employer’s vehicle) by jotting something down on paper or electronically on my phone or tablet while driving. Or…I could fire up my Evernote app on my phone, dictate a note into the mic and keep driving. When I access Evernote from my phone, my tablet, or my home computer my dictated notes are there; and synced across all my devices. How cool is that? Of course, I can always type a note into Evernote and the concept is the same. Another way I use Evernote is to write up game notes, adventure logs, and new game ideas. Once again, all my notes are sync’d across all my devices and I can access, modify, or delete my notes from any of my devices. Did I mention the basic Evernote app is free?
Two other apps that I frequently use are storage type apps. Because I’m a fan of Google, I use their Google Drive app. This is essentially cloud storage. For a monthly fee, this app backs up all your computer documents to the cloud and you can access them from your computer, another person’s computer, your tablet, or your phone. The other app I use is Box.com. Box.com is another cloud based storage app similar to Google Drive. Box.com is free for a limited amount of storage. Luckily, I got started with a special and got 50 GB free storage, which for me is enough for what I use it for. Both Google Drive and Box.com can be used to access your gaming materials from anywhere. I tend to use these to read gaming PDFs from wherever is most convenient for me. Mostly, that turns out to be on my tablet; I’m not sure I’d read PDFs from my phone unless I absolutely had to. My aging eyes don’t handle small print well these days. I know a lot of people also turn to Dropbox. I don’t use it, but if anyone wants to post a comment on their experience with it, that would be fantastic.
I just discovered Roll20 this week and don’t know a lot about it but loving what I’ve seen so far. You can see a pattern forming based on what I’ve recommended above. I like the idea of mobility and having access to my gaming materials and notes from wherever I am. As are many of you, I’m a busy guy and most of my waking hours are spent on family and work commitments so I need to make the most of my RPG hobby whenever and wherever I find I have some time to commit to it. For this reason, Roll20 has captured my attention. It’s a browser based virtual gaming table. Let me say this again: it’s browser based. This means as long as you have an internet connection and an internet browser, you can access this app from anywhere. Roll20 is also free. Free for a basic version with a limited amount of storage space and you can’t go wrong with that. If you love it, you simply upgrade. If you don’t, then you stick with what you’re given for free. As I said, I just discovered it this week. The system started out as a Kickstarter project and was funded successfully in May 2012. I’d heard about it but just signed up this week and been on it exactly one time. The highlights are you can use it to game with friends in the same room or across the country. You can include video and audio chat, as well as the supplied free maps and map/character/monster tokens. If you’d like you can buy the Roll20 maps and tokens or upload your own. You can also use this app to post games for others to join or find a game to join. It’s generic and not tied to any one genre or game so you can use it for any system. I’m looking forward to spending more time on this app and seeing how I can use it to enhance my own gaming experience.
I’ve only touched on very few apps and tools. There’s so many more out there. There’s a browser based dice rolling site that I use called Hamete Virtual Dice Server. It’s nothing fancy but it works fine. There’s also a timer called Gametimer. Gametimer is designed to keep players on track by giving them an allotted time to make their move. Designer Thorsten Radde offered The Gaming Gang a review copy of this app but unfortunately neither Jeff nor I have iOS devices.
These are just some of the tools I use in my gaming and I’d love to see any comments you may have on your experience with these tools or others you’d like to recommend.
Until next time, happing gaming!