Technology at the Gaming Table

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Dave McAlister

Guest
#1
A recent tweet from Richard Green about viewing more than one item on a tablet at the same time got me thinking about technology at the gaming table. It’s always been a bit of fine line for me. I love technology but I’m wary of the distraction it can sometimes cause. And I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. That said, technology does have the potential to be a great boon.

As a Player


The most obvious use of technology as a player are the numerous spell book apps available for Android and iOS. Windows doesn’t have such a great selection but, if you’re playing D&D 5th Edition, then the Spell Listing on this very website will help you out there. There’s also the ability to just bring a tablet or phone to the table with your character sheet and PDFs of the rules you are using rather than a, potential, suitcase full of books.

As a DM


Here is where technology can really come into its own. You just need to remember that its a tool that you are using rather than letting it dictate how you run the game. It can be too easy to spend all your time on the technology to the detriment of the game. Again, I’ve been guilty of this in the past. So what sort of technology can a DM use to help them? Obviously, it will depend on what devices you have available to you. I’m quite fortunate in that I have a few devices that are perfect at the gaming table. I tend to use my Surface Pro 4 on the DM side as my main device, with my Samsung Tab A on the player side. Recently, I’ve picked up a Surface Go for when I’m travelling and I’m sure I’ll be able to utilise that.

Improved Initiative


First up is my favourite: Improved Initiative. This is a great tool that not only helps you track initiative but also includes all of the SRD monsters and spells. With a little bit of prep you can also include non-SRD monsters and spells for personal use. The interface itself is dual aspect. That is, there is the DM-facing side and a separate player-facing side. The player-facing side needs a device on their side of the table. If you don’t have a spare device, you can share the website address and each player can use their phone to use it. The core setup is brilliant as it is, but if you support the creator through his Patreon, then you can get access to other elements. For example, I customise the player-facing side to make it more obvious when it’s their turn.

PDFs and Images


Going back to what prompted this little article, there are PDFs and images. The original tweet was a tip about locking a PDF open on one half of the screen and an image on the other. While, in hindsight, it seems like such an obvious thing, it is a great tip. If you have the PDF of your adventure on one half and the location map on the other, it saves a lot page flipping. And, in this age of trying to reduce waste, you save money on printing either the adventure and/or the map. Unfortunately, Wizards of the Coast don’t release PDFs of their adventures but the artists who create their maps often do (Mike Schley and Jared Blando for example) and they are very reasonably priced.

As an aside to this, the DM for my groups run through of the 3.5 adventure, City of the Spider Queen, brings a monitor to the game along with his laptop. From this he runs MapTool. There is quite a bit of prep involved with this but, as a player at least, I’m really enjoying it. The fog of war element is great and being able to utilise all of 3.5’s tactical elements without requiring a large table and lots of minis is a bonus.

Music


We tend to have background music playing while we play and I normally just put on a playlist that is genre appropriate. For most D&D games, its the soundtracks to the various Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights games. For Adventures in Middle Earth, it’s the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings soundtracks. One thing I have thought about is using an old piece of software called SceneSound and having atmospheric music playing at appropriate times. So rain and thunderstorms while out in the wilderness, a bard singing in a tavern, and that sort of thing. The only thing that puts me off is the amount of prep involved. That said, once I’ve created individual “scenes” I could re-use them as appropriate in the future. For the moment though, it’s just something that I’m thinking about.

Well. That’s me anyway. Do you use technology at the gaming table? If so, what do you use? I’m always interested in new things to investigate and add to my DM “box of tricks” so let me know in the comments below.

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Darran

Level 7 Blingmaster
#2
I have been using my new display technique for a lot of my images and maps, reducing the number of physical handouts. I put them into a Keynote PowerPoint presentation on my iPad and display them to my players at the table.
You can now remotely control a Keynote presentation on an iPad or MacBook via your iPhone. I don’t have to move the iPad to interact with it so it can stay in place displaying towards the group. I can not only pull up the next slide or go back but I can select any slide in the presentation to play next.
Not only can I control the slides but also interact with them too, drawing on the slides as they are displayed. So I had my iPad displaying the presentation to the players, I controlled it from my iPhone, and I also used my iPad Pro to record and keep detailed notes.

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If I have access to a projector and screen or a TV monitor I can plug in my MacBook Pro in via a HMDI dongle and do the same thing there, control my Keynote presentation by my iPhone or even my Apple Watch.

I use Notability on my iPad Pro, a nice little app that helps with note taking. It allows you to hand write you notes in quickly, drawing diagrams, table layout, relationship maps, doodles, as well as adding photos and images to the notes too. You can edit the notes, moving, changing colour, or re-sizing diagrams or the notes themselves. I can transfer the the handwritten notes to typed form as well. It also records the session as an audio recording so I can refer back and check on how I deliver the session.
I can split-screen with either my Notes app or my PDF Reader to access my notes or the published game. I check check up rules, or particular references in the game book quite quickly without disturbing the game or the flow of conversation at the table.
 
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