The DM’s Little Helper – 4 Ways My iPad Has Improved My Game

When my housemate got an iPhone, I played with it a little (when he wasn’t looking) to see what it could do. Seemed pretty cool, I thought, but it was too small for my tastes, and I had no desire to pay $50+ per month. Besides, I reasoned, I hated cel phones; I carry an ancient, crappy one just for emergencies, but that’s about it. I concluded that this device was of no interest to me.

But when the iPad came out, I eyed it with more interest. I liked its larger size. Sure, I couldn’t put it in my pocket, but I could type on it with relative ease, and a Bluetooth keyboard would make it even easier. What finally decided me was the idea that I could leave my Mini-Laptop, Kindle, and iPod at home and just take a single unit with me when I traveled. I become an early adopter.

Not surprisingly, being the RPG obsessed loony I am, before long, I started looking at ways to use my iPad to run games of D&D. As time has gone on, this process has evolved. As I was pondering this week’s article (and making notes about it on my iPad), I thought I might share some of the techniques I’ve come to use that make this sleek lil unit a DM’s best friend.


To begin with, I don’t mean this to be an advertisement for the iPad, or to start some sort of weird Apple vs. PC vs. Android war, or anything. I’m sure many of the things I mention in this article are available across multiple platforms. I mean this article to be more about getting you to think of how a mobile device can be used to enhance your DMing skills; I’m not looking for any kooky flame wars.

Made for Gaming

Sadly, Wizards of the Coast isn’t currently offering their books for sale in a PDF format, but many RPG companies are. And even if I don’t have a DM’s guide on my iPad, I can still download a module in PDF format from Dungeon Magazine and have it handy.

While there are many programs available for viewing PDFs, I’ve come to like one called Dicebook. In addition to storing books, it has a built in dice-roller that you can customize. While I generally prefer rolling dice, sometimes I want to roll one without the PCs knowing, and a silent die-roll is very helpful. This flexibility makes it ideal for my purposes.

I initially thought I’d use the iPad to access features of DDI, but this proved to be somewhat difficult at times. Of far more use at this point is a program called Compendium. This useful little app doesn’t function without a DDI subscription, but it turns that DDI subscription into a mobile app for looking up anything that WotC has put into the DDI Compendium. I can look up monster stats, trap details, skills, powers, feats, and more.

With a minimal fee, you can get the version of the app without ads. This version also has a more powerful search engine, allowing you to search for items by rarity, monsters by level, and so on, just like the actual DDI Compendium tool.

The Remote Control for my iTunes

Okay, so two programs specifically made for RPGs isn’t exactly a stunning revelation. But there are other programs that can enhance your gaming experience that have nothing to do with gaming per se.

One of my favorite little apps is a program called Remote. This program lets me hook into my iTunes wirelessly, controlling volume, starting and ending songs, and so forth.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, I have organized tons of music in my iTunes into different musical themes, and I use these to evoke specific moods. I have my Battle playlist, my Creeping Through the Dungeon playlist, my Sorrow playlist, my Wonder playlist, etc. Before my iPad, I had to roll my office chair over to the computer and change the music when I wanted to alter the game’s mood. This wasn’t a problem, but my players would kind of chuckle when I did it. “Uh-oh…I think the mood’s about to change.”

Now, however, I can make these changes from behind the comfort of my DM’s screen. I can slowly fade out the Adventure music I lay when the heroes are riding across the countryside, then cut in with building, ominous music from my Impending Doom soundtrack, and the players will realize that things are going wrong. I can also cut across the music with a specific sound effect to startle them. And they never see it coming. Hehehe.

Organized Notes

I’ve seen a lot of great feedback for DMs about how to organize notes and keep track of details. I’ve seen amazing flowchart programs, and I’ve envied the DMs who can think in three dimensions like that. For me, a well-organized notebook has always been the most useful tool, and I wanted a program that would operate like that for me. I came across Notebooks as I was looking through various word processing apps, and I’ve never looked back. This simple program lets you create different books and store various documents in each book.

I’ve been making “one-sheets” for my campaigns for years, but I used to print them out each game, which was very wasteful. Now I keep them electronically. I store older ones in a notebook called “Past Game Sessions”, organized by date, which lets me go back and check details. When I’m making a new one, I can cut and paste material I didn’t use in the past game for use in the next game.

I also keep a notebook called Brainstorming, where I store all the little jotted notes about thoughts for future games. When I’m preparing games, I go back and look through these for past ideas I’ve had, cutting and pasting material I intend to use in the upcoming game session. This program, more than any other, stays on during game nights.

I sometimes use a sound recording program between sessions to “jot down” thoughts for games. If I’m busy and don’t want to do a bunch of typing, this is a real godsend, as it lets me make a recording of what’s on my mind. I’ve gotten some odd looks on the subway as I make notes like, “Dungeon concept: The Well at the Bottom of the World.”

Showing Off the Visuals

If I know there are pictures I want to show my players, I will sometimes copy them onto my iPod. At the appropriate time, I will pull up the picture, lift up my iPad, and show the players.

Since my housemate and I both have iPads, it opens up some possibilities. There are apps like Dropbox which allow you to share pictures between different iPads. We’re pondering on a system where I can move pictures into the Dropbox so that he’ll have them on his iPad, and he can then pass his iPad around.

I’ve also pondered on a game if everyone had a mobile device. Imagine having everyone on some kind of chatting program (Skype maybe) where you could notice that the Rogue’s Perception was high enough to notice a trap, cut and paste a pre-prepared message about it into his private chat box, and send it. Then the Rogue’s player, seeing the message, says “Hold on, guys…I’m feeling there’s a trip here.” It would add just a tiny hint of coolness to the game. But my group isn’t geeking out quite this hard yet. Give it time.

Your Turn

Do you love or hate electronic devices at the gaming table? Are there any specific ways you’ve come to use an iPad or similar in order to run or play a game? This is a very DM-skewed article, but I know one of my players swears by a program called i4E to use instead of a printed character sheet. Do you use something different? Let us all know.

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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