Limit Your Prep Time

limitpreptime As you may recall from my first This is Old School article I touched on some of the features that you can use your iPad for that will help enhance or simplify your tabletop RPG game.  What follows is a deeper look into the iPad as a gaming tool for both GM and player perspectives.

 However, before I go into the good stuff let me point something out: It's gonna take a bit of work to get things setup.  There's no magical way to put all the gaming data you want into your iPad without some manual setup.  You're going to need to sit down, organize things and load it up so you can locate the data you want quickly and easily. How much time?  Well, that will depend on how much data you have in soft copy form to start with and how much you need to transfer from paper to computer.  The important things to remember here are:

 1. You don't have to put EVERYTHING on your iPad at once.  Take it slow.  Go for the "big rocks" first (e.g. your current character, core rules and notes).  After that you can start to add more and more as time permits. And, for the most part, once data is loaded you’re ready to go – no need to re-load before each game.

 2. It’s supposed to be fun!  Seriously, when is it *not* fun to pour over game material, review your character's gear and sort through your adventure notes?  If you find you're "working" then you're not having fun and you need to scale your effort back. See #1.

Player’s Aid
As a player three of the best things you can use the iPad for are: Your character sheet (Character Folio!), soft copies of your game books and your notes.  When you've got the iPad backed up to the Cloud and/or your PC or Mac at home you've got a way to keep as permanent of a record of your character as you can get.  Keeping this stuff on your iPad means you can't lose the hard copy character sheet, misplace that red pocket folder you kept your character stuff in or realize you forgot your notepad at home when you sit down to the game 100+ miles from home (yes, this happened to me more than once).

If you keep the character and your notes on the iPad all you have to do is grab the iPad, a rulebook or two, your dice and you're ready to go.  Heck, you can even cut the "I forgot that book" problem by getting a PDF of the game system and loading that onto your iPad.
Fewer books to carry means less stuff to lug around. Yeah...I supposed you could even get a die roller app like Dicenomicon loaded up in case you forgot the dice at home.  Which might not be a bad idea as no one, at lest not in my group, likes lending their dice out at a game.

Let’s expand this thought for a minute and think beyond the game you're playing right now. Yes, it’s gonna rock having all that data ready when you need it for that big Pathfinder epic your playing in, but think about other RPG games you play. All those characters, notes, rulebooks and such that you’ve got stashed on a shelf or three at home.  Why not put that stuff on the iPad too?  The more paperwork that you can off-load to the iPad the easier it will be to keep things organized.  This way when your group decides to not play Pathfinder one night and instead play a bit of Savage Worlds, you’ll have the stuff you need waiting on your iPad.

Once you have things setup you've got a single source that you can manage your gaming from.  You are gonna still want some hard copy books, dice and notepaper at any game, but that stuff (apart from the dice - you always need dice) isn't as critical as the character and campaign notes that you've spent the last 6 months collecting and updating.

I know some folks hate typing notes during the game. They just want to make a quick scribble, a brief jotting down of a key NPC name or location and move on.  My advice is for you to find an app like Penultimate.  This is a notebook app that allows you to write via a stylus or a finger as you would with a pen on paper.  And, because it’s on the iPad, you get all these hand written notes saved and you can back ‘em up! How cool is that? So next time you ask yourself, “Where did I put that note about the kobold’s lair?” or “Where’s that list of my character’s spells?” you know EXACTLY where to look: On that single device you always take gaming that has your critical notes, books and characters in it.

GM’s Aid
As I’ve mentioned before, I bought my iPad as a GM tool.  At this point I’m sure you’ve already figured out how you can use your iPad to stash soft copies of your monster manuals (why drag around 5 books just so you can pull the stats for a couple of monsters from each book?), rulebooks and so on so I won’t bother talking through that.  Let’s talk about the interactive bits – The things you can do with the iPad that’ll help make your game come to life.

After I loaded up my iPad with PDFs I got started on my picture files.  I had tons of images of maps, monsters, symbols, handouts, etc that I used to print out as part of my pre-game prep.  All those things you like to hand out or show players.  Some of them you never use, and others you forget at home and still others you realize you should have printed out but didn’t think you’d need them and now you do… Your iPad changes that.  Load that baby up with folders that contain all your adventure handouts and images.  Any graphic you’d like to show the players should be on your iPad.  Even if you think “I might not need this…” you should still load it up.

If you have a few key handouts that you want to physically give the players but even that can be “fixed” if you can access a printer at the game, or if your player(s) have an iPad as well.  If the player(s) have an iPad you can just email them the handout and POW!  It’s right there for them to review and pass around to those folks who don’t have an iPad. I’ve used images of monsters as the inspiration for an encounter before and having that image on hand for the actual encounter has always been great.   Calling up the image and then flipping the iPad over to show the shambling Sons of Kyuss reaching out for them as
slime covered green worms wriggle from its mouth and eye sockets made the players smile and shudder all at once.  My description to the group had been good, but the shock of seeing the monster “for real” was the perfect compliment.

Graphics are a big part of a GM’s job.  We either use our verbal descriptive skills alone or we try and enhance them with props.  The iPad is a graphics display tool that can give you loads of wonderful image props that you can use to expand your descriptions and help set the stage for key encounters. When it comes to GM maps of things like dungeons and such you most likely won’t be giving these out or flashing them to players, but you’ll still want to all of your adventure maps in one place for easy reference.  Heck, if you do it right you’ll have extra maps loaded up just in case you need them. Maybe your players want to start a brawl in the tavern and you need to map it out?  They want to wander into that nearby abandoned silver mine and force you to improvise the entire thing? Done and done!  At least from a map perspective anyway.  If you spend some time searching the web for some generic dungeon, tower, overland and building maps and you’ll have a bunch of great images waiting for you when you need them.

The important thing with graphics is that you organize them.  I’ve got groups broken into: Undead, Goblins and Orcs, Trolls and Ogres, Treasure, NPCs, Towns and buildings, Dungeons, Iyrul’s Tower Adventure and so on.  If you’re going to use the iPad as an effective tool organize the graphics so that you can get to them quickly.  This way
when you need an image of a barbarian troll with a wicked looking sword or that map of the dungeon that lays beneath Iyrul’s Tower in the heart of the swamp you navigate to the right collection of images and pull up what you need. If you need to do a quick hand-drawn sketch of something like say the Elder Sign then you can pop open your copy of Penultimate (or other sketch app), draw it out and show the players.

The other thing I’d like you to think about is those other games you run or want to run. As I said in the Player’s Aid section above, why not load up on some non-current campaign goodies while you’re at it? Your game crew no doubt likes a bunch of different games and, every once in a while someone(s) will bring up the “Lets play something else” idea. It normally doesn’t go anywhere fast because you don’t have the rules or any source material along. And, normally, why would you want to bring three boxes of other games along every time you played Pathfinder just on the odd chance that you’ll play some other game some night? But, you’ve got yourself and iPad and that means you’ve already loaded it up with rules, source material, images and maps for a number of games. That way, when the “Lets play Savage Worlds ‘cause half the group bailed on us tonight” happens you, my well prepared GM, are ready to meet that challenge with a calm, almost rehearsed, “No problem, I’ve got the rules and the Deadlands setting with me.”

Not only is the evening’s game session saved but, with your skillful use of the iPad as a prep tool, you won’t need to interrupt the game.