We are lucky to be D&D players at this time in its history – and not only because it’s seeing an incredible surge in popularity and accessibility. Rather, thanks to the technology of today, we’re able to play the greatest role-playing game in the world with people across the world!
Thanks to the internet, and websites like Fantasy Grounds and Roll20, D&D gamers are now able to assemble groups made up of people in different places. Perhaps a good friend of yours moved away, and you wish you could still play D&D with them. No problem! These websites have you covered. Or maybe one of your existing group moves away. With online communication services like Skype, it’s like they never left their spot at the table.
For the purposes of discussion, I will ask how much is too much technology?
Yes, it can make your tabletopping easier, but how to best implement it? The picture at the top of this article is but a portion of my whole D&D book collection. While running the game, I do have the 5E Monster Manual, PHB, and DMG with me. I also have my Curse of Strahd campaign book open on the table. Because that’s a lot of books to have, I keep all the manuals on the floor next to me to save room. But that’s just the thing – I have to save room.
Because ON the table, I have the CoS campaign book, my notebook for taking notes and tracking initiative and monster HP, my dice, my DM screen, and – usually – my iPad, which controls the music that I play during the game. If I decide to use a battle map, then that’s taking up space as well. Finally, I have print-outs of all the monster stat blocks that I may need for this session.
See, in the Curse of Strahd campaign book, the monsters unique to that campaign are found in the Appendices. Otherwise, the monsters are in the MM. So, to keep me from having to go from one book to another (or sometimes both in certain encounters), or to stop from having to flip from page to page in the books depending on what creatures are in an encounter, I personally typed up all of the monster stat blocks for every creature found in the Curse of Strahd campaign, and printed and cut them out.
Now they’re easily organized, transportable, and I can pull out just the ones I need and refer to them easily without slowing down combat with flipping pages and searching for what I need on the page in the books.
Oh man, you should see Strahd’s stat block…holy cow. It’s two pages.
So…as you can imagine, my DM table is pretty full. Some of this could be alleviated by going digital with some of the elements, sure. My note-taking, for example – but that would slow down my notes, initiative tracking, and HP tracking as I fumble around the iPad keyboard. Plus, switching between note-taking and music programs. Best to keep my iPad for music-only. I could use my phone for certain apps, yes. I have the D&D 5 Spellbook Cards app, but I’m finding I refer to the PHB more than I use that. Typically, I use my phone for the calculator, so I don’t have to worry about taking too much time mathing in my head. So, again, I don’t want to be going back and forth between apps.
Besides, there’s a certain something about playing this game on the traditional pen-and-paper. It feels right (not that you’re wrong for doing it another way). Plus, it saves time just writing things down instead of typing it out. Besides, I usually keep a campaign journal that I type up after the sessions.
And I need the CoS book. There’s only so much information that I can print out and pin to my DM screen regarding this campaign. Everything else is in the book. My dice? I don’t want a dice container or organizer, because I feel like then I’ll be taking time picking through that, when I can just grab what I need out of the pile on my table (I usually don’t have a problem finding what I need).
The only thing that remains is…the battle map. And let me tell you…I found something REALLY cool on Instagram, and I’m going to share it here.
Instagram user murderhoboinc started using a computer monitor as a battle map! That is seriously brilliant! That would definitely help reduce the space taken up by having multiple battle maps per session! The only downside that I see is it relies on electricity – which might be limited in certain play areas.
That’s the other thing – battery life. Sure, you could be the kind of DM that uses tablets and phones and computer monitors for all of your everything, and look like you’re a cyborg with all these wires extending from your seat. But that seems somehow more cumbersome to me than having the notebook, the campaign book, etc. Perhaps it’s a comfortability thing. Like…I was born in the mid-80’s, so technology made its big huge, Broadway-style entrance during my late teens and early 20’s. Thus, I’m used to analog things, I’m used to pen-and-paper notes and all that. Sure, I can type like a MOTHER, but that’s because I took computer classes in high school. I still took notes traditionally.
Am I resisting change by not using admittedly great apps like Fifth Edition Character Sheet, or Game Master 5th Edition? Is it crazy that I’d rather keep a campaign binder of my homebrew world – separated out by nation/town/history/NPC/maps? Is it because I don’t trust technology? Maybe I’m scared that I’ll be DMing, and the device will fail me in some way, I’m not sure.
What space- or time-saving techniques have you employed in your games? How do you utilize precious DM-table real estate (including the DM screen contents)? What information do you find is crucial to have in front of you at all times? Are there any apps that you find you cannot live without?
Until next time – Well Met!