Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Droid X Gaming Review - The Last GM Screen I'll Ever Need? (Picture Mega-Post)

Yesterday I went into great detail about why I'm so jazzed to be running the Dragon Age tabletop RPG. While yesterday's post talked about the wonders of the story and how easy the system was to run, I teased that it was made possible through my use of my fancy new Droid X. Never one to disappoint, today I'll be talking about my experience running a game out of the palm of my hand, finding the right apps for me, and what I'd like to see in future apps from the GM's perspective. Oh, and I'm going to provide pictures. Lots and lots and lots of pictures.

When I decided I was going to run Dragon Age using my phone as my primary GM tool, it was due to a couple of factors. Number one I wanted to see what the phone could handle. I picked the Droid X over the Droid 2 because it's the biggest screen you can get on a cell phone at 4.3 inches. The thing's a tiny tablet for cryin' out loud! The other factor was that Dragon Age has just enough complexity to give tons of options to player and GM alike but is simple enough to have a distinctive feel of a retro-clone done right. From reading the news to pdf files to tweeting, the X has not disappointed me in the slightest in my two weeks of heavy use, but would it stand up to the rigors of GM'ing?

Yes, yes it would. The first task I had when trying to get my notes and game aids into my phone was to find the rights apps for the job. The phone comes with basic word processing capability, but I wanted something a little more complex. I started looking for to-do list apps since I figured I could make each scene described in the adventure into its own item on the to-do list. I decided on the app "Gtasks" which is a to-do list that could sync up with your Google tasks. I didn't care about that part, to be honest I liked it because it provided a lined-paper display for your text. You can see the main menu for my Gtasks to-do list up top to the right. I can then click on an individual task to display the details (which you can see below) and swipe my finger left or right to move up or down the list.

These are notes that I made based off of reading the explanation in the book. You can include more text than what is shown above - you just scroll to keep reading. This was incredibly useful as a reminder for me of the order of scenes and some key details that helped me describe the scenes and events. I also used the Gtasks to-do list to outline a special item as seen below. Of course I could add an item for a special NPC or just keep an open task with details of what happens in the story.

Everything was kept very organized, and I found that writing my own notes into Gtasks based off the adventure, as opposed to just reading the adventure and running it out of the book, gave me a much better grasp of the story and scenes. It's not that surprising - just think of how much better you learn (or learned for us old-timers) what you read out of a textbook when you took notes as you read. It's the exact same principle.

So, I had my tool to keep my GM notes, and it was in a way that really cleared up my table space. No more sheets of paper to shuffle through, instead I had my own ready-made table of contents for the adventure that allowed me to quickly jump from scene to scene. Gtasks was great for this, but how could I get my NPC stats into my phone? The formatting would be annoying enough trying to do it in Word, but using my phone it would be a nightmare. Instead of searching for an app, I used one of the oldest pieces of smart phone tech out there - my phone's camera and its ability to tag photos. Take a look below at my work space for my photos to see the tags I used.

You can see several different tags. First is the "DM" tag. I wanted to create my own DM screen using the tables from the book. I don't have much in there right now as Dragon Age is actually a very easy game to run without much need for a DM's screen. Take a look below for an example of one of the tables I used.

Besides the Target Number table, I included a description of each of the basic 8 attributes and the table outlining the amount of XP given for each level of encounter difficulty. The "Dragon Age" tag includes information about the specific adventure we're playing. It includes non-enemy NPC stats, blocks of text that should be read out loud, and tables specific to scenes. I guess I should rename this one "Current Adventure" or something similar. Maybe in the future.

The "Monsters" tag is the most useful. I threw any NPC who could be considered threatable and threw them all in here, in the order of the scene they would appear in. This left the main rulebook, the GM's book, available for anyone who needed to look a rule up (myself included) and again saved me from having to flip through pages to find stat blocks. It was also a lot quicker than recording NPC stats onto a reference sheet. See below for an example of how the stat blocks ended up looking. Keep in mind that the words and numbers look crystal clear thanks to the 8.0 mega-pixel camera included on the phone.

Ah, but there's one more tag. Dragon Age has some truly gorgeous and mood-setting pieces of art throughout the books. I wanted to utilize this art for my own purposes but also to be able to pass the phone around the table to show the players what their characters were seeing. The players encounter a farm in the first scene of the game and I used a picture of the map for my own reference in describing it to the players. I also used two pictures, one of a mob scene, and the other you can see below to show the players just how deep in it they truly were.

So, between these two tools on my phone, it was pretty much all I needed to run a very successful session of Dragon Age last night. I was satisfied, but my mind started wandering as I wanted to make it a fully multimedia experience. There's a scene where Eshara, the Dalish Elf the players rescue and help heal, gives a speech to the players explaining the plight she is in. I was going to read it, but I realized that there had to be a way to make it more epic. I began searching for a good voice recording note app and found Note Everything. I then asked Andrea to read the speech while I recorded "Anakin's Betrayal" from Revenge of the Sith in the background. You can see what it looks like below.

The thing I love most about my X and the apps made for the Android OS are how intuitive everything is. I downloaded the app in mere seconds and was up and running my recording a minute later. As you can see, I could have added written notes onto the recording as well if I wanted to. I didn't need to, but it's a very nice multitasking feature. I also was able to email myself a copy of the recording and have it saved to my computer. Blogger unfortunately won't let me upload a straight audio file (especially in the .3gp file Note Everything records in), but if you want to hear how the recording turned out, shoot an email to and I'll forward you the recording. In case you're curious, .3gp format will play in a Quicktime Player, even on my ancient iBook G4.

There was one other tool that I ended up using last night. Every GM knows that it's impossible to think up a cool, original name on the spot when the heroes encounter an unplanned-for NPC. Lots of games recommend coming up with a list of setting-appropriate male and female names to insert into your game as needed. Why do all that leg work when an app can do it for you? To that end I found an app, accurately named "Name Generator" that does all the work for you. Below you can see the main menu allowing you to choose the name's nationality, gender, and number of names to provide, and below that a sample of male German names. There are names of pretty much every nationality you could care to find. It's a simple app, but incredibly useful.

Of course there are a couple of RPG-specific apps out there, but I ended up not using either of the ones I downloaded in case they might be useful. There's the Pocket RPG Helper which, while appearing to be actually quite a useful app, just didn't provide the functionality for Dragon Age specifically. The dice roller works simply and quickly, but I'd like a dice roller where I could save 2d6 and a third in a different color to represent the game's dragon die. Without an option to make dice of the same size a different color, it's much simpler and quicker to roll dice traditionally.

The other app I downloaded was DM Assist. I was looking for something I could use as an initiative tracker. I was hoping DM Assist would be it, but it just wasn't providing the key functionality I needed. You could enter names in the order of initiative (typing each individually in), but you couldn't drag them around to showing someone jumping ahead or losing their spot. All I need for an initiative program is for it to do this, and I couldn't find anything. If anyone knows of an app that will let me do this, I would love to give it a shot. I ended up using a small pad of paper and just writing them by hand. Huge disappointment on that front.

 So what about gaming pdf's? There's always a lot of discussion regarding the ease of reading pdf's on the ipad, but what about on a cell phone? To be sure, the X will allow you to read pdf documents. I don't own Dragon Age in pdf, but I would definitely consider picking it up now to know that I could looking anything up in an instant on my phone. The only drawback is that larger pdf's, such as a big fat corebook like Exalted Second Edition can take a lot longer to download than other programs or files. I've downloaded the Dragon Slayers play set for Fiasco to my phone for the purpose of showing off how pdf's can look on the X. The image quality is perfect, and you can enlarge as much as you want. The third picture shows off how easy it is to read a smaller-size font enlarged and in landscape instead of portrait (which will switch automatically when you tilt the phone 90 degrees).

My experience running a game off the Droid X was fantastic, and I definitely plan on continuing to run games from it in the future. The clutter was quickly cleared, and essentially all I needed outside of the Droid was a tiny notepad to record initiative order and NPC hit points. Everyone else was done in the phone. It's also important to note that I didn't pay a penny for any of the apps you see here - they were all free downloads. This is kind of amazing to me, and the Android OS app market is quite the cool place. As a final note, please keep in mind that these pictures on my phone are for personal use only and shown here for the purpose of the review. They almost all come from the Dragon Age books, which I own, or are screen shots of the free apps I downloaded. This is kind of a tangent, but DON'T STEAL/PIRATE rpg products! If you like a game, support it through actually paying for it. We at The Hopeless Gamer have a staunch no pirating policy whether it's video games, music, books (including comic books!), or any other pirate booty you can find on the scurvy seas of the internet. Alright, off my soap box, but I thought it would be an appropriate time to mention that.


  1. Really cool post, though much better than a Camera is the following..

    Using OneNote (MS Office) you can capture images from PDF's, save them as JPG.

    Using Dropbox you can place the JPG's in a folder which can Sync to your phone and allow you to bring up any image, section of text or anything you can capture on your computer screen.

    Maybe this will help you out especially getting better quality images. I am using a Tablet for running my PC now for the first time, luckily mine allowed a keyboard through USB plug allowing text entry quickly.

  2. Thanks, these are really great suggestions! Unfortunately I don't have the pdf file for Dragon Age, just the physical product, but I could definitely see using these ideas moving forward with games I do have the pdf for.

  3. Download the app Google Drive on the android market place. I have all my PDF's, images, and background sound for my DARPG games stored on there. They give you 5 gbs for free, and all you need to do is have a google account, which you should have since google owns Android.


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