Even as someone who is just setting foot into the world of 20-sided die and hardback rulebooks, I can’t deny the allure of using a few smartphone and tablet apps to make things easier and more immersive.
So after chatting with bearded fellows about character creation and building an immersive game world at this year’s PAX, I went looking for more tools to augment the typical Dungeons and Dragons experience.
Create Unrivalled Atmosphere: Syrinscape
A good Game Master (GM) can set the scene, build tension and keep other participants on their toes, but the hum of your dishwasher, air conditioning, or city streets hardly provides the appropriate ambience for dungeon crawling or off-world exploration. That’s exactly where Syrinscape comes in.
Syrinscape is a cross-platform software package for GMs who want to add believable, immersive sound to their games. The app is available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android, and uses a subscription or downloadable content (DLC) model to provide users with access to a rich set of fantasy and sci-fi soundscapes.
This isn’t your typical soundboard app, but a powerful audio engine that produces constantly evolving ambience and dramatic “encounter” music that can transform even the blandest of quests. The GM is able to mix and blend various elements to create their own “SoundSets” completely free from obvious looping or repetitive patterns.
After playing with the app at PAX (and scaring passersby with a few sporadic Wilhelm screams), I was impressed by the variety of sounds, overall quality on display, and ability to create incredibly unique and detailed background and foreground noise.
You can either pay $10 per month (charged bi-monthly) for a subscription which provides access to both sci-fi and fantasy ambience, take out a $6.50 per month subscription if you only want the fantasy sounds or cough up $3.99 for each sound pack in the store if you’d rather own the content outright. The subscription model might work out well for regular groups, who can split the cost and meet often enough to justify the expenditure.
- Tabletop Audio is a resource for players and GMs with a decent selection of free, web-based sound effects and soundboards. The project currently has four different themes to choose from, including both fantasy and sci-fi elements. Fund them on Patreon (or donate on the website) if you’d like to see more.
- SceneSound is a free Windows-based sound mixer for tabletop roleplaying games, with lots of content to download for free.
- Softrope is another free sound mixer for Windows that allows you to import your own sounds.
Create & Develop Characters: HeroLab
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a complete newbie, creating a character can mean hours of deliberation over strengths, weaknesses, and all-important stats. Once you’ve finally created your likeness, you’ve then got to keep track of what you’ve learned, your level, and all the other pertinent information the game world throws at you.
HeroLab is a digital assistant for the RPG enthusiast who is serious about their characters. The software works out things like relevant bonuses, penalties, and modifiers for you, which means less time spent with your head in a rulebook. A helpful character creation system walks you through required fields and attributes, and the interface adapts to your character — you won’t see spellcasting selections if you can’t cast spells, for example. You can even attach portraits, add backstory, and provide the GM with all your information digitally using the Tactical Console.
The software runs natively on Windows, Mac OS X, and also the iPad. A standard Hero Lab license will cost you $29.99 per game system, though pricing for specific rules and games varies so take a look at the pricing page for a better idea. The iPad app is completely free, and as such, it can be used free of charge as a basic character sheet for starting your game.
If you want to evolve your character as you play and add further detail, you’ll need to shell out for the appropriate license however.
- Beyond Tabletop is a set of tools for players who want to move beyond pen and paper and embrace the power of web-based character sheets and maps. The project is currently in beta, uses Google Drive for syncing and storage, and doesn’t cost a thing.
- PCGen is a free, open source character generator and maintenance software for tabletop RPGs. It currently only supports the d20 system and runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux
Create Profile Images: Hero Machine
What’s a hero without a face? If you’re using an app like HeroLab to track your character’s progression, you might as well make use of the ability to attach an image of your hero’s likeness. Even if you’re not using HeroLab, you can still design, save, and print your character’s profile picture to add an extra visual element to your game.
There are several different versions of Hero Machine to choose from, and unfortunately they all rely on Adobe Flash (here’s why that’s a bad thing). They’re all suitably old school in nature — you’ll even find the odd reference to poor download times on dial-up connections.
Hero Machine 2.5 (above) is the simplest to use, though it contains a huge number of customizations — including clothing, headgear, wings, tails and even different backgrounds. Everything has an assignable color and the art style isn’t dissimilar to what you’d find on a trading card or in a fantasy novel. You can pay to download Hero Machine 2.5 for $9.95, though be aware you only get the same flash .SWF embedded in an advert-free .HTML page that you’ll need to open in your browser.
Hero Machine 3 (below) takes things to the next level, offering an almost-fiddly level of detail to play with. The art style is of a higher quality, you can apply multiple attributes (e.g. two necklaces, rather than one-per-category as with HM2) and you can zoom in on your character’s face for a better look at things.
If the advertising annoys you, then you can pay $0.99 per month for Hero Machine Premium which removes all advertising and makes the designer window bigger (for both versions).
Create Cohesive Campaigns: Realm Works
From the creators of HeroLab comes Realm Works, a campaign management tool designed specifically for GMs who are looking to leverage software to improve their roleplaying experience. It’s a digital aid to help GMs keep track of their campaigns, plots, locations and the tiniest of details, but it’s also a tool for players who are in turn drip-fed information by the GM as it unfolds in-game.
Realm Works includes access to the Realm Work Content Market, which provides pre-created content from publishers and enthusiasts alike. Pluck locations, NPCs, dungeons, and more straight out of the cloud and integrate them into your game with a few clicks. You can then use the software to individually reveal various aspects of your world — from partially obscured maps, to portraits, relationships and so on.
It’s also designed to take much of the agony out of the GM’s preparation work. It can take hours to assemble the various relevant materials, character sheets, notes on what happened the last time you played and an overview of the story so far. Realm Works makes this far easier by automatically generating summaries for you.
Realm Works is currently only available for Windows. The full GM edition costs $49.99 and comes with six months access to Realm Works Cloud Services (charged at $24.99 per six months thereafter, or $39.99 for a full year). Cloud services enable you to keep your campaigns in sync and push information to each of your players, among other things. Standard players can purchase the Player Edition (also Windows-only) for $9.99 per user, with discounts applied for bulk purchases.
- Masterplan is a completely free planning and campaign design tool for the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons that runs on Windows.
- The Keep 2.0 is another campaign and game management system for Windows, though it looks like it could use an update and costs around $35 to buy.
- DM Genie is a Windows tool for players and game masters running the third edition (or revision 3.5) of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s no longer supported by developers and thus free to download.
- Scrivener is a comprehensive writing project management package used by screenwriters, novelists, and anyone who needs a hand organizing a big project. It can also be used to create a comprehensive overview of your campaign, story, characters, NPCs, and more (though there’ll be a lot of manual work involved).
Create Your Miniature Army: Army Builder
Another Lone Wolf product (Hero Lab, Realm Works), Army Builder is designed specifically for use with tabletop miniature games like Warhammer 40,000, Lord of the Rings, Warmachine and many more. The software is available for both Windows and Mac, with a free roster viewer app also available on iOS devices.
The software is designed to add “point and click simplicity” to the at-times complex task of creating army lists. The software checks the roster you have chosen against the rules for your particular game, eliminating mistakes and removing the need for you to constantly check the rulebook yourself. There’s no calculations for you to manually perform as the software does the sums for you, leaving plenty of time to experiment with different rosters and tactics.
When you’re ready you can print out a quick reference sheet for you to consult during gameplay, or simply use the free iPad or iPhone app instead. You can buy Army Builder for $39.99 which provides access to all supported games (no need to buy separate licenses for separate game systems).
- EpicRoster is a fairly complex-looking calculator for Warhammer 40k, with little in the way of instructions.
- AB40k provides up to date Warhammer 40k files for Lone Wolf’s Army Builder (above).
- BattleScribe is a free, fast and powerful army list creator for a number of tabletop games. It runs on iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac OS X.
Do you play roleplaying, miniature or other tabletop games? Let us know what you think and what we missed!