RPG Tech Talk: Prep Tools

RPGTechTalkLogoIn my last DM for Kids post, I talked about the challenge of preparing for a weekly game session, something I’ve never really done on a regular basis. My work and home life schedule doesn’t really seem cut out for it!

Obviously in this day and age, a time-challenged DM has a huge number of tech tools at his/her disposal which can help; a far-cry from the days when I started DMing, where everything had to be done long-hand … (Of course, many would argue that in those ancient days we just did things more simply … but that’s a question for another day …).

So given that I am currently trying to be as efficient as I can with my Prep, I thought it would be worth a quick look at the tools I am using. I’d be very interested in your comments regarding these, or any other gems you have to share.

Currently I keep all of my campaign notes digitally in Microsoft OneNote, which I’ve talked about before. I haven’t yet found a better solution, either RPG specific, or generic, for organising information and supporting files in a flexible manner (however, see the bottom of this post…). It really is a digital ring-binder! It’s certainly not without its flaws, but just as I started this weekly session challenge, one update made it even better for my purposes…

Basically, I discovered the iPad version of OneNote. Apparently its been out for a while, but recently got an update which a number of reviewers have said: “finally made it usable.” To achieve my weekly session, I have been trying to maximise the prep I get done on my commute to work via train; this is a game-changer. Via Microsoft Skydrive, I can now keep my home-based and iPad-based views in complete sync, and I can work on my notes on the train directly, rather than using some other word-processing app like Pages, and always having to transfer the data back and forth.

OneNoteScreenshot1.pngApart from a heart-stopping moment when I first synced my data20130814-085530.jpg with SkyDrive, and it seemed to lose whole swathe of data (which thankfully turned out only to be a delay while the sync process completed…) this has been seamless. The iPad app is clean and functional, and my notes look very similar in both versions … as you can see from the two screenshots. There are a few features missing in the iPad app: you can’t create sections, only pages, so the organisation structure has to be established on a PC first; and you can’t follow internal hyperlinks within the app – if you click on one, it tries to load a Skydrive URL via Safari. For my work on the train, both of these are pretty minor issues.

20130814-092905.jpgI also try and do most of my creative thinking on the train, as this maximises my time at home on a PC for more complex prep such as creating maps using CC3. For this process, I’ve been using a iPad mind-mapping app called iThoughtsHD. This allows me to brainstorm effectively, just popping out ideas and jotting them down in a connected way. Later, I can review those ideas, select the ones I like best, and start to build them into more structured notes (at which point I use OneNote). This app can also share data with a PC-based app, although I’ve never bothered with this – after brainstorming on my iPad, I simply transpose the ideas into OneNote.

As mentioned, I still prefer to do more graphical prep work such as map creation and image20130814-165218.jpg manipulation (e.g. to create tokens) on a home PC (I actually run a Mac system, using Parallels to run Windows-only applications like OneNote and CC3; it works pretty well!). However, last session I was prepping a kind of flow chart for a skills-check based chase across Fallcrest’s rooftops – I ran out of time to do this over the weekend at home, so used an app called iDraw to create it on the train. I was pretty pleased with the result  – simple, but effective! Once again the joy of ‘the Cloud’ meant that once I got home, there was my drawing ready to print straight out from the Mac version of iDraw 🙂

The weekly session challenge is certainly keeping me on my toes in terms of prep, but it has also lead me to find and use some great new tools, especially on the iPad, making it really effective for ‘prep on the go’! I’d love to hear about the tools other people use – I’m always on the look-out for ideas …

And finally for now on this topic, it’s here at last:


… at least for us lucky ‘Early Access’ backers 🙂

I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet, but there is bound to be another RPG Tech Talk post on this as soon as I have. Will this change the way I manage campaign data and session prep forever?? It certainly has potential … although the promised ‘cloud sync’ functionality won’t be available for a while yet, and with my new-found OneNote PC/iPad awesomeness, it does have some stiff competition 🙂

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1 Response to RPG Tech Talk: Prep Tools

  1. Pingback: RPG Blog Carnival: Campaign Creation | Tolrendor DM's Blog

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