While technology continues its rapid march forward, some things remain the same. Take tabletop RPGs, for instance, which have seen a huge renaissance in recent years. What we think of as pen-and-paper games reach back more than 40 years, and our penchant for storytelling and make-believe has kept the genre alive alongside video games and all of their blockbuster production and technological marvels. But tabletop has benefited from that progress, too.
See, PC software and mobile apps have truly streamlined tabletop gaming, making it easier than ever to learn how to play and manage games. There’s a lot to choose from these days, but we’ve picked out a few of our favorite web and mobile apps for ye olde pen-and-paper to get you up and rolling.
Obsidian Portal is a godsend for GMs, and it works beautifully with any game. This website lets you manage campaigns down to the finest detail. You can build entire websites for your RPG adventures with Obsidian Portal’s handy wiki tool, and the app’s character and campaign trackers make sure you never forget how much experience the party’s earned, or where you left off in the last session. It pretty much does it all – and for free, too. Obsidian Portal is web-based, so you can manage your campaigns from your PC or on the go on any smartphone or tablet.
Another web-based, pen-and-paper resource, Roll20 goes the extra mile in bringing tabletop to the 21st century while maintaining the hobby’s creativity and imagination. Roll20’s got your standard character sheets, virtual dice, and what have you. But it also boasts drawing tools to create maps for your campaigns. You can use the platforms dynamic lighting system to block off certain parts of the map, shielding your wandering adventurers from any spoilers. What’s more, the app also includes integrated voice and video chat. It’s the perfect long-distance tabletop RPG facilitator.
Roll20 also has dedicated Android and iPad apps that offer a more condensed version of the company’s other services, including dice, character sheets, and access to Roll20’s rules compendium.
Once you’ve got all of the campaign logistics squared away, maybe you want a little something extra to take your gaming sessions to the next level. That’s where Syrinscape, created by composer Benjamin Loomes, comes in. It’s a free web, Android, and iOS app that lets you set a soundtrack to your games along with sound effects for any situation. You’ll find music and sounds for any locale your party might venture to, from lush forests to the darkest, gloomiest dungeons.
If you want to expand your experience further, Loomes provides more soundpacks for a price. He’s also put out a free SoundSet Creator that’s currently in beta if you want to try your hand at making your own music and sound effects.
The Dicenomicon is often hailed as the best dice-rolling app out there, and for good reason, too. It’s packed with features that will totally change your game. That includes pretty, customizable 3D dice that you can roll by shaking your phone.
The coolest part, though, is just how flexible the app is. You can create your own dice formula to suit your personal gaming needs, and you can save your favorites for easy access. The app also features “exotic” dice shapes including d18, d48, and d60. If you don’t want to juggle a bunch of different apps, The Dicenomicon also lets you manage character sheets in app, and you can access PDFs directly if you need to double check one of the rules. Additionally, Dropbox access means you can transfer all of your notes between devices with ease.
Drawing maps on mobile can be tricky business, but Razeware’s Battle Map has got it down. This app for iOS (sorry, Android users) let’s you draft maps on a grid, filling in tiles with backgrounds and props to really set the scene for your players. Tokens serve as markers for players, NPCs, and monsters so you can easily track the action.
When your creation is complete, you can convert the map to PDF and print it out to share with your group. Or you can make use of the app’s super cool VGA mode, which lets you plug your iPad into an external display to share the map. Using Battle Map’s GM mode, you can then move tokens around the map live as the action unfolds. Alternatively, the newly added online mode lets all players view the map on their personal iPhone or iPad, letting them move their own character across the map. It’s a great option if your sessions mainly take place online via Skype or Google Chat.
Photos via James Bowe / Flickr