The Netbook and the Gaming Table

The addition of small, very portable computers has really changed a lot of the way people view computing. I own a couple, and tend to carry the Sony Vaio P around like a security blanket. This means, then, I have access to a lot of data, even when not connected to the internet. This has held true for the other class of portable computing devices, the crop of e-book readers. I’ve found it useful to keep my gaming notes, especially for RPG games, on computers and have caught chatter from other roleplaying and GMing friends about the coolness of having whole RPG sourcebooks and manuals on their Kindles.

So what has the lightening of the gaming bookbag done for you, if you’ve switched to using electronic tools?

I’m not a huge tabletop gaming person, but the games I play all seem to have some new enhancement. With the ability to carry quite a bit of data around, having all my notes for games is easy, when it all fits in my purse.

For myself, my main tool has been Microsoft OneNote, which is a data collection and organization product that is often included in the more complete versions of Office. It’s a good buy on it’s own, if you’re a Windows user. I make use of a lot of personal notes when playing a RP MUSH, keeping track of my evil plans, notes on stats and specific game files I use often but need to view offline, etc. This picture is a snippet of the gaming section.

Each little portion of my character’s activities has a section, and pages within it. The main screen shows a rumor posting that relates to a plot I was working on. As a player, it helps to copy certain useful information into a form I can carry around, search, and add to. How many of us in online gaming have remembered reading something before, something a character said, but not the specifics? Handy now to slap into a searchable database.

Obviously, from a GM’s point of view, finding a software package for their platform and creating a database like this could mean not having to repeatedly create things each campaign. OneNote, as well as Evernote and other data organizing packages, allow you to create a page and then save it as a template to use over again. With OneNote, you can print a PDF right into it, and then overlay more typing. It’s a great way to create character sheets, if you lack a PDF writing app. It does take time to build up a treasure trove of your own information in any database, and that can be daunting to some, I think. Not everyone is confident with computers enough to take up a database application and turn it into something that is readily useful. I find OneNote to be very easy to use, and am interested to hear what others use to store their campaign notes.

While even Microsoft OneNote runs on a netbook quite well, if you’re into lightweight, there’s the Tiddlywiki option. A Tiddlywiki is a single file you open up in a web browser and manipulate right there. It’s all saved in one file, but due to the magic of Javascript, you can create chunks, called tiddlers, and hide and show them as needed. The blank file without modifications can be found at M Thomas at his RPG Dumping Ground blog, has written an excellent introduction to the plain TwiddlyWiki file, and his blog looks interesting for RPGers as well: However, with the flexibility of Tiddlywiki, there is already at least one ready-modified file devoted to tracking RPG campaign information.

As with any of the Tiddlywikis, just go to the blank one and Save As the file to your local disk, and there you can modify it. Narrator’s Helper, by the Flying Turtle bloggers, is located here:

I won’t go into detail about the file, only to say that the author has added a number of new features to the TiddlyWiki, including the ability to roll up NPCs and track their hitpoints and damage, as well as rolls based on their stats, right in the wiki file itself. Most of the improvements involve handling random number things in games that use dice, in addition to all the tagging goodness of the TiddlyWiki. If you’re the light programming type, I encourage you to download the file and try your hand at a customization. Share what you create with us, too!

Lastly, I wanted to mention the iPod Touch/iPhone devices. There are quite a few handhelds out there with their own app stores and such, but this is just a sampling off my own iPod Touch.

  • Armory: If you’re into World of Warcraft, you may have known about the Armory app for iPhone. This is a slick little app that shows your character stats and equipment, just as it is in the Armoury website. Nice graphics with page turning sounds. However, I have found it not to work if you have an Authenticator on your account.
  • Authenticator Mobile: Speaking of.. if you do have one, or wish to secure your WoW account, the Authenticator for Mobile is a free download out of the App Store. This is a program that generates a unique timed number that must be typed in when logging in. It’s an excellent idea to help keep your account from being hijacked (as mine was last week), and you don’t even have to dish out the $6 to buy the fob one off the store.
  • Pocket MV: For those who are sucked into the virtual world of Second Life, there is Pocket Metaverse for accessing that graphical world right from your iPhone. Unlike some lightweight apps, this one allows map viewing, limited movement, chatting, inventory manipulation… the next best thing to actually logging in. For those on netbooks or older laptops that can’t handle the client, it’s a good option, even if it eats battery power like Oreos.
  • Dice Rollers: There seem to be a number of them, such as Crit, Dice Bag and Motion-X Dice. Your mileage may vary, as I haven’t tried any of them, but those are free for the download.

I’m sure the new iPad will open up things even more, and the touch capability with the large screen should tempt programmers to create new tools for us gamers. Be nice to your programmers, convert them to gaming, then maybe they will gift us with cool.

I’ve kept to what I know here, but if anyone has cool tools they’ve found useful on portable devices, please share with us in the comments!


2 responses

  1. Amanda

    The Netbook at the gaming table has actually become a point of contention. All of our players except my husband, myself (and our new player) have one — and recently, I got a full blown laptop for school. However, skipping over the point that I’d rather cart around Dead Tree to PDF (I just don’t enjoy using them for the most part) the Netbooks at the table have brought the issue of various things being a problem AT the gaming table.

    Namely, our group surfing 4Chan (which I loathe), or one of our players simply turning on Civilzation IV and playing while he’s not the focus of attention — to the point of interrupting the game with cursing when his ‘backup’ game goes poorly! On the other hand, we have one player who keeps everything electronic and would never, ever used paper, even if we asked nicely… but at least he doesn’t surf, and he doesn’t play games.

    Now, I got my laptop and took it to the game that we do not host (I have promised I will not bring the Laptop out for my husband’s game, to respect his disdain of these machines at his table and the disruption they cause). But when I brought my laptop to join in, just to see their reaction, I was reluctantly given the key to their internet (they all have keys to our wireless network connection) and I was immediately told I couldn’t play any games during their game…. unlike our other player, who was either surfing 4Chan or playing Civ.

    The doublestandard in which the clique of bachelors exerts in our game frustrates us both, but we can’t say no to the game-players and surfers when we let the ‘good’ player who simply refuses to use anything less technology advanced then his netbook without saying WHY we’re banning and calling them on their behavior–which they will make excuses about and deny.

    You can’t win.


    April 27, 2010 at 7:18 am

  2. Kristina

    I don’t play tabletop, but the friends of mine that do usually don’t have the laptop with them during the game. I noticed they all have print-outs and things, so they must all organize their information electronically, but they don’t like to be disrupted in any way. They don’t even like the TV to be on in the next room disrupting them, so I guess it’s just different strokes for different folks.

    I’m all for using computers to organize all the information and just updating a print out every week for the game. Then again, I don’t play DnD or any of these tabletop games.

    Also, nice call on OneNote. I used that while I was in school, and it’s such a wonderful program. I got it for free because my university was promoting it at the time (if you buy a Dell through the university they’d give you OneNote for free). Definitely recommend using it Mac and PC users alike.


    April 27, 2010 at 9:26 pm

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