In this second installment of the features and utility of the iPad in tabletop gaming, we’ll spend some time on accessories, the true “killer app” for the device, and what your typical in-game workflow could look like. Read on!
After dropping some serious coin on the iPad the first thing you’ll probably want to invest in is a decent case. It just so happens that the official Apple case is quite nice. It’s form-fitting and made of a matte, microfiber-like material. The iPad snugly fits in and the folding cover doubles to create an upright stand in portrait mode or if you reverse the orientation, a slightly angled viewing stand with the iPad lying face up, towards you. This is convenient if you need your hands free at a table or have the unit in your lap. In the former, likely paired with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. This is the same keyboard that Apple has sold for a few years that works with their other products. I’ve used the Bluetooth keyboard for over a year with my MacBook Pro and can highly recommend it. It’s low profile and the removable batteries will give you many months of use.
Another accessory is the iPad dock which, as you would imagine, is just as it sounds, holds your iPad upright in portrait mode and docks it with your computer/AC power. There is an audio out jack on the back for connecting to a stereo to listen to music while docked.
Not shipping yet is the iPad dock and keyboard, essentially the merger of the two accessories above. Both docks have the disadvantage in that while they’ll hold the iPad upright in landscape mode, you can’t dock while in landscape. In the case of the dock + keyboard, you lose the keyboard functionality too.
My recommendation at the gaming table? Use the iPad case as your protector and stand (it works in both portrait and landscape mode) and pair with the Bluetooth keyboard for heavy lifting.
Need to display your iPad on an external device? Then you need the VGA adaptor. A caveat of the adaptor is that the iPad will not automatically mirror the display when the adaptor is used. Use of the VGA adaptor is app-dependent. Right now the only apps that support output are the bundled video apps that come on the iPad and Keynote. In the case of Keynote your presentation displays on your connected device and the iPad serves as a presentation guide. Also, as the name implies, the VGA adaptor is only for VGA hookups; DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort aren’t supported (yet). You can use the iPhone/iPod component and composite adaptors for video output.
The Killer App
In the previous article I spent quite a bit a time on additional apps to enhance the iPad experience. Perhaps the iPad’s killer app is the one you least expect and comes bundled with every device out of the box: Safari.
Apple’s PR machine tells us that using the iPad to navigate the web may be the best way possible to experience the Internet. They may not be far from the truth. The inherent ease of flicking through pages and the responsiveness of the iPad in rendering web pages makes it fluid and enjoyable. You can rotate the device anyway you’d like; the iPad automatically renders to your orientation. Pinching and zooming works just like on the iPhone while double-tapping allows the iPad to intelligently zoom into the area of content you’re most interested in looking at.
A source of some ire amongst some users is Apple’s adamant refusal to support Adobe Flash. It simply will not work. Full stop.
Apple claims this is to enhance stability — Steve Jobs once made the comment that the only time Macs crash is when they’re viewing Flash — and has engaged in a bit of PR warfare on this front. Several content providers are switching to the HTML5 standard and/or providing their own standalone apps to stream video content normally handled by Flash. (Notables include Netflix and ABC, with Hulu rumored to be in the works.)
That said, there are a number of RPG websites that work well with the iPad as enhancement tools.
D&D Compendium (Link)
It works just exactly as you’d expect; it’s like holding every D&D book and product in your hands at once. The entire library. Again, this is something that you can do on a netbook or laptop but I found searching for content on the iPad faster than the conventional keyboard/mouse setup. Plus the iPad’s form factor allows for easy sharing of the display. The ten-plus hours of battery life (I average about 11) means you aren’t tethered by a power cord.
Not only is this site well-designed and interface well with the D&D Compendium (you’ll need a D&D Insider and a Google account to get full value of iPlay4E) but the integration with the aforementioned website gives you interactive, online character sheets. Populating your list of usual suspects is easy: simply upload your .dnd4e Builder saved files. Oh, and the site renders nicely for tablet devices like, say, the iPad. Excellent.
Many cool scripts here to quickly build an encounter. I’m enamored with the Quartermaster script which creates 4E treasure parcels for you. Click to link through to the Compendium for stats. Simple and fast, just the way it ought to be.
These sites are specific to D&D but certainly there are more out there for your favorite respective RPG. As long as they are coded to HTML standards and don’t use Flash they should work fine on the iPad. Remember, the iPhone OS uses a full version of Safari, so no special mobile version of the site is required.
A Day In The Life
So what would a typical GM workflow for a game potentially look like with the iPad? This past Saturday I actually did run a game of D&D using my iPad. What started as an experiment turned into a full dependency upon the device to run the game.
All of my game prep is done electronically so the task was easier than it might have otherwise been. First up, I exported my campaign notes into PDF for use on the iPad. Lacking the time (and being too lazy to go downstairs) I wirelessly dropped the campaign notes on Dropbox and pulled them from the iPad within GoodReader. A better solution might have been to use Pages in conjunction with a physical keyboard for the campaign notes, then providing me with the ability to edit them as the game progresses.
Notes in hand — literally — the iPad ran double-duty as the background music player for the game. Since I have the good fortune to have an LCD television behind the GM, hooking up the iPad to the TV I’m able to display handouts interactively. That includes a map of Faerûn that I can pinch and zoom and show the players where they are. Visual aids help set the stage with cityscapes, maybe even a looping monster slideshow.
Unfortunately one of the players has left his character at home. Using LogMeIn Injection (iTunes link), I hop onto my machine downstairs and pull up the character in Character Builder from our group’s Dropbox and print to the printer right behind me. Alternately, if the player had his own iPad, he could pull up the character sheet on his iPad and simply play the game with an electronic sheet.
An encounter leads to blows and in the past we’re accustomed to using the whiteboard on the wall to track initiative. Throwing together a quick presentation in Keynote I’m able to drag and drop characters and order by their initiative roll and optionally display for the group on the monitor.
Rules questions come up and I don’t bother to heft around my stack of 4E books anymore. Thankfully with the D&D Compendium that’s not an issue. A question regarding a power leads to a quick lookup of the recently errata’d version for clarification.
The encounter is resolved but I never had time to generate a parcel for the group. A quick hop on Asmor.com solves that issue nicely. We finish the session with loot and hand and the players have gained a level. We pass the iPad around the table so everyone can glance at the loot list and read the effects.
Granted, this is easier with a game like D&D with such a large electronic presence and support. For your own game this may not be the case. And certainly all of this would be possible to some extent with a laptop or other device at the table as well.
What the iPad is able to bring to your gaming table is defined by how you choose to use it. It is nothing more than a tool and certainly that tool can’t overshadow a well-crafted game. Technology exists to make the process easier, not replace it.
It is amazing the volume of content that exists for the iPad, less than a week into its existence. Plus, as a piece of disruptive technology, the iPad will force the market to adapt and innovate. Two years from now who knows what we’ll have at our tables?
One interesting app that has come out is the iPad version of Scrabble (iTunes link). It’s exactly as you’d expect but with a twist: there is a free Scrabble Tile Tray iPhone app that you can use in conjunction with Scrabble for the iPad. Once the game begins and the iPhones register, your word tiles appear in your hand on your iPhone. To play the tiles you flick them onto the iPad that serves as the game board for the entire group! This is the kind of paradigm-shifting thought process that needs to go into application development. It’s not about just regurgitating the same old design philosophy, but looking for new and useful ways to fully embrace the medium.
How’s this for a selling point in the far, far (okay, not so far) future? Take the Microsoft Surface demo that you’ve seen floating around and then imagine holding it in your hand on the iPad. Imagine everyone at the table having that ability. It’s doable, today, on the iPad.
We’re not quite done yet! Yes, the gnomes have a video camera and we’re going to do naughty things with it, notably a video blog covering the iPad in use! We’ll be covering ebook and PDF reading, many of the apps discussed in Part 1, as well as how the UI responds in real time. If you have any questions or specific demos you’d like to see, it’s not too late! Drop a request in the comments below and perhaps you’ll get a gnome-sized video shoutout!
(Images from their respective websites, Apple, Inc., and Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro.)