Playing “Paper and Pencil” Dungeons and Dragons on an iPad.

This is probably one of the more geeky posts I will write. I’m going to go over how I play pencil and paper D&D on my iPad Pro. This post will focus on playing as a regular person; not a Game Master. That may become a separate post.

Twice a year I go to a local gaming convention, TotalCon. For a while I played D&D exclusively. Then for a few years I did board games only. Last year I did a mix of the two. I like running and playing the board games my regular gaming group doesn’t like to play, but I’ve missed playing D&D. Last year I played D&D twice and had a good time. This past weekend they held a one-day gaming event and I got a day of D&D in.

I’ve used my iPad to manage my characters as best I can for a while. D&D 4E was an almost impossible to manage system. The paperwork required for skills, magical effects, and the other minutiae pretty much required access to Wizard’s online character portal. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to get characters in and out of the website. There was an app I had on my iPad that let me handle the day-to-playing of the character. I could track damage, what skills I used, and had a one-button reset of the skills. It worked great.

D&D 5E went back to a more basic play style that did not require as much care and feeding. Wizards also put their online portal into abeyance1. That was fine, since there is a lot less shit to manage these days.

There is also a log sheet we are required to keep. It tracks the module we have played, how many points and gold we were awarded, and any items we received. It is rare any one looks at the sheets, but every now and then someone shows up with an over-geared character and some review will need to happen. What is nice is, only officially-published modules are legal for you to move your character around from place to place. So, it is easy to verify if a module gave out a certain item. For this, I just used a Numbers spreadsheet. Each character had a tab andI would update it.

Most people at the cons use some sort of paper-based character sheet. I don’t like this because I am pretty much anti-paper, and I’m always afraid I will forget (or lose) something I need to bring to play. By storing all the information in the cloud, it is fairly safe and I always have access to it.

The last two times I played, I just used a form-fillable PDF to track the character. This worked out pretty well, It looked good, and it was easy to find stuff. What I noticed both times I used this was my battery life took a big hit. I can’t tell if the app I stored them in wasn’t good at memory management, the app is constantly trying to sync to the server and therefore draining battery, or that’s the nature of pegging the iPad hard. In February and this weekend, each 4-hour session of DND would leave me with around 40% battery. I couldn’t make it through an-all day event. Fortunately, I have a decent battery pack and I can fast-charge my iPad. If it just happened this weekend, I could write it off as some sort of iOS beta weirdness, but in February I was running a release version of the OS.

So, when I got home from the con this week, I decided to roll everything into a Numbers sheet. I found a decent Excel sheet online that I made a few modifications to, and reworked some of the cell functions that may not work properly on the iPad. I also copied the log sheet into its own tab on the document now. So, everything I need for that character is in one place. I am hoping the low graphic footprint of the Numbers sheet also helps battery life.

What is also nice is it is pretty easy to find PDFs of the sourcebook on the internet2. The guy running one of my games was very impressed with how fast I could look up something. He had a suitcase full of stuff. I just had my iPad.

  1. A new version is in beta, but I’m not thrilled with the pricing. That said, it is a great way to quickly handle some of the math behind your character and speed up the leveling process.
  2. Yes, these are PDFs that have “fallen off a truck.”
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