Mobile apps for RPGs

April 11, 2010 at 2:45 pm
filed under Roleplaying, Technology
Tagged , , ,

Aia Critical Hits, I saw this, iPhone/iPad applications for RPGs on EnWorld.

I’ve had some thoughts about this of and on, especially as far as the iPad is concerned. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had much the same thoughts: what potential such a device has for tabletop RPGs! Even if you assume only the DM has one, there are many possibilities.

I’m thinking mostly of what this could do for the DM, to be honest— I don’t imagine that enough people own such devices that you assume everyone in the group has a smartphone. There’s more you could do in that realm but I think we’re some ways away before something like that is feasible. In any case, that would have to be a web app, I think; the web is the only development platform smartphones have in common these days.

For D&D, the obvious advantage is data tracking augmented by automation. With a larger screen, an app to track various states and automate certain mechanics becomes much easier. You could have an application that allowed you to run combat much more easily by tracking status effects, marks, and so on. The possibilities are so obvious that it’s weird that Wizards is still absent from this space.

A new project?

In any case, I was excited enough about these possibilities to finally start learning Cocoa Touch. I’ve no idea if this will result in an actual product. For the time being, it’s a way to kill some time, to learn something new and write some code.

Seeing those apps I linked above cemented my desire to write something unrelated to D&D. The audience for D&D is broad enough that other people have tackled this, so my inclination is to focus more on narrative-driven games instead. While I’ll admit I haven’t sought it out much, it does seem to me that this area is somewhat under-represented in terms of their online presence. There’re some obvious reasons why that might be. Either way, it seems like an opportunity to me.

For instance, I’m often carrying a laptop to the table or a pile of index cards. I have notes for scenes, stats for NPCs, and so on. Tracking status effects, encounter powers, loot, and the like is far less of a concern and requires less math for games like the new World of Darkness. In concrete terms, there’s less of a need for automation and more need for an efficient system for data storage and retrieval.

Is this a worthwhile idea? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s enough that I think I would use such an app. The sticking point is that my games require a fair amount of improvisation. An app could be too heavyweight for that— why not just open a web browser to a website like Obsidian Portal, Wikia, or simply use a notepad app like Simplenote?

Another question is how much effort the development itself will be. I wouldn’t require someone to enter their game notes on their iDevice, which implies some manner of web-based data entry app. Does that mean I need to get cracking on something like AppEngine?

I also don’t know how difficult it is to get something up and running on the iP* (as my friends and I often refer to the iPhone OS devices). So, in the coming weeks I’ll continue playing around with Cocoa Touch, sketch out some ideas, and we’ll see what I come up with. If it turns out to be a stupid idea, I’ll still have learned something and broadened my coding horizons.

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