Back in the day, tabletop gamers didn’t have to worry as much about being distracted at the table. Unless you’re counting cassette players, the only way your session was getting interrupted was someone dialing the landline.
Nowadays, everybody has a computer in their pocket. Some purists might say that tabletop games should be enjoyed with just a pencil, paper, and your imagination. Which is totally fine!
I’m of the opinion, however, that we should leverage the gift of technology to enhance our gaming experience. Enhance. ENHANCE. ENHANCE!
Here’s a list of my top 7 digital resources for tabletop gamers.
Dice Rolling App
Dice are a huge part of the tabletop experience. From superstitions to color-coordinating sets, dice are a reflection of personality.
I’m not here to suggest that you get rid of all of your beloved dice; that’s borderline sacrilegious. Instead, I’m offering an alternative for calculating damages – especially at high level play.
Most people don’t have 10d6 lying around when they throw that perfect Fireball. Not to mention people waiting for you to add up all those dice. Digital dice apps expedite the process on rolls that require more dice than you have available.
Bonus points for finding an app that does a little bit more than just rolling dice. I’ve been partial to Fight Club, which is available for Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. It has the added bonus of listing spell descriptions, making it a great tool for GMs on the fly.
As far as I know, it’s only available on iOS devices.
Digital Character Sheet
Character sheets are important. They get you invested in your character and serve as an invaluable tool at the table. Leveling up is exciting, as you can usually archive the old sheet, eraser-leavings included.
As you creep up to higher levels, however, it can become difficult to keep track of everything going on. Between buffs from allies and negative effects from enemies, there’s a lot of management going on.
Depending on the system you play in, there’s a lot of flexibility in finding a digital tool to help do the math for you. It might be an auto-fill PDF character sheet or an actual piece of software.
Dungeons and Dragons players can enjoy the benefits of D&D Beyond. Keep track of your character details and look up information to your heart’s content.
Pathfinder players have access to Hero Lab, which is available as Hero Lab Online for 2nd Edition, or a standalone application for First Edition. Lone Wolf Development also supplies tools for D&D 5E, Shadowrun, and many other systems, including Starfinder.
The main drawback is that using tools like D&D Beyond or Hero Lab aren’t free. You’ll have to pay for the application and for the sourcebooks to have access to everything. It can be quite the investment.
Venturing out of the RPG space for a minute, as I mention a valuable tool for game designers and players alike. The limits to this application are your imagination!
Tabletop Simulator contains a HUGE library of digital games. We’re talking board games, tabletop games, prototypes, Kickstarter Previews; they really run the gamut with their offerings.
It’s no surprise that board gaming is an expensive hobby. With all the new games coming out, it’s impossible to keep track of everything physically.
However, you can use Tabletop Simulator to try before you buy, or as a way to play games with friends that live far away. It won’t give you that tactile feel like a physical copy, but it gets the job done.
Available on Steam, the ‘game’ is often on sale. Not all of the games are included; you may need to purchase them as DLC. It’ll still be a fraction of the cost of the cardboard game.
Earth Nerd Adkins turned me on to the BG Stats app awhile back, and I’ve been using it avidly ever since. At its core, the application lets you keep track of the games you’re playing.
If you’re willing to spring for the expanded version of the app, you’ll also get some pretty awesome insights into your gaming habits. This includes things like graphs showing what days of the week you’re gaming, the people you’re playing with, and where you’re playing.
Everything also syncs directly to your BoardGameGeek account, so you don’t have to manage two separate lists. If you’ve already been logging on BGG, you’ll probably embrace the beauty of BG Stats immediately.
My main Pathfinder campaign has been going on for over two years, as we play through Paizo’s Rise of the Runelords campaign. You can actually find our campaign journal here, if you want to follow along.
Why I bring this up, however, is that we play completely remotely through Roll20. None of us live in the same city. Actually, we’ve been able to play almost every week even across multiple states, countries, and oceans!
The benefits of a digital tabletop like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds is that the GM can preload everything right there. Maps? Check. Pawns? Check. Hidden rooms and enemies? Double check.
Add in some bonuses like Fog of War, Dynamic Lighting, and macro effects, and you can add a lot of zing to your gaming experience. A lot of people will also use a projector or TV to display everything for the group if you’re meeting in person.
Roll20 also has native video and audio support. It’s not great compared to some other options, but it’s certainly there for you to use if needed.
What’s a damp dungeon or a violent volcano without the necessary ambient sounds? Music can really help set the mood and tone for your games, be it RPG or otherwise.
Paid apps like Syrinscape or free apps like Tabletop Audio are amazing resources to play high-quality music. I mention these two apps in particular because you can use sound boards with relevant sounds.
For example, you can load up an entire soundset of space-centric sound effects. Blast doors, laser beams, and radio chatter are all at your fingertips. If you’re a GM, it’s helpful to employ one of the players to help out with the sounds, unless there’s a key audio drop that you absolutely need to plant.
Music seems so necessary to the tabletop experience; playing without it just doesn’t feel the same.
I mentioned audio support for Roll20 above, but one app tends to do it better than the rest: Discord. For our groups, we use Discord exclusively for audio, but we’ll actually leave the video up on Roll20 since we’re on that screen the entire time.
Besides offering chat support, the nature of Discord is really great for housekeeping during your games. Players can drop links, GMs can share photos, and everything is essentially consolidated on your own personal server.
On top of that, you can join tons of communities within the tabletop gaming hobby. Nearly every podcast, game, and subreddit seems to have its own server with like-minded folks.
You can probably find gaming groups in your area through Discord too! Meet-ups and gamers often have their own servers that you can join and stay up-to-date on events.
Living in a Digital World
Despite all of the amazing digital resources, there’s something to be said about the physical, social, and tactile experience of gaming. Nothing can quite replace person-to-person interaction entirely.
That’s why these should be good supplements to your game, or allow you to game with people no matter where they are. It’s truly a wonderful thing.