Rolling Tools Review

Hi All. Sorry for the long lapse between posts. I honestly thought I could keep up my schedule indefinitely. I’ve been super busy and traveling. I hope to get one post a week out now through Halloween and then back to twice a week starting in November, as well as regular contributions at rpgmusings.com.

It was a funny coincidence when I was asked to review two different iOS die-rolling apps in the same day. I accepted their offer (full disclosure: I got a free copies) and thought it’d be interesting to see how they stacked up against some of the other die rolling app’s that I’ve had on my iPod touch for a long time.

Let me start off by saying that I prefer physical dice to electronic. I love the colors and sounds of the physical act of rolling. Plus, my dice have sentimental attachment. And there’s somehow a sense that physical dice are fairer than the electronic ones, although I’m pretty sure that the electronic die are probably a lot closer to random than my physical ones (even the Game Science dice).

Dice have one big problem… I have to remember to bring them! This past week I forgot my bag with character sheets, minis, dice, etc. Fortunately I go everywhere why my cadre of pod touches and iPads, so I was able to pull up my electronic character sheet on i4e (where is the iPad version??) on the iPad and the rolling apps on my Touch and was ready to go.

I tried out these apps under various conditions. I’ll list the various things I liked and disliked about them, but leave it you to decide which ones, if any, are right for you.

  • Dice Bag [iTunes]. I’ve had Dice Bag on my iPod Touch since I got the thing, maybe 2 years ago. This is a great app that does just one thing: rolls a die. It has one screen with a picture of a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20, and for you old school D&D’ers, there’s a percentile, 3d6, and a 4d6 drop lowest. The graphics are so-so and the die sound is a little hallow. On the positive side it’s very easy to use and free. It currently has 2.5 stars on iTunes review.
  • Mach Dice [iTunes]. Moving a step up, for $0.99, this app lets you roll an arbitrary set of dice, so you could for instance roll a 2d4 + d8 damage with one go. You roll by shaking the device, which gives a nice physical feeling to rolling. You can pin a subset of dice to reroll just a few. You can customize a ton of the graphics, from the die color, background textures, pip types, etc. However the dice are surprisingly aliased looking. It also gives you several fields of dice, so you can have one screen that rolls your attack and another for the damage die. The roll action makes a good craps table noise. The die rolling is fun, but a bit sensitive. It’s a good general purpose app that you can use for Yahtzee or other games as well. The app currently has 3.5 stars on iTunes review.
  • Feudz Dice [iTunes]. This is a new-comer the app store. It is $1.99 but also has a free version [iTunes]. Feudz Dice combines the best aspects of Dice Bag and Mach Dice. The top screen has your choice of single die (d2-d100) and under the “Complex” tab is the ability to put in up to 7 multi-dice expressions (5 in free version). If you pay for the full version you don’t get ads, and there is a 3rd screen where you can save “groups” of rolls. This lets you create a custom roll for each power, for example and save them as a group. This lets you put in variables such as “level” and “base attack” into that expression. Finally there’s a “Tavern” tab which is just extras and settings. The graphics are top notch and well-themed for D&D, but the rolling sound is too mechanical, and there are no animations. The app launches quickly, which is a plus. I’m not sure I’d use the more complicated die rolls, since its pain to input all the information from my character sheet. I’d rather just press the die number several times, or use a character sheet tool for rolling powers. 5 stars on Itunes reviews.
  • iTools Game [iTunes]. This $1.99 app has one thing going for it that the others don’t. It comes with both English and Italian versions, which you can choose at startup (instead of it using the normal iOS localization route). Unfortunately the English translation is not that good, which can be distracting for some users. The App also unfortunately has a more complicated navigation system with inproper usage of UIActionSheet and other iOS menus. One thing I do like is that on the “Advanced” Die screen, which has your choice of various-sided dice, there is also a bar to let you quickly choose the number (so you can do 3d6 with two taps instead of three and having to total in your head). It unfortunately has a separate views for d6’s, and d2’s. The app suffers from trying to do too much. It has a generic score-keeper, but not as nice as the Score app, and it also has other modes for Dungeons & Dragons and magic. The Magic view has life and mana counters, as well as text fields for some other use. The D&D views have hard to navigate forms to replicate a character sheet. And this being a dice app, it’s unfortunate that you can’t even make rolls for the stats once you put them in. The graphics are okay, except that the “rolling” animations are dizzying spins and go on too long. The dice sounds is pretty good, actually. No ratings on iTunes.

Overall these apps do exactly as promised, but none are as fast or satisfying as rolling actual dice. In a pinch, I’d put on Feudz or Dice Bag, especially since they are both free.

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Dark Sun Apprehension

My group is looking to wind down the current campaign. That’s probably for the best: The current plot has dragged on for months, mostly due to our inability to get together this summer. A gaming drought makes it easy to loose interest move on to the current shiny, and from my experience this is common in our hobby.

It doesn’t help that the Dark Sun setting is finally out now. It’s certainly the new hotness, and the ‘nets have been going crazy for it. My fellow players are itching to play it, so we’re going to be moving on to it, once we finish up our current campaign.

Dark Sun presents a lot of interesting character options, but somehow I’m not jazzed by it. I read the novels and played a few adventures there back in the 2e days, but it doesn’t bring back warm memories for me. Maybe it’s because the DM kept trying (and succeeding) to kill us, or maybe it’s because I’m more of a high-fantasy type player. On the plus side, the savage monsters and hostile landscape are cool aspects of the setting, and Wizards has done a great job of providing lots of new monsters, themes, hazards, skill challenges, etc to go along with the setting that sound like a boon for any campaign. And on down side, the tireless struggle against all powerful sorcerer kings, the dismal life, lack of traditional arcane and divine magic, twisted races, and the whole Dune meets Conan setting doesn’t inspire me to be heroic.

I think I’ll give it a chance anyway since that what my group wants. It sounds like we’re going to spend a lot of time on the city, so I was thinking some kind of court intrigue/spy character. Any suggestions for race/class/theme combo?

Public Gaming

When I was in my youth we used to game in a study room of our public library. Then I didn’t think anything of it, although now It would never occur to me. Perhaps that’s because I have a private apartment now, free of judging parents or a pesky sister.

A few months ago we played a post-PAX East d&d game at a bar in Cambridge. The well-themed Celtic pub made a great environment for gaming, and the staff and nearby patrons were between amused to intrigued, but not disparaging. We had a good time, even if it was loud and alcohol fueled. Also we didn’t get through the adventure, but it was a good time. And playing out in the open, moved my gamer shame token down one notch on the track.

Tonight, instead of gaming we returned there just to hang out and geek out (without props)… well we did get a game of Pandemic in (and lost). Sometimes it’s good to get a little fresh air.

Where have you gamed in public? And I mean in a non gamey context. Cons don’t count.

What’s In Your Wallet?

Recently a friend shared a story where he tried to explain 3.5 after playing 4e for awhile. I don’t remember the exact quote, but he was describing how armor weight interplays with other gear weight (in non-linear fashion) when determining encumbrance for determining armor check penalty and speed penalties. Encumbrance is something I’ve generally always played without. My house rule is generally: everything can fit into the backpack, but nothing unusually large or heavy (doors, statuary, ladders, bodies, etc).

The advantage of an abstracted inventory is that it takes away tedious bookkeeping. Also by having a vast arsenal of items on hand, it makes it possible to MacGuyver up some interesting solutions to puzzles and other situations. The downside is that it takes away some of the challenge and a lot of the realism. But D&D is supposed to be heroic, not realistic… so I guess that’s kinda moot.

Besides the size and weight there’s also an issue of location. Obviously the equipped items are filling up some slot on the body, but everything else? Is it in a belt pouch, pockets, backpack, saddlebags, chest strapped to the pack horse? Normally an item’s location doesn’t make a difference; it’s always just a minor action away from my character’s hands.

But what about if an enemy wants to steal or attack an item? Called shots, sundering, and pickepocketing are out of the rules in 4e so I guess it’s pretty much at DM’s discretion. This is good for an enterprising player that wants to lift a key out of a guard’s pocket, but bad if the DM turns around and has an enemy ritual your sword right out of your hand!

To that end, even though I don’t fastidiously record the weights and locations of everything, I like to have a general sketch of where all my character’s items are, even if there is probably more than is reasonable in the backpack. That way if my DM is feeling evil, I can at least make a case for saying something is hard for an opponent to get at.

Photo courtesy of kevindooley on flickr.