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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i4e review

I’ve been meaning to post this review for awhile. At the end of last year I blogged about playing without my character sheet. In the comments, DM Ron suggested I check out a iPhone/iPod Touch program called i4e. It can be replacement for a paper character sheet, but I find it I an accompaniment.

i4e home screen

The i4e icon and home screen

The first step is to manually enter or upload a Character Builder character sheet.  I recommend the upload method as you can spend 5 minutes per power to enter all the stats, keywords, etc.  Uploading is very easy, you just put your email into i4e’s web site and upload the .dnd4e file. Then put the same email address you used into the i4e Configuration, and hit import from the Characters screen. Now you you can choose from all your uploaded characters to import. If you have a straightforward character, it’s pretty much ready to go from that point. If you’re using some thing new or obscure, it may require tweaking.  At the top of every screen in the program is an edit button that allows you to modify the elements shown on that screen (stats, skills, powers, equipment, etc). The editing powers is pretty complex since there are so many variables on a power.

There are a few things that make using it during play very nice. First is that you can use it to keep track of hit points pretty easy. It is a quick subtract 5,10,15 points and then a screen to do a lot more. You can then apply healing healing surges easily, and it keeps track of their use for you. i4e also quickly tracks saving throws, death saves, milestones, and action points. The “short rest” and “extend rest” recharge the appropriate stats, including used powers. This is the second thing I really like: it does a great job of tracking power usage. In particular it’s easy to set up an encounter power that you can use multiple times per encounter. This is an important feature that makes many other trackers impractical to use. You can also easily equip and unequip items and see their applied bonuses. However if it is able to track using up the global magic item daily, I have not figured it out.

The powers table and individual encounter power

Almost everything is customizable, which is great when you start bringing in things from other sources. See below for the list of screens for customizing a power. The only thing to keep in mind is that any customization has to fit in with the rules set. For example alternate power pools or magic items that work on non-mechanical conditions are hard to represent in the program; you’ll have to track  those yourself. I don’t blame i4e though, in fact, the customization options is greater than in Character Builder.

Customizing a power in i4e

The i4e power customization screen, with options for "Information"

Some gripes I have is that it does not remember your last location, so if you switch out of the application to go to a die rolling app, twitter, check email, etc., you’ll start all over again at the “choose your character” screen. App switching on the iPhone is a big pain as it is, so it sucks to loose a second or so. My other gripe is that it handles making adjustments very well, unless you want to add new rules or keywords to the game.  For instance, I have been using this with my Psion character, but as it does not know about power points, and so I have to keep track of them outside the application.

There are a bunch of enhancements I’d like to see. It’s nice that powers table lists by action type, but I’d like to also see maybe the range or area of effect, as I usually choose a power based upon how the monsters are grouped. Also since the list can grow quite long, it’d be nice if used powers shrunk or dropped to the bottom (also the add a new power button takes up a whole row and is only useful occasionally). The other thing I’d like to see are copy and export features of a character, so I can mess around with one and not worry about having it ready to go for a session.

Hopefully soon there will be a new version with these enhancements. Also I think an iPad version will be boss. With some more screen room and the popup menus it’ll should be really fast and convenient to navigate an interactive character sheet. I highly recommend this a good table tool for a player. It’s more than worth its price ($3.99).

What does the Apple Tablet mean for d&d?

Today’s mass excitement gave us the iPad… Apple’s bigger than a iPod, smaller than a MacBook multi-touch internet device. I’m sure millions of nerds worldwide spun their brains about how this device will work for their game books.  I don’t like carrying around a ton of books, and I would be quite happy with an ebook reader that was both in color (for all the pretty pictures of monsters) and of large enough screen size, a test which the iPad passes.  I hope Wizards brings official iBooks to this device and that those books will support a reasonable search. The printed book indicies are barely useful, and I hate page flipping in the middle of the game.

A tablet also seems like a nice compromise between accessing tools (such as the d20SRD for 3.5 or D&D Compendium for 4e) and not being a laptop. Laptops at the table have physically separate you from the action on the table and the rest of the players.  I enjoy the i4e iPhone/iPod app for managing a 4e character at the table, and I hope they make one for the iPad. There’s a lot i4e doesn’t do and its screens are tight…but a larger screen is precisely what it needs; all the tables can be fit side-by-side on screen,  so you’re not constantly navigating during a combat.

I think the multi-touch aspect too will provide for a lot of useful tools such as combat and initiative trackers, dice rolling apps, and I really hope, interactive maps.  I don’t think its quite big enough for use as a combat surface, they way those CMU Microsoft Surface demos have shown, but that’s fine. If everyone at the table had one, it’d be great for “passing notes” or sharing information like treasure lists or stats.

I actually have a ton of ideas on this subject, a iPhone developer account, and a lot of experience putting together good gaming UIs. Unfortunately I don’t have a ton of time to devote to the project. If anyone out there knows of projects looking for help or want to get something started, let me know.