Welcome to the Dark Side

Posted: 8 August 2012 in Reviews

As regular readers will know, from time to time my lady wife goes to visit her family abroad. This leaves me home alone with the credit cards, and it is my wont to console myself with a new toy. This year, that toy was an iPad.

Now, this is a gaming blog, so in this post I will consider it as a device to support my tabletop gaming. After using it for about a month, here are my initial thoughts.


  • Condenses all my written rulebooks, scenarios, character sheets etc. into the form factor of a medium notebook.
  • Screen large and clear enough to read A4 or 8.5″ x 11″ documents, even with my eyesight.
  • Apps can replace dice, character sheets, minis and battle mats (good for playing while travelling, but I wouldn’t want to run a normal session that way).
  • Less intrusive than a netbook or laptop at the table.


  • Assumes that my life revolves around iTunes. It does not.
  • File management, especially transferring files to and from PCs, is clumsy and often frustrating.


More on these later perhaps, but after going crazy downloading apps and then sorting the wheat from the chaff, I currently use:

  • Dropbox. Easier to use for file transfer than iTunes, better cloud services than iCloud, and a number of other apps support automatic synchronisation with it. Free for the first 2GB of storage.
  • Kindle, iBooks. If I have multiple PDFs open, I find it easier to switch between apps than to switch documents within an app. Both free.
  • Dice rollers: The Dicenomicon, WFRP Toolkit, SR4Rating5LE (free). The last is especially valuable due to the number of dice needed for Shadowrun.
  • Springpad: Plain text editor for short notes. Anything with a screen can display plain text without time-consuming reformatting; if format is important, make the file PDF instead. Beats other plain text editors by having a better file structure and the ability to display summaries of notes side by side.
  • Hex Map Pro. Virtual tabletop with square or hex grids, tokens, etc. Can export in JPG format, but could really do with some way to draw lines instead of just filling spaces with a colour.


Finally, I strongly recommend a case of some kind. My limited experience of cats and iPads is that cats are either jealous of the attention lavished on the iPad, or fascinated by the display; in either case, they claw at it…

  1. I’ve converted a few adventures to ePub and have run them from an iPad. Those were some of the best GM experiences I have had in recent years. Much better than a book, printed PDF, or a PDF. I liked how easy it was to show players images and to navigate through the adventure. Of course, that depends on the ePub being well organized.

    • andyslack says:

      Hmm, hadn’t thought of that. I did convert a few to Kindle azw format and that wasn’t as good as PDF for me. Maybe I should try ePub…

      • I will say that the ePubs I made were designed as ePubs and not merely run through an app as a conversion. So I designed them to be navigable in a way I felt showcased the capabilities of ePubs.

  2. Finbikkifin says:

    Honestly, if you use PDFs at all you need GoodReader. Once you have that and a free dropbox account, you can transfer everything through that and barely have to touch iTunes. I find it much better than other apps for reading and organising my endless gigabytes of PDFs. One nice thing you can do is set margins on a PDF, to cut off whitespace on every page without having to zoom in manually every time you flip pages, but it does a lot of other cool stuff. It’s not free, but it’s worth it, it really is.


    iTunes is a terrible, terrible piece of software and I get away with only using it once every couple of months…

    • andyslack says:

      Yes, I read a lot of good things about GoodReader. I’ve been hesitant because the first few paid-for apps I bought weren’t really what I expected.

  3. Finbikkifin says:

    Ah, one other thing it does is (optionally, but default) have a tab bar of the last half-dozen or so opened files, which makes switching between them very easy.

    • andyslack says:

      Oh, now that is useful. That moves it onto the shopping list, thanks for the tip!

      • andyslack says:

        Finbikkifin, thanks for the tip on GoodReader – I downloaded it earlier. It has already killed and eaten Springpad and iBooks, and the native Dropbox app is eyeing it warily. The tabbed “browsing” of files is the killer function for me.

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