Roleplaying Prep: Simplifying the Inherently Complex

We’re spoiled.  Really. Computer games have made it that we can have all kinds of wonderful complexity going on in game mechanics , but if we were to translate that to an analog format such as an RPG or tabletop game, it would make Monopoly seems like a lighting round of Go Fish by comparison.

When we’re younger we’ve got more free time and the thought of delving into a new system and learning all the ins and outs was what the nerdier among us called a weekend.  On top of that, the more ambitious would paint miniatures, design elaborate dungeons or maps or entire campaign worlds to play in. Complexity led to immersion, which encouraged more complexity.

Then we get older and naps start becoming more appealing.

As I mentioned before, time is the biggest constraint for the adult roleplayer. Getting a reliable window of time for everyone is hard enough, and then unless you have everything properly prepped beforehand you can waste a lot of that time before the dice start to roll. Not to mention the inevitable digressions and sidetrack and that YouTube cat video you just HAVE to see before you start…

And at the same time we still want that complexity that aids with immersion. But we know that complexity will also slow things down. So what do we do?

We improvise, we adapt, we overcome.

Wait, maybe that’s the Marines.  Eh, works for gamers, too.

In my recent resurgence of roleplaying I’ve thought about what would make the game bigger and better, but not slow things down. Or better yet, somehow speed things up.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

3D Virtual Tabletop: The idea of using your computer to replace your maps and minis has been around for a long time, but the problem I found with many was that they were too damn complex. Lots of great features, but some of us just want to be able to plonk down a map and some tokens and get going.

3D Virtual Tabletop is barebones, easy to use, effective and, if you’re just going to use a tablet computer on the center of your table, free. Uploading a map is as easy as taking an image from your photo library (and can even be a picture you just took with your tablet). Same goes for your tokens. It’s easy to zoom in and out, spin around, and even switch from a 2D overhead view to a 3D isometric view.

While this would work just fine on its own, I am being slightly more ambitious by having a copy run on my PC through an Android emulator.  This way the players can have a huge view of the map that they themselves can manipulate, while I have the iPad behind my screen to manipulate as I see fit, along with Fog of War functions if necessary.previewpdugeCards (Weapons, Armor, Equipment) – One of the things I find slows things down is when my players have to search through their equipment list to see what they have, or flip the character sheet over to hunt down their weapon damage or whatnot.  Having these things as cards means it’s easy for the player to see what they have on hand (especially if each has a nice picture associated with it). It also makes it easier to give and take away items easily as the game dictates.

There are a few way to do this, the simplest being just using small 3×4 lecture cards and write it by hand, but if you search hard enough online you might find someone who went out of their way to make some high-quality cards for your system that you can print off.


Ambiance, Music and Sound Effects – I used to create mix CD soundtracks for my campaigns, though music can be more distracting than immersive at times.  Later on I collected sound .wav files, but having to hunt for the right one at the right time usually did more harm than good.

What’s needed is a soundboard, and a customizable one at that.  A cheap solution is Showmaster which only costs a buck or so, but allows you to import whatever sounds you want, rename them, create your own folders, and set things up for quick and easy tap access.

Better still, it will run multiple sound files (meaning you can have a background factory sound running while you fire some pew-pew-pew blaster shots) and will still run if you switch to another app (like the above mentioned 3D Virtual Tabletop).


As for where to get the ambient backgrounds, the best source I’ve come across is Tabletop Audio:  Not only do they have a wide range of sounds and music suitable for roleplaying games, but also their own sound boards that might be right for you.

Since I already had a number of Star Wars type wav files ready, I stuck with the Showmaster app and downloaded what backgrounds ambiance I needed from Tabletop Audio – I’d rather have all my sounds in one place.  This is about streamlining and simplifying after all. But for your game Tabletop Audio’s SoundPad might do it all.


Digital Dice – Finally, while I don’t personally intend to use it, there are dice apps available that can speed things up for players or game masters.  After all, why spend time reading the tea leaves when you can tap a button and the results come up instantly?  Something like that might be more useful for a GM, who tends to juggle more things at once than players, but still, it’s not something I personally intend to use.  Not yet, anyway.

The real danger in roleplaying isn’t adding things to enhance the experience, it’s knowing when to stop.  It’s far too easy to get carried away with these things and end up with a bunch of stuff you’ll rarely, if ever, use.

Then again, what hobby doesn’t run that risk, right?  The trick is to look at all the options, find out what will add to the experience, and more importantly, won’t take up more of your time than it’s saving.

Much like the Force, it’s all about balance.

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