I won’t deny it, I’m a big fan of Google. My place of employment recently switched to Google Apps, and I’ve had an opportunity to dive head first into the Google world. But of course being a gamer, I can’t help but see some uses for Google at the gaming table, especially since everyone in one of my groups has a laptop.

I’m not thinking of the obvious things either – Gmail is great for email and chatting with your group, and you can use shared calendaring to find a good time to play. Google Page Creator is a quick and easy web page, or create a Google Group for a forum. There’s tons of stuff you can do out of game to help your group communicate and share. But some of the really interesting things are what can be done during the game.

I spent a couple of hours thinking about this and came up with 12 ways to use some of Google’s applications while you’re currently at the game table. You need a computer or handheld device with a web browser to access these services, and of course you’ll need a Google account. You don’t need the paid Google Apps service either – all of the applications I’ve listed below are available for free. If you’re not a fan of Google, there are a number of other websites that offer similar features but few of them are as tightly integrated as Google’s suite.

Gmail/Gtalk

Google’s chat is pretty good, and you can access it right from within your Gmail account. Alternately, you can use the Google Talk Gadget, which has slightly more features. One on one, you can chat with your players to pass private information back and forth. This is basically a high tech version of note passing. You can also set up a multi-person chat, or group chat. A group chat can be used for special group communications, like telepathy. If you are strict about out of character table talk you might restrict it to the group chat. As a bonus, your chats are logged in your Gmail account, so you can go back and check it later on to see if you really said that.

Calendar

It’s difficult to come up with different ways to use a calendar. I mean, it’s a calendar. Its scope is very limited. However, if you can work within that limitation, it can be useful. If your in-game calendar matches the real world calendar (as most modern themed games do), you can easily create a calendar for your in-game world, and schedule major events on it. You can create a shared calendar for your players to enter downtime actions or schedule character’s events, and add major public events like a solar eclipse or the 3-day Festival of Whatever-the-Heck. You can also create a private calendar to track and schedule plot related events.

Docs

Personally, I think Google Docs is one of the most powerful and useful applications that Google offers. It’s a basic word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program, but with the ability to share documents and have users edit them simultaneously and collaboratively. For instance, one of the simplest ways to use Docs is as a character sheet. Once it’s done, have your players share the character sheet with you and the other players. That way you can always access the most recent version of their characters. Now you can check their current Spot and Listen checks and don’t need to keep pestering them to update the hard copy that’s perpetually two levels behind. If one of your players misses a game, your group has a copy of their character ready to play.

Along a similar vein, you can share hireling and party NPCs among your group so that anyone can pop the sheet open and start running them.

Some more advanced usage might be to keep a collaborative party log. Nobody likes keeping a log, so let your players share the work. Changes to the document are shown in other people’s open documents nearly instantly, so when Suzie types in “Met Orc King,” John can update that to include the King’s name, and you can correct the spelling.

Loot tracking is another task that is sometimes viewed as tedious. A shared party loot tracking spreadsheet can share the load, and prevent the rogue from skimming off the top. (Sure, that’s in character. Jerk.)

If you’re busy (or lazy) you can create a house rules document but make your players do the work of entering the questions, changes and clarifications when they come up at the table.

On the your side of the screen, you can keep a GM’s Binder or Notebook. You can access it from anywhere with a computer (even offline, using Google Gears), you can’t loose it when your hard drive crashes or your binder gets lost, and you can use the edit tracking features to roll back changes to earlier versions.

You can use Presentations to share handouts and images with your players, like photos of Angkor Watt, pictures of the bad guys, maps and ransom notes. If you want, you can even bore them with a PowerPoint style presentation.

Last, I have a couple of more novel uses. Spreadsheets have the ability to include gadgets. My favorite is the Map gadget, which lets you map and label real-world addresses. Like the calendar, this limits you to real-world geography, but if you want to mark Elysium, the Brujah’s favorite bar and the Tremere corporate headquarters in downtown Chicago, it can be really useful. (Or more likely, you can mark all the fast food restaurants in the immediate area.)

I haven’t tried this one, but here’s a possible initiative and status tracker: when combat starts, each player simultaneously enters their character name and initiative. You enter the monsters and their initiative, then sort the initiative column. As the fight progresses, you can mark the current round and note status effects. Players can add notes with the durations of their spells and ongoing party effects. Some groups might even want to publicly track hit points. Since everyone can see the current effects on themselves and the party, they are less likely to miss something.

What else?

I’m sure that can’t be everything. How do you imaging using Google applications at the game table? Or maybe you’re already using them. Let us know in the comments.

About  Adam Nave



15 Responses to 12 Ways to Use Google Apps at the Game Table

  1. TreasureTables (Martin) featured a blogpost I had written about using various Google tools to enhance RPG games.

    You can find the original article at http://immaterialplane.blogspot.com/2007/05/enhancing-your-rpg-games-with-google.html.

  2. Check out http://www.obsidianportal.com It was built specifically for managing RPG campaigns. I’ve tried lots of different tools (blogs, wikis, google apps, you-name-it) and found them all somewhat lacking. So, I went ahead and built my own app from the ground up. It’s still a little rough around the edges, but we’re constantly improving it with feedback from the community.

    Plus, posting your campaign on Obsidian Portal allows you to show it off to the world.

  3. @Amaril: Thanks, there’s some great info in that post.

  4. My gaming group uses Calendar to coordinate our gaming schedule, as we have 3 GM’s running games in a 3 week rotation. So we do all our scheduling of games on GCalendar, as many of us use it for their own daily uses. It works out great for me, as my Wife can see my gaming schedule in advance and know what days I am playing.

    As for Google Docs, last year we were playing an Eberron game, where the party had their own Adventuring/Investigation firm, and I used a shared spreadsheet to keep the books.

    For fun, at the end of the year, I produced an End of Year report, complete with graphs showing where we made our most money, how many jobs we had done, etc. It was terribly geeky, but totally worth it.

  5. GoogleChat is used extremely regularly with my group. Also, one thing I’ve done is used the spreadsheet to create an ingame calendar, since my calendar doesn’t match the “real world.” Worth pointing that out, it’s been very useful to me.
    -Ish

  6. My group hearts Google tools in a big way. The Mage chronicle I’m running uses docs, maps and of course the mailing list function.

    Our chronicle map looks like what you’d expect: different pins and symbols for all the locations featured in the campaign. It’s helpful for getting an idea of the big picture, and it helps ground us in the setting (Las Vegas).

    We get a ton of mileage out of Docs, too. I wrote up a glossary of every NPC, group, place and other important element of the game, and made it editable so my players could take notes on the stuff they cared about.

    I also post copies of longer handouts, and one of my players has written spellbooks and shared both the spells and the templates used to create them over Docs. Good stuff.

    Great post, Adam. It’s easy to overlook how useful Google’s stuff can be to your game without a little prodding.

  7. My group uses many of these ideas already. Not everyone gets on the technological bandwagon but most of us do. We’ve got shared Character Sheets in Google Docs as well as a party overview list with basic descriptions to help new players get caught up. We’ve spreadsheet with our group loot divided by container so we don’t go over out carrying limit. We use Google chat extensively to communicate about lots of different things but often the game(s).

    Personally I use Google docs for all my GMing needs and I maintain documents for most of my characters.

    I also play in the Living Arcanis campaign and I use a Google spreadsheet to keep track of which Modules I have played.

    Regards,
    -Benjamin

  8. I’m so in love with Google its kinda scary! My group though (even though they are all techy 20 somethings) refuse to take the effort to learn to use any of the Google apps. Aside from telling them all that their not good enough nerds/geeks and kicking them out, do you have any recommendations on how to get them on the Google band wagon??!!!?

  9. @Argokirby: They might be intimidated by Gmail, which does have a bit of a learning curve since it is so different from traditional email clients, but I think the rest of the Google apps are very intuitive. Your best bet might be to arrange a little demo and show them how easy it actually is, how you’d like to use it, and what they’d gain from it. Tossing in some bonus XP for those who are willing to start using it wouldn’t hurt either.

  10. Kurt "Telas" Schneider

    Google Groups is GREAT. Discussions are identical to email, and are archived. (That may not make sense, but you can start or reply to a discussion via the site or via email.)

    Pages are simply published documents, almost like a blog.

    Check out this one for an example: SavageHawk. (Yeah, it’s mine, but it’s posted as an example.)

  11. We use Google Calendar for our group, like Phil, thought recently things have been pretty word-of-mouth. But its good so folks can look ahead.

    I haven’t used Google Groups, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have to try it for my next campaign.

    I’m between computers a lot, so Google Docs is a great place to sort of formalize and sync my notes between our desktop and laptop. The other day, I was running upstairs and downstairs with the kids, while having a ton of brainstorms for our campaign. Well, I had Google Docs up on both computers, so I’d type in a blurb on the laptop, run downstairs to get a bottle, type another on the same doc on my desktop…

    We gaming parents have to be cagey, you know. :)

  12. @Kurt “Telas” Schneider – I tried Google Groups, and was surprised at how poor a groups tool Google has. There is no integrated calendar, no integrated links, no integrated table support.
    Yahoo and MSN groups have all the above, and are older. I don’t know why Google even bothered.

  13. We’ve made good use out of Google Maps. You can create a custom, shared map with icons representing character & NPC locations, etc. Players can update the map to show their movement. Everyone gets a sense of what the terrain looks like (and can even look at it in 3D). It becomes easier to get agreement on “What can I see from here” “How far is it” etc.

    It works for any land or sea-based setting, irrespective of time-period. Odds are good there’s someplace somewhere that looks like your desired scene.

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