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.
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.
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.
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.
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.