Welcome, my fellow masters of geekdom, to a new monthly special running here at 148apps entitled iD&D. Each month you’ll find me, your friendly resident Dungeon Master, offering you info on some of the best (or worst) apps available in the app store that make it easier (or harder) for us to do our job. Don’t worry players; you’re not left out either. There are plenty of apps, including one that’s part of today’s article, for you as well.
Additionally I’ll be asking you, the reader, to provide us with some information each month that I will provide to the readership in the following months article. For example, this week’s question will be a survey on people who use an iDevice to enhance their pen and paper experience. Check out the end of this article for more details.
Caveat: I play the majority of my games using the Advance Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 gaming system. I’ll be referring primarily to Dungeons and Dragons (3.5), but unless otherwise stated, expect the majority of apps in this section to be universal in application. For those apps specifically for the fourth edition game system, I’ll be running smaller mini-campaigns to get a feel for their usefulness. If there may be variances from system to system, I will do my best to point them out.
Well, if I knew the 148apps lawyers, I’m sure they would be elated with me right now. As for me though, I’m anxious to get into our first article.
This little map making gem hit the app store earlier this month, and might I say, it’s about time. The first thing I wanted to do when I got my iPad was design maps on the go, and silly me thought it would be the perfect platform to do so on. Thankfully, after a few months, Razeware answered that request with Battle Map.
Battle Map is a tile based system that uses the touch screen of the iPad to fill in maps with various backgrounds and object items. There are various background tiles available, with a new cobblestone design being made available in the 1.3 release. Each background in unique, so that the design of the map doesn’t look awkward. If you place a grass tile next to a forest tile, the forest tile is going to bleed over into the grass tile, giving a more realistic feeling to the design of the map. If you put lava in the middle of an ocean, the tiles that have an edge with the water provide a rocky barrier to provide a more realistic design.
Objects are broken down into two categories, tokens and other. Tokens are objects that serve as markers for encounters, players, people of interest, NPCs, etc. With over 28 tokens, including two different colored dragons, various class specific designs, some undead, and some animals, there are lots of design options. The “Other” category, is what really adds depth to a map design. Barrels, boxes, doors, rocks, stairs, tables, bedrolls, treasure chests, wells, and lots of other design enhancements to bring out the realistic feel to an environment.
Perhaps the most significant feature of Battle Map is the VGA output function, combined with the Game Master/Player Mode settings. With VGA output, players can hook up their iPad to an external source and display their games for the party to see. With the Game Master/Player Mode, the GM (DM) can interactively move tokens around the map, moving the party through the map in real time. This function is feature heavy, with square/hex/gridless availability, line of sight calculations, dark map functions with token line of sight settings, interactive opening and closing of doors, stationary light source settings, aura and color options that actually pulsate, hidden objects that appear when characters interact with them, player mode only projection on external screen, and a whole slew of other features that simply don’t fit in one paragraph. With the external monitor function, the possibilities are endless. I personally would love an LCD table that projects the square grid map that players could use live tokens to interact with, but I think my wife would burn everything I own D&D related, and maybe a few non-D&D related items. Hmm, why are my pant legs burning?
The list of features can be intimidating, so let me go into a quick play by play of how this would work. Each token has a list of attributes that can be set for it. A token with the “Is Character” option on, is always shown on the map in Player Mode. With an option to set the entire map dark, this provides the players with the feeling that they are actually interacting with the map. They don’t have 60 ft of Dark Vision, no one has the dark vision spell, but the rogue of the party pulls out a torch and fires it up. They can effectively see parts of the map that are within 4 tiles of the character token with the torch. As the player moves, controlled by the GM, the players can see more and more of the map.
I’m only touching the surface of how powerful this app is, but I’m hoping you get the point of all the possibilities that are available. The maps begin as clear square grid designs that fit up against the tile system perfectly. Backgrounds can have images uploaded to them that create a nice environment to build from. Custom objects can be developed and uploaded into the app as well, making the possibilities for advancement endless.
If this all seems a bit overwhelming, fear not! There is a comprehensive help area that breaks down each element of the app in really great detail. From creating and designing a map, to interacting with that map, to displaying the map on an external monitor, there is plenty of information to get map creation underway.
Now for that sad point in all articles, where I need to rain on the parade a little. First off, Battle Map is $30.00. It’s a huge investment when considering the standard app store pricing structure, but it’s a lot of bang for the buck. The fact that three updates have been realized in only a short period of time shows that the $30.00 is an investment in continued support from the developer. Additionally, you’re getting two apps in one, as the developer has included a copy of his dice rolling app, RPGCalc, with the app for seamless running of games.
Functionally, Battle Map works great for developing maps. When you start setting line of sight up, applying dark vision, establishing hidden objects, etc. it gets a little dicey. First off, background tiles don’t have line of sight block functions. For me, who likes to create walls for all his designs, this is a major issue without an obvious work around. Additionally, for an app that advertises as a replacement for the physical map, there was a woeful absence of city and town style background tiles and objects. Farm and path tiles were missing in total, and the standard guard, animal, market, and wall design tiles were weak or non-existent. I also experienced a few crashes, but I spent the bulk of my time recently with 1.1, and I know there have been several bug fixes in 1.2 and 1.3.
With the negatives are out of the way, let me counter those with some positives. While the line of sight stuff is a bit rough, it’s certainly easy enough to adjust, or do without, and still enjoy battle map. The app suffers from weaknesses in a few specific genres of tiles, but has a great selection in other areas. It provides VGA functionality, two apps in one, two separate modes, real time interaction, and a proven dedication from the developer with three updates already out, and more planned.
I won’t lie to you. If I hadn’t played Battle Map to review it, I can’t say I would have dropped $30.00 on it. If I would have tried it beforehand, however, I would have purchased it in a heartbeat. I can’t recommend this app enough for those who find themselves in need of additional maps, or interested in a more interactive approach to D&D or other pen and paper games. Don’t have a VGA output cable? Email your maps so they can be printed from a computer. Recent updates have made this a universal app, and the ability to expand objects makes any artist only a step away from expanding their library.
I can’t recommend Battle Map enough to iPad owners, but iPhone and iPod Touch owners may find it a bit more difficult to use. VGA capability is only available for the iPhone 4 in smaller devices as well. Battle Map is a must have for my gaming experience from here on out.
Question: I want to hear from you, the loyal D&D or pen and paper fan base. How do you currently use your iPad, iPhone, and/or iPod Touch for gaming? What apps do you use, and what apps would you like to see the iD&D feature take a look at? Post your comments at the end of this article, or shoot them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll take the best and include them in next month’s article, and you may see that app you’ve been wanting show up as a feature in the iD&D series.