Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Using A Tablet For RPG PDFs?

For some time now, I’ve been considering getting a tablet for my gaming. My pdfs are legion, and more and more I find them really handy to have for reference at the actual gaming table (though I still like having a hard copy or printout of the RPG as well).

I know we have to have a decent amount of tablet users out there. Any recommendations on things to look for? The two big ones I’ve looked at are the iPad (not being flash-ready sort of took the wind out of that one for me) and the Samsung Galaxy line, which a couple folks have mentioned in my preliminary research. I’d like something that’s got a long battery life, is easy to operate and read, and will hold a metric ton of pdfs. Oh, and if it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, that’s nice, too.

So, bring on those recommendations, or let me know if you use a tablet for gaming. How’s it working out for you? Any pitfalls I should know of?


Fumers said...

iPad 100%, everything else is kinda junky and disappointing in comparison

Has several good PDF viewer apps. I use Good Reader which can pull docs from Dropbox and Google Docs. It also supports having multiple docs open at the same time.

iPad also has some great dice rollers, spreadsheets, graphics tools that are awesome for gaming.

IronWolf said...

I think an iPad is the way to go. Using GoodReader you have a very powerful PDF reader that lets you bookmark and annotate your PDFs to make notes to yourself as you run the game from an iPad. The horse power of it does well at all but the most graphic laden PDFs and even those it is tolerable with.

With Dropbox you don't really need to worry much about removable flash storage as GoodReader can download straight from Dropbox or you can use GoodReader to sync PDFs via iTunes along with several other options.

I've been quite happy with my iPad for gaming PDFs.

fictivefantasies said...

Man... this conversation inspires me to want an iPad on my DMing piano bench pulled up next to the game table...

Eric Wilde said...

For me, the iPad is out of the question because of Flash support. Android is definitely a better choice from an application availability and Flash availability perspective.

As for specific brand, I like the Samsung.

Full disclosure: My wife works on the iPad team at Apple and I work for Adobe.

Zzarchov said...

Is this just for PDF reading?

If so the iPad is the wrong choice. Its a great tablet, but your post didn't really ask for a tablet. You want a Kobo or a Kindle.

They aren't backlit, meaning its as easy on your eyes as reading paper. This is key with text heavy RPG material. Their battery life is phenomenal as well. But they are a 1 trick pony. They are for reading only, if you want to also use it for playing games, cool apps etc. Then get an iPad.

Anonymous said...

iPad. No question.

I've been using an iPad for running games since it came out.

No flash? Well - what do you use flash for? I found that the good bits of the iPad convinced me to find replacements for whatever I needed flash to do - and it was easy. So no flash = no problem.

Reading PDFs? It's fantastic and offers multiple options for doing so, from dicebook to Goodreader. Take your pick of features.

Finally, you've got flexibility. Go with a "reader" and all you have is a "reader". Go with an iPad and you can write adventures using Pages ($9.99), get dice rollers, get game add-ons (Pathfinder crit apps for instance), and more.

Tom said...


Can you talk more about the Kindle? How well do they handle color pdf files?

I would love either a Xoom or an iPad2, but the cost is too much for me. I'd love to have the web in my hands and all the apps of a tablet, but my first priority is reading .pdf files, so would like to hear more about the Kindle.

Thank you!

bighara said...

I have an iPad2 (16GB w/3G) and keep ≈100 gaming pdfs on it, using GoodReader to view them. These pdfs are the primary reason I bought the thing. It works simply awesomely.

I took it to Garycon this year instead of a pile of heavy (and OOP!) rule books. It is such a joy to have them all at my fingertips.

Anyhow, the iPad works terrifically, and I hardly ever notice the Flash issue, if at all.

While I haven't played with the other tablets, I've spoken to those who have, and most of what I hear re: Honeycomb/Android for tablet is that it is simply not ready for prime-time yet.

bighara said...


The issue with the Kindle is that many of my PDFs are old TSR scans (pre-WOTC yanking them from sale) and they are image pdfs, not digital text. You're basically reading a picture of the page. Kindle, AFAIK, is not very good with that sort of thing.

Marshall Smith said...

The Kindle also has a real problem displaying charts and tables. So far, that's been the big killer for both RPGs and textbooks.

I really love reading RPGs on my iPad, but I have to admit that I'm not so crazy about using them at the table. The interface is just slow and clunky enough that I can't find things as fast as I want. I still like dead trees for reference at the table (and, especially, for character creation).

Zzarchov said...

RE: e-Readers

To follow up. One of my game group uses a Kindle, but they are a player, where as I am the GM (and thus have more books).

I personally have a Kobo. It works just fine with scanned "image" PDF files, as well as word documents, text pdf's etc. Long battery life, thousands of PDF's and much easier on the eyes. It doesn't handle colour though, only grayscale. I haven't had any problem with charts.

Now in my case that is fine, it isn't as versatile as an iPad but its also 1/8th the price. As I said if you want an iPad get an iPad, but your post doesn't describe the need for one.

I like sports cars, but if all you need a clunker for the commute, don't get a sports car.

The Samurai Byte said...

Have you looked at the Motorola Xoom?

jeffx said...

Don't have a tablet.....yet. Someone at one of my tables has been using a Asus Transformer (Android) with a decent amount of success.

One thing to consider. High graphic PDFs and slower/lower memory tablets are going to be slow. Especially in page turning.

Zachary Houghton said...

Man, you guys are a wealth of info! Thank you so much!

Couple of questions:

-Interesting point re: Kindle/Kobo, but I’ve heard a lot of graphics mess up on those, such as tables, charts, or big illustrations. Thoughts on that?

-I’ve already got an iPhone 3GS, so I imagine the learning curve for, say, an iPad2 is minimal, yeah?

-What about music options? If I wanted to add some mp3s and play them at the table (I just got Spotify, woot!), do any of them handle that very well or poorly?

-Is there a good program on tablets for making brief note annotation as I go through a pdf or file?

Tom said...

Anyone have an Archos 70 or 101?

Derek said...

I'd love to recommend the iPad as well, as I have an app for creating battle spaces you might enjoy on it :-)

I've created Dungeon Mapp (available now on the app store) for quickly creating maps that comply with most rules systems that are square based. For more info please check out http://www.ambitioussoftware.com


Emmett said...

Don't go with a kobo, I have one and I'm happy with it for reading books front to back but looking up info in a book like you'd want to for an RPG is cumbersome. Also the screen is too small to display a whole page on most PDFs. I view them landscape at 150% magnification. A kindle is slightly better for looking up information but still not great.

For looking up information an ipad is so far the reigning champion. Since you have an iPhone the learning curve is near nothing.

Anonymous said...

I store my PDFs on Dropbox and read them on my iPad. A few times I've loaded online generators relevant to the game I'm running and used the iPad as a GM screen. It's also great for reading blogs. :) And there is almost no learning curve if you use an IPhone.

IronWolf said...


I can't comment much on the Kindle/Kobo other than what I have read which is generally graphic laden PDF files are sluggish on them to the point of being annoyingly so. Second hand information though.

Yes, if you have an iPhone the iPad interface is a no-brainer.

I've really only listened to podcasts on my iPad and not used it for sound effects during games or background music. You could certainly use it for playing music.

GoodReader should be your first purchase on an iPad if you are using PDFs. It has tabbed browsing for letting you easily access more than one PDF at a time. It has the ability to let you highlight, underline, draw on and add notes to the PDF. I use it all the time to add some extra notes to a module or highlight certain abilities I don't want to forget to use. Awesome app.

Anonymous said...

A stupid question time here. How are people getting their PDF's onto the iPad to start with? Does the latest one have USB ports?

Tenkar said...

I have a Kindle 2, Kindle DX, iPad 1 and a 7" Galaxy Tab.

Kindle 2 is too small to comfortably read PDFs on.

The DX workscwith MOST PDFs, but it choked on about 10% of the RPG PDFs I uploaded on it. It's serviceable as a PDF reader, but I haven't turned it on since I got my iPad a year ago.

iPad is a no brainer. Good reader rocks. I use Dropbox to get my 100s of PDFs onto my iPad. iPad one can be a bit awkward after a while for reading in bed (iPad 2nd slimmer and lighter). Which brings me to...

The Galaxy Tab. Better size for bedtime reading. That being said, I'm posting this from bed with my iPad ;)

Tenkar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'll let you know once I get my G-Slate. It arrives tomorrow, and since it was free I guess I can tell you the price is right. ;-)

IronWolf said...

@anonymous, re: PDFs to iPad

The iPad Gen. 2 does not have USB ports either, but with GoodReader you can access Dropbox accounts or connect the iPad to a computer with iTunes and copy your PDFs to the iPad that way. GoodReader also offers some other options to copy PDFs to the iPad as well, but I have not used them yet.

It really isn't an issue at all to get your PDFs copied to an iPad though.

bighara said...

re: pdfs onto iPad, you also can sync the files up with apps like GoodReader via the iTunes interface.

I wd +1 Derek's app DungeonMapp. It's not pricey and a lot of fun. It has a lot of functionality I haven't tried at the table yet, but even for just quickly sketching out a room/area, it's great.

Mikey97D said...

iPad is nice and some of the new HoneyComb Tablets are making nice advances.

You did not state whether you plan on getting a tablet with a 3g/4g service or just a WiFi connection.

At work we recently got an ASUS Transformer (32Gb & WiFi) with a detachable keyboard. The Tablet itself accepts Micro-SD cards while the keyboard will accept a a full size SD card plus it has 2 USB ports. The Tablet is rated at either 9 or 10 hours use and up to 15 hours with the keyboard which houses an additional battery.

I've been contemplating on getting a Transformer (16Gb WiFi) for myself and using it for gaming.

For me it is important how many different ways I can get information in & out of the tablet when one resource may not be available such as WiFi.

Something I found strange about the Motorola Xoom is the Micro-SD card reader is not enabled yet.

Shingo Watanabe said...

Use a Ipad. If you want use .pdf in the table a Kindle isn't a good option. First of all, you will not enjoy the colorful art of the majority of RPGs books. And made a search in the .pdf with Kindle its a hell

tellius said...

I have an ASUS Transformer and it is pretty sweet for all my gaming needs, I haven't found it lacking.

clash bowley said...

IPad, Zach. Ipad.


Anonymous said...

I'm using an iPad 1 for RPG development and as a PDF reader and am having no problem. Does anybody else use Aji Annotate (http://www.ajidev.com/annotater/index.html)? They have free server software that lets you transfer files directly from the Mac to the iPad over wi-fi. It also has a rich selection of features for "marking" up ocr pdfs, setting bookmarks and adding annotations to the text. The aji server software also lets you upload the annotated files back up to your Mac. Also with 64 gb of storage i have no storage problem with loading my music on to the iPad as well as storing pdfs and other types of files.

Anonymous said...

Actually the above url should be for iAnnotate(http://www.ajidev.com/iannotate/index.html). sorry.

Azamandriel said...

I use my Xoom for extensive pdf & web use during the Pathfinder games I run and I feel that it works great. Right out of the box it can handle every pdf I throw at it and with flash support I am able to use any flash based web apps as well as the native android rpg apps. There really is not an issue with Honeycomb.

MythosaAkira said...

Another iPad vote here. I was originally waiting for an Android tablet, but Motorola dragged its feet for so long on getting a Wifi-only Xoom out the door I picked up an iPad2 and haven't regretted it at all.

I also use GoodReader for PDFs. Works great except for some really large image-only PDFs; can't get those to load. One thing I don't recall seeing anyone mention was that GoodReader also supports other some other file types such as graphic files - JPG, PNG, etc. I'm starting to use that to store graphics for my campaign (maps, NPC images, etc.). I had started doing that with the built-in "Photos" app, but you can't organize/create albums with that on the iPad - you have to do it in iTunes. With GoodReader, you just create folders like you would in a file explorer.

I also use Numbers for things like encounter building and character tracking, "Notebooks" for organizing campaign notes, and "DM Tools" for initiative tracking (for 4E but it should work just as well for PF or 3.x). I use the built-in iPod app for playing background music during the game. Lack of Flash hasn't been an issue for me.

Chris McNeil a.k.a Gwarh said...

Although it was expensive the

ASUS Eee Slate EP 121

Is the tablet I bought for just this purpose. It's a full fleged PC as well so it can do ALLOT more than the iPad can.

The only downside is it's cost.

Marcus said...

I use an ipad with Dropbox - although I use iBooks for the actual reading/organising, I like having the pdfs in collections.

An ipad 1 can handle old GURPS books without problems, and can be found cheaper than an ipad 2.