So: you’re looking around at the various methods on iPad to make your life as a DM/GM a little easier. There are a lot. Some look like they work. Some look… interesting. Some have great reviews. Some have terrible reviews (because some people are merciless in their anonymity). But which do you choose?
I personally use Game Master 5. There are a couple other options I’ve tried– even some which might be better if I had accounts with other sources. But I wanted to find the best one to spend money on ONCE. I didn’t want ads. I wanted as much freedom as possible.
It’s Intuitive From the Start
The first page has all of your campaigns you may be running or writing for the future. You can reorder these simply by holding down and dragging them. You can of course, start a new campaign from here, or see what’s in the compendium (which holds all the monster, spell, and item information in the game). Also, for those creating a simple one-shot or just trying it out, you can create an encounter to run a quick battle.
On the campaign page, you have pretty much all information for your campaign at your fingertips. You have an infinite notes section (which can be reordered and collapsed as you need. You have two character sections, one for your players and one for your NPCs. You have the list of the Adventures (which are made up of encounters) which make up your campaign.
This is probably the most important section for me on each page. It helps me keep track of all that is going on in the world. I use it to keep track of the in-game calendar, to use it to meter out how I give XP, and even business notes (because of course one of my characters is running a business). I also use this section with reference screenshots of maps, photos, and even information from other rpg systems which I am adapting for the use in my own game. (Note that I use Dragon Age‘s system for huge battles.)
This section is pretty straightforward. The first section is for player characters; which I always include the player name in parentheses so I can learn names from new people and make sure I have a reference for the fantasy name they are using.
A possible deficit of this app is that it is not connected to its player app. One of my players uses Lion’s Den’s Fight Club app and loves it. But, near as I can figure, we can’t have our information shared between the two. Still, when players are first getting into the game, I get their basic information (stats, AC, HP) and more or less never look at it again. (Which is something I should keep better track of, I know…)
A second deficit for the character creation is that there is not access to classes. If you don’t have a Player’s Handbook handy, you may not know what class ability your character is talking about– though, since I want Wizards of the Coast to keep operating and making a great game, it may not be such a bad thing you are forced to buy the books to get all the content.
As for NPCs…
I love that I can create NPCs based off of stat blocks within the Monster Manual. While many of the monsters and humanoids you may use in your game are already included, there are several which are not and which you would have to enter into the compendium for future use.
Or create your own.
Still. Super. Easy.
In each of these (which can be reordered for importance), you put all the information you will need for your game session. There are even NPCs which exist only for this adventure! (This can be toggled, if a beloved helper becomes so important that you have to include them in the rest of the game.) The best NPCs for the adventure section are enemies you expect the players to defeat. Again, there is a notes section for information specific to this adventure. Since it’s something which I want to loom in the background, I have more or less a log of what is going on as the adventurers do other adventures. (Our world doesn’t stand still; I don’t want my fantasy world to either.)
Finally, there are the Encounters, which are geared toward combat, but don’t HAVE to be. If I know that I’m going to have players talk to someone important, like the Elder Council of the Elves, I still set that up as an encounter, making sure to include any important dialogue, speeches, environmental details, traps, etc. The eye above the Encounters allows you to reorder, hide or delete encounters.
Where the campaign would be an entire show and the adventures might be considered seasons of that show, your sessions would be episodes of that show, and that leaves encounters as your major scenes of those episodes.
As I mentioned before, it is geared toward combat, but the notes button (the white paper button, not the hamburger button) can be used to hold all the non-combat information– including the treasure you’re going to give your players as they loot the bodies. (Inevitably.)
At the bottom of the page is the “roll initiative” button. Which… when your players decide to kill the almost dead Scout in the temple so that they can take their displacer beast pet…
The list to the left of the page lists all characters/creatures within the combat. This list will auto-populate the initiative once you hit the button. Depending on your settings, it can also populate the player initiative, or you can have them roll it up and drag them to their location in the order. (I always put them ahead of the any NPCs.)
The majority of the screen is each character in stats. You can see all of their details by scrolling. Pro-tip: check your encounters before you run them. Even with this app, I forget about some abilities of characters ALL THE TIME.
Rules Quick Reference
On the Campaign and Adventure screens, you will see a button in the top right which looks like a GM screen– this is your rules quick reference. You don’t have to (and can’t) change anything here since these are just the basic rules for the game.
While the compendium is by no means complete, it does have a bulk of the basic D&D information you need to get your campaign up and going. Besides this, it is SUPER EASY to enter the information you need either from a source text or inventing your own!
If there were one thing I wish could be a reality with D&D products in general: a code to activate a digital purchase which becomes activated everywhere. It would mean that apps like this would have to be able to connect to the Wizards of the Coast in some way, but it would mean that players could buy something once and then have access to it wherever and however they chose to play. Note that this is NOT a fault of the app itself, but a general wish that I think most players and DMs would cast.
Don’t want to handle dice either because you have to roll so many or because you just don’t like the feel (which– HOW?)? Both this app and the player app have you covered with a dice calculator! While most characters have set dice rolls you can make which activate the calculator at the push of a button, you can also enter the data in the calculator directly and hit the die icon to roll. This is helpful when you start to throw 7th level fireballs.
The “hamburger button” at the top right of almost every page gives you the overall menu. It usually gives you the option to edit the adventure or campaign (depending on which page you open it in), options to access things already on the top menu, and, usefully, a long rest button which resets all hit points and spell slots for all characters (player and NPC alike!). It also gives you access to the Options menu…
And, finally, in the Options menu, you can backup your campaign and control some of your basic settings. I choose not to roll player initiatives or set the game to easy (D&D 5e is pretty “squishy” as is). I do choose to group characters, have sound effects, and (a change since I took this screenshot), I auto-roll recharges. Anything to make running the game a little easier!
Few things can be perfect. Other than some of the things I’ve already brought up, the app has no map making system and I have to go through other sources for music in my campaign. Other than that, it fulfills all of my needs and every time they update it, the app gets better.
There are only about four of these out there that I could even recommend trying for DMs, but this is the ONE I recommend DMs buying. While it is missing a couple of features I wish for so I could have an all-in-one go-to app, it is the one that feels like it offers the most for a one-time purchase. Even if you’re on the fence, I recommend trying the free version. You’ll only get to have one campaign at a time (which for most DMs is more than enough) and you’ll get most of the features anyway– but if you like it and use it, I recommend shelling out the little bit of cash to have it as a full purchase.
As I said, the full purchase has only gotten better as time has gone on. The last big change is the addition of the recharge abilities (which is why I hadn’t changed the auto-roll for it in the picture), which has been invaluable when facing elementals and dragons and any number of other monsters.
Thank you for reading!
This is a great app. I really love it and I hope you choose to support it as I did. One of the general rules I’ve seen in life is that the more of us pay for the things we love, the better that thing is. More of us choosing to pay for something ONCE as opposed to some kind of subscription will help us as players shape the industry. Even if the app is not perfect, I appreciate how much it does in comparison to others for the cost.