Gaming with Google Docs, Part 2

In Part I of this article, we covered some basic ways Google Docs can be used to facilitate and coordinate your role-playing game. Specific examples included handouts, campaign notes, and player character backgrounds as well as folders/tagging and mobile access to your documents.

In this article, we'll take a look at some of the more advanced tools available in Google Docs such as forms for collecting or archiving information, spreadsheets for basic accounting, using presentations for campaign intros and segues, using drawing tools for creating maps and illustrations, and accessing your material offline.

Spreadsheets

When most people think of spreadsheets, they think of complicated calculations spanning multiple sheets with rows of data ranging from dozens to thousands. In the RPG community, many thinking of autocalculating character sheets, XP calculators, magic item creation calculators, and other such geekery. Google Spreadsheets performs most of those tasks and a little bit more. If you're unfamiliar with working with spreadsheet formulas and functions, I recommend you begin with the online Help available for Google Spreadsheets.

In general, spreadsheets can be used to track and compare data. One example might be tracking earnings and expenditures or account balances over time. This same use can be applied to your character's wealth. Other uses might include tracking and calculating your character's experience points, or calculating points spent on character creation.

Another easy function a spreadsheet can serve is to create basic tables of information such as a character's progression as he gains experience points, listing new weapons available in the next town, or presenting transportation timetables and costs for that airship you had planned for the PCs to board.

Be careful with tinkering around with spreadsheets. While handy in many cases, forcing it to be useful to your RPG can result in a lot of time wasted that could have been better spent on planning your next session or reading up on your character's abilities. Don't let the tools do more harm than good.

Drawing Tools

Google Docs has recently implemented a drawing tool available within a document, spreadsheets, or presentation. These drawing tools are fairly basic and are primarily used to create the most basic diagrams. With a little practice, you can use these tools to create some basic diagrams of your own, such as the symbol found on the cover of an ancient tome, or alien writing found etched on some strange metal from another planet.

Forms

Another new feature available in Google Docs is the ability to collect information via forms. These forms allow you to create one or more fields in a web page in which visitors can enter information. It can be as simple as collecting email addresses or as verbose as a full survey complete with Likert scales. Survey responses are collected in a spreadsheet ready for you to crunch the numbers and turn them into visual charts and graphs. The applications of this feature might be of limited use to role-playing games. The best use might be to collect PC stat blocks from players.

Presentations

If you've ever sat through a lecture or conference seminar with a PowerPoint slideshow, then you know what Google Docs' presentations are. The most obvious use for presentations in an RPG game is the ability to show an introduction to a campaign or segues between adventures or encounters. Additionaly uses might include an emulated presentation for a modern game in which the PCs are being briefed for a mission, an image gallery of NPCs or maps, or general scenery to set the mood.

Some of the better features included in Google's presentation application are its portability, the ability to chat with other viewers during a presentation, and the ability to embed a presentation into a web page such as the one below. Play around with the features, including the "View Together" link.

Embedding a video like the one above is very easy. In fact, if you already figured out how to embed a calendar or publish a doc as a web page, you're already halfway there. Embedding a presentation is accessed through the Share button where you can play with the settings.

Offline Access

One of the concerns with Google Docs is the misconception that you cannot access all of your online work when you don't have internet access. Google has fixed this with the availability of the Offline function in the upper right corner of the application. Offline will automatically cache copies of your files on your local computer. When you attempt to visit Google Docs without an internet connection, it will still pull up the offline version and you can view or edit away. Once a connection is reestablished, Google Docs will automatically resync the data. Other tools that have this Offline feature include Google Reader, Gmail, and Calendar. So when you're at the gaming table with your laptop but without an internet connection, you'll still have all of your notes available to you for your convenience. Even if you don't trust this feature, you can always save a downloaded copy in your favorite file format or print it out.

That ends this two-part article on Gaming with Google Docs. How might you use Google Docs for your game? Post a comment below with your published Google Doc or presentation to show us what you've accomplished with these tools.

Next: Gaming with Blogger

A look at simple ways to use Google's Blogger as a campaign journal for your gaming group.

Update: Made some corrections in the intro and added a section about Offline Access that I had accidentally left out.

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