App Review: Player Minion from Goathead Software

Though I’m late in coming to the 4E party, I’ve been enjoying my time and am currently playing my 2nd and 3rd 4E campaigns with Jason, Mark, and the rest of the gang. When I came into Mark’s campaign, I was given a 4E character sheet printed from the old Character Builder that was slipped into sheet protectors for easy use with erasable markers. That’s been the Modus Operandi for the second campaign as well. And it’s worked fairly well, though I’m usually without a marker and end up using sticky notes to denote HP, Action Points, Powers and Healing Surges used, and so on. Not the most effective method, but it seems to work ok.

That said, I’ve been wondering if there’s some sort of application for the iPad that could be used to better manage character details during a session. So I sprung for a subscription to D&D Insider for the year and recently picked up Player Minion from Goathead Software. At $2.99 it was a no-brainer to download and try out for a bit.

I haven’t had an opportunity to try it at the gaming table yet, though I hope to do so during the next session. But exploring its various options here has proven quite interesting. It really does automate most of the same tasks I have been doing manually, which is terrific. That’s not to say that the interface is perfect, but even with its few quirks I think it works really well.

Let’s start at the beginning and the first quirk. When you download the app and launch it for the first time, you end up with a full-screen display containing a few big buttons at the bottom and start at the “Load Character” screen (with a big green checkmark as the button). Presented with “Username” and “Password” fields and a “Login” button, you also see three other big black buttons – “Load charactr from web,” “Load character on device,” and “Save character to device.” For a few days I was stuck right there and didn’t have much time to investigate a) what I was supposed to log into and b) what I might be loading. I thought for a while I needed to use my DDI login, but that wasn’t the case. And it wasn’t until I revisited the application page in the Apple App Store and saw this statement that I figured it out:

To downloadimport D&D4E files you must create a FREE account @ and upload D&D4e files exported from the DDI toolset!

Once I knew that I needed to have a different login, I was able to export a character from the DDI Character Builder and upload it to my Goathead Software account. And once it was there it was a hop, skip, and a jump to being able to “Load character from web” to see my Fighter’s stats fill the other pages of the app. Beyond that, I was also able to save the character directly on the device so I don’t have to have an Internet connection to use him.

So let’s go through the other screens…

  • The second button (after the big green checkmark denoting the login/load screen) has a blue Chess pawn on it. And when you click it, it offers some high-level stats for the character – Name and level, experience, power source, and role, plus racial and class abilities.
  • The third button has a bar graph on it and offers another level of information about the character. Ability scores, feats, and skills, along with other data such as alignment, gender, size, languages, etc. Each ability score and skill has a 20-sided-dice icon beside it you can touch to roll a score or skill check right there, which is pretty cool (though I’ll probably still roll actual physical dice just the same).
  • The fourth button shows a big gold coin and offers not only your character’s money, but their magic items, armor, weapons, and other gear on the sheet.
  • The fifth button is one you’ll use quite a bit in combat and is marked with a pair of crossed swords. Here you find your combat stats like speed, action points used, and any initiative bonus, followed by your defenses and saving throws (AC, Fortitude, Reflex, Will), your current HP status (with the ability to use and track healing surges), and any current conditions (like blindness, dazed, etc.) your character may be suffering (or benefiting) from. And at the bottom you’ll see a “Make Camp” button that allows you to benefit from a short (5 minute) rest, an extended rest, or a milestone, along with the benefits of each.
  • Lastly is the Powers button with a strange icon on it that looks sort of like a joystick or mouse stick. This is the other one you’ll use frequently in combat as it tracks the powers you’ve used and offers details on their usage.

Quite honestly there’s a ton here already and it works pretty well. Simply being able to track the usage of powers alone is a helpful ability and when you add in HP, rests, conditions, and all the rest of the functionality you really have quite a package.

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Here are a few of the “gotchas” for me. Most of them are minor, but they caused me some confusion.

  • When trying to figure out the tooling for HP, I stumbled around with the funky little slider quite a bit. Turns out you slide it to the right to a number (let’s say you took 12 points of damage, slide it to 12) and then click the button that reflects what happened. If you got hit, slide the slider and click the sword. Did you use a healing surge? Slide the slider and click the + or the Use Surge checkbox. Did you take non-lethal damage (I’m guessing here)? Slide the slider and click the little shield button I think. If you don’t remember what your surge value is, click the Surge button and it automatically sets it for you on the slider… And I still have no clue what the +/-, 1, 5, and 10 buttons do.I’m not saying that I have a better way to do it than with the slider in a touch-screen interface, but it took me a while to figure out even generally how to use it. A “Help” button would… um… help explain what some of these buttons do.
  • Really, the lack of in-app help is a problem. It would be nice to have a collapsible section on each page that offered an overview of the functionality for the page. Maybe even FAQ page somewhere. There are a lot of places where buttons exist and I have no clue what they do. And as an app, I shouldn’t have to go back to the web to figure out how to use it.
  • The login/load page has plenty of room to offer some suggestions on how to get started as well.

Despite those minor issues I really am very excited to play around with this at the game table during the next session. I think having the ability to manage powers and HP will be a big help. Goathead Software has put together a great app that is solid now and can only get better.

Be sure to check out Player Minion for the iPhone and iPad in the iTunes App Store! And check out the Goathead Software site for more details.

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