Preparing and running sessions for games has never been easier than it is today with D&D apps available for mobile devices and on the web. With everyone and their brother getting into app-making, however, how do you know where to start? Check out our list of the Best D&D Apps for In-Person Games.
DMing in the 21st Century
The first D&D game I ever ran as a kid involved hiding behind two of those yellow pee-chee folders stapled together with my graph-ruled composition notebook, my dice, and a set of glass aquarium beads because my dad wouldn’t let me leave the house with any of his minis. I didn’t even have a vinyl map for the table and my players each had a spare d6 to use to represent their characters on the board. I also used to spend hours, days, nay, months of my life pouring over sourcebooks and crawling through forum posts in search of information to run games smoothly. (I will be able to recite the 3rd Edition Kobold stat block until my dying day, I’m quite sure of it.)
Not much has changed for me in terms of how I run my games these days. My DM screen has gotten a bit of an upgrade, and I have my own miniatures. What has changed are the tools I use to prepare my game sessions. Whereas previously I needed dozens of books and as many hours to plan a session, nowadays I don’t really need anything other than my iPad and an hour or two before I’m ready to sit down and run a game.
If you’re someone who struggles with organizing information or feels like you need to have every book possible on-hand to run a game ‘just in case’, this article is here to provide recommendations for apps (mobile and web) that have transformed my ability to DM on-the-go. So without further ado, let’s get into the best D&D apps for in-person games!
Disclaimer: Neither I nor Eventyr Games received any money or gifts in exchange for the recommendation of apps on this list. This list is not a ranking and the apps included are in no particular order.
Eventyr Games Apps
Platform: Web (https://app.eventyrgames.com/)
This might seem self-serving, but the apps written by J.A. Valeur for Eventyr Games are some of the most helpful D&D apps I’ve found for filling out NPCs and shops as well as providing players with handout cards for the epic loot they get. All of the apps are available free of charge at app.eventyrgames.com and there are three different apps that are all extremely useful:
NPC & Shop Generator
The NPC & Shop Generator App is the newest app to the list and so far my favorite. With the click of a button you can produce an NPC merchant with a name, a back story, a few characteristics, and biases. They’re even complete with portraits, ideals, flaws, and bonds.
You can stop there if you just needed a character on the fly, but if you need a full shop for this merchant to run, all you have to do is click “Add Shop” and the store name, location description, and inventory list are all produced for you instantly.
The best part? You can customize the NPC, the shop name, and the inventory lists easily. You don’t even have to input everything manually. You can lock the aspects of the character that you like and then click the d20 icon to “re-roll” for new randomly generated content. When you’re satisfied with the merchant and shop you can click “Save & Edit” for additional editing features to fine-tune the NPC & shop descriptions, change the appearance of the inventory list, and export the information either as a PDF or as the front and back of a compact card you can print for ease of reference!
If you’re a member of the Eventyr Games Patreon you also have the option to save NPCs and their shops to your account for future use and easy access.
5e Magic Item Price List
An excellent resource for any DM to reference, this 5e Magic Item Price List allows you to look up virtually any magic item available in 5E (including the ones made for Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic and Milando’s Guide to Magical Marvels).
You can arrange items by name, type, rarity, or value and you can search for items based on the item name, type, rarity, or source. For those items included in the SRD the list reference links to the item description on D&D Beyond.
If you’re a member of the Patreon and you saved an NPC with a shop you can also add specific items from the 5e Magic Item Price List app to the inventory of your saved merchant. If you have a merchant that players interact with frequently who not only sells items but buys them you can add whatever magic items the merchant acquires from your players to their inventory — potentially for your characters to buy back again in the future!
Item Card Generator
A favorite among our fans and supporters, the Item Card Generator gives you the ability to produce illustrated cards for magic items that you can either print out and use at a table or use digitally so your online games have a quick reference for their new gear. You can either randomly generate the item cards or you can start with a blank card and add all of the information yourself, selecting the item type, image, rarity, attunement, and writing a description. On a desktop you can resize and move the item image as well as customize how ornately adorned the card design is and what color accent features have. Once you have your card just right you can download the JPG to use either as a handout on VTT or to print and use at your table.
If you’re a member of the Patreon you can save items and create collections to help organize your creations.
5e Random Dungeon Generator
Platform: Web (https://donjon.bin.sh/5e/dungeon/)
Home to over 70 different random generator apps, you have probably seen the work of donjon in and around D&D spaces more times than you can count. While oftentimes the Fantasy World Generator or Random Town Generator is used for a quick world map or location, however, the true treasure is the 5e Random Dungeon Generator.
One of the most robust random generators available completely free of charge, you can determine the dungeon level/difficulty, the theme of the monsters found inside, the types of doors or obstacles that can be found, and the overall size of the dungeon. You can also change the map’s appearance, type, and color scheme if you don’t plan on re-drawing the map for your own use. After this point, you’re given a full map complete with descriptions of each room and general corridor features, as well as general information about the dungeon including a brief history and any special conditions the environment might impose. Oh, and the rooms are populated with encounters and treasure for you, no extra preparation needed!
Even if you already have a dungeon map and you’re just struggling to figure out what monsters to populate it with you can tell the 5e Random Dungeon Generator how many rooms and what kinds of monsters you want and copy the applicable information for the map you already have, saving you oodles of time and brainpower. When you’re done you can export the DM Map, a Player Map, a Printable Map, a PDF of the entire dungeon, or a host of other file types for use digitally or in person.
Game Master 5th Edition
I mentioned this one briefly in our How to Speed Up Combat in 5E article, but it bears repeating. Lion’s Den has managed to produce one of the most comprehensive DM notebook apps I’ve ever encountered without it being cluttered and difficult to navigate. You can maintain session notes, manage character sheets for players, include maps, images for monsters and items, player portraits, and information about treasure. There’s also a very handy encounter feature that will allow you to either run an encounter you prepared ahead of time, or generate a brand new encounter randomly before moving into combat and allowing you to track rounds.
When setting up a new campaign you have the opportunity to break things down by ‘adventure’, and within each adventure, you can add any encounters, loot, or notes. This makes Game Master 5th Edition insanely useful not only for homebrew campaigns, but it makes preparing for official adventures manageable as well (as you can see in the screenshot of my ancient Waterdeep: Dragon Heist game).
You can also import XML files with additional monsters, magic items, spells, and more to keep the app up to date and include custom information specific to your game, or you can add them on-the-fly inside the app itself. The more things you add, the easier it gets to set up new campaigns in the future, as the app retains all of your resources and makes them easily accessible between campaign files. Essentially, Game Master 5th Edition just gets better and more useful the more you use it.
The one other thing that should be mentioned is that Game Master 5th Edition is not actually completely free. The free version allows you to make only 1 Campaign and up to 3 Encounters. This means if you don’t want to spend any money you will have to keep deleting encounters as you complete them to make more. That said, the app only costs $2.99 — total. Not per month, not per year. A one-time purchase that costs less than a sandwich will get you access to all of the features in this awesome app forever.
Kobold+ Fight Club
Platform: Web (https://koboldplus.club/)
The good folks of Fantasy Computerworks picked up the work originally started by Asmor and have turned Kobold+ Fight Club into an indispensable community resource. Available for free at koboldplus.club, K+FC allows DMs to quickly generate level-appropriate combat challenges for adventuring parties of any size or level. It even works if you have player characters of different levels or if you want to make sure that all of the creatures you’re fighting are a specific type or native to a specific environment. If the encounter generated includes a monster you’re not a huge fan of, you can either eliminate it or replace the specific creature while leaving the rest of the encounter the same.
Alternatively, if you have an idea for an encounter already but you’re not sure if it’ll wipe your party you can manually build an encounter and the app will tell you the estimated difficulty level based on player character levels.
The app isn’t foolproof, of course, and you still have to be conscious of what your players can reasonably handle. It also doesn’t allow for the ability to add environmental hazards so that you can account for the difficulty of your party fighting some kobolds over the mouth of an erupting volcano. However, you can add custom “monsters” to K+FC if you want, so if you’re inclined you can add the environment or lair as creatures of their own to assign them to the initiative pool and provide damage. This is an inelegant workaround, however, as it’s not like a pool of lava has hit points or an AC. That said, it can still be worth doing to include the XP value of the challenge so that you can adequately balance an encounter and not accidentally squish all of your player characters under falling rocks after they’ve survived a grueling battle. (Then again, maybe you want to squish your player characters under falling rocks and it wasn’t an accident. In which case you can skip the extra effort.)
A final feature of K+FC I didn’t actually realize until writing this article is that once you’re happy with the encounter you can export it over to Improved Initiative, which is a free web app for 5E used to help track combat. I haven’t used this app myself, but it seems pretty neat to use as a DM. There’s a player view, but I’m not sure what its purpose is if you’re playing around the same table. (And obviously, you wouldn’t need it if you’re using a VTT to play, as modern VTTs track initiative order natively.) I would say that if you don’t have Game Master 5th Edition because you prefer to use a computer with a desktop OS rather than a tablet or other mobile device, using K+FC and Improved Initiative together provide a similar organizational experience to the encounter builder in GM 5th Edition (though without the added bonus of being able to reference your entire campaign in one place).
D&D Spellbook 5e
This is probably the one app on this list that I recommend for players more than for DMs. It’s a simple enough concept: most of the spells for D&D 5e in one place for easy reference. But wait, there’s more!
D&D Spellbook 5e allows you to create character profiles so that you can maintain a different “spellbook” for each caster you run. Have trouble remembering the exact range for fire bolt? Look it up with the search function and bam! Everything you need to know about the spell in a heartbeat. If you cast the spell especially often or you find yourself having to look it up frequently you can add it to a favorites list for easy reference.
Running a caster that needs to keep track of prepared spells vs spells known? D&D Spellbook 5e has got you covered! You can add any number of spells to your spellbook to keep track of the spells you know, but you can also mark specific spells as prepared with a simple tap to make sure you’re being conscious of what resources you have available to you.
The only real weakness of this app is that it does not allow you to add new spells yourself. What’s more, you’re limited to the sourcebooks that the app producers have chosen (or are able) to port into the app. The list is thankfully more than just the Player’s Handbook and was updated as recently as February of this year to include Astral Adventurer’s Guide content. Still, if there’s a spell from a resource other than the approved list, you’re not going to be able to keep it in the app for the time being.
That said, if you have a player who keeps forgetting their PHB (or never had one to begin with), this free resource is a massive time-saver to make sure your game keeps running smoothly.
These apps are included on this list because I personally find them very useful, but they’re either something almost everyone already knows about, or they’re not expressly designed for D&D.
Platform: Windows OS / MacOS / iOS
Price: Free 14-day Trial / $64.99 Purchase
If you’ve ever had a game that spans significant periods or has a lot of moving parts, it can be challenging to keep everything in order, both for players and yourself. I’m a very visual person, and as such, having a handy-dandy timeline is extremely useful for being able to see how events relate to one another. It also makes it easier to track sidequests and the passage of time. You can organize information and color-code events on the timeline to associate them with a specific character, event, plotline, or theme. You can also use Subway View to track significant events by character (so you know which player character has maybe gotten a bit too much of the spotlight and whose character needs a bit more to do) or the Spreadsheet or Outline views to more efficiently organize the information if you’re not a visual person.
Aeon Timeline is not a free app, but it is easy to update, easy to reference, and available for desktop and mobile devices. While I’m perfectly capable of maintaining a physical timeline written on bits of notebook paper, the accessibility to the information wherever I am and whenever I remember something or whenever I need to double-check something makes it indispensable to me for both D&D session planning and other writing projects. Aeon Timeline is available for Windows OS, MacOS, and iOS as of the writing of this article and has a free trial. It also integrates with Scrivener (which is a popular app for managing writing projects).
I’m personally still sore at Wizards of the Coast over the whole OGL debacle, but it would be disingenuous to write a list of the best online resources for 5E and not include D&D Beyond. One of the hardest things for most folks starting D&D is building their first character, and the online character builder with D&D Beyond is intuitive and free. The ability for users to create and maintain character sheets which can be managed in a campaign by the DM and exported for easy printing and use is simply unbeatable. Add to that the item database and the ability to search SRD information easily and reliably and it’s an easy go-to resource for any player or DM. How long it remains free and available to everyone is anyone’s guess, but as of the writing of this article, it deserves at least an honorable mention.
At the end of the day, the most useful resources are going to be the ones you actually use. Different people’s brains work in different ways, but in my more than 20 years of playing D&D and running games, I have never found it easier to manage all of the moving parts of a game than it is today with the apps above. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of resources available for D&D, so hopefully this article can help folks who specifically run games in person to find some tools to make their games easier.
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