Using OmniFocus to manage a 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons character sheet

by Joel on June 24, 2008

Yes, you read that correctly.

Explanations up front: As difficult as it may be to imagine, some of here at the Omni Group are avid gamers, and one of those games we play happens to be Dungeons & Dragons. As it so happens, Wizards of the Coast have come out with a new version of D&D, the 4th edition since its launch many years ago, and there are some new aspects that wound up dovetailing quite nicely into OmniFocus and its handling of repeating tasks and projects.

Now, one of the things about playing this particular game is that there can be an awful lot of information to remember, and at times it’s darn near impossible to remember it all, so one is perpetually diving into the Player’s Handbook to find information, and if you’re at all familiar with the Player’s Handbook, then you know as well as I do that finding information in that tome can be difficult at best. To be fair, the new edition has much nicer charts, tables, and graphs, but so far as important wordage goes, things tend to be scattered throughout the book.

We have been using OmniGraffle in the past to create and maintain character sheets, and I myself have endeavored to get as much information as possible onto the character sheet, to avoid the long searching in the PHB. With this new version, I immediately started thinking about using the notes feature in OmniGraffle Professional for this, referencing a document on my laptop to makes things quite a bit easier.

Then I got to thinking about the new feature in the 4th edition, the idea of powers that can be used at will, or once during an encounter, or once daily, that sort of thing. Wizards is apparently selling decks of cards with these powers on them, when in play you turn them over so you know that you’ve used that particular encounter or daily power. Aha! I thought to myself, I can make them in OmniGraffle, and put some actions on them so that when I poke said power “card”, they dim out or some such thing.

All of this of course, requires me bringing my laptop to the gaming session. If only there was some smaller device, that was on my person pretty much at all times, that I could use instead…

Enter OmniFocus into the brainstorm.

While it may seem to be a very odd pairing, a game and a GTD application, it turns out that the basic document interface to OmniFocus is very useful in listing attributes and abilities, with full descriptive text explanations in the notes. And, making repeating projects and tasks for the aforementioned encounter and daily powers winds up being a very effective method for tracking what’s been used, both during the actual gaming session as well as looking back over a long period of time to see how you made the most use of what ability and what-not.

After bouncing this idea off of some co-workers that also play, here’s what I wound up with:

My ‘character’ in OmniFocus is a folder of various projects (all parallel, although I suspect it doesn’t matter) to break down into the various aspects of the character. For instance, “Character Information” is a project and such things as name and race and class are just tasks within that project. “Race Features” is a separate project, with whatever bonuses I get for being a dwarf listed as tasks, with full descriptions from the Player’s Handbook entered in as the note for the task. This way, pretty much anything I need to immediately know about my character when playing is right there, in context.

At this point, I could easily be using OmniGraffle or OmniOutliner or even TextEdit or the Notes application on the iPhone to display this information in a more effective way than bookmarking my PHB or committing to memory. However, it quickly became evident that repeating projects and tasks would be ‘the win’ when set up as my combat powers.

In the 4th Edition, your character gets a certain set of powers to use in combat or while adventuring. Some of these are considered to be “at will”, in that you can use them at any time and as often as desired. Some other powers you may only use once during an encounter with a monster, and some you may only do once per day.

As a result, I have a project for my At-Will Powers, and a project for my Encounter Powers, and a project for my Daily Powers. My At-Will project is not repeating, however the tasks in it that represent these things that my character can do are set to repeating. My Encounter and Daily projects are set to repeat, but the tasks within are not.

So, in the course of gaming if I use my at-will “Cleave” power, I mark that task as completed, and get another one in its place in case I need to use it next round. If I use say, “Spinning Sweep”, which is an Encounter Power, then I mark the task I have representing it as complete, and cannot use it again. At the end of the encounter I go ahead and mark the project I have for my Encounter Powers as complete, and since it’s a repeating project, I get a brand new version of it for the next baddie that might come my way.

Rinse and repeat, and after six months or perhaps a year I can also go back and look at my completed items and see what I’ve been using the most, that sort of thing.

Best yet, as I alluded to somewhere way further up in this post, is that it works really wonderfully on the iPhone, the syncing between the desktop version of OmniFocus and the iPhone/iPod Touch version means that I have a very rich and informative document about my roleplaying character, which in turn winds up being fairly interactive, all in my pocket.

We all thought it would make for a good blog post, hope you enjoyed reading it.