Living in the Cloud

I'm a software engineer who tends to be on the early adopter side of things. I'm writing this on a Chromebook, I store most of my digital gaming products on Google Drive. I now purchase the bulk of my RPG products digitally. Most of my fiction is read on Kindle or Kindle App. My music library is in the cloud at Amazon Cloudplayer. (And also at Google Music).

Earlier this week Google announced the Chromebook Pixel. Unlike most Chromebooks which are very low cost, the Pixel is a premium machine with a clear inspiration from Apple's unibody products.

I began wondering how practical it would be to use a Chromebook exclusively. While I do a lot of work on my Chromebook I also have a MacBook Air (which also runs Windows 7 as a Virtual Desktop). The family also has a large screen iMac, used mainly by the kids.

For day to day stuff I do pretty well on my Chromebook. I use Google Drive for a lot of my word processing. I'm able to watch movies via Amazon and Netflix. I can listen to streaming music no problem.

For work and for hobbies i run into some issues. At work I have two computers. The first is a powerhouse Lenovo notebook computer, very useful for a lot of the intense number crunching I have to do at work. The other is a virtual PC - still pretty powerful, though short of the physical machine. When I don't want to lug the heavy notebook home from work but still need to work from home (a routine occurrence) I can use a VPN program and my RSA SecureID to connect to my virtual PC. However, the VPN client is not available on the Chromebook so I have to use either the MacBook or iMac. (I have learned a giant screen PC is an awesome thing for work.)

On the hobbies front... As far as playing video games, I'm a pretty casual player. My main vice is Civilziation which requires a PC or Mac. For tabletop RPGs... It's a bit of a mix. I can use my Chromebook to write adventures, store character sheets, etc. I can use Google Hangouts to game remotely, something I routinely do. I'm able to save files purchased from RPGNow directly to my Google Drive. But there are a number of things I cannot do.

First there aren't that many solutions to mapmaking online. I was only able to find one, There are tools there for generating encounter-type maps online. However, I was unable to find any support for hex based overland maps nor for greater variety of tools such as cities, modern/science fiction maps, etc. For those you are looking at either ProFantasy's Campaign Cartographer or NBOS Software's Fractal Mapper. Both of these are Windows-only products. Another solution for any machine able to run a Java app is Inkewll Ideas's Dungeonographer and Hexographer products. These are great products but more suited for fantasy games.

As far as virtual tabletops go, if you are looking to go beyond the basic functionality of Google Hangouts, there are a number of options. There is the Roll20, a web-based VTT that plays nice with Google Hangouts. This is actually a viable web-only option, working on any computing platform. MapTools is a popular product - it is very barebones but is reasonably easy to customize. It can run on most platforms that can run a Java app (though not a Chromebook or other pure web-based solution). Fantasy Grounds is a popular option that I used for my Call of Cthulhu games but it is PC-only. It is a great tool in my opinion for games that it supports but I find it much more difficult than MapTools to customize.

So, what is the verdict then? Is it possible to be a purely cloud-based tabletop RPG-er. It could be, but I think you'd be missing out on a lot of tools that lots of gamers make use of. For me, it isn't yet possible. Quite possibly in a few years. One of the nice things about web-based solutions is that it removes questions of Mac support, Linux support, etc. But if I had to claim just one of the computing devices I have available to me to be my only option I'd almost certainly pick my MacBook Air (with its PC Virtual Desktop within for running Campaign Cartographer and Fantasy Grounds).

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