Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pathfinder RPG and Hero Lab

Hero Lab Logo by Lone Wolf Development
The union of software for running a game is a natural marriage of interests for me. Software is just the natural extension of the "pencil" in pencil and paper RPGs. I often feel like two geeks in one...

I'd been using Hero Lab for our D&D 3.5 games for about a year. I started using it sometime in the midst of running our Valley of Obelisks game. Once the demonomanical megadungeonesque schlock ran out, I needed a way to reduce heavy prep and speed up the creation of some major antagonists I'd made up on the fly. Included were some Turlek werewolves and Sumberton wererats, previously just a sentence or two in the text. Unfortunately for me, they became the adventure hooks for a new "second phase" of the campaign. (Improvisation isn't always a good thing, particularly when using a data-intensive game system.) So I was now having to play catchup with all the "lies I'd told."

If you've tried to apply the 3.5 lycanthrope templates to anything then I don’t need to tell you how aggravating they can be. Suffice it to say I wouldn't recommend manually running a lycan game at all with the 3.5 templates. And when we started using Hero Lab these didn't exist. Lone Wolf Development graciously acceded to user requests, including my own. That's how good their support is and they've managed to build a friendly community too.

Also, we eventually converted our PCs to Hero Lab, which lead to the discovery of at least half a dozen relatively minor hand-written errors, such as miscalculated skill points, in both PCs and NPCs. A major villain was also missing one specialist bonus spell per level, I'm ashamed to say. I'd definitely over-extended myself.

So, this innovative little piece of software has been a real godsend. Hero Lab is without a doubt one of the finest RPG data management soft wares I've ever come across and I've tried out more than my share. Needless to say I was elated to see that Hero Lab would be using the Pathfinder RPG Game Compatible License:
On August 13th, Lone Wolf Development will release the eagerly-awaited Pathfinder Roleplaying Game data package for Hero Lab. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game package allows you to create adventurers and NPCs in the world of Golarion, described in the upcoming "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook" from Paizo Publishing.

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game data package includes all the races, character classes, spells, feats, magic items, and all the new mechanics introduced by the Core Rulebook, presented in Hero Lab's award-winning user-friendly interface.

Like all of Hero Lab's supported game systems, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game data package allows players to create characters in minutes, verify them with Hero Lab's built-in validation engine, and print out character sheets (or use Hero Lab itself at the game table). GMs can create NPCs, and use the Tactical Console to manage encounters between the players and their foes.
It's even better than that! I'll come back around to that though.

While Hero Lab does have its ups and downs, so does 3.5. This is after all why there is such a tool and why we started using it. D20/3.5 is data-intensive.

I've also worked in one technical field or another for over 20 years. I have a good understanding of relational database concepts and application interfaces. But even I still have a little trouble entering the more complex pieces through user interfaces provided for the task. I've even had some practice and don't really feel much better at it. It can also be a time-consuming endeavor to make sure each object works and interrelates the way it should. (There are debugging tools that help if you know how to use them.)

Additionally, if you're brave, decide to use a text editor and dump selected records from your extensive home grown D&D/D20/3.0/3.5 database, with the goal of entering data en masse, you're also bound to be a little disappointed. (It can be done though.) There's just no appreciable way to test all the new entries without trying out their "bells and whistles."

Keep in mind that I like Hero Lab. I'm a loyal customer and very glad I bought it. I'm not at all complaining about it. This also isn’t a product review. I'd have barely scratched the surface of its amazing utility were that the case. Just take what I'm saying as objective assessment based on my experience and those of my immediate user group. There are many other "geeks," particularly on the Lone Wolf Development forums, for whom entering data is a real snap. That isn't what I want to spend my prep or hobby time on though, which brings me back to the "it's even better than that" part.

The simple fact that Hero Lab supports Pathfinder is even more of boon right now for reasons that aren't so readily apparent. The gist is that I'll spend less time entering data and more time GMing because Lone Wolf Development can legally put new Pathfinder data into their product for any Pathfinder OGL publication Paizo might decide to produce in the future... and I hope they will! Lone Wolf couldn't do this with D&D 3.5 materials at all because only the core books are D20/3.0/3.5/OGL.

I recently had occasion to download the Pathfinder Game Compatible data files. I was overjoyed by the vast improvements in the interface (I downloaded the Cortex samples too; my son has an interest in the Serenity Role Playing game). I have a player that abhors the entirely deep blue interface used in the D20/3.5 version. It ultimately gives her a headache peering at it for very long and I empathize. Even this problem is resolved.

Here's another thought too. I realize that one of the selling points of the Pathfinder RPG is its compatibility with the D20/3.5/OGL. But, quite frankly, because of the improvements in both Pathfinder and Hero Lab I can actually see abandoning large portions of data from my D&D 3.5 rulebooks, particularly the really impossible stuff.

I feel as though a magic lamp recently received a good polish from all the "wishes coming true." There's just never a better time to be a customer of both products!


Vorpal said...

Thanks for this post. I would be interested in hearing more about all the different RPG data management programs that you have tried.

AWizardInDallas said...

Sure thing. Thanks for the idea! I'll enjoy writing it too. I've added it to my list and hope to hit it this week. Just upgraded to quad core over the weekend and almost done moving files and reinstalling my "great circle of stuff." :)