Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hero Lab Love

I don't know if I've gushed about Lone Wolf's Hero Lab before, but if I haven't that's an oversight I mean to correct.

If I have a vice (or sub-vice) when it comes to the RPG hobby, it's software gadgets.  Character builders, mapmaking programs, automated GM screens, you name it, I'll look at it, and probably use it.  I think some of it goes back to when I was first learning to use office software (Lotus 123 and Wordperfect, later MS Office) and did so by creating formatted and automated character sheets.  Later, I learned how to use PageMaker in order to duplicate the layouts and house styles of my favorite games.  So, moving from there to actual dedicated programs was a no-brainer, really.

It really has nothing to do with whether or not the game is so complicated as to require a character builder.  I don't believe any game fits that criteria, even the Hero System. What character builders do for me is provide me with tools to speed up the process so I can focus on the creative side.  And currently, I think the best product out there is Hero Lab.

(In the interest of disclosure, my initial exposure to Hero Lab was when I won a copy from Lone Wolf in a promotion.  That having been said, I've spent quite a bit on it since and haven't regretted a single purchase.)

Designed as a generic product, HL takes a modular approach to game systems, in that you initially purchase it for one of the licensed systems (Pathfinder, Mutants & Masterminds, World of Darkness, Cortex, and Savage Worlds), which gets you the program and the data files for your system of choice.  Additional systems are purchased separately, but tied to your user license.  The basic license allows the product to be installed on two computers, but can be expanded to more for a nominal cost.  So it's possible to purchase the M&M version for a group at a fairly affordable individual cost, if you choose to do so.

The interface is well laid out and generally pretty easy to navigate.  For a game like Pathfinder, which has fewer options than M&M, it's quite simple to move from tab to tab, selecting Skills, Feats, and Equipment.  M&M requires a bit more figuring out, but it's hardly a steep learning curve and once you get it down, character creation moves quickly.  Before I started this post, I knocked out a pair of supervillains and it took me about a half hour to do each, and some of that time was wasted by my looking up pictures of them online and having to back up and fix a couple of things I screwed up.

Character sheets are produced in XML, and can be tailored via in-program options or by hands on editing (if you're into that sort of thing), but each character also has an "In-Play" tab that allows you to play the character from the computer, with check boxes for conditions and modifiers that will automatically update.  I have yet to use the program in this manner, but it would be quite handy for games with lots of number crunching (like Pathfinder).

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