In a role-playing game industry flooded with a multitude of time saving tools, Lone Wolf Development has accomplished not only standing out; but setting the standard.
For those of you out there not in the know, Lone Wolf Development is the driving creative force behind several different software based tools, including the one this review will be covering: HERO LAB.
Now officially speaking, Hero Lab is available for several different game systems ranging from various incarnations of D&D (with 3.5 and 4e available), to Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulu, Savage Worlds and 2nd/3rd editions of Mutant's and Masterminds all being available as core systems one can purchase for use with this program. Why do I point out the officially speaking part? Read on, we'll get back to that.
At its core, HERO LAB is a character builder, and quite simply one of the best I've ever come across. Players can use this tool to find the perfect combination of skills to feat to trait ratio for the best all-around perks. GMs that need to bulk out their encounters for the evening with some fast NPCs find HERO LAB a huge time saver. Publishers populating their newest books with personalities may not wish to spend hours working out statistics for every single character; once again HERO LAB is a life saver.
I've been using this program exclusively now for over a year, and have converted several of my friends into users as well. The first thing that struck me was the brilliant design and intuitiveness of the program.
HERO LAB handles all formula and pre-requisite information. What do I mean by that? Simple: you no longer need to be a rules lawyer to create a character! The program handles the math and keeps track of what I can and can't choose as options. It lets me know why I can't choose something, and tells me when I've gone outside of the parameters set by the rules of the game system I am using.
The error system is simple and highlights anything incorrect in red either in the text or on a tab (as the pages are laid out in tab formation). Just in case you miss that HERO LAB alerts you with an icon in the lower left corner. Does this mean you are forced to only color inside the lines? Heck no! Creative role-playing games are all about finding a way around the rules, and Hero Lab accommodates. It allows you (through several different means) to override error messages.
Your Hero got more skill points than he should because he spent time training in an academy? No problem! Add some more skill points!
Life on the mountains of Tarqui make you stronger than average with a free attack feat? Again, not a problem. If you can think it up, this program can handle it.
As cool and versatile as this program is, its strongest selling point is its simplicity. I decided to do a speed build this afternoon and see if HERO LAB could handle the pressure. HERO LAB pumped out 78 different NPCs in five minutes! The ease of creating fodder for your world is insane and will give any GM back some precious time that can be focused elsewhere. Now of course these were all cannon fodder NPCs, but they were all different and unique in their own right.
Now that we understand this program is designed for building characters, what then? Well, after hooking up all of your players with their characters you have several different options really. The program can be used via its internal combat tracking system (known as the Tactical Console) to run all combat numbers for an evening of play. Simply load the portfolios (saved characters) of your group into one open screen, creating what they call the “dashboard”, load up your NPCs and monsters (also stored as portfolios) and you can very easily as a GM keep track of all combat using nothing more than this simple “Character generator”. Handling initiative rolls, all effects and conditions, an internal dice roller (if you choose to use it), the tactical console has become a trusted friend at my game table. But what of those of you using virtual tabletops like Fantasy Grounds? Well, Lone Wolf has got you covered, with options to export straight to the program format. And that's far from the only option for export, others include html, pdf, text and of course the various character sheet options.
I would be remiss in failing to mention the rather large amount of additional data packs available for purchase to continue using new material as it is released, with prices ranging from as low as under $5 to around the $25 range for bundles. Now, admittedly this is more so for Paizo's Pathfinder RPG then the other systems, but for those systems without a massive library of official releases, there is the “community”. There's that word again, official. Don't worry, we're almost there, have patience.
When I began using this product, I was a casual user looking to speed up my game prep time. Now, whereas Hero Lab is my trusted right hand at my game tables, it has also become my most valuable tool. I write .hl files for a small publisher of 3PP Pathfinder compatible material. Yes folks, on top of everything else this program will let you do, you can add and build your own custom database of your creations. And the best part of that is the included editor, which will, after some trial and error, become your gateway to adding everything you've ever come across to the database options for your characters. There is a learning curve, but it is an easy one. I didn't understand a single line of html code the first time I opened the editor, and I closed it scared that I had ruined my program. Now, less than a year later I am developing packets that are distributed every week. The editor makes it easy to learn, supporting both xml veteran programmers and the total newbies. I would encourage any small publisher out there who is considering this program to stop considering, and buy it. Customers want these files and being able to say your product includes HERO LAB files alone will increase your sales. This will very quickly help you recoup the cost of the program and data packs.
And that my friends, is where we get to that word official I mentioned earlier. For whereas the game systems I listed earlier are the only ones available currently, they also have available an authoring kit, with which one can write their own game system to distribute. Additionally there is a thriving online community of folks sharing custom files containing everything from homebrew creations and rules, to converted game systems and current OGL material, with the embrace and guidance of Lone Wolf. Yeah, that's right, they not only support the idea of the custom file sharing, they help folks figure out how to write code to get things to work that they are trying to add to their files. Talk about killer support for the consumer. There's an entire section of their forums dedicated to custom files, their development, and the sharing of them.
Now, it would not be a review if I did not cover some of the negatives, as there are a few things that I would love to see in a future update. Currently, there is no method of adding/subtracting finances from the tactical console, now xp. With the tactical console open, you can see your entire playgroup without having to “switch” between profiles, and this step would greatly speed up that function of game. I would also love to see a method via which a company could instill a logo into their description text for custom created items/races/spells etc. Such that when the choice is highlighted, not only would it show the name of the source, but give the publisher/developer the chance to have a small logo at the bottom of the description, to help identify from whence the selection came.
OK I know; truly horrible stuff to say right? So, wrapping up, best character management tool on the market, multi-game support, fully customizable and seeing more support from the 3PP market everyday, intuitive easy to use interface....Oh, almost forgot, sharing your creations with a friend? As easy as clicking a few buttons and creating a “.hl” file (think program exclusive .exe zip) that they then can click on their end, and everything will install where it needs to go, no muss, no fuss....and my only negatives....oh yeah, I'm lazy and want an secondary money/xp button (lol), and the capacity to a logo on custom stuff.....can't help but think it's pretty obvious that this is the type of product that any gaming group would be well rewarded with benefits by picking up.
Oh, and one last thought, before we pass final judgement here....remember the beginner box Paizo put out? The stripped down rule set intended to help get a new generation interested in their game? Well, Hero lab supports it also, and for free. That's right, If you are a Beginner Box player, go to www.wolflair.com poke around on the product page. The sheer fact that they support this system, and for free, major kuddos, and a great way to get people used to their product at a younger age.
OK, final tally, I promise this time....Seriously, if you are a GM, and you haven't picked this up yet, you're going to thank me. If you are a player looking for a tool to make management of your characters easier, this is that tool, or perhaps you're the kind of player looking for the ultimate GM bribe? I'm not judging, (lol)...point is, you will not regret purchasing this program, its simply that good.
Once you've got some time under your belt with it, come join us on the forums and show us what custom goodies you've got to share!