Feb 212013

Prior to the end of the year, my podcast was promoting a holiday giveaway sponsored by numerous vendors and publishers.  In early December, I was contacted by a software developer who wanted to get in on the action and offered us a copy of their flagship product to add to our mammoth prize package.  The company was Lone Wolf Development, and the product was a multi-system character generation and management utility entitled Hero Lab.

Fast forward to today, and Hero Lab has become a staple of my gaming diet.  The enlightened gents from Lone Wolf tossed a copy my way so I could check it out, complete with a license for the game system(s) of my choice.  From listening to the show, they figured they could talk me into trying it with Savage Worlds… It required surprisingly little arm-twisting on their part.  I’ve been a laptop GM since around 2002, with a heavy emphasis on D&D 3.5, so I’m no stranger to digital tools at the table.

And to be fair, I’m running mostly Savage Worlds lately, and the one thing I lacked was – you guessed it – a character generation and management utility.

I should probably point out that crafting a character for Savage Worlds is a somewhat less than stressful process under even the worst conditions.  The night I introduced the game system to my home group, characters were effectively written up and ready to roll in less than half an hour.  With a little practice, it takes about 15 minutes.

With Hero Lab, it takes about 5.

The strength of the software is its ease of use and utilitarian features.  It keeps the math straight when you’re selecting your options and provides ready descriptions of every hindrance, skill, edge, or power you click on.  My online group now uses the software to construct and regularly update their characters, and every one of them figured out the ins and outs of the program with little to no guidance and minimal frustration.  As a player, you can even use the software to manage the character in play… it’s like an interactive character sheet spread out across a number of navigable tabs.  If you’re wounded, you check the appropriate box and every statistic affected by the wound is updated appropriately.  You can track power points, temporary adjustments, and even bennies (an invaluable tool for a Google+ game!).

For the GM, Hero Lab provides a quick and easy way to manage NPCs and bad guys.  More importantly, the program provides a tactical console for managing combat, with quick and easy access to every relevant statistic for each combatant.  This is a powerful resource for tabletop gaming not found in many products, and it has always been an absolute must at my gaming table.  The true flexibility of a character manager comes into play when the system provides the means to interact with the character under the most complex and vital circumstances.

So what if you’re not into Savage Worlds?  Well, thanks to Lone Wolf’s unique brand of gamer ingenuity, the same flexibility extends over a multitude of systems.  I’m not kidding…  You can get the same degree of utility I’ve described here for D&D 3.5 or 4th Edition, Pathfinder, or any OGL-system game, as well as Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, the World of Darkness, and Mutants & Masterminds (2nd and 3rd edition!).  When you buy the program, you let them know what license you’re wanting to pick up… and once you’ve got the program, additional licenses are pretty reasonably priced.

And worth it.

So whether you’re an experienced laptop GM or a complete noob, I can confidently assure you that Hero Lab will be an excellent tool at the table.  If you’re a player just looking for a way to efficiently construct, store, and manage your PCs, you’ll certainly find it a friendly and versatile platform for doing so.  I also know that Savage Worlds and Pathfinder, at least, offer numerous supplementary materials to expand the program’s utility for your games.  And you can expect great things from Lone Wolf in the days ahead… just check out the Realm Works Kickstarter!

*gives you a level look*  Any questions?


Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsunami web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast. Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.

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