Role Playing Games have evolved since I began playing Dungeons & Dragons back in the 80’s. They became slowly more complex, and revolved around mechanics more and more. In the past few years that trend has been reversing, returning role playing to a simpler time when it was all about the story and the adventure, not piles of statistics.
One of the systems to emerge from the ashes of a disappointed AD&D fanbase was Pathfinder, a system designed to take the fantasy RPG back to its roots. Since humble beginnings Pathfinder has grown to be one of the best loved RPG’s in the business, with fans all over the world.
Still, there is a certain amount of bookkeeping that goes along with any RPG. After all, you are using pen and paper to represent fully fleshed characters in your fantasy world, and you need to track your character, his abilities, belongings, experience, and more.
We’ve all done it, so it’s an accepted norm. But you would think that with all of the modern technology, which wasn’t available back when I started playing, there would be an easier way to track your characters, stats, and adventures.
Enter Hero Lab from Lone Wolf Development. This is a program that runs on your laptop or tablet that is there to assist both players and DMs alike. The sheer amount of game specific tasks that it can handle has just boggled my mind. Perhaps I’ve been living under a rock and there are thousands of these out there now, but Hero Lab is the first such system I’ve seen, and it’s pretty impressive.
To begin, there are multiple game systems that you can purchase the module for. Everything from Call of Cthulhu to Savage Worlds is available, with more on the way. The module that I tested was the Pathfinder ruleset along with the Rise of the Runelords campaign set, but more on that later. For now, let’s take a look at Hero Lab’s main features.
All aspects of character generation are represented in the Hero Lab window. The lab allows you to configure some key elements like starting level, starting gold, and which rulesets and expansions you want applied to your character. The DM must simply decide on the baseline every character starts with and you can go from there. Notice that you can choose your starting level, so you can actually bring characters that you’ve already been using into Hero Lab. Gamemasters can also configure a new NPC on this screen.
Once you’ve completed this step and selected a name, the lab prompts you to select a class, and from there you’ll proceed through screens for Background, Abilities, Skills, and Feats. There are several ways to generate your abilities, by rolling your own dice and entering the values, or using the built-in dice roller, or by spending points to set the values. It’s pretty flexible.
You can spend some of your starting gold to equip your hero with weapons, armor, and gear. They have everything listed, including starting packs for certain classes. Mages and Clerics can fill out their spellbooks with their starting spells, and there is even a personal tab where you can add languages, background details, and a portrait from either their built in gallery or one you already have in electronic form. Virtually everything you can do with a character is built into the Lab, and there’s more.
While you are actually playing an adventure, you can use the Labs In-Play tab to track your health, equipped weapons and armor, and activated special abilities.. There’s also a journal tab where you keep track of your experience, and when you have enough to level up, the Lab will guide you through it. Meanwhile there are several bars always on screen that list your basics, skills & feats, and other pertinent info. You can see all of this regardless of which tab you choose.
This is all well and good for the players, but what does Hero Lab do for the Gamemaster (I still call them DM’s)? Not only can the DM add all of the player’s characters into her portfolio, but she can generate the necessary NPC’s and monster’s into the same portfolio and keep track of them all at the same time. A column called the dashboard lists all of the character’s in the current portfolio and allows the DM to switch between each one with just a click.
The Encounter Builder
The DM also has the Encounter Builder tool where she can create custom encounters. I’ve got exactly 3,394 characters available in my version including monsters, humans, and every other race and half-race in the game. Each one is already fleshed out so that you can use them immediately, but you can modify each one as you need. once you’ve added them to the portfolio you can pull them and the players into the Tactical Console.
The tactical console is a big help for the DM as well. It gives you a vie of every character and NPC in the current encounter, and allows you to initiate a combat. Each character is assigned an initiative and the DM can move from character to character in initiative order allowing them their combat attacks. You still roll the dice, but you don’t need to keep track of who gets to act and when. Their pertinent abilities are listed and you can assign damage and remove dead or injured characters from the combat, round by round.
The final cool piece of this software is the ability to purchase published adventure add-ons. So if you are running the Rise of the Runelords campaign for example, you can purchase the add-on for Hero Lab, open up the Encounter Library, select the encounter you need (which is listed by chapter and page number), and add in all of the creatures associated with that encounter with one click. Its got all of their abilities and stats from the campaign all set for you to go.
I was highly impressed with Hero Lab. I’ve not used it in actual play but I can see a lot of potential here. There are many who still prefer the good old pen and paper method of tracking everything, but having my own DM assistant to keep track of the details and remind me of all of the special abilities that I need to know seems to be ideal.
For those who prefer their paper character sheet, you can print it out right from Hero Lab. Then use it for your adventure and input the updates when you get back home. You have the ability to export your character, which allows the DM to import it and use the current version for your adventure. You can also do the reverse, but I would prefer to track everything myself in Hero Lab as I was playing.
The piece of the puzzle that I don’t see is the ability to link all of the players to the DM while you are playing, so that everyone is always using a live version of their character. It would be nice that if everyone had a copy of Hero Lab on their laptop or tablet they could use it to link to the DM’s copy, and then the need to import and export would go away. I’m sure it is possible, it might already be there for all I know. From what I’ve seen though this isn’t an option.
Here’s a breakdown of what comes with the Pathfinder Core Set in Hero Lab:
- Most data from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, including classes, races, skills, feats, equipment, magic items, and more.
- Complete content from the Pathfinder Inner Sea World Guide.
- Feats, items, prestige classes and other player content from the Pathfinder Adventure Paths, and similar content from all the old OGL adventure paths.
- Full support for Pathfinder Society (organized play) characters, including tracking your Pathfinder Society ID number, modified experience progression, Factions, and Traits. Additional traits from the web supplement are also included.
- Standard classes, prestige classes (including the Arcane Archer, Dragon Disciple, Loremaster, Pathfinder Chronicler and more) and NPC classes (Adept, Aristocrat, Commoner, Expert, Warrior).
- Standard player character races, all animal companion, familiar, and improved familiar options, and some common alternative races like the Hobgoblin and Drow are available for use.
- Encounter Builder includes NPCs from the NPC Codex, Inner Sea NPC Codex, Gamemastery Guide, NPC Guide, Rival Guide, and NPC Codex for GMs to use when creating their adventures!
There are many add-on Packages available as well including:
- Core Add-Ons
- Discount Add-On Bundles
- Bestiary Add-Ons
- Adventure Path Packages
- Player Companion Add-Ons
- Campaign Setting Add-Ons
- Third Party Add-Ons – Frog God Games
- Third Party Add-Ons – Green Ronin Publishing
- Third Party Add-Ons – Kobold Press
- Third Party Add-Ons – Legendary Games
- Third Party Add-Ons – Rite Publishing
Overall, this is an amazing tool for RPGers. If you love the game but hate the paperwork, and paging through the rulebooks then this is a viable option for you. For those who like to try before they buy, you can download the Hero Lab Starter Edition which supports Paizo’s Pathfinder Beginner Box and Evil Hat’s Spirit of the Century. This starter edition will take you up to level 5. To go beyond that you’ll need to pick up a Hero Lab License, which is currently priced at $29.99 and comes with one ruleset of your choice.