Monday, 21 April 2014

Reviewing Realm Works by Lone Wolf Development

Recently I was offered the opportunity to review Realm Works, Lone Wolf Development's foray into the world of campaign management software.  I like many of you out there, like the idea of having all my campaign on my computer all written up and accessible but in reality every tool I have used has always had me doing more meta work (creating links, working out what sort of relationships are needed etc.) than actual campaign work.  In the long run I have tried but I end up giving it up because of that extra work involved.  I figured I would take the opportunity but I really did not expect anything more than I have had with previous products.

Liz Theis from Lone Wolf Development gave me access to the software and agreed to organise an interview with her after having tried the software out.  This morning (my time) I sat down with Liz over a Skype call to discuss the software with her.  Now a professional hardened blogger would have prepared questions!  But no, I just gushed about how much I loved and appreciated the software and how I fear I am now a little addicted to it.  Liz handled it like a pro and offered me some good information to offer up to you the reader.

Image taken from the website for the product
Realm Works is essentially a database front end that stores data to the cloud (i.e. online) or to your computer.  The interface of the product is busy as there is so much you can do with it.  I am a computer programmer at heart (I have a Bachelor degree in Computing) and I like to pride myself in being able to work most stuff out without having to read the manual.  I could not really with this software and so I went through the video tutorials that are supplied via YouTube to learn the ropes so to speak.  These videos are logically ordered and well run and helped me understand the interface quickly.  I feel like I am a pro at the software but I know there is a lot more I am going to discover as I build my campaign.

Currently the software is aimed at a desktop environment where the GM has a monitor on the players side of the GM screen and uses that monitor to display information to the players as they find it.  The GM would have prepared that information before time and can select, on a granular level, the information to display to the screen.  For example, if the players in a game of Call of the Cthulhu encounter a cultist and chase him to his apartment and accidentally kill him they go through his things to find out what is happening.  The chase scene can be put up and the map revealed a bit at a time.  Entering the apartment you can show an image and then reveal more info as the find the diary, and the theological text and the receipts one at a time even though it is only connected to the one scene in the software.

Helpful tips allow you insight into the software
The tool is essentially a front end for a database setup.  That statement sounds so very simplistic but it is anything but.  It takes the idea of some of the online tools like Obsidian Portal and Tavern-Keeper and goes one step further with them.  The first thing that will strike you is that they have a LOT of pre-generated articles and topics for you to fill out for the campaign.  These offer you prompts for the types of information you could include.  A lot of the time I found the prompts were great ideas to add and would not have been something that I would have thought about to start with!  As I used this tool I built my star system for my Traveller game (it can be used for any genre) and the prompts that surrounded building planets (which I have a lot to do in my campaign) made me really make these planets feel like living, breathing planets.  I intend to base my campaign of Traveller around my setting of Bathune for a long time and though I may only use five or six planets this year, the rest will be well fleshed out because the prompts made me think!
Easy to edit...
It is not just about the prompts though.  In fact the most brilliant inclusion is the automatic linking of topics.  In a wiki format the beauty is that you can jump from topic to topic via the hyperlinks.  In Realm Works you can do the same thing but the beauty of it is that this portion of the program is actually largely automated.  That is right, the software checks for possible links every time you save a page or finish with a page and alerts you to links!  Click yes and it automatically connects and builds the links itself.  This in my opinion is stunning work and immediately takes away about 40-50% of the work required in all other campaign management software that I have ever played with!  This feature is also quite advanced in that if it finds two things (or more) that are similar it shows the conflict and asks you to choose which to link to.  In my Traveller campaign I have a political group called The Fell 6 and a planet called Fell and in every circumstance the software has either a) selected the right context or b) shown the conflict and asked me to if the context is unclear.

Granularity in being able to display information...
The system is fully compatible with Hero Lab so if you are building a campaign world in one of the Hero Lab supported systems you can even include character sheets and other stats taken from Hero Lab.  Brilliant!  It is a very new system too so there is a lot of functionality to come.  Speaking with Liz this morning allowed me to discover that the developers really honed in on the extra amount of time most wikis take to build by handling the meta information (building links, hierarchy of organisation etc.).  This is where this beautiful linking system came from as well as the cross genre format.  They wanted to target it at the table game first because that is where our hobby was born.  They also understand that there are still people out there that do not have great connections and so need something that can be built on their own machine and presented at the table.

But Liz also tells me the developers realize that gaming online is a big growth area and so a lot of what we see in this initial release is a stepping stone for moving to an online platform as well as, eventually, a completely online app that will sit side by side with the desktop application.  I put my main concern about the software to her in that I largely play the majority of my games online and I would use this tool to reveal information they find in between sessions so they can review that data instead of sending me an email (which I get a lot of currently).  Liz tells me that the intention is to have a web interface for players to access data for free by the end of 2014 that there needs to be more work done in this area before it will be available.  That said Liz advised that the functionality I described will be covered by a Players Licence of the software that is releasing next month!  This will be a desktop application that will allow the player to access their GM's work (what they have revealed anyway) from their computer when they need it.  Sounds like I will be wording my players up on this!

All sorts of information can be caught.  Nothing is too big
or too small for inclusion in the campaign world!
The cost of the software is set at $49.99 US and provides you with 6 months of cloud storage standard for your campaign data which is a great way to keep a backup.  I really think that the price is very reasonable for the GM.  I am not sure what the prices will be on cloud storage in the future but for the desktop software and all its functionality I think it is very reasonable.  The players licence of the software will cost some $'s but that price is not yet set.  I am assured by Liz that it will be significantly smaller than the GM full version of the software.  I find this very promising as I really want to value add to my players and if I have to convince them to buy something to view that value added material I hope it is kept as lean as possible.

You may have read through all that and thought to yourself, "Hmmm... souds good but I do not have the time to create material anymore.  I have the job, the kids, sports on Saturday...." then Lone Wolf have also thought of you.  Not available right now but definitely coming in 2014 is the Content Market.  Lone Wolf intend to release campaign material from the likes of Paizo, Frog God Games, Green Ronin, Pinnacle and Kobold Press were the names already confirmed.  I like the odd adventure path so when the content market comes, I can buy the campaign all set and ready for use in Realm Works!  That rocks.  But it does not stop there!  User generated content can be put up for grabs as well.  I could offer my Traveller system of Bathune for download for free or ask for a fee to be attached to it!  Caught in a bind for that Tavern you want to include in the game but have not got the time to build it, browse and buy or download from someone else!

I have given up work on so many online, offline and even paper attempts at managing some of my campaigns in the past.  there is so much work and when a computer program wants you to have to learn its meta-language to build database queries or just to link material you end up spending so much time doing other stuff than building your campaign.  This hides all that extra work and gets you to think about the campaign ahead of you.  It handles the meta data, the types of data in the database.  It integrates most types of data you could want in the software.  Images, text, stat-blocks, custom calendars (time keeping is a major topic at the moment), smart images and much, much more.  They have new technology called Fog of World athat allows a highly granular revealing capability in this software so the players see exactly what you want them to and nothing more.

NPC's are beautifully fleshed out...
In summary, I am flat out in love with this software.  I can see that it is at an early stage but the functionality there now is phenomenal.  The up and coming stuff that Liz spoke about is very exciting and I can not wait to see where this product goes in the future.  I am itching to return to the material and keep working on my Traveller world, it is that addictive to me.  When I spoke to Liz she mentioned that when she was building the tutorial material she got so caught up in it as well thinking she has to use these characters!  The prompts, the functionality and the options in the future to buy and download prepared content is exciting.  Add to that the ability for the player to soon peruse the data I am building is brilliant.  Do I think you as the GM should get this product?  Yes, absolutely.  If you have the urge to organize your campaign, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the software you need, regardless of the genre.  If you want to purchase some material wait a little until the content market is released.  I'll let you know when it is!

Overall this software is 5/5 for campaign building but the current sharing of material largely restricted to the table lets it down a little.  next month the players licence can assist with the player being able to access your cloud version of the software and then by the end of 2014 that information should be available freely via the web interface.  Overall, if we are considering the ability to share the information I would give this a 4/5 but as noted this will only get better.  The product is addictive, streamlined and advanced.  Well done to Liz and Lone Wolf Development on introducing the next generation of Campaign management software to us in such a spectacular package.

Reign of Winter Maiden, Mother, Crone Game 12

Come watch! Starts after 8 P.M. Australian Eastern Standard Time

Friday, 18 April 2014

Mortality in RPG's

I have recently started following a gentleman that I gamed with (Zounds! game) called +hurdygurdymanna (John) and today he came out with a blog that prompted a little bit of thought from me.  You see, he is embarking on his first game as a DM soon and he was thinking about how he would handle death in game of characters.  He found the "glossing" over of a character death a little underwhelming and wanted to incorporate some role playing around the event (gasp!).  Now, this is not the first mortality post that I have read recently as I also read a blog from a video game designer (Robot Loves Kitty read article here) about how they want to make death much more a final event in their video games than it is across the industry as a whole and so in combination these two posts have got my neurons firing and I am going to subject you to the result of that weird chemistry!

First of all, I am loving John's take on this.  If the character dies perhaps there should be a service for them in the manner of the god they worship.  Plus, should the loot of the character not go to the character's family?  I know that this would include a lot of people saying right off the starting block "my character is an orphan" but in that regard I take a leaf from Rite Publishing's Lord of Gossamer and Shadow and point out that the family is in the realm of the GM.  After all, you can't choose your family, right?  So therefore it would more than likely be the responsibility of at least Lawfully aligned characters (if you follow alignment rules) to return all of that players goods and chattels to the family as part of the rights.  If you are Neutrally or Chaotically aligned a free for all looting would likely be in order...

Hey buddy, you are wearing my hat!
Image taken from British Public Library public
domain release.
Secondly, the idea of if this is ignored that the character's spirit raises in some way is genius in my mind.  How many times have I read an undead monster in Pathfinder to have it list the circumstances that the spirit rises.  This is the perfect circumstance for a ghost or other type of undead to rise.  Perhaps a revenant!  They would rise and perhaps seek out the other players for retribution or perhaps they just haunt where they died because they were left to rot.  Either way, word should get back to the other characters about the result of their callousness.  Perhaps they hear of a ghost that killed another adventurer in the same spot and they go back to investigate.

Taking this idea one step further though, this comes back to the idea that death is an impermanent thing in fantasy RPG's.  Though there is the consequence of having devoted time and love to a character and they die there are few other consequences to the death.  The GM says roll up another character and they slot in to the party and the game continues.  The GM rarely bats an eyelid if the player then acts on a bit of information the previous character knew, and not the new one.  This combined with the ideas bought on by the details of Robot Loves Kitty's new game ideas has me thinking about how I could make death matter in an RPG.

So, I have come up with an idea.  It is an idea that I want to test very soon.  I want to run a game where death matters, and here is how I propose to do this.

Each player will start at low level, Pathfinder or one of the OSR D&D clones.  The characters will be part of a group with several NPC party members.  If the player's character dies then they do not get to "roll up a new character", they will have to take on the role of one of the NPC's who are likely to be hired hands and so on.  If the party dies out, adventure ends.  If that means that they don't solve the mystery, kill the dragon, save the princess, whatever it may be then so be it.  In fact, this would be an interesting way to build a campaign.  The next game could be run with the new characters after the threat that was not stopped has its effect on the game world.

I am interested to hear from anyone out there that may have run a game in this vain before.  Did it work?  What happened when the party "ran out" of NPC's to play?  Obviously this is a game where if things go poorly there will be attrition of characters and players when the NPC pool runs out.  Did this anger anyone or was it something that you put up front and said that this may occur?  If so, or you have a comment on what you think, let me know in the comments!

By the way, when I said I was interested in running something soon, keep your eyes peeled for an event in the next few days.  I intend to run the game in an intense series of events and will likely be more suitable for an American audience as I will be running in the A.M. Australian time for three hours at a pop.  If you are interested, keep an eye on my feed or the G+ Tabletop Roleplaying Games community!  until then, keep rolling :)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Some Really Exciting Reviews On Their Way

I have been a little on the quiet side this week and here is why.  I am reviewing three products that I am super excited to tell you all about.  I am lining up interviews with the developers as I type (awaiting replies from two of them and still looking at the third product currently).  I don't normally do teaser posts but I feel that these products deserve a bit of build up!
Reviewing new tools is always fun :)

With my main job going on holidays for a couple of weeks I hope that I will have at least two of the three reviews done in the first week after Easter and the third in the following week.

So, what can you expect to read about?

The 1st review will likely be over a new option for campaign management.  Keeping your details up to date and accessible is something I always try to do but have pretty much failed to do it in nearly every medium.  I have tried

  • online campaign management software
  • Microsoft OneNote
  • Evernote
  • Databases
  • Spreadsheets
  • Notebooks
Each of them have failed me so I had very little hope that this product would work any different for me but I said I would look it over and I did.  Last weekend I sat down with it in the quiet moments of my part time job and started to play.  I am still playing and am very excited about this particular product so if you are like me and want to keep organised but just can't seem to keep it together, look for that first review.

Following that I am likely to be reviewing something that will be revolutionising my in person game and hopefully my online games too.  I have played around with this particular idea in game before but never really taken it to any great length.

With a brilliant interface and a fantastic range of options this has got my players and I very excited.  I intend to actually video a bit of our next game and put it up to show how effective this particular product will be in game!  It literally made me laugh out loud to see this in operation and I can not wait to see what the response from the review will be on the blog.  This review will likely be on Friday of next week.

The final review I have lined up is on a virtual tabletop.  I seem to always be finding new and surprising interfaces for this so keep an eye out for this as well.

I also want to throw this offer out wide to the community.  If you have a product and want it reviewed I am always happy to hear what the product is and let you know if I have the time to review it!  Anyhow, until next time, keep rolling!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Creating Your Character : Incremental or Immediate?

I am an old school role player.  I played in the eighties through to now and my base in the eighties have inured me to a certain style of gaming.  But I am curious of the new school style of game and how that has changed to reflect the newer gamers and also the older gamers who have little time to grind through levels to get what they want to play.  In particular I am looking at character generation systems today and how they differ in the older style game to the newer (and still largely indie) style games available today.

Nowhere was this difference in mindset highlighted to me than in the game of Zounds! that I have started playing.  When we got together and made our characters the GM ( +Cameron Corniuk ) told me he loved this system as it created characters that the player wanted to play.  I had made myself a thief style character that acted as a "face" for the party.  He knew people who knew people and could always find that special bit of information.  I thought about the character and the concept came out well but I realised that I had created a character thinking of a low-level thief with room to grow.  This is something that is logical to me.  You role-play, gain experience and grow from a pleb to a powerful character.
Image taken from DriveThruRPG

Then the GM's wife ( +Jennifer Corniuk ) made her character.  She had a clear idea in her head of playing a powerful elementalist with a wild accent on her magic.  She put together her powers and schticks in the system to create exactly that.  She had an elemental shield that encompassed her party constantly protecting them from elemental harm whilst being able to manipulate the four elements with power.  The character was fantastic!  The genius of it did not really hit home until the game yesterday though.

We were moving through a cultist temple and came across a room of guards "off duty" that we needed to get past to make it up to the top of the temple.  I asked Jen's character if she could do anything silently to fix the problem which got her thinking.  While she was thinking we were talking about sneaking in and taking them by surprise.  The GM had a combat planned but then Jen piped up and said she had an idea.

"I'll suck all of the air out of the room and they will fall unconscious!" Brilliant idea.  Powerful and eloquent so I waited for the GM to knock it down and tell her she did not have that level of power yet.  but he didn't and we ran with the plan.  It was then that I realised I had undersold myself.  I had, by trusting on my own background, focussed on making a character who was "low-level" and thus outclassed by others in the game.

+Cameron Corniuk describes Zounds! as his favourite system at the moment and part of the reason for that is the character generation.  He tells me "What system allows the player to decide their powers?".  He is right as the powers section is like the FATE system aspects.  From the start you can be what youy want to be.  You come up with the concept and then play it from the start.  +Jennifer Corniuk always gives great thought to her characters and their concepts.

Traditional games like Pathfinder, EarthdawnVampire, 13th Age and so on work on a system where you start out as a basic character and if you want to be the best swordsman in the land you have to level up and prove it.  You do not start as Conan but you may end there.  it is a curious idea in fact that I find this the typical way to game.  Surely gaming should be about playing the type of character you want to, not having to earn the privilege and then retire the character.

I know that Jen has tried at least one game of Pathfinder with me and I also know that character creation frustrated her.  She wants to play a specific style of character that had certain powers in place but could not as the rules would not allow it in the format I was looking at.  I could have started them at higher level but I it was to give them a taste of the game and I did not want to overcomplicate characters at the start.
 Some of my Pathfinder material

I am tormented by this discrepancy.  I like to work a character from basic level up in power and build as the progress of the characters story moves on.  It gives them a history and a reasoning for their powers and abilities that are selected as they advance.  But why shouldn't I be able to play Mad Mardegan the greatest swordsman of all time right from the start?  I suppose that is why so many different systems exist, each giving the ability to play the similar genre but in different ways.

Nowhere has this been more evident to me than super hero games.  I have played a lot of systems for supers over my time and still my favourite is the overly complex ruleset of Super Squadron where character creation is random and you may come out with a Superman-esque super hero or you may be playing the guy out of Kick-Ass.  In most supers game I want to play Peter Parker or Doctor Strange but when I am faced with the generation rules at best I can come up with is a guy who can sense danger and fight a little or a parlour magician and I need to build those powers up to reach those heights.

You have to use experience to build your super up to be a power and that frustrates me.  In most comics I read (my favourites were Doctor Strange and Cloak and Dagger if you are interested) my super hero began with major powers or gained them in a single, calamitous event.  In other words, nothing like what we see in most systems for supers.

This style though is beginning to change.  Many of the game designers out there (especially the indie ones) are older gamers that do not have a lot of time to work their way through twenty levels to get the character they want.  They just want to explore a character concept and advancement can come and go, as long as they get to play the character they want.  They have families and work that they have to attend to and so they want to get the good stuff up from and escape for a while.  the new generation of players have lived with computer games all their lives so they need their rewards to be instantaneous.  there can be a little bit of a power scramble at the start but once the "tutorial" is over they want something with a bit of oomph to it!

Considering this I am interested to find out how this affects the other gamers out there.  What style of generation do you prefer?  The instantaneous character is not a new concept (Classic Traveller in essence allowed you to generate a powerful character up front if you survived) but it is growing in popularity.  Hit me up in the comments and let me know what you think!  Keep rolling.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Hero Sheets are Looking to Implement GM Tools

I see the value in the Hero Sheets setup and have featured them on the blog a couple of times before.  Well, I need to put this out there again!  It appears that Hero Sheets are looking to add some GM Tools by raising $1500.  They are about halfway there and there is four weeks to go so let us see if we can help them get there.
One of the rewards is a T-Shirt.  Everyone needs a T-Shirt
or they would be topless.  Don't want to be topless do you?

If they make the $1500 we are looking at a searchable spell compendium, an NPC Generator and a Bestiary to be added to the site.  Anything past that has some great stretch goals like Macros and a bunch of other material that looks very intriguing.  Have a look at the Kickstarter page here and consider backing the team to add some flexibility to this growing tool.  Even the lowest level backer gets a free four month subscription to the site and that is well worth a $5 investment.

Don't forget that if you just want to sign up to the Kickstarter but would like to check it out then the reader of can get a 25% discount off your first month OR year if you take up that subscription on an annual basis.  A very generous offer that I have to thank Jordan for.  If you do want to sign up after reading this review all you have to do is enter PCHRONICLES in the coupon code section when signing up and that discount will be applied.  Hero Sheets can be located via this link!

Hope you are in for the support!  I am heading over to Kickstarter to do my bit right now :)  Keep rolling!