Gaming in the Digital Age: Hero Lab

There are many character creation programs that exist out there on the internet, but I have found Hero Lab from Lone Wolf Development to be one of my favorites.

Unlike a few of the options out there, namely PCGen, Hero Lab is not free.  Purchasing the program gives you access to one game, and there are many to choose from; Pathfinder, Mutants and Masterminds (both 2nd edition and 3rd edition), 3.5/OGL, Call of Cthulu, the World of Darkness (but only the core rulebook and Vampire the Requiem), 4th Edition and Savage Worlds.  Additionally, you get an “authoring kit” that would allow you, in theory, to build datasets for entirely new RPGs, provided you have enough time, knowhow and desire to tool around.  One thing that might be irksome to some is that your license works only on two PCs, though you can contact the program authors for additional licenses.

Personally, I use Hero Lab for Pathfinder, M&M 3rd edition and Savage Worlds.  While the interface isn’t as slick as, say, the official 4th edition Character Builder you can add actual, functional house rules and campaign-specific information fairly easily, provided you want to delve into the dataset authoring tools.  There can be something of a learning curve when adding stuff into these datasets, but documentation and examples do exist and can be accessed via the Help menu in the program itself.

Anyone who has played Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 knows how tedious messing around with the monsters and NPCs can be.  The same holds true for Pathfinder, but fortunately, Hero Lab makes this tons easier and new datasets, like Bestiary 2, are released pretty quickly.  Some of these might cost additional money (Bestiary 2, for instance, cost an additional $10ish), so the program can eventually be a fairly large investment once you start adding additional datasets.

While you can’t use Hero Lab to play the game itself, it does have a very nice “tactical console” that you can use to keep track of damage taken, conditions and stats, and the portfolios for the various creatures can be opened up and adjustments made “on the fly” easily.

Bugs do occasionally happen, as with almost any program, but regular patches and bug squashes tend to handle major issues quite well.  The program is a hundred times better than it was back when it was first released, however so if you tried it “back in the day” it’s definitely worth another look.

When you finish creating your character, you can also have it saved to a .pdf file, which is a nice touch if unnecessary for those of us with other apps that can turn a print job into a .pdf.

I haven’t tried it out but there is integration between Hero Lab and the virtual tabletop d20 Pro, and I may look into that for our Pathfinder game.

If I could change one thing about Hero Lab, it would be to add an “encyclopedia” like function.  If you are familiar with the Masterplan program for 4th edition, then you definitely have an idea of the sort of functionality I’d love to see.  Otherwise, I have very few complaints about the program and it has made my job as GM, particularly with Mutants & Masterminds and Pathfinder, a great deal easier.

[tags]4e,D&D,Game Mastering,Pathfinder,Role playing Games,character builder,Hero Lab,Gaming In The Digital Age[/tags]

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