Sunday, 3 March 2013

Fixing my Pathfinder problems with Hero Lab

In recent months I've been finding Pathfinder increasingly fiddly to play, particularly as work has been busy in February, and I've been looking after two characters, namely my own cleric and Sebastian's ranger / rogue combo Tarion. On top of this, as mentioned in a previous post, keeping track of cleric spell selection in-game can be time consuming, as the range of available magic for divine spellcasters is so big in Pathfinder, particularly when playing with many of the rules expansions, like the Advanced Players Guide or Ultimate Magic.

The future for multi-panel dungeon master screens....

I have also found Excel a clunky and not 100% accurate way of running characters, partly because I don't use Excel every day and partly because of its reliance on macros which sometimes flip out unexpectedly. In addition, Excel does not update homogenously with the expanding Pathfinder rules canon, nor does it have a high level of automation / connectivity with the core Pathfinder data archive.

Enter Hero Lab. I was in two minds about buying Hero Lab for Pathfinder, but decided that rather than spending money on another RPG book which I might / might not use, Hero Lab might be of more use, both for running characters and potentially for running Pathfinder dungeon bashes in future.

Hero Lab is a downloadable application for the PC. It currently does not exist in an ASP format, which is a pity, and there is no app for tablets / mobile devices. However, it is easy to use. It seems to derive its functionality from what I suspect is a portfolio management system designed to run multiple stock portfolios. I could be completely wrong here, but some of the language that crops up in the interface is reminiscent of systems I've used in the day job for running derivatives portfolios.

Joe's Pathfinder server farm was invading his gaming space.

Hero Lab allows you to generate and manage characters. I can't comment on the GM tools, as I've not had reason to use them yet. HL can run off HTML, text or PDF versions of characters when needed, manage equipment and spell lists and also provides a dynamic 'playable' character sheet for use in-game, which I'm tempted to use. I love the way it can import a photo / art  for use in a character sheet. It is also regularly updated as new rules / expansions come out for Pathfinder. This allows it to adjust not just for attributes and feats, but also for obscure magic items, encumberance, traits, special abilities, etc.

The downside of Hero Lab is that you do need to pay extra for expansions. While the core software license is $30, you're looking at close to another $30 if you want to download all the data supporting the various Pathfinder extensions, from the APG to the various bestiaries (if you need touch of a button access to stat blocks of various summoned creatures, for example). Pathfinder has reached that point where it has travelled beyond previous incarnations of Dungeons and Dragons, and is more complex than 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. It requires some kind of software support, in my view, to stay on top of a game that has become increasingly granular in terms of the sheer volume of crunch available to players.

On the upside, once you own the core Hero Lab software, you can also expand it to run Shadowrun, Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu or even 4e. You do need to pay extra for the licenses to manage these games. It would be great to see Ars Magica on this platform as well but I suspect this game is not popular enough to justify the development hours.

In many ways, Pathfinder is becoming an increasingly player-driven game, with reams of spells, feats and hardware available to player characters, along with vast amounts of different power-ups and exceptions. It feels in some ways like a console game that has been transplanted to the table top. It is far more player-focused than earlier iterations of this game. But it has created a huge burden of accounting and paperwork. Hero Lab looks to harness software to make this much easier to manage than Excel can. It is more dynamic and has superior usability features. It also allows a fairly high degree of customisation although I've yet to plumb those features. I really don't see myself playing Pathfinder without it in the future. 9/10.

1 comment:

  1. Would like to see it in action Stuart... maybe you can show me over Easter? :)