Saturday, February 01, 2014

Product Review: Hero Lab

I was playing around and looking at the different combat manager/character sheet apps available for the iPad the other night.  One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was checking out Hero Lab for my desktop.  I don't need a computer program to generate a PC right now, since I don't see myself playing in the near future (unless I decide to go the full nerd and play in some of my FLGS's Pathfinder Society games).  In any event, generating a single PC could, in no way, justify the expense of a brand new program.  BUT... what if you are a DM running an urban campaign where there is a high likelihood that the vast majority of the enemies your party encounters are going to be NPCs rather than Bestiary monsters?  And what if the campaign you are running is statted for 3.0-3.5 and the challenge ratings/NPC abilities don't make sense for the more powerful characters in a Pathfinder campaign? Well, Hero Lab might actually come in handy. It's a lot quicker than generating NPCs yourself, and it lets you know if your character is conforming to the rules as you make it (remember--you can't have more ranks in a skill than you have hit dice!).

So, after playing around with the demo mode, I downloaded the full product license.  I've been restatting Ptolus NPCs to conform with the Pathfinder rules, and tweaking them for higher or lower CR as befits our campaign. So far, I've found this to be an excellent tool.  When creating an NPC spellcaster, for instance, the program outputs a very nice and easy to read statblock, and generates a spell list which can be viewed in list, brief summary of the spell, or full spell text format.  It even calculates save DCs for the spells. So, I can have a nice NPC character summary in front of me with a well formatted spell description for all of the characters I'm running. Thus eliminating the need to constantly be flipping through the book for descriptions of spells that I'm less familiar with.

Hero Lab also has support for multiple game systems and many of the PFRPG splat-books.  I looked at the tools included for Savage Worlds in the demo mode (but seriously, this product makes a lot less sense for a system like Savage Worlds, the entire point of which is to be simpler--for a complex and rules intensive system like Pathfinder though, it really comes in handy).  The downside, and this is a big downside, is cost.  The initial Hero Lab license includes access to the database for the core rules of a single system.  In my case, obviously, that is Pathfinder.  There is a bit more content from outside the Core rulebook that is included, but not much.  All of the NPCs from the NPC Codex, for example, are included and available for tweaking.  But if you want, say, all the spells from Ultimate Magic, or the feats from Ultimate Combat, or the character classes from the Advanced Player's Guide, you have to pony up more cash.  And a not insignificant amount.  Each of the add-ons I just listed above are $9.99 each.  A not insubstantial investment, especially if, like me, you've already purchased hardcopies of those books.  Furthermore, it's not like you're getting an electronic copy of the entire content of those works when you shell out your extra cash, you're just getting the database of the spells, feats, etc. included in those games for your character creation software.  You're not getting the rules discussions, advice etc., that you get when you have the actual book.  You're not getting the layout of all the alternate class abilities for a class on one page so that you can, without fumbling around through menus and such, look at the different options for your character with ease. Which is not to deny the usefulness of having all the extra data in Hero Lab so that you can create more complex characters with the extra options available in the Pathfinder splat books.  It just seems a bit pricey to me.

On the other hand, from a GM perspective, I am seriously thinking about shelling out the extra money to get the Bestiary package which gives you the data from Bestiaries 1, 2, and 3 at a discounted price. Having that dataset in Hero Lab could be invaluable.  The Bestiary books are little more than databases themselves, so the issue of having the extra content I discussed above is not nearly as big a deal.  And, having that data in Hero Lab means that it is easy to scale up or scale down a monster, and to do so without running afoul of the monster creation rules (I think. Maybe that feature won't function quite the same with monsters).  This of course, would avoid those situations where, for instance, a GM might want to throw a Rakasha at the party--but a Rakasha is CR 10 and will slaughter the PCs.  No problem, pop it into the software, and take away hit die and abilities to scale it down to an acceptable challenge. Or conversely, maybe a GM wants to throw a dire wolf at his players, but they're past the point that a dire wolf is a challenge.  Not wanting to create a horde of monsters, it's simple to just scale up the one at hand, and now the party is fighting a DIRE dire wolf.  Rules for advancing monsters can be found in the books, for sure, but doing it in a computer program and then just printing out the statblocks is significantly easier, and takes a load of work off of GMs.

So, in summation, a good product that I've already found very useful, but one that is not without its drawbacks, especially if you want to create characters with feats, abilities, and spells not found in the Core rules (or if you want to use it for multiple game systems-- again, you'll be shelling out more cash for those databases).  Despite the very real cost issues for extra content, I have to give Hero Lab an enthusiastic thumbs up. 

1 comment:

Robert Webb said...

Any chance you would be willing to share the hero lab files to help me save some time as after reading this review I am going to buy and try the Hero Lab software.