02 Apr 2014
I started to play D&D a couple of years before I got my first computer, and since the day I bought my first computer in the 80s I have dreamt of the day when I could use it to managed my gaming. During the decades until now, I have used my computer for a lot of gaming related endeavours. You know about my maps, and I’ve been an avid user of Hero Lab the last couple of years.
But when it comes to make the job of planning, organizing and actually do the job of running games as a Game Master paper and scribbled notes have been a mainstay almost to this day. I’ve used general note and organizing software as OneNote and Evernote with some success, but they are not made with gaming in mind. For decades I have dreamt of a tool that is, and last year I backed a Kickstarter by Lone Wolf Development to speed up the progress on something called Realm Works – Streamlined Campaign Management for GM’s and Players
Realm Works just became available, but as a Kickstarter backer I’ve been using it for some months now. so I thought it would be good time to write down some of my thoughts on my experience. Disclosure – My only affiliation with Lone Wolf Development is as user of their products and a backer of the Realm Works Kickstarter. I’m also intend to use Realm Works as a platform to sell content in the future.
With formalities out of the way I must say, RW is a beast! That means you need to approach it gently and it will reward you with a thrilling experience. For me some types of computer software gives me that sensation that the world just got a bit better, and for me RW is of that caliber. It is complex, almost bewildering at times, and it takes time to find out what is possible and how to accomplish it.
Realm Works is just like Hero Labs system neutral, which means that it will work great with whatever rules you’re using. Whether that is one of the big popular systems, or something you have come up with on your own doesn’t matter RW can accommodate it equally well. RW also supports multiple campaigns that can be using different rules and systems. As a tool of its time it also lives part of its life in the cloud, your content is synced to a cloud server. This opens up a whole range of possibilities, which I will cover more later on.
Working in Realm Works is a bit like building your own multimedia campaign wiki using some sort of specialized browser full of neat views, tools and buttons to make the job easier. The almost endless possibilities and number of tools means that it might be a daunting task the first few hours you try and use it. Because you can work in so many different ways – paint the big picture first, start out small, write the story first etc – finding out how you like to work best is important. Then when you’re starting to get a hang of how RW works, you can use many different approaches as you see best to get different types of tasks done.
Those of you who have worked with database software before will feel right at home with RW, that in many ways is a tool to set up and work with your campaign as a database. What the people at Lone Wolf have cleverly done is to add a whole range of tools to manage your campaign database, each of these tools are geared to cater for Role Player’s specific needs. Each of these tools are a good useful to great addition to your gaming experience, taken together in one package they are in many ways revolutionary.
Planning, getting data in
All you GM’s out there knows that planning your game is both a pure joy and a pain, some of you are probably like me and enjoy tinkering with your world as much as actually playing the the game. Others just want to have the stats and facts ready at the game table. I think we can all agree on the fact that planning for your games improves the experience.
RW can handle text, PDF’s, images, Hero Lab portfolios and many other formats of data. If you make the effort to enter in text one of the almost magical features of RW becomes apparent, all new content is being scanned to find matches with all other campaign data. I’ve discovered lots of new interesting connections for my Greyhawk campaign when I have entered timelines and the history of various lands.
Realm Works creates links to matching content, so if you want to find out everything about one of your campaign villains, the work are done automatically for you. Over the months I’ve used Realm works I have put in a few thousands articles covering a range of topics from the multiverse to a lonely beggar. Topics are divided into two general categories, fluff and crunch. The World and Story Almanacs cover things like, planes of existence, Empires to free villages, NPC’s and all sorts of locations. The Mechanics Reference handles rules and stats. You can set up and define your own categories and make templates to speed up data entry.
Each article can contain a myriad of pieces, in the form of text, images pdf’s even videos. Two special forms of content should be mentioned, Hero Lab files and my speciality maps 😉 Hero Lab portfolios can be previewed inside RW or opened into Hero Lab. A JPG or PNG (haven’t tested with other formats yet) can be used as a map, on which you can place pins that can link to other content.
Content can be viewed in many different ways , in a topic hierarchy like as seen on the left, or by topic. When you’ve been fleshing out your campaign you will probably have a lot of content to sift through. RW have the obvious search functions to find what you’re looking for, but also the so called Story Almanac which is a subset of data. You can move over things you want to have easy access to for planning or during a game. You can move over a whole country and everything belonging to it, or pick topics selectively.
Links both auto generated by RW and special ones made by yourself work across topics, almanacs and also with the Mechanics Reference. This super useful to have specific rules ready. You’re preparing an encounter with a monster that can swallow people whole, make a link to the Engulf Rules. The mechanics section is a perfect way to keep track of house rules, paste in the original version and then alter it to fit your campaign.
Play and Share
To have a wealth of campaign content is a good thing, but making it come to life during play is what Role Playing is all about, so what is the role of Realm Works for the actual playing of the game?
Ive been using it both for my Greyhawk games and also a couple of Pathfinder organized games I’ve been GM’ing. For those of you who are running “sandbox campaigns” that spans over many sessions and cover a lot of grounds in the form of locations, NPC’s and story plots, you will appreciate the storyboard functions of RW. You can plot out complex web of possibilities fully linked with you content to keep track of what is happening and what has happened, and also very important what can happen 🙂
So what good is all this for the players, other than having a GM’s who seem to be able pull things out of a magic hat behind a screen. This is where two really cool features of Realm works comes into play, revealing content incrementally, and something that Lone Wolf trademarked “Fog of World”. Every little piece of information can be hidden or shared with the players as the story evolves. This can be done during the games on a second screen and in the future into a player version of Realm Works or online through a web browser.
Fog of World is the classic “fog of war” effect scaled up and refined to mean that you can reveal exactly the parts of your story, maps, history and anything else from your campaign. For maps you have a paint brush that you can use to paint over the parts of a map you want to show or hide. When Realm works comes with or some other way works together with a good virtual battlefield this will be a killer feature!
Conclusions and dawn of a new era
Time deliver my judgement on Realm Works after some months of heavy use. After some issues during the beta period, Lone Wolf have done a fantastic job and developed a really useful tool!
Before I go on to talk about how I think RW will affect gaming, I want to point out a few things. When you develop an application with the goal set this high – remeber all the failures in the form of Vaporware over the years that still sit as bookmarks in my browsers, leading to long lost websites – it is inevitable that things will be missing in the beginning. And believe me we are still in the beginning ;), more on that later. What I miss the most is a custom calendar, which is under development so I’m confident it will be a great addition soon. But I so want to be able to flesh out the history of my Greyhawk campaign!
My only real issue with Realm Works is the fact that it looks like business tool, which might be useful for those of you who want to work on your campaign in a cubicle at work. I would love to see is a more modern “creative style UI”, like Adobe, Spotify and why not Hero Lab, which is much better looking. Lone Wolf developers have the skills I’m sure, and considering how much of an effort that have gone into just getting RW off the ground I can totally understand that looks haven’t been a priority. But I will not stop hoping!
One of the key features of Realm Works is still in development and that is sharing your creations with other users of Realm Works. This feature, I think will be Realm Works biggest strenght and combined with the cloud it will affect how games are published. Since the dawn of RPG’s books, physical or in the form of PDF’s have been how game content have been published. With Realm Works I want to have my game content, both fluff and crunch, delivered right into my campaign database in Realm Works. That way it will be indexed and editable without any extra work, that will be a killer feature.
With Realm Works Lone Wolf Development have created what can become one of the pillars of the future of the RPG industry. The other two are character management and virtual battlefields, and Hero Lab are in my opinion among the best in character management. So LWD are well placed to become a big part in my gaming future.
What I’m waiting for is to have Realm works Hero Lab and a capable virtual battlefield that can work together in real time between players and GM to keep track of the boring parts, and immerse us in the glorious aspects of gaming!
When the online sharing becomes available for Realm works, I’m going to try my best at making my Greyhawk maps available from the built in repository. I’m also working on new generation of map products to be used with Realm Works so I hope you will find RW as useful as I have!