Wednesday, June 20, 2012

In-Game Software for 4th Edition and Pathfinder

Well, I'm probably way behind some of you out there, but as a follow-up to my previous software post I thought I would take a look at some more tools for the hi-tech DM. That post was mainly looking at character building programs - and I did go ahead and pick up Hero Lab and DDI - but this week I've stumbled across some in-game tools. For me ... the DM ... finally ...

First up is "4e TurnTracker" which looks to be a very solid piece of work. That start page explains it better than I could but my take on it is that it does so much that I am considering a tryout for it and I have never used an application like this during a session.

The idea that you can go into the monster builder on DDI, set up your creatures, pull them into TurnTracker, and set the up as an encounter is a pretty handy thing. Then you can pull in the PC files from the character builder, hit start, and run the whole fight with full stats for everyone at a glance - that's powerful. To top it off, you can run a "player window" with the limited information available to the players showing on one monitor, while the DM can see it all - wow, that's more than I would expect from a paid program! This one is free.

Little touches are often indicative of quality software. This one will automatically roll a save at the end of a turn if the is a "save ends"condition on a participant. However, if you prefer to roll dice yourself - and I do - then you can type over this result with your own. As a final touch, it retains a history of each combat which can be reviewed and erased later - that's a nice thing to have when recapping a session. Like I said, little touches can make a big difference. I may try it on the Apprentices first but if I do I will provide a full report.

As I delve ever so slowly into Pathfinder it appears that PF is getting a lot of the stuff I was wishing for back when I was running 3rd Edition. Beyond the solid and fully supported Hero Lab for character building there is also  "Combat Manager" which is pretty damn close to an offline DDI equivalent for Pathfinder - thank you OGL! This one is also free.

For starters it has tabs for Feats, Monsters, Rules, Spells, and Treasure which provide a searchable repository of what looks like everything in each category. You can use a drop-down list to narrow things to a certain sub-category of each (for example: Spells can be limited by class, level, or school) or you can just type in a word like "chain" which brings up chain lightning and chain of perdition (?) as results.

One of my biggest pains when running 3E was having a monster statblock that had feats and spells in it which meant I had to look each of those up to see what they did and then try to keep track of them all during an encounter. I ended up making some homebrew spell cards to use with my homebrew monster cards but the feats were always a problem. Although you can't see it in the screen above those things are hyperlinked in Combat Manager. Now Pathfinder already took a very 4E approach to  monster block layouts - add in this capability and I suddenly have a lot more interest in running this game. Note that this is a case where technology is actually solving a problem rather than just being cool! Not that I'm against cool - I think some custom sound effects for each spell and weapon in the game that sounded off when used would be just fine - but things like hyperlinking to special or complicated abilities is a big win for DM's and for speed of play.

The final win with Combat Manager is that it does track combat. You can click and pull in monsters straight from the database and you can advance them (see above) too. Then you can drop them right into combat and track hits and damage and conditions and everything else that goes into a Pathfinder fight. I'm still figuring out how to import party members but I'm sure there's a way.

So beyond character builders - which have been around in primitive form since the days of the Apple ][ and Vic-20 -we now have very solid software for referencing the rules and running combat in our games as well. Do I think they're essential? Of course not! Do I think they add something to the game? I used to think no, but after looking at these two I have changed my mind - they do. I used to think of them as a straightjacket that would limit my ability to change things on the fly. Nowadays though being able to adjust initiative order, apply conditions as needed, and drop in standard or custom monsters with the click of a mouse - well, considering I can pull them in from the list of all the monsters in the game instead of having to jump up and grab a book, the tech is finally reaching a level where it's an actual help and not just a flashy toy.  For DM's running games online or over Skype I can see them being even more helpful in keeping track of what's going on.

I've been fine with character builders for a long time, especially considering they really only come into play before the game session. Some of my players have been using laptops or tablets with character management software or electronic character sheets for a while now. Finally, it may be the DM's turn to go electronic - I wonder how they're going to take that?


Jeremy said...

Depends on if it's big red or the wife's iPad. ^_^

Rorschachhamster said...

What I really want is a random stat generator for NPCs in Pathfinder...

Mick said...

CTRL+T on Hero Lab and it opens the tactical console, which does the same thing as this program, plus conditions etc.

Blacksteel said...

Well the ipad is already present quite a bit of the time, just not for me.

Random stat generator wold be nice. At one point WOTC had a random darkside villain generator for d20 Star Wars and it was pretty cool. It was the rare case where it was "obsoleted" by a rules edition change before it was done in by technology

I knew HeroLab had the capability, I just haven;t played it much. I'm also not sure that it has the rules and database tie-ins like the Pathfinder app does. Regardless, I'll be giving it a try too.