Sunday, August 9, 2015

Some thought on using Hero Lab at the table...

Okay, so last night we had another of our rare but much anticipated sessions of our buddy Steve's campaign.  As with most of our group's fantasy genre games we're using Pathfinder.  Our group generally likes and is comfortable with very crunchy systems like Pathfinder and Mutants & Masterminds.  Crunchiness means a lot of record-keeping and fact-checking when building and leveling characters and so Lone Wolf Development created Hero Lab is a great tool for PF.  For Steve's game, and mine to a lesser extent, we're almost all using Hero Lab for our characters.

Hero Lab is almost as massive and crunchy as Pathfinder.  It supports other games as well but I've only really used it for Pathfinder (and indirectly for Mutants & Masterminds).  So it is a great tool for managing the crunch overload of Pathfinder.  It can be used not only by players to build and level their characters but for GMs to make NPCs.  GMs can also load in the players' .por character files, sent via email or Dropbox, for reference and thus make notes real time during play, such as during combat.

But this is where Hero Lab fails to keep up.  During combat there are situational modifiers, spell modifiers, spells and arrows expended, hit points lost, hit points healed, etc.  Unfortunately all of that has to be laboriously entered by hand for each and every PC and NPC each round, round after round.  The program hold and tracks all of that very well but it's just too damn slow to operate.

Combat can be a wearying grind in may systems and Pathfinder is on the edge here.  You can fudge stuff and push things along to keep up a pace (like I usually do), or you can go by the book and make sure every T is crossed and every +1 accounted for.  Using Hero Lab naturally moves you in the direction of the T-crossing approach.  That's not a wrong thing, because the rules are actually written that way, but by actually slowing combat down Hero Lab becomes sort of an anti-aid.

I suppose the obvious cure is to go full 21st century and have every player equipped with a computing device connected to the GM's.  That way the data entry work is distributed  and all data shows on everyone's copy with only one person entering any one bit of data.  This character casts a buff, notes it as cast in Hero Lab, checks the boxes for all other characters affected, and clicks "send" or something about like that.  Almost everyone in our group has a device or could borrow one so that will work for us if the folks at Lone Wolf Development decide to add networking in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree. The system makes record keeping and crunch mastering much easier but needs to be networked for combat. I can hardly wait to try Roll20 to see if it speeds things up. 18 rounds of combat took just shy of four hours. I haven't pad and papered it in a while but that would be interesting to compare. When I play Ed's PF game I keep a free-flow journal of all combat so I am not sure if it goes faster or not but it probably does; all I know is that it's hard to write quickly and accurately about voiced actions so I never feel like I am caught up, but the journal is key to my character though!