Hero Lab by Lone Wolf Development is a program designed to assist both RPG players and Game-masters in a number of ways, the least of which is creating and maintaining characters. It can run under MS Windows, on Macs, and there’s even a version for iPads.
I’ve got my Hero Lab set-up for D&D 3.5, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, 4th edition Shadowrun, and a very basic 2nd Edition Star Wars (d6, created by a HL user) which I plan to expand on by adding the complete species list from the SW Galaxy Guide 4 (Alien Races) and a lot more equipment. Hero Lab also supports D&D 4th edition, Fate Core, Mutants & Masterminds, Savage Worlds, Shadowrun 5th Edn, Spirit of the Century and World of Darkness.
I mostly use Hero Lab for Pathfinder at this time, so my review will focus on that. The way Hero Lab for 3.5 D&D looks and works is extremely similar. I’ve always enjoyed making up D&D characters (and NPC’s) and HL makes it much faster as well as ensuring I’m not missing anything – especially when converting monsters and NPC’s from 2nd edition adventures to d20 system.
The full Windows HL program is just under 11MB and can be downloaded FREE. The individual system packages vary in size from about 10MB for D&D 3.5 and Shadowrun 4th, to close to 100MB for Pathfinder. Without a license, you can only run a particular system in Demonstration Mode. Demo mode allows you to create characters and play around with the different features, but you can’t print or save those characters.
The US$30 license comes with the core data for one game system that you choose on activation. [Paizo sells the program & license code on CD slightly cheaper.] Additional system licenses are $20. Most systems then have add-on packages for $10 (generally the content released in other books) but there are bundles and discounts to help lower the prices. Hero Lab requires at least Windows XP, or Mac OS X 10.5 – it only requires internet access for initial activation or to update data files. Once you have a license, you can activate a free secondary license too – I’m using this on a laptop for some gaming – whereas I do most of my work with HL on my desktop PC.
There is a heap of “community content” – files put together using the HL editor by users – that are available at no cost either through the Hero Lab forums or other web sites. You can access this through both Demo and licensed use, once you have downloaded and installed it.
I’ve got a licence for both 3.5 D&D and Pathfinder, and I additionally bought a “Bestiary Bundle” at a “sale” (content of all three Bestiary books from Pathfinder) to be able to access all those creatures. I have access to most of the 3.5 Books (Such as the varied Monster Manuals, Spell Compendium and Magic Item Compendium) through community content. I’ve also added a heap of stuff myself to both systems using the editor.
The simplest or main use of Hero Lab is to create characters. It can also do the same with monsters/creatures (adding character levels or more HD) and aid in constructing encounters. Its database (depending on RPG system and how much support that system has received from the game company and users) generally holds all the basic equipment, skills, feats, magical items, monsters, spells, etc that are available in the core rulebooks, and possibly quite a lot of what has been printed in other books too.
Hero Lab does all calculations in the background, so when you add armour/weapons, a skill, or feat – any change to the character is shown immediately on the screen. HL has validation – so you will get a message/reminder if you haven’t done something yet (like not choosing an alignment, or spending all your skill points) or broke a rule (too many feats). It’s easy to remove/delete things that you’ve added – so you can see how something will work on your character. It’s very good for considering your options when your character goes up a level or has money to spend on equipment.
Characters (or groups of characters/creatures) are saved as a “portfolio”. Output can be saved as PDF, HTML Statblock, or XML file, by individual character or a whole portfolio. HL also produces output for d20Pro and Fantasy grounds VTT (Virtual Table-top). I print-out NPC character sheets (for two PC henchmen/cohorts) every time they go up a level for the game I’m playing in now… they aren’t complicated characters and it’s much easier and faster than writing one up. I often email a PDF copy to the other players to remind them of what the character “looks” like. I can send them a whole portfolio file if they have even a Demo version of Hero Lab on their computer! (They can look at it, modify it, etc – but not save changes.)
My next post will look at how the system works with a created character.
My third post will look at GM functions such as the Tactical Console and the editor.