Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Time to Crawl Inside Realm Works

For several months I've been eyeing Realm Works.  It got a lot of buzz and it appeals to me, because, well, it's an organizational tool for GMs, and I love that kind of thing.  The people at Lone Wolf Development actually offered me a review copy to look at, so I did just that.

I have to admit, I only had a vague notion of what Realm Works did before I received the review copy.  I mean, I knew it was an organizational tool, and that was enough to get my interest, but exactly what it let you organize and how was a mystery for me.

In short, it lets you organize just about anything.  The only thing it doesn't have is specific rules references.  And to be fair, if you are running a game supported by Hero Lab and you have a license for that game on your copy of Hero Lab, there is a short cut to any stats you have stored there.  Snazzy.

What Does It Do?

Let me get more specific on what Realm Works can do.  You can make up multiple campaigns and organize them all separately.  You can have a title page that has an introduction to the campaign and any house rules or special information you want to display.  You can enter NPCs, cities, locations, and dungeons into your database.  You can include images and maps.  You can create a storyboard that tracks all of the branches of a plot that you have going on.  On top of all of this, you can have the program open while you are running a game, and take notes on your ongoing session.

All of that sounds nice, but you can do that with other programs, right?  Well, yes and no.  I don't know of any single program that has all of that functionality, but beyond that, there is a structure to the database that is especially structured to entering RPG characters.  There are lots of options, like class, race, personality traits, and motivations.  If you have a system that isn't class based, you can delete that particular line from the NPC entry, or you can enter a descriptor into the "class" line that better summarizes the NPC's skill set.  One of the nice things about this setup is that if you don't already have an idea for a trait or a motivation or something of that nature, there is an existing list in place to give you some ideas, and you can add your own descriptors very easily.

You can add maps, then add pins to that map, and then connect entries to those pins so that you can click on the pin and see an entry for a location or an event tied to that spot on the map.  Even better, let's say you pin a dungeon outside of a city on your map.  You could have a picture of the outside of the dungeon, then pin the first level of the dungeon to the front door of the image of the dungeon, then pin the map of the second level of the dungeon to the stairs that lead down to that level.  If you really want to have everything ready to go, you can link the stats for the creatures in various encounters into each of the rooms that you have in that dungeon.

You can show your players the screen during the game session, or even hook up a second monitor and set that monitor up to display the player view from the program, so that the players see a specific piece of information that you want to display, while you open another tab in the program to look up more of the information that you have entered.

How easily can you limit what players see?  It's extremely easy to click on elements that you want to display to your players, so that when you switch to player view, they will see only those elements.  For example, you can have all of the game stats and secret plots for your NPCs entered into your information, but if you don't click on the elements that detail those stats or plans, the players will never see them when you switch to player view.  You can display an image, a description, and what the players remember about the NPCs without showing anything else.

When you display a map, you can chose how much to actually display to the PCs.  You can shadow out the entire map, then "erase" the fog over a given area of the map as the PCs are able to explore a given region.

My personal favorite part of the program is the storyboarding aspect of the program.  You can drop plot points onto a page, then connect what plot point branches from what plot point.  Not only is this fun for creating your own branching plots, but I can see this being extremely useful to have open as you are reading an adventure so that you can create a map of how the adventure should unfold.  I know there have been plenty of times when I realize how a plot should unfold and where it can fork, but I lose track of that at the table, because its all expressed in words and descriptions rather than having a literal map of where the plot goes.

The whole program is set up to connect with every other element in the program, so if you have a plot point involving the mayor of a town, you can put a link to that NPC on that plot point, and if a plot point has to do with going to a specific city, you can link to that city as well.

Not only does Realm Works have all of these tools integrated into one package, but all of it is really easy to use.  You click on a line, and it's available for the PCs to view.  You click on a pin and post it to a map and it's set, and you click on that pin, and you can link it to an existing element.  Further, when you use a term that you have used as the header of a person, place, or thing in your database, it automatically links that name to the entry you have set up for that particular element.

In short, you have an unprecedented number of GM useful tools in one program that allows you to keep track of a database of NPCs, places, things, and even plots, as well as maps, and is set up to make entering these elements especially easy.  You can also set up your computer to display what you want to show your players when, and if you have the spare screen, you don't even need to lend them your screen to show that information to them.


Yes, but how serious the downside is will vary.

Even though it is extremely easy to enter items into the program, there are so many options that it's easy to be intimidated, despite the self evident nature of most of what you see.  Its very easy to want to play with everything and lose a lot of time instead of saving it, and you might be tempted to detail things about a person, place, or thing that don't really matter for your campaign because there is a section for those descriptors.

If you want a hard copy of a given tab, you can't directly print it out or export it as a PDF.  For example, if you wanted a physical copy of your plot map, you would have to do something like a screen capture to reproduce it, there is no current way to directly extract that element.

There is an ongoing fee for the cloud storage of your campaigns.  We'll go into this a bit more below, but the nice thing about this charge is that it doesn't start until all of the features are up and running.  But that does bring us to . . .

Not all of the features are ready to go.  There is suppose to be a player version of the software that allows your players to access all of your cloud stored information that is clicked for player access, but that program isn't ready yet.  Also of note, if you don't have players that are likely to want to spend money for their own stripped down version of the program, this feature isn't nearly as attractive.

There will also be an option to view the player enabled cloud stored campaign information from a website, but this will have an unspecified lesser functionality than the player version of the program.  I have a feeling that a lot of players will be using this option to view things between sessions, and if the functionality is too stripped down, it's going to cut into the usefulness of having all of that campaign information shared in the first place.

Should I Get It?

If you are a GM that already uses various programs to organize your campaign offline, and you are using multiple programs to do so, the initial cost of the program is more than worth it.

If you are a GM that is using an campaign website like Obsidian Portal or Epic Words to organize and share and consolidate information for your players, you may want to wait until the player version of the program and the online access is ready to go before you make the leap to this program.

If you are a GM that is "kind of" organized and would like to be more organized, you'll have to weigh the price tag based on your budget, but if you start playing with this program, you may not help but end up more organized because of how easy it is to use and how integrated everything is.

It is probably telling that the most negative things I can say about the program is that you might use it "too much" and that it has the potential to be even more awesome than it already is, but you can never fully dismiss the downside of an ongoing cost for a service.

Overall I was pretty impressed with the whole package, and I'm really looking forward to playing with this program some more.  I'm sure there are tons of tools that I haven't even found yet, and it should be fun to see everything come together.


  1. Fair review.

    Been using this to enter the ever popular Rise of the Runelords, and I have to say that running dungeon instances is smooth as butter with a laptop and a TV for display.

    The sheer amount of information that you can enter into the program is astounding. Got a PDF copy of the adventure? Copy and paste. Handouts? nuts to that, create a thing, copy a picture of the handout, put it in that thing, display it to the players on the TV. No more paper shuffling from player to player for reading it in turn.

    Room A13 has 4 goblins to attack the party? Do you have Hero Labs? Yes? Cool, create your encounter, save it, link it in Realm Works. Load your party into Hero Labs when the game starts. When they get to A13, click a button and the gobos will be loaded into Hero Labs as enemies for you to use HL's combat engine.

    Overall, Great program. At this stage I give it a 8/10, when all the features are released, it will easily be a 10/10. the only thing bad about RW is the intimidation factor. Take your time, be consistent with your loading and it's a masterpiece.

  2. I wish for Mac version. I supported the Kickstarter, but have since completely stopped using Windows :( I spun up a VM to test, but it's just such a hassle.

  3. How well does it work with different game systems? My group runs: Shadowrun, FATE, Through the Breach, Earthdawn, Traveller and a few others.

    1. The NPC entries have spots for more traditional D&D/Pathfinder stats, but you can add spots for character traits that you can name yourself. So, if you wanted to get rid of hit points and add spots for aspects, for example, you could do that, but it's not the baseline that the NPCs are set up for.