RPG Tech Talk: Realm Works – the Future?

RPGTechTalkLogoRealm Works, the new campaign and world management application by Lone Wolf Development (creator of the very popular HeroLab character creation software) was finally released out of a (very) long Beta/Early Access programme at the end of March 2014, about a year after their successful Kickstarter campaign.

As a backer of the Kickstarter (at the Dire Wolf level), I’ve had access to the program for sometime before that, so I’ve played with it for some time. So what do I think so far? There have been some positive reviews out there (e.g. from Anna Meyer, of Greyhawk mapping fame, and here, and here). However, although I certainly want to be a firm advocate, I have to admit that I am struggling to find the software a compelling addition to my RPG toolset.

Some of this impression is definitely tied up with the fact that LWD are a very long way from delivering the full set of rewards promised by the Kickstarter campaign. Most of these ‘extra’ rewards were in the form of content delivered via the Realm Works market place … which still seems to be a long way from being complete . According to LWD’s latest roadmap this will be started after the Player Edition has been delivered. Honestly, based on current progress, I would not expect this until well into next year.

LWD have been open and honest about the delays to their development programme, so I have no issues about this, I’m just realistic. I manage software projects as a career myself, so I’m pretty familiar with the type of timescales needed here. But it does mean that in usage terms, what we’ve got in our hands so far definitely doesn’t yet match with the vision of the Kickstarter.

So what’s to like?

There is a lot to like about the current Realm Works product. It’s fast (especially once your ‘Realm’ is loaded), well-written, and is relatively bug-free, at least major bugs. A number of features are really well implemented. Several of the best are:

  • RealmWorks-SmartMapsSmart Images – these are images of any sort which you can drop pins onto which link to other topics. This allows you to build for example a regional map with ‘hot-spot’ links to other maps or information (example shown on right)

 

  • Automatic Content Link detection – this is really well done! When you’rRealmWorks-ContentLinkse editing text in a topic, as soon as you hit the ‘Save’ button, Realm Works automatically scans your text to determine if any of the words you’ve used match other topics, and will ask you to confirm if you want to create links to these topics. I mean, why wouldn’t you! This is so much easier than specifically creating links yourself, and it works pretty fast as well – you’re certainly not sitting there twiddling your thumbs while it churns through your database looking for hits! Maybe this will slow down as the size of your world data increases, but in general this is very usable.
  • RealmWorks-StoryboardThe Storyboard functionality, which allows you to create flow charts of your plots, and link plot points to encounters, NPCs and other data, is another win. The interface is clean and simple, and linking to content is fast and effective: you simply associate a node in the storyboard with a topic, and this allows you to link directly.

So what’s the problem then?

Well, I think simply there is one word that sums it up: integration. Or rather, the lack of integration, because essentially there is none. If you build an encounter in Realm Works, there is no way to export the data into any other program (e.g. a combat manager), or in fact at the moment to even print the encounter. What if I want to create and layout a campaign handout (e.g. a player’s guide to a region in my world)? There is no way to achieve that without individually copying snippets of data over from Realm Works into your tool of choice. Of course, if you then make any updates in that tool, you’re out of sync with your ‘Realm’. What about syncing your data with an online wiki like Obsidian Portal? Or uploading content automatically to a virtual tabletop like Roll20?

It’s clear that the intention is to share content electronically using the RealmWorks tools – in fact Lone Wolf Development just released their Player Edition – a cheaper version of the application that supports only viewing content as revealed by the GameMaster (created using their more expensive version of course…). I’ve had a little play with this, and it seems pretty slick, but my point still stands: in this day and age you ought to be able use your data in multiple different tools, depending on the specific need you have at the time. Some of these features will come in time, and are on the to-do list for LWD. The bottom line at the moment though is that the functionality in this area is pretty limited.

Another area I would like to see improved in the future is the style of the user interface. Currently it looks and feels a bit like using an old-style Microsoft Access database. Now that may be fine when actually editing your ‘Realm’, but I’d certainly like it to have a bit more pizazz when simply viewing data i.e. some styling and layout options.

The Bottom Line…

I want to like Realm Works, I really do! But right now, with the current functionality, I just can’t see it being a useful tool in my campaign management toolbox. Before I would change my mind, it would need to go through several iterations of improvement. 

On the positive side, Lone Wolf Development seem very committed to the project, and from a technology perspective seem to have concentrated very carefully on the underlying building blocks of their product, so that they can develop significant new features in the future. If that remains the case, I’m quite happy to stay along for the ride!

Posted in Columns, RPG Tech Talk, RPG Technology | 2 Comments

Winter is coming …

Winter14It’s been a good summer, with plenty of sun and BBQs, but with 3 months of parents-in-law, holidays and then parent (Mum) staying, not much time for anything else!! As you can see from the fact that this blog has not been updated since June! I haven’t even downloaded the Cartographer’s Annual issues since then!!

One 4E session with the kids over the holidays on a rainy day in Wales was the only gaming that got a look in! In the meantime, DnD Next, or 5E, or just Dungeons and Dragons as it seems to be called, has launched, and I’ve pretty much missed it all! Pretty ambivalent to that at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll take a look in time …

So in a strange way I’m welcoming the fading days and colder nights, because role-playing seems to be a winter sport for me :) Weekends tend to be a bit quieter, so there are more opportunities for a gaming session, and I don’t feel guilty spending evenings in front of the computer writing or mapping!

There is plenty going on in my spheres of gaming interest: 13th Age seems to be going really well with the release of the 13 True Ways expansion, the Book of Loot and a great starting adventure (Shadows of Eldolan). I’ve just supported the 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter – not because I’m interested in that setting particularly, but because I’m very interested to see how the designers bring the classic elements of the game to another world!

In the land of the Kobolds (i.e the Midgard Campaign Setting), a Kickstarter expanding the setting to the vast southern lands is underway. Obviously I’m in for that; the stretch goals are being unlocked so fast that you have to keep checking your pledge to see that you haven’t missed out on something new!

Obviously I’m way behind (probably terminally so … ) in my Cartographers Annual Challenge, but just looking at the issues I’ve been missing gets my mapping juices going, so  we’ll see!

However, my main focus is to get back to my own campaigns!

The Amber Tower (by Alana)

The Amber Tower (by Alana)

In the kids’ 4E ‘Amber Tower’ campaign the party is 5th level and in the depths of Thunderspire Labyrinth. I’ve talked a bit about whether they want to convert the campaign to 13th Age, or even 5E, but they’re pretty adamant they want to stick with what they know!

So I guess I’ll still be DMing 4E for some time to come, which I certainly don’t mind, given the amount of material I have and the ease of preparation. The one thing I ask:  Wizards please do not decommission the online tools!! 

I’m also still prepping (slowly) for my 13th Age Havenscoast campaign, ‘the “Eyes” of the Watch’ . The Shadows of Eldolan adventure mentioned above is likely to become my initial adventure in this campaign – but more work is still required on the Icons and other 13th Age requirements of the setting.

Winter is definitely coming, but hopefully so is the Gaming …

 

 

Posted in 13th Age, Kickstarter, Midgard Campaign Setting, Miscellaneous, Roleplaying with Kids, The 'Eyes' of the Watch, The Amber Tower Campaign | 2 Comments

Map of the Month: Eldolan

MapoftheMonthLogoA real gem this month, from the Pelgrane Press website newsletter, combining two of my current favourite things: maps by Pär Lindström, and the 13th Age RPG. This fantastic town map, done in a classic style which Pär has developed (and written great tutorials on how to produce) is from the upcoming Shadows of Eldolan 13th Age introductory adventure. Awesome :)

Eldolan

Posted in 13th Age, Adventures, Cartography, Columns, Map of the Month | Leave a comment

Cartographer’s Annual Challenge: April 2014

Once again I’ve got a bit behind here, so I’m just posting my effort for the April Annual issue, which I highlighted here.

Going along with the ‘Volcanic Island’ vibe, this map depicts the Isle of Heldan (first shown in a couple of maps from last year, here and here), a seemingly idyllic realm, but with a dark secret at its heart …

Isle of Heldan

Posted in Cartography, Columns, The Annual Challenge, Tolrendor Gazetter | Leave a comment

The Annual Challenge: April Issue

I didn’t quite get as far as I wanted on the March Challenge, having found that merging a Fractal Terrains full ‘world’ with an already created ‘world map’ in CC3 is not that easy :) There are a number of tutorials and posts on the subject, but I didn’t get enough time to go through the whole process. Still, I did produce a couple of cool looking ‘Tolrendor’ projections with the help of FT3, shown here, so I’m happy that I met the requirements of my challenge! I do expect to update this over the coming months as a side-project.

The April issue is now out, and is a style based on the winner’s map from the recent Profantasy competition, which I posted about here. It’s a regional style well suited to islands and small regions, just like the subject of the competition! After a month spent ‘thinking big’ across the entire Tolrendor globe, it will be nice to drill down to the detail again!

Annual Volcanic Island

Posted in Cartography, Columns, The Annual Challenge | 1 Comment

The Annual Challenge: Fractal Fun

The March Annual issue is all about Map Projections, which normally implies that you’re starting with a globe!!

In the last post on this topic I talked about how small and insignificant my Tolrendor ‘World Map’ was when placed on a ‘globe’ sized map. It covers an area of approximately 3500 by 2800 miles … when the full size world (when extrapolated out based on latitude etc.) has a circumference of almost 24000 miles!!

This means there is a huge proportion of Tolrendor that is currently completely uncharted … and therefore pretty boring for any sort of map projection. To fill in the blanks, I decided to have a play with Fractal Terrains, another product from Profantasy. By setting a few parameters, this software can generate realistic looking worlds in seconds. Once you get the hang of it, there are a bewildering array of options to play with. A simple click creates another of the infinite worlds!

The challenge here was to generate a large scale world map that suited my rough ideas for Tolrendor, but that also matched in reasonably with my existing maps. After many attempts, I have settled (for now…) on the below (shown as an Equirectangular Projection):

EquirectangularTolrendorWorld-2

This suits the concept that my main current campaign area (i.e the World Map area) is the western-most tip of the world’s main continent, and is largely European in inspiration, whilst leaving plenty of scope for more exotic lands to the south and east.

So what are the next steps? From Fractal Terrains, it is simple to export a CC3 file of the entire world, which can then obviously be edited to slot my own maps into it. However, one great feature of Fractal Terrains is its ability to generate map projections directly, such as this Orthograhic Projection seen from the north pole:

TolrendorOrthographicNorthern-2

The problem is, to be able to generate these correctly, with my ‘World Map’ integrated, requires me to get this data into Fractal Terrains, and from what I can see, this is not simple :(  For now I might have to stick with the one-way export, but I would love to achieve this at some point …

Posted in Cartography, Columns, The Annual Challenge, World Building | 1 Comment

Map of the Month: Profantasy Competition Winner!

MapoftheMonthLogoProfantasy recently had a competition to map an island, less than 3 miles across. The map could be drawn with any tools, as long as it met this basic requirement. There were a number of great entries (see here). Cartographer Mike Schley was asked to judge the competition, and he came up with the following winner, which is deservedly called out here as ‘Map of the Month':

Contest_Cloister_Island

The lucky winner (username xianpryde on the forums) got a full Profantasy Patron Licence, which gives access to all their software! Wow, worth the effort I think! The winner later wrote an article on the Profantasy Blog about his work – very interesting that the main work was actually sketched on an iPad…

Posted in Cartography, Columns, Map of the Month | 1 Comment

The Annual Challenge: March Issue

MarchIssueI’ve been looking forward to the March Issue!! Map projections are something I’ve never really spent a lot of time thinking about in relation to fantasy maps. I have however, always admired the projection maps produced by Ralf Schemmann (of Profantasy) on his Jhendor site.

So a whole issue devoted to different types of projections looks like a great challenge to take up. A long time ago I did sketch some climate maps of the main campaign area of Tolrendor, and when I dug these out, I discovered these covered from about 35-60 degrees latitude, pretty much the same as the main part of continental Europe. I guess at one point I must have deliberately designed this, as when I calculate out the distances, Tolrendor ends up pretty much the same as our Earth!

However, that does mean when I place my main ‘world’ map onto a correctly sized projection … well it doesn’t cover much of the world (pretty much like Europe):

EquirectangularTolrendorWorldWhich means, if I am going to create a realistic map projection of Tolrendor for this month’s Challenge, I’ve got a lot of landmass to design!! Great, an excuse to play with another Profantasy application that I’ve had for quite a while, but never used: Fractal Terrains. This tool allows you to generate realistic looking ‘worlds’ using fractals, and then export them to CC3. My plan is to see if I can fuse my own hard-created landmasses with some generated ones to come up with a ‘globe’ map!

Sounds like a busy month :)

Of course, if you want to join in with the Challenge, please do: simply post and link to your work in the comments below. Happy Cartography!!

Posted in Cartography, Columns, The Annual Challenge, World Building | 2 Comments

Content Corner: Targrin ‘Shadowblade’

Content Corner LogoAs promised, here is my first 13th Age character, a half-orc fighter created to match the character portrait I created for the February Annual Challenge.

Several key things that need to be created for a 13th Age character are: a One Unique Thing, Backgrounds, and Icon Relationships. These items are discussed in my previous post on the RPG, and are critical to investing the character in the campaign world and story. Below you can find the background story that I developed, and the mechanical items that derived from this. It’s hard to know whether the story came from the mechanics, or the mechanics were derived from the story; but that’s the beauty, in a sense they drive each other, with great results!

Targrin’s Story:

Targrin’s birth was the result of a Orc raid on out outlying settlement of Camlan, in theHalfOrc_Fighter_CA86_Head hills just to the south of the Red river. His mother was captured and raped by the orcs, but was lucky enough to be rescued when a squadron of the Knights of Watch caught up with the raiding party as it tried to escape back across the river. (One Unique Thing: Targrin is the son of a powerful Orc chieftain from the Barrens, north of the Havenscoast. His real father is unaware of his existence)

The birth of a half-Orc nine months later was a great shock to the people of the village, who wanted Targrin put to death. His step-father (a hunter who had been away from the village on the day of the raid) and mother resisted however, as the difficult birth meant they would not have other children. Ostracised by the backwards village folk, they lived in a small stone cottage in the hills, where his step-father hunted and sold meat and pelts for a basic living (Background: Hunter +1). When Targrin was 10 however, his step-father was killed by a great wolf. Knowing they would be unable to survive the winter alone, but fearing to return to the village, his mother took them south, where they eventually ended up in the poor quarter of the town of Bradon.

Here, Targrin’s humanoid heritage was, if not common, at least ignored by most, certainly within the back-streets and slums of the bustling mercantile town. As he grew older, it was only natural that with his height and bulk, as well as his relative lack of other prospects, would lead directly to a career as muscle in the local gang of thieves (Background: Bradon Street Thug +2). Predictably enough, this career had a shelf-life, and eventually Targrin has the burning need to get out of town.

He achieved this by enlisting with the Blue Riders Mercenary Company, one of the largest such outfits in the Havenscoast, specialising in caravan escorts westwards on the Traders’ Way across the Derghai plains to the Kurdar realms. For almost ten years he rode this route, becoming an experienced trail sergeant, as well as getting involved in numerous other missions and petty wars (Background: Blue Rider Mercenary +3). It was in one of these small engagements that he came into possession of his magical sword, from which his nickname derives.

Finally he returned to Bradon after a six-month trip to find that his mother had passed away. Grief-stricken, his thoughts turned inwards and bitter, brooding over the ‘accident’ of his conception. Blaming his real (Orc) father for the trials and tribulations to his mother was subjected, he vowed vengeance. He returned to the northern borders of Camlan, taking every opportunity to undertake raids and missions against the humanoids tribes of the Barrens. Eventually he was asked to join the ‘Eyes’, the undercover special missions force of the Knights of Watch (Background: ‘Eye’ of the Watch +2; Icon Relationship – Positive 1). He volunteers for any dangerous missions going, as long as they give him the chance to one day achieve the vengeance he craves (Icon Relationship: Fire-Lord Asjarn – Negative 2).

And here is his full 13th Age Character Sheet:

TargrinShadowblade_CS

Posted in 13th Age, Backgrounds, Columns, Content Corner, Icons | Leave a comment

Cartographer’s Annual Challenge: February 2014

The Annual Issue for February wasn’t a style, but a collection of ready-made characters and monsters created using the recently released Character Artist 3 (CA3) add-on for CC3.

Although I recently purchased this add-on, I’d never used it, so this month’s Challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity. Using CA3 is pretty easy; you simply use the various symbol sets, which are organised into various race types, and then into various regions of the body. Each has a range of the expected (i.e the body-part!) symbols, as well as clothing, weapons and other gear as appropriate. You simply build up your character portrait by selecting the symbols you want, which are cleverly placed on sheets to overlap in a realistic manner. There is a huge range of symbols, and most come with a varicoloured option, so in essence the choice is endless!

Here then is my first CA3 effort:

HalfOrc_Fighter_CA86

Just for the record, he’s a half-orc fighter, and actually also my first 13th Age RPG character/NPC that I’ve created for my developing Havenscoast campaign. If I get a chance I’ll post his character sheet as well.

Posted in Cartography, Columns, The Annual Challenge | 1 Comment