Reviewing Realm Works by Lone Wolf Development

Recently I was offered the opportunity to review Realm Works, Lone Wolf Development’s foray into the world of campaign management software.  I like many of you out there, like the idea of having all my campaign on my computer all written up and accessible but in reality every tool I have used has always had me doing more meta work (creating links, working out what sort of relationships are needed etc.) than actual campaign work.  In the long run I have tried but I end up giving it up because of that extra work involved.  I figured I would take the opportunity but I really did not expect anything more than I have had with previous products.

Liz Theis from Lone Wolf Development gave me access to the software and agreed to organise an interview with her after having tried the software out.  This morning (my time) I sat down with Liz over a Skype call to discuss the software with her.  Now a professional hardened blogger would have prepared questions!  But no, I just gushed about how much I loved and appreciated the software and how I fear I am now a little addicted to it.  Liz handled it like a pro and offered me some good information to offer up to you the reader.

Image taken from the website for the product

Realm Works is essentially a database front end that stores data to the cloud (i.e. online) or to your computer.  The interface of the product is busy as there is so much you can do with it.  I am a computer programmer at heart (I have a Bachelor degree in Computing) and I like to pride myself in being able to work most stuff out without having to read the manual.  I could not really with this software and so I went through the video tutorials that are supplied via YouTube to learn the ropes so to speak.  These videos are logically ordered and well run and helped me understand the interface quickly.  I feel like I am a pro at the software but I know there is a lot more I am going to discover as I build my campaign.

Currently the software is aimed at a desktop environment where the GM has a monitor on the players side of the GM screen and uses that monitor to display information to the players as they find it.  The GM would have prepared that information before time and can select, on a granular level, the information to display to the screen.  For example, if the players in a game of Call of the Cthulhu encounter a cultist and chase him to his apartment and accidentally kill him they go through his things to find out what is happening.  The chase scene can be put up and the map revealed a bit at a time.  Entering the apartment you can show an image and then reveal more info as the find the diary, and the theological text and the receipts one at a time even though it is only connected to the one scene in the software.

Helpful tips allow you insight into the software

The tool is essentially a front end for a database setup.  That statement sounds so very simplistic but it is anything but.  It takes the idea of some of the online tools like Obsidian Portal and Tavern-Keeper and goes one step further with them.  The first thing that will strike you is that they have a LOT of pre-generated articles and topics for you to fill out for the campaign.  These offer you prompts for the types of information you could include.  A lot of the time I found the prompts were great ideas to add and would not have been something that I would have thought about to start with!  As I used this tool I built my star system for my Traveller game (it can be used for any genre) and the prompts that surrounded building planets (which I have a lot to do in my campaign) made me really make these planets feel like living, breathing planets.  I intend to base my campaign of Traveller around my setting of Bathune for a long time and though I may only use five or six planets this year, the rest will be well fleshed out because the prompts made me think!

Easy to edit…

It is not just about the prompts though.  In fact the most brilliant inclusion is the automatic linking of topics.  In a wiki format the beauty is that you can jump from topic to topic via the hyperlinks.  In Realm Works you can do the same thing but the beauty of it is that this portion of the program is actually largely automated.  That is right, the software checks for possible links every time you save a page or finish with a page and alerts you to links!  Click yes and it automatically connects and builds the links itself.  This in my opinion is stunning work and immediately takes away about 40-50% of the work required in all other campaign management software that I have ever played with!  This feature is also quite advanced in that if it finds two things (or more) that are similar it shows the conflict and asks you to choose which to link to.  In my Traveller campaign I have a political group called The Fell 6 and a planet called Fell and in every circumstance the software has either a) selected the right context or b) shown the conflict and asked me to if the context is unclear.

Granularity in being able to display information…

The system is fully compatible with Hero Lab so if you are building a campaign world in one of the Hero Lab supported systems you can even include character sheets and other stats taken from Hero Lab.  Brilliant!  It is a very new system too so there is a lot of functionality to come.  Speaking with Liz this morning allowed me to discover that the developers really honed in on the extra amount of time most wikis take to build by handling the meta information (building links, hierarchy of organisation etc.).  This is where this beautiful linking system came from as well as the cross genre format.  They wanted to target it at the table game first because that is where our hobby was born.  They also understand that there are still people out there that do not have great connections and so need something that can be built on their own machine and presented at the table.

But Liz also tells me the developers realize that gaming online is a big growth area and so a lot of what we see in this initial release is a stepping stone for moving to an online platform as well as, eventually, a completely online app that will sit side by side with the desktop application.  I put my main concern about the software to her in that I largely play the majority of my games online and I would use this tool to reveal information they find in between sessions so they can review that data instead of sending me an email (which I get a lot of currently).  Liz tells me that the intention is to have a web interface for players to access data for free by the end of 2014 that there needs to be more work done in this area before it will be available.  That said Liz advised that the functionality I described will be covered by a Players Licence of the software that is releasing next month!  This will be a desktop application that will allow the player to access their GM’s work (what they have revealed anyway) from their computer when they need it.  Sounds like I will be wording my players up on this!

All sorts of information can be caught.  Nothing is too big
or too small for inclusion in the campaign world!

The cost of the software is set at $49.99 US and provides you with 6 months of cloud storage standard for your campaign data which is a great way to keep a backup.  I really think that the price is very reasonable for the GM.  I am not sure what the prices will be on cloud storage in the future but for the desktop software and all its functionality I think it is very reasonable.  The players licence of the software will cost some $’s but that price is not yet set.  I am assured by Liz that it will be significantly smaller than the GM full version of the software.  I find this very promising as I really want to value add to my players and if I have to convince them to buy something to view that value added material I hope it is kept as lean as possible.

You may have read through all that and thought to yourself, “Hmmm… souds good but I do not have the time to create material anymore.  I have the job, the kids, sports on Saturday….” then Lone Wolf have also thought of you.  Not available right now but definitely coming in 2014 is the Content Market.  Lone Wolf intend to release campaign material from the likes of Paizo, Frog God Games, Green Ronin, Pinnacle and Kobold Press were the names already confirmed.  I like the odd adventure path so when the content market comes, I can buy the campaign all set and ready for use in Realm Works!  That rocks.  But it does not stop there!  User generated content can be put up for grabs as well.  I could offer my Traveller system of Bathune for download for free or ask for a fee to be attached to it!  Caught in a bind for that Tavern you want to include in the game but have not got the time to build it, browse and buy or download from someone else!

I have given up work on so many online, offline and even paper attempts at managing some of my campaigns in the past.  there is so much work and when a computer program wants you to have to learn its meta-language to build database queries or just to link material you end up spending so much time doing other stuff than building your campaign.  This hides all that extra work and gets you to think about the campaign ahead of you.  It handles the meta data, the types of data in the database.  It integrates most types of data you could want in the software.  Images, text, stat-blocks, custom calendars (time keeping is a major topic at the moment), smart images and much, much more.  They have new technology called Fog of World athat allows a highly granular revealing capability in this software so the players see exactly what you want them to and nothing more.

NPC’s are beautifully fleshed out…

In summary, I am flat out in love with this software.  I can see that it is at an early stage but the functionality there now is phenomenal.  The up and coming stuff that Liz spoke about is very exciting and I can not wait to see where this product goes in the future.  I am itching to return to the material and keep working on my Traveller world, it is that addictive to me.  When I spoke to Liz she mentioned that when she was building the tutorial material she got so caught up in it as well thinking she has to use these characters!  The prompts, the functionality and the options in the future to buy and download prepared content is exciting.  Add to that the ability for the player to soon peruse the data I am building is brilliant.  Do I think you as the GM should get this product?  Yes, absolutely.  If you have the urge to organize your campaign, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the software you need, regardless of the genre.  If you want to purchase some material wait a little until the content market is released.  I’ll let you know when it is!

Overall this software is 5/5 for campaign building but the current sharing of material largely restricted to the table lets it down a little.  next month the players licence can assist with the player being able to access your cloud version of the software and then by the end of 2014 that information should be available freely via the web interface.  Overall, if we are considering the ability to share the information I would give this a 4/5 but as noted this will only get better.  The product is addictive, streamlined and advanced.  Well done to Liz and Lone Wolf Development on introducing the next generation of Campaign management software to us in such a spectacular package.

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