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Last week, Matt and I had an opportunity to get a private tour of the new campaign management software, Realm Works, with Rob and John from Lone Wolf Development . Our tour lasted two and a half hours and we got to see every nook and cranny of the software. I am going to do the play-by-play about what we saw, and Matt is going to be adding the color commentary.

Disclaimer- Phil is a backer of the Realm Works Kickstarter.
Further Disclaimer – After that presentation, so is Matt.
Images provided by Lone Wolf Development.

Campaign Management Software…But I Got Some Things For that

I think a lot about the tools for managing a campaign and prepping sessions – you could say that I wrote the book on it. In Never Unprepared I dedicate an entire chapter to finding the tool that works best for you and your style. Over the years, I have tried a pretty wide range of tools from traditional pen and paper, to word processors, to note taking applications, and more. Three years ago, I found my favorite application for managing my sessions and my campaigns: Microsoft OneNote.

In the past three years, I have used it to manage all my campaigns while evaluating a number of other applications to see what could meet my needs. In the end, OneNote has remained my champion…until now.

Enter Realm Works

It is impossible in one article to cover all the features that are present in the software. What I have listed below are some of the major themes that are prevalent throughout the product, things that highlight the power of this software, as well as why it is going to make your life as a GM easier.

Its A Database…A Flexible One

Realm Works is not a text editor, or note taking application in the sense of something like OneNote or Evernote.  The application is a database which organizes its information in Categories (e.g. Encounters, Groups, Locations, etc).  Each category is made up of snippets (i.e. fields). The snippets can be simple text boxes, calendar info, images, dropdown fields, etc.  So a category like NPC can have snippets for Description, Race, Alignment, and background.

Matt: If you’re not a computer whiz, don’t let that last bit intimidate you. Realm Works is set up for ease of use. You’re not going to have to learn a custom programming language or anything like that.

category toolThe software comes pre-loaded with categories and snippets, so that you can use them right out of the box, but there is also the functionality to create your own categories and snippets. You can even create sub-categories, such as Bars as a sub-category of Locations. That category would inherit (in the sense of object oriented programming) all the snippets of Locations, plus contain their own special snippets such as menu or prices. If there are snippets you don’t need, you can drop them from the categories as well.

As a GM you can populate these categories with your information about your campaign world. If the pre-loaded categories and snippets are missing anything, you can always add in your own.  In Never Unprepared and here on the Stew, I talk about creating templates as part of my prep-light philosophy. The category and snippet structure gives you this ability. You create the categories and snippets that support the game you are running and the way you like to GM. Your data will fit in the system, the way you need it to.

Enter Once…Link Many Times

As a relational database, you only have to enter information once into a category, and you’ll be able to use the information in many different places within the software. You have the ability to associate one element with another, such as a specific NPC with a location. You also have the ability to hyperlink items within the text fields of the snippets. The best part about the hyperlinks is that the system automatically detects the links and makes them for you.

Matt: This is one of the features that kept me using wikis for my games for so long. and it’s implemented beautifully in Realm Works.

visualize_plot_navigateThis relational database also allows you to visualize your campaign information in numerous ways. The software provides a number of tools for relating your campaign information and visualizing it:

  • Link Web –  this view shows you the relationship between one element and all the elements that link to it.
  • Timeline – this view shows you your elements based on your campaign history.
  • Relationship Web- this view focuses on NPC’s and shows their relation to one another, and can even show their feelings about each other.
  • Flows – this view is where you create your plots through NPC’s, locations, and events, and show the mapping between them.

When running a campaign, a GM can search through their campaign data quickly and efficiently to be able to find a specific item, either while you are prepping your games, or at the table. You never have to enter the same data twice or copy it from one location to another. The different views makes understanding the relationships between the various elements of your campaign very easy.

If You Need It…It Fits In Here

reduceprep_contentRealm Works is designed to house all sorts of information for your campaign. Besides the containers and snippets, you can upload PDF’s, Videos, Audio, Images (including maps), and even proprietary files like a mapping file. It all gets housed with the the application and it is all searchable.

GM’s will never have to manage multiple locations for their data. You can drop your Google Drive or Dropbox campaign folders and just move your info into the application so that it is within the same searchable database as all your other campaign information.

Matt: This is one of the features that particularly impressed me. I’ve got old campaign info sitting around in all kinds of documents. Can I put my old Camapign Cartographer files in Realm Works? My old Tiddly Wikis? The answer is always “Yes”.

Players Were Not Left Out

fog_of_world_plotWhen you think of a tool for campaign management, you think that the software is going to only be GM-centric. Realm Works is not only for the GM to manage their campaign, but it is also a knowledge base for the players. Realm works uses a technique called Fog of World which is brilliant.

Fog of World appears as a ball icon next to every snippet and category. The default state of the ball is dim, meaning that only the GM can see this information. The GM can then click on one, multiple, or all the balls within a category, and doing so makes them visible to the players. This granularity allows the GM to reveal snippets in a category (i.e. the description of an NPC) without revealing the other parts (i.e. the NPCs secret motivation). This activity is logged into the database as well, so that a GM can see what was revealed during which sessions, making session recaps a snap. That information will be accessible to players through a client via the cloud service that is the focus of the Kickstarter.

Matt: Fog of World applies to Maps too. You can choose parts of maps with a simple paintbrush-like tool to reveal and hide. Similarly, you can flag points of interest on the map and only reveal those flags at the proper time.

fog_of_world_map2

In addition the software has the ability to use a second monitor so that at the table, you can send information using the Fog of World to that monitor for the players to see. You not only control the information at the FoW level, but you can arrange and turn on and off the items you want to appear on the second monitor.

Matt: If this sounds like it would be a great tool for hosting games remotely, that’s because it is. All the players have a shared notebook of revealed information, can see the map, and can see the “player view” screen. The only things missing is a bowl of Doritos.

As a GM, the ability to manage the information the players have at the table and away from the table will help to reduce confusion by your players during the course of the campaign, as well as give you the ability to manage information during the game. Again, you never have to make copies, cut and paste, etc. You entered it once, and now you can share the parts you want with your players, when you want.

Is It Perfect?

Nothing is perfect, but there is nothing I can say negatively about the features or look and feel. As with all software, the initial release is likely to be missing a few features that people want, but that is what subsequent versions are for. The main complaint I have heard, and sympathize with, is that this software will release only for PC’s at first. The primary development has all been done on Windows, but much like Hero Lab, there will be plans to port the software to Mac and eventually to iOS. So you Mac fans (I have one myself) are going to have to keep Parallels running for a while.

Personal Opinions

Phil: I am very excited about everything I saw in Realm Works. To be honest, I had a bit of a fanboy spaz moment at the end of the demo and then raved to the developers about how exciting the software was like a GenCon attendee on Saturday with a six pack of Red Bull in them. It was a bit embarrassing, but I could not help it.

After seeing the features of this software, I am sure that this is going to make my ability to manage a campaign a lot easier. I am even considering taking my past campaign world Elhal, and converting into Realm Works just to have it archived in a meaningful way. While I have prepped my games with all manner of tools in the past, no tool I have used was specifically designed from the ground up for campaign management, nor was one as flexible to allow me to adapt the tool to my style now, and allow it grow and change, as I change systems, campaigns etc.

Matt: I didn’t go into our preview with the level of knowledge or excitement that Phil already had so I was seeing Realm Works for the first time, but what a first time it was! I was so impressed by the demonstration that I had to go back the kickstarter so I could guarantee that I got a copy in my hands the instant it was available. The main selling point for me is that I kept comparing it to my past and current campaign management tools asking “Can it do feature X?” Almost universally, the answer was “Yes”. (The one time it wasn’t, the answer was “It’s planned for a later release version.”) I feel that after release, Realm Works is going to be the new gold standard for campaign management tools.

More Information

The Realm Works Kickstarter  continues until February 24th. I highly encourage you to support this Kickstarter as well as use this software when it releases later this year. For more information about the software, check out the video on the Kickstarter. Also the D6 Generation Podcast has a segment all about Realm Works on Episode 119 (around the 2:05:00 mark).

So get out there and check it out, and throw some Kickstart love at it!

About  Phil Vecchione

A gamer for 30 years, Phil cut his teeth on Moldvay D&D and has tried to run everything else since then. He has had the fortune to be gaming with the same group for almost 20 years. When not blogging or writing RPG books, Phil is a husband, father, and project manager. More about Phil.



27 Responses to Sneak Peek: Realm Works

  1. Based on this article, add me to the gnomish backer list as well. I could see this pulling together several tools I already use, which would be a spicy meatball.

  2. Wow, this really looks amazing! I Especially like how you can share information via their cloud service. Thus, a larger group of people could work on entering a lot of information, and the work can be shared and amassed into a larger whole! I can see whole existing campaign worlds given this treatment!

  3. From what I’ve sen here, looks and sounds a lot like Masterplan. http://masterplan.habitualindolence.net/ A tool I’ve been using for almost 3 years.
    Check it out.

  4. @Martin Ralya– welcome aboard!

    @Dhomal- It was pretty amazing seeing it in action. My mind was buzzing with all the things i would want to use it for.

    @Martin Slagle — Realm Works has some similarities with Masterplan in some of the features, but where Masterplan was built for D&D 4e, and has some pretty specific modules for it, Realm Works is system neutral, and can be customized to work for any game system.

    • Warning! Reply is form a admitted Masterplan Fanboi! Take with large amounts of rose-coloredness!

      Yes, some of Masterplan is 4e exclusive, but a lot of it is not.
      Quickly scanning for NON specific things, I found:
      Organise your plot, Detail the campaign world, Build dungeon maps, Create campaign-specific game mechanics
      Create Maps and handouts, “Read-aloud” text, Combat encounter maps, Track Initiative order
      There’s also the flow-charter and the encyclopedia that are totally system independant.
      I’ve used Masterplan (or parts of it) for 3e, 3.5e, 4e, warhammer, Gurps and Toon!.
      Plus it’s available now, and free. Gotta love free.

  5. It looks and sounds great. I’d love to see video of it in action, but I can understand Lone Wolf keeping that to a minimum until it’s closer to release.

    I’m waiting for cloudless sharing to player clients over a LAN (ie. cons where there’s spotty/no reliable internet) and sharing/revealing content to a single player rather than the entire party. Lone Wolf are already talking about adding both in future versions, but I’m leery of Kickstarting a cloud-reliant piece of software when they haven’t announced how they’ll price the cloud.

    I’m also looking forward to seeing how much the industry picks this up. I could see companies publishing modules or setting books to RW as they do their rulebooks to Hero Lab, though I worry as usual about Lone Wolf’s DRM being problematic.

    • The kickstarter actually has a couple videos on that give a short snippet descriptions and examples. It’s short though so might not give what you want.

    • The neccesity of cloud service and pricing was a topic I asked about. There are several non-cloud sharing options, but they require more work on the part of the user. Also, they plan on having a variety of cloud pricepoints that provide greater bandwidth including a very affordable cloud option but limited usage numbers at this time make gauging pricepoints difficult.

    • What’s problematic about their DRM?

      • As far as I know, they don’t have any DRM. The files once created can be used or read by anyone. All you have to do is send the rather large database file over to the other person. I think they’d probably need your username and password to be able to login as “you” but I don’t think there is any real DRM.

        The idea that the data can only be read by Realm Works is to be assumed. But you should be able to export or save individual files or articles to other formats.

        It’s not like DRM on mp3s or mpgs where you can’t actually use the file unless you “own” it.

        • I was referring to DRM on the hypothetical 3PP content for Realm Works. If it works like Hero Lab, content Lone Wolf sells would be tied to a license.

          100% hypothetical, Lone Wolf hasn’t said anything specific about regulating 3PP content past the bundled setting.

          The Realm Works client does require online activation when installed, but the Kickstarter suggests it will have fewer activation limits than Hero Lab.

          • Gotcha. Thanks! I take it that in your experience that license is onerous?

            • Hero Lab doesn’t allow for moving the 3PP content you buy between multiple devices. If I buy systems and content for Hero Lab, the easiest way to use it is to do everything on the system I’m bringing to the table.

              The Kickstarter states paid 3PP content isn’t part of the initial release, so that may not be figured out yet. I won’t be surprised if paid 3PP content requires a Realm Works cloud account, as Lone Wolf can control and track GM’s/players’ access to publishers’ content.

  6. Can you put player tokens on the FOW map that they see? You know, so you can show (rather than tell) where the PC’s are on the current player map?

    If so, that would kick much ass, and I would have to jump in on the kickstarter. If not, well meh – not a very useful feature, and a big enough feature omission that I might be more inclined to skip the kickstarter.

    • @crowofpyke You can do it… but it’s not meant to be a a VTT(virtual Tabletop). It doesn’t have the hex/square map granularity that you would want from a more tactical grid map. The Wolf Lair devs have stated that they’d rather you use a VTT that is meant to have all the things light dynamic lighting, distance calculations, spell templates… etc.

      So you can do it… but maybe not as well as you’d like.

    • I’d say yes, sinceyou can place a publicly viewable pin where they are and move it at will, but if that’s realistic or efficient is beyond my knowledge.

      Regarding granularity, that would depend on your map setup, but it isnt meant to be a tactical combat system.

      • As Matt N. said, you could do this. However, the primary purpose of the pins is to mark places on the map representing significant locations, events or encounters. In this manner, you can use maps for navigation to immediately access the information associated with individual pins.

        That being said, there’s no reason you couldn’t place a pin on the map to represent where a party is, and then move it to a new location on the map as they continue to explore. There aren’t individual player tokens, so if the party split up and you were trying to mark the location of several characters, it could get confusing to have a number of pins attempting to represent their current location.

        • One thing I neglected to mention in the previous post, and I wanted to provide this info. Player tokens for use in Realm Works are a feature we’ve identified for inclusion in the product based on feedback from our Beta team members. So, it is a planned enhancement we hope to have in the initial release, or soon thereafter. Sorry for any confusion created by not mentioning this earlier when describing the functionality that Matt saw in the current version of Realm Works.

  7. I have been learning to use MyInfo to run a campaign and it is very customizable and does a great job. Of course, the set up is going to take some significant time and effort to create something that works for my game. On the other hand, this product looks like it solves a huge amount of setup and ‘programming’ work for it to be an effective RPG campaign database.

    I backed it a while ago but this article makes me even happier I did.

  8. more windows software. oh well.

  9. Great article, love the level of detail you were able to convey. We had very much the same fanboi reaction to the system when we first saw it as well.

    Thanks so much for the D6G link at the end of the article!!

  10. Now, I know this isn’t gonna be of much help, but let me tell you, if I had a penny to spare (or any online cash transfers weren’t completely byzantine in my country) I would very much support that. Hope it comes out as good as it sounds!

  1. Engine Publishing is partnering with Lone Wolf Development to offer our books as part of Realm Works « Engine Publishing

    [...] describe it succinctly. Two of the authors of Gnome Stew, Phil Vecchione and Matthew Neagley, got a sneak peek at Realm Works from the developers, and they were so impressed that we closed this licensing deal not long after their demo. (Phil, [...]

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