Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: Realm Works by Lone Wolf Development


A few weeks ago, the folks over at Lone Wolf Development gave me the opportunity to try out a review copy of Realm Works, a product that might just revolutionize the way we game masters track information in our campaigns. I spent an afternoon with the software, seeing if it would be appropriate for the campaign I started back in early March, and then took my questions to Liz Theis.

Who is Liz Theis, you might ask? And why would you be asking her questions? Well, to put it simply, she’s in charge of marketing and social media for Lone Wolf, and she’s been my contact for this review! Besides, who better to ask than the person who has probably already answered these questions approximately 76,598,697,655,768 times? :-) Full Interview Here

As if that wasn’t enough information, I then took to the forums to ask some Lone Wolf customers how they felt about the product. It was really cool to hear from some of the folks who adopted the product early on and have been using it in their campaigns for quite some time. Full Interviews Here

Between Liz’s responses, as well as the comments of the Realm Works users, I feel like I have a pretty good feel for the program even though I’ve only been using it a few weeks.


Overview
This program seems to have literally everything a game master would want: the ability to track the characters, the story, the world, and the game system all in one place. It's a product in progress, with some features not yet available, but it is still a program that can go a long way toward helping game masters keep all the details of their worlds organized.

One might argue that a game master can do the same thing using other software, but now that I've used Realm Works myself and interviewed folks who are very invested in this product, I disagree. You can do some of the same things with other products, but Realm Works has everything in one place - and also boasts some features that are unique to this program:
  • Fog of War: If you've ever gotten irritated because a map shows too much information to share it with the players, this is the feature for you. You can reveal only one small portion of the map, or you can selectively blot out areas that the players shouldn't know about yet. 
  • Line-by-line Control of Player Visibility: For every single entry field, there is a little button that allows you to either show or hide it from the players. This is a huge upside that allows you to add all the information you have about a place/item/NPC/whatever at once, but only reveal bits and pieces to your players. 
  • Smart Links: This feature is just downright amazing. If you've ever tried to use a wiki to keep track of your campaign before - or worse, try to connect a bunch of blog posts - you know how time consuming and annoying it can be to hyperlink everything together in a useful manner. With this feature, Realm Works automates this process. You wouldn't believe how easy this is to do with Realm Works, especially compared to doing the same think in a wiki. 

Aesthetics (4 out of 5)
It is tough to make data management software look good, and Realm Works is no different. This product is not beautiful, probably deserving of a 2/5. The layout and color scheme don’t stand out as amazing, but neither do they hurt your eyes. They’re just functional. Why did I list a 4/5 above, then? I’m giving Realm Works a higher score than the software itself would get for two reasons:

Data management software isn’t meant to be gorgeous. Functionality is the primary concern, and the GUI for Realm Works looks good enough to sit down in front of for hours without having your face scrunch up in one of those “I can’t believe I’m still looking at this crap” expressions. That’s enough for me.
While the software itself doesn’t look amazing, it has the potential to look amazing after the user has added content. All the cool map tools (like the fog of war feature that is sweet), as well as the ability to add images to every single person, item, place, etc. make it a very real possibility. While it will take some work, any user can turn the use of this program into an aesthetically pleasing experience.

Accessibility (3.5 out of 5)
Gaining access to Realm Works is pretty easy. You just hop on over to the Realm Works page, purchase it, and download it. Actually using the product is a little more complicated than that. This is a powerful product with a ton of features, and not all of it is obvious when you first log in. There is a steep learning curve, and a lot of work to be done on the front end before you’ll see the true benefits of Realm Works. Lone Wolf does, however, seem to be quite open with their fans and users. They communicate often about the development of the product, so you'll know what features are on the horizon, and they're pretty good about meeting their release dates as well.

Value (5 out of 5)
For the cost, this product is amazing. At about $50, you gain the potential to map out, stat out, and describe your entire campaign setting all in one place, with smart links that keep related things connected. The only downside is that the value is in the product's potential, not in its immediate use. It requires a significant amount of time and effort to input even an adventure's worth of information, much less an entire campaign setting. Furthermore, the ability for players to access campaign information on their own computers isn't available yet. All that said, if you have the time to input your data and the player access is even remotely as useful as I assume it will be, this is going to be the cream of the crop of campaign management software. There is nothing else out there right now that can compete with the potential of this product.
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