Monday, August 10, 2009

Sneak Preview: Digital Pen and Paper

I really admire when a gaming company swings for the fences. There's a lot of ways that RPG companies try to integrate computers into our traditional hobby--a task that often meets with mixed success. Still, there's a lot of potential for our hobby electronically, and we don't necessarily need to lose the soul of pen and paper games to take advantage of it.

On this front, I had the pleasure recently of getting an exclusive sneak preview of Ironwood Omnimedia's Digital Pen and Paper, or DPnP, for their Sagas RPG system. Ruel Knudson, their Director of Project Development, was kind enough to give me this first look at the exciting plans they have for this undertaking.

I want to be clear that the DPnP software suite is not an online virtual tabletop. This is a tool for gamers and players alike to track resources. A GM may load a campaign, with personalized information for that campaign. With a few clicks, players may update and personalize their character. While there are certainly character and GM aids out on the market, DPnP does take a very comprehensive approach, one aimed at keeping the play on the table--just making the bookkeeping itself as easy as possible.

I previewed Ironwood's Character Management System (CMS), as well as the Campaign Resource Manager (CRM). As you may imagine, the former is geared more towards players, and the latter towards GMs (thought the Character Management System is also used for creating NPCs and Monsters). I had a little trouble installing, but we never did nail down just where the issue was. Ruel was very helpful in getting me up and running, and then I got to work.

The first thing I noticed was the fast load times. I've downloaded very flashy RPG programs before that absolutely lagged and lagged on me. DPnP did not.

I found interaction and building my character with the CMS relatively easy, though perhaps a clear tutorial would be a good idea for first-time user. The same could be said for GMs looking to create their campaign with the CRM.

Here's a few of the things I was able to do with the CMS, aside from the normal items you'd associate with a character builder/manager:

-Customize my character's image via picture upload.
-Keep a journal for my character's story
-Focus Tracker: this was really cool--the program actually tracks where you're putting your advancement. Are you leaning towards Combat or are you a heavy Social butterfly?
-Cheat: This doesn't sound like a perk, but when you do something that campaign rules wouldn't normally allow, but say your GM OK'd for you, it will show as a report on the character sheet, showing when and where the rules were broken. Nice for keeping track of how players get where they are--and for ironically, possibly catching cheaters.

Here's a few of the things I was able to do with the CRM:

-Update Player Character information from data taken during the gaming session.
-Create and adjust the effects of any skills, items, races, powers, spells, and just about any other adjustable aspect of the campaign
-Look at how balanced my creations were in relation to the setting/rules.
-Customize reports to print out what I need of the rules.
-Bring up a digital DM screen to assist in tracking play.

My first impression was largely favorable. The Player's Guidebook with the Character Manager will be about $10. The GM's package, to include the Campaign Manager, will likewise be around $10. Given what this software can do, I think that's a very attractive price. The possibility of add-ons to a main program for future expansion is also a very welcome one. You can purchase adventures, spell books, creature collections, and other items you would normally buy in additional source books for far less. These will then be loaded into the program, and you'll be able to use and run with them in the game--full description and all. Prices for these will range anywhere from less than a buck to $10.

Graphically, I think they could make the layout a bit more appealing (perhaps use color a bit more), but I had no real functionality issues. If I had any critique at all, it would be to make the programs a bit more novice-friendly. But from what I've seen thus far, I am encouraged.

Stay tuned over at the Sagas RPG site for some more information. This is an ambitious undertaking, but definitely one worth keeping tabs on. It seems like there's a lot of room for expansion. I wish them the best, and will be watching closely!

What follows are a few screenshots I took (click to enlarge):


Bonemaster said...

I didn't see it mentioned but for what OS is this for?

Zachary The First said...

The version I had was PC. Not sure if there's any Mac offerings in the works--that would be a question for Ruel.

Ruel Knudson said...

Unfortunately Mac isn't an option just yet. DPnP uses Microsoft's .NET framework so is compatible with all windows versions from NT on up. Shortly after release I am hoping to start the search to enlist some talent for a Mac version.

clash bowley said...

Hi Zachary:

The screen shots look heavily slanted towards fantasy. Is that hardwired, or is that just an example? How flexible is it for working with other genres? I know I'm weird, but I hardly ever play fantasy.


Zachary The First said...

Hi Clash,

It’s my understanding that there will be a sci-fi version available as well. The version I had was the fantasy version. You could definitely program in some unique items that were more tech in nature, but the sci-fi version would be a better fit. It should retail for the same $10, if I am remembering properly.

Ruel said...

@Clash: For creating content you can, out of the box, create Fantasy and Modern Sagas content. Sci-Fi will be updated in a free patch. Content is separate. So you can purchase all the created content found in Fantasy Sagas or Modern Sagas separate. Bundles will have reduce rates (half off the content).

Mad Brew said...

@Ruel: As a fellow .NET developer, if you're looking for making something Mac compatible with .NET, try Mono.

Of course, not everything is supported, so if you are doing bleeding edge .NET 3.5 stuff, it will take some massaging.

clash bowley said...

Thanks, Zachary and Ruel!

That was exactly the information I needed! :D


Zachary The First said...

You're very welcome, clash!

And thanks again to Ruel for giving me the sneak preview, and really to all small-press gaming companies willing to stick their neck out there on something new!

Zzarchov said...

I would also recommend Mono, I use it for the Piecemeal RPG rules viewer I put out.

Be wary though, a lot of people seem to have an irrational dislike of getting mono rather than a linux version.

Ruel Knudson said...

I have been looking into Mono as a solution, but not the only solution. From what I understand, Linux has a .NET emulator that allows such programs to run on Linux. However, I am first and foremost focused on delivering a solid PC offering. I want the Linux/Mac offerings to be just as solid. Therefore, I want to take my time and make sure that the option we do use for Linux/Mac is the best possible solution, whatever that may be. Unfortunately, that also means that the crystal ball is still rather cloudy on the future of DPnP on those formats. I can only say, at this point, that I want it available on as many formats as possible, but it may take time to do that properly.