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):