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Review of HeroForge Software for 4e

Review of the Heroforge Character Management System for 4e

Antici…. PATION!
I cannot deny that I have been looking forward to seeing HeroForge Software tackle D&D 4e.  All during my D&D 3.0 and 3.5 Campaigns, I utilized Heroforge in all its incarnations and versions.  What started out as a simple Excel spreadsheet evolved over time to include a vast amount of Official supplement releases, as well as numerous Third Party publications.  While it still took a lot of page flipping through sourcebooks to build a Character in 3.5 Edition, the HeroForge software at least made it easier to organize and combine materials to create a decent Character Sheet (and Spell Sheet, if you happened to be a caster).

As an aside, if anyone reading this is still involved with a 3.5 Edition D&D game, I can thoroughly recommend downloading the latest version of HeroForge from this repository site.

The devil is in …

The Details

HeroForge Character Management System is available from the HeroForge website and the current release version (v1.0.1.0) is a downloadable file in zip format of about 32 megs.  The current feature list and the System Requirements are available on their website, and reprinted below for convenience:

Features

  • HeroForge allows you the option of creating a vast array of custom content with no need to know any programming! Custom data mechanical benefits are handled. No scripting, no formulas, no hassles! Little or no need to use any misc fields for your custom data’s numbers to work right!
  • Create your own custom Races and Racial Traits, Classes and Class Features, Skills, Feats, Gear and even Magic Items. These are just of few of the custom content items that HeroForge allows you to create.
  • HeroForge allows you to manage just about every possible aspect of your characters career with our user friendly system.
  • Create and manage characters up to 30th level, including taking a Paragon Path and Epic Destiny.
  • Manage the At-Will, Encounter, Daily, Utility and Racial powers your character has available and then select those powers based on the power levels available to your character.
  • Manage the Trained Skills and Feats (Including Multiclass Feats) available to your character.
  • Equip your character by selecting from the vast variety of items available. Then manage you characters equipment, currency and gems with our easy to use system.
  • Easily manage the weapons and armor your character uses. Weapons attack bonuses and damage are calculated for you based on many factors, including feats, weapon size, etc. Independently manage up to 6 weapon slots.
  • HeroForge gives you a vast breakdown of all you characters stats for quick review on the Overview pages. No need to wonder what type of bonuses or penalties are being applied.
  • Track all the important in game information your character needs with the Combat Control Console. Track current hit points, healing surges, assign damage, receive healing and much, much more.
  • Display on screen Power Cards using the Combat Control Console’s built in Power Display feature. Power attack and damage bonuses are calculated for you based on the weapon/implement you have selected.
  • Edit and Print your characters powers! Each Implement/Weapon you own will give you a separate power card with hit and damage bonuses already calculated.
  • These are just a few of the things HeroForge can do for you. Take a test drive of the app today and see for yourself just how powerful the HeroForge Character Management System is and how well it can work for you!

System Requirements

  • CPU – 1GHz or higher recommended.
  • RAM – 512MB minimum. 1GHz or higher recommended.
  • HDD Space – 100MB minimum free space required.
  • Screen Resolution – 1024 x 768 or higher recommended.
  • After installation, and active Internet Connection is required to purchase a license and activate the software.

The Installation process is fairly straight-forward, although Vista users will have to make a slight modification to their shortcut to make sure they “Run  the Program as an Administrator”.  If you do not fix this property, the program databases don’t load right and you get about fifty popups telling you which database is not working (ie. All of them).

What they neglect to inform you on the download page, is that you are downloading a trial version and the following “features” won’t work until you register the software – this window does pop up as you load into the software the first time, so you know that the trial is not going to do much for you:

You are currently running in Trial Mode. While in Trial Mode the following features are unavailable or limited:

  • Save/Load/Import/Export of Character files (Unavailable)
  • Printing (Unavailable)
  • Import/Export of Custom Data (Unavailable)
  • Dynamic functions of the Character Sheet (Unavailable)
  • Combat Control Console (Limited) Will only run for 15 minutes.

Use of certain Official WotC material not allowed by the 4e GSL is only available if you have an active subscription to D&D Insider.  During the start-up, you can put your email address linked to your DDI Subscription which will unlock this source material in the HeroForge Character Management System (CMS).  Even if you are not a DDI Subscriber, you can still create a Character and can use some of the Official non-GSL source material (such as Forgotten Realms), since you cannot save or print the Character anyway.

However, per the Release Notes, the following material has not yet been implemented in the current version 1.0.1.0, but will be available in a future update:

  • Dragon Magazine (376 – 380)
  • Dungeon Magazine
  • Divine Power
  • Eberron Player’s Guide
  • Monster Manual 2

The HeroForge CMS Experience
I have to preface my comments at this point by saying that I really WANTED to enjoy this product.   As the introduction indicated, I enjoyed HeroForge for 3.5 Edition thoroughly, and I hoped this new software would enhance my 4e game as well.  I regret to say that I was somewhat disappointed.

For my testing, I installed the trial software on both my desktop (XP) and my laptop (Vista).  Both systems had more than ample resources to run the HeroForge CMS, as they are MMORPG gaming machines.  Despite surpassing the basic system requirements, the software ran disappointingly slow, with a great deal of hard drive thrashes between most actions. 

The interface, while not as glitzy as the DDI Character Builder, was reasonably intuitive and did not take much effort to begin designing a Character.  As a baseline, I had created a First Level Dragonborn Fighter in the DDI Character Builder, then attempted to reproduce the same Character in the HeroForge CMS.  Obviously, my choice of talents and powers was not as complete as the DDI software, due to the lack of some of the source material (as listed above). But despite a few moments of waiting for the software to thrash my hard drive, I was able to recreate my Dragonborn in HeroForge CMS without any trouble.

Then I decided to get a little crazy, and took a Multiclass feat to add Warlord to my scaly Fighter.  This was easily done in DDI Character Generator, and was properly prompted to train an additional Class Skill from the Warlord skill set.  Trying this same thing with HeroForge CMS  had different results – I had to tell CMS that I was now allowed an additional skill from the Warlord set and would have otherwise completed the Character without even being warned I was missing a skill.  The HeroForge CMS does not list the information about the Multiclass Feat, as DDI does, so I would have had to look up this information in my Player’s Handbook in order to even know I was deserving of this skill training.

Where the software does exceed DDI Character Builder is in the Custom Modification Database.  HeroForge CMS allows you to enter custom data into any database – races, classes, skills, feats, powers, weapons, armor, and everything else.  Not only can you add this information, but you can compile and share the data using an Import/Export feature.  While the same feature exists in DDI Character Builder, the HeroForge CMS is much more complete, utilizing many more fields to make it a true template.

For example, in  Power Building, the Heroforge CMS has fields for Usage, Action, Attack Type, Trigger, Prerequisite, Target, and how the Power Attacks and against what Defenses (just to name a few).  This allows the power to be added to any eligible Character, and to have it properly compute and display on the Character Sheet and the Power Cards.   This is a vast improvement over the rather limited version of Power Customization allowed by DDI’s Character Builder.

The Deal Breaker
So HeroForge CMS is not so pretty, and a little more sluggish, and missing a few Official source materials – at least at launch.  But on the upside it has an impressive Customization Interface, of a type I have long wanted to see in DDI Character Builder.  So it’s a good deal right? 

Well no, not on my budget.

Sadly, the Deal Breaker for me was pure “sticker-shock” when I finally went to check out the price for the software.  To my dismay, HeroForge Software offers the Character Management System as a subscription and not as a single license purchase:

3 months for $15.00
6 months for $25.00
12 months for $35.00

So if you want to utilize all the non-GSL source materials, such as Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dragon and Dungeon Magazine articles, you’d have to continue to pay for your DDI subscription and then pay HeroForge a subscription to use their software.  Alternatively I suppose, you could cancel your DDI subscription and only pay HeroForge Software for their CMS, and enter in all the source material yourself using the Customization features – that would technically save money in the long-run, but I don’t think many DMs and Players are going to be up for that much data entry.

I might have considered buying in, if I could have purchased the software at a single reasonable price, like around $30.00 or so, to have it as a tool in addition to my DDI Subscription.  But adding another subscription fee just does not make any fiscal sense, given what you get with the HeroForge CMS.

Like I said previously, I really WANTED to enjoy and even recommend this product.  But until something better comes along, DDI Character Builder is still the better value for my hard earned dollars.

So until next blog, Happy Gaming!


About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

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