Realm Works: First Impressions

I’ve used Realm Works for 12 hours or so.  It is a complex program, so 12 hours isn’t a lot of time with it, so season how well you care to trust my opinion accordingly.

Update: The font problem mentioned here is relatively recent in nature and it has been suggested that it was introduced via a 3rd party library.  I am certainly aware that bugs can come from the tools your rely upon and it appears that this may be one of those cases.

When I first got Realm Works, I quickly discovered that it cannot handle jpg images much over 4mb in size (it warns you – then it crashes) and it has memory issues when you have a lot of fonts installed.  Neither one of these things left me feeling very good about the software and honestly I considered just writing my $50 investment off and allowing the program to mature.  I can forgive the large image size problem, but the font problem – that is just bad coding.

Someone is doing it wrong at Lone Wolf

When I went to discard around 100mb of fonts, I still had Realm Works running.  I could not trash any of the fonts.  I shutdown Realm Works – now I could delete the fonts.  That means…. Realm Works had every font on the system open.  Now I am not much of a programmer, but maybe, just maybe, you might open only the fonts the software is actually using?  I have not had a font problem since the days of Windows 98, so clearly someone is doing it wrong at Lone Wolf and this is a scrub-level programming problem for which there is no good excuse.

Font warning text
Font warning greeting me when I start Realm Works

I am bit more forgiving of the image-size problem.  I mean, we are working with a program speaking about ‘fog of world’ as long it is a small world.  Otherwise, we just get ‘fog of a small part of the world’ which is far less impressive.  So, they need to fix it, but this is much more of a real programming dilemma than avoiding opening every font.  But if you cannot keep up with “Windows Photo Viewer,” the default app for viewing images and hence a fairly low bar for measurement, you might want to eventually invest a little bit of time in overcoming the problem.

My initial impression after 60 minutes was not at all favorable

So my initial impression after 60 minutes was not at all favorable.  A part of me just wanted to wait and check out the software after 3 or 4 months to see if it had improved.  But I had seen enough glimpses of what it offered that I decided to press on – and I am glad that I did.

I started by entering in the GM’s section on the ‘Dread Sea Dominions’ which is GRAmel’s campaign environment for Beasts & Barbarians.  I’d gotten the GM and Player’s guide for Fantasy Grounds.  I also had picked up 3 or 4 other books from DriveThruRPG – almost all of my Black Friday expenditures for gaming went to GRAmel.

The more you do, the better things get

One of the first things, and maybe the coolest in my opinion, is that the text in Realm Works starts to light-up with links.  As you enter more topics, the interconnections between topics start to appear.  Realm Works is a campaign content management system and what it can give you starts to become apparent.  It connects and interconnects everything so it can be at your finger tips at the click of a mouse button.  It is also addictive in the sense that the more you do, the better things get.  The reward for the effort is self-evident and that carrot of making additional links keeps you plugging in more and more topics and text.

History of the World
A section with custom headings that match GRAmel’s organization of the topic. The links in the body of the text were auto-created.

Let’s look at a campaign map…

Campaign map with linked pins – the map is fan made by the good people at

The map is contained in a ‘Geographical’ Region which contains multiple ‘Political’ regions.  It is also a ‘Smart’ map which means that I can utilize the ‘fog of world’ feature and reveal just the parts of the world that the players have visited.

You are able to place pins on the map which links back to the various map elements that I’ve created.  I am a long way from done here, but I am pretty happy with how it works.  I greatly prefer mapping systems which use a pin system to provide information and this is good stuff.

And that is about as far as I have gotten in 12 hours.

My assessment of Realm Works is that it is in-freaking-valuable if you are working with a large, very well developed setting.  The more material you have to plug in, the richer the experience will become.

Realm Works is in-freaking-valuable if you are working with a large, very well developed setting

And notice, that I am not addressing the player client or the cloud connectivity of it.  I personally don’t care about those features.  The campaign integration and central management are enough to recommend the software IF you have the time and energy to get it all organized.

Lone Wolf is also about to open their market and presumably you’ll be able to simply buy content if inputting it is not your thing.  I will almost certainly be onboard with getting the Savage Worlds game mechanics materials.

Realm Works is THE standard for campaign management.

Realm Works is in development and constantly improving.  If you really want to integrate a large, complex setting that spans multiple documents, I don’t think that there is a better tool for the job.  Realm Works is THE standard for campaign management – and it will only get better with time.  If you are working via VTT, you will have some duplication of effort, but I don’t see any way to avoid that.


Scapple: A light-weight planning tool

My wife is a big fan of Latte & Literature’s award-winning SCRIVENER which is a tool for writers of all sorts.  I’ve used it, but never have felt at home in it, with the software getting in my way as much as it helped me.  I admire what it can do, but I can get by with Notepad++ or Jarte.

They also make a tool called Scapple which I do really like and enjoy.  It basically is like having a big piece of cork-board and you can jam pictures and notes on it – and then connect them with different types of lines that can show flow, relationships, or both.

Click on this for a larger view
Click on this for a larger view

The image shows where I am currently at with adventure planning.  It is a horror mystery adventure, so it takes a lot more pre-planning work than a dungeon delve.  Horror and mystery both are about pacing – clues and dreadful knowledge need to arrive slowly at first and then in an increasing flow as your march towards the conclusion.  So knowing who knows what and determining how the players dig deeper is a big part of the authoring process.  Scapple does a superb job of allowing you to map out the flow of the adventure as well as the actors and the clues they have.

For $15 (or $12 for educators or students), I think Scapple is a very good deal on a very useful and handy organizational tool.  I was starting to bog down envisioning the flow of the adventure and using Scapple helped pop me out of the mire and has allowed me to get almost to mid-point of the adventure.  I think it will be all down hill from here!

Latte & Literature offers a free 30-day trial of Scapple which you can get at their website. Give it a try, you might like it!


Game Mastering Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds logo

As a GM, deciding to use a new game system is not something that you undertake lightly.  Beyond taking the time to learn the new ruleset, you also only have one chance to make a good first impression on your players – you are also ‘selling’ the system to other gamers.  As a result, your first game needs to run smoothly while hopefully showing enough of the positives of the game’s core rules to win over at least a second look.

Converting an adventure to VTT is also a sure way to learn it forwards and backwards

So I prepared a one-shot Halloween game, converting a Savage Worlds adventure from an older 2003 title called ‘Last Rites of the Black Guard’ over to Fantasy Grounds.  Converting an adventure to VTT is also a sure way to learn it forwards and backwards – so my confidence in running the adventure was as high.  I also spent 14 hours as a player in games hosted by other GMs and a goodly amount of time reading and re-reading rules, again building more confidence through knowledge.

To top it all off, I put my own spin on the adventure.  I constructed a team of pre-built player characters with crisp, well-defined roles. They were all part of a video production crew trying to film enough of the occult and creepy settings to get a TV deal.  They had electronic devices and gadgets to help them investigate any hauntings or dark happenings.  So they had an over-arching goal of selling their show to the networks and then a host of immediate goals for the client whose children were in occult danger.  They would have contracts and release paper-work, lighting and power considerations, and gobs of smaller details to worry about that would hopefully help invest them in the story.

Defining team roles worked really, really well

Last night I GMed my first Savage Worlds game and because I was exceedingly well prepared, it went very smoothly.  Defining team roles worked really, really well and it gave everyone some of the limelight.  Everyone contributed to the collective story and the rules quickly faded into background noise once everyone got familiar with how to make skill checks.  I drove the adventure where it needed to go by making it increasingly spooky and by adding enough tension at certain points to steer the players where they needed to go.

For instance, they ‘knew’ early on that the source of their problems was coming from an adjacent house, but they had been paid to help their client and she really needed them and her distress got them back to helping her kids.  They rightly believed that they were treating the symptoms, and it weighed heavily on them for a while, but they were soon getting clues about the nature of the haunting and started to see value in helping their client.  A seance allowed them to learn a great deal about the haunting and was TV gold!  It was nice, from a GMs perspective, to have a plot device that actually provided a logical reason to dig deeper even when you had an intuitive reason to skip to the end.  They are filming the story and they wanted a good record for their viewers.

A one-shot one-kill affair really stunned them

As far as the game system goes, there were only 2 combat encounters.  The first one was a one-shot one-kill affair that really stunned them.  They’ve been use to D&D 5e combat were opponents generally tend to get worn down gradually.  But here – BANG – and they killed a zombie creature with single shot!

The next combat came on the heels of the first and it was a lot different from D&D.  All but two of the players were hiding and dreading combat because they saw that it could be deadly.  And it was deadly – they stabbed and shot a pair of murderous attackers and the combat was over after 2 rounds.  Combat isn’t really that deadly for wild cards – but there is no reason to tell them.  It role plays better this way – and it is going to lend a sense of danger to future combats.

Everyone seemed happy with the adventure and with the game system.  Combat was exactly what I wanted – impactful to the plot, but not the key element of play.  I already have a good mental picture of how to layout the next two or three episodes – and I will be channeling my inner Carl Kolchak if we decide to proceed.