First Impressions

The Hero Labs Character Generator for Pathfinder is an easy to use piece of software both to install and use.

Creating a character with it is as simple as selecting the appropriate action on a series of tabs. Each item has a window that can be brought up to describe the mechanics of the item in question, making decisions and understanding the mechanical applications easy. The help menu is well laid out and easy to follow, though I found myself not needing to use it all that often.

Game System Accuracy

One of the biggest targets that a character generator must achieve is that the mechanics and maths are all correct. This may sound like an obvious observation to make, but all too many characters have erroneous mechanic entries and do not factor in all appropriate numbers. Fortunately, I have yet to come across any mechanical or mathematical errors in the Pathfinder character generator, so that is a big tick.

Visual Appearance

The screens are fairly bland, the graphical interface being no frills and basic. The left half of the screen contains the work menus and the right half contains the numerical character data.

This arrangement manages to be both simple and crowded at the same time, and may be a problem at lower screen resolutions – mostly a thing of the past, but if you are stuck with an older monitor, it’s something to take into consideration. While the interface simplicity helps with speed of use, application size, and shortens the learning curve, it makes for a bland experience. When all is said and done, though, this is a character generator and not a computer game, so many won’t take issue with this.

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Operation

This is a screen-shot of the first screen you come to after loading the program. It lets you choose what game system content you use and don’t use, as well as choosing the starting level of the character and starting wealth.

Next are the main generation screens, the first of which covers class selection, and gives you the option to increase the number of levels your character has (if only it were that easy in-game!)

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The left half of the screen is the work area where you make your selections and the right half holds the specifics of your character based on your selections thus far.

Pay special attention to the warnings down the bottom of the screen, they serve as reminders of areas where you still have to make a selection. The status message at the bottom of the screen-shot reads: ! You must pick an Alignment for your character. **Hero: You must pick a Race for your character. **Hero: You have enough XP to gain a level. It’s time to level up! ** Warnings Encountered.
The panel to the right – divided here into Basics, Skills, Feats, and Weapons – shows both the best and worst of the user-interface. Everything is there, it’s a complete summary of the character; and yet things run off the side of each column. The less experience you have with the game system, the harder these will be to interpret. “Sleight of Har”? “Use Magic D”? “Handle Anima”? A beginner might find these confusing.

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You will notice at the top of the page a row of tabs; to assemble your character you simply go into each tab in succession, selecting the desired options for the character, and moving on. This is the “fighter” tab, where you choose fighter bonus feats. My GM would like the way it specifies at which level the feat was received, and therefore the order, rather than just lumping them all into a list.

Once again, the message in the status area serves as a reminder of tasks that are not yet complete, and other warnings, and that are relevant to the content of the page. In this case, there is only one message: ! Fighter: Add more Bonus Feats. ** Warnings Encountered.Having been critical of the usefulness to beginners when describing the right-hand panel of the window, I have to admit that the left-hand panel shown here represents the other side of the coin: Not only are the mechanics of each bonus feat summarized, but throughout the character generation process you will notice small grey circles with white question marks in them. Clicking on one of these brings up a description of the game mechanic it is attached to. This could actually help a beginner learn the game system.

The menus above the tabs are utilized mainly for saving, printing, importing, exporting and adding further content for the software.

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At the end of the process, you are left with a preview of a 2-page character sheet, which you can print or save. This is the one and only character sheet you can get from the process.

Customizability

Aside from the “what supplements am I using” menu when you open the program, there isn’t any at first glance. My GM is very fond of another character generator because – while you can’t tinker with ALL the game mechanics to incorporate house rules – you can alter some of them, and you can input new magic items, new languages, new character classes – and you can bundle the availability of these variations by campaign, so that they are all available. (He’s not sure whether you can add new feats, but given that list, it would not surprise either of us).

In fact, flexibility is the biggest issue with the Hero Labs product. It doesn’t appear to let you do any of this. The product description page suggests that the functionality is there, I just didn’t find it. That in itself might indicate a problem.

That said, I’m a lot less of a fan of house rules than he is, so this particular problem bothers me a lot less. For him, it would be a deal-breaker; for me, it’s just cause to say “meh,” and move on.

The Output

My single biggest issue with this software is the character sheet. To be more precise, the fact that the layout of the sheet is unalterable. I know that most character generators share this fault, but I am sure many people using these generators would like the ability to alter the character sheet layout to suit their personal tastes. I would at this point settle for a choice from several set layouts rather than no choice at all. The default isn’t at bad – but there’s not enough flexibility. You can’t even insert space to make room for my GM’s beloved house rules – or for anything else.

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Verdict

The software loads quickly and smoothly and is very stable. I have yet to have any faults due to software whilst using this generator, and (as my hardware and operating system is fairly basic) I do not envisage many others having issues either.

Overall I give the Hero Labs Character Generator for Pathfinder a seven out of ten. It is quick, accurate and easy to use, and yet it’s bland and the character sheet issue is a real let-down.

About The Reviewer

Ian Gray resides in Sydney Australia. He has been roleplaying for 25 years, usually on a weekly basis, and often in Mike Bourke’s campaigns. From time to time he has GM’d but is that rarest of breeds, a person who can GM but is a player at heart. He has played many systems over the years including Tales of the floating Vagabond, Legend of the five rings, Star Wars, D&D, Hero System, GURPS, Traveller, Werewolf, Vampire, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and many, many more. Over the last couple of years he has been dirtying his hands with game design and is currently eyeing the idea of module design. He was a significant contributor to Assassin’s Amulet, the first time his name has appeared in the credits of a real, live, RPG supplement.

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