HeroForge, a character building application designed for maximum flexibility and customization for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Recently, I was also fortunate to get an exclusive interview with Robert Daneri, the Lead Programming Developer and President of HeroForge Software, LLC.
[TCM] OK, many people in the gaming community already know about Heroforge 3E; but what is Heroforge 4E and how will it compete with character builder and other tools from D&D Insider?
[Robert] For those that might not know HeroForge or what it does, HeroForge more than a character builder, but a complete Character Management System for use with 4E D&D. For those familiar with the Excel version of HeroForge for 3.5, the 4E is a actual stand alone application and not an Excel spreadsheet. I think that we have created something that any D&D player of 4E will find very useful and feature rich, especially if they are the type of user that likes to create custom content.
Our goal with the new application is not to replace or compete with anything players are currently using like D&DI really, but to be an additional tool in the RPG tool box. Sometimes you just need a different or bigger hammer. HeroForge Software has always stood by the fact that our software will never replace the need to own the books you use to play the game. There are a lot of good apps out there for 4E, and we feel the new HeroForge will stand in that category as well.
[TCM] Are there any plans to extend Heroforge beyond the PC? For instance, there's been several poorly executed attempts at making character builder software for iPhones and other mobile apps; any plans for such an extension for HF?
[Robert] Yes there is plans to have a form of HeroForge that can work on iPhones, Blackberry, Android, etc. As for how soon I can’t really be sure yet. I am one of those type of players that want to have the use of HeroForge at the table on my laptop or PDA. That was the reason I designed the Buffs tab in the Excel version of HeroForge for 3.5. This is also the reason we have designed a nice feature in the current version known as the Combat Control Console. So players and DM’s can use laptops at the table and can track their characters needed stats during combat. You can account for damage and healing, temp HP, etc. I believe that users that have laptops at the table will really appreciate this feature. Plus as I said before we hope to soon have a similar feature for PDA/Smartphones.
[TCM]Wizards of the Coast is known for being the 800-lb gorilla of the RPG gaming industry, especially when it comes to protecting their intellectual property. Given that several websites have been shut down recently as a result of WotC actions, from a legal standpoint how do you plan to position Heroforge?
[Robert] Well, legal positioning is best left to the lawyers, and it seems that nobody doing anything 4E these days really knows where they stand when it comes to what WotC will or won’t do. I guess that seems to be the big question these days doesn’t it? I think all any of us can do is place our work out there and see what happens. Hope for the best and if they come knocking with the big bad C&D go from there. But a C&D isn’t the end all of things. That is just one step in a process.
When we first decided to take HeroForge to the 4E system, we traveled to D&D XP 2008 and met with Scott Rouse and Chris Perkins about the idea of a WotC/HeroForge collaboration. We told them what we had in mind with making D&DI and HeroForge work together. After a few emails back and forth between Scott and myself we were told that a collaboration wasn’t in the cards at that time and after they get the Gold Edition of D&DI out then maybe. But we were also told in those email to “forge forward”, Scott’s words not mine. So we have done just that. We have been watching what has been happening and what other companies are doing with 4E that so far seem to be ok.
I mean really in the end all this C&D business that has been happening is really hurting the fans of the game most by taking away options for them to play it their way. RPG’s themselves are full of options, that is what the game is about. Playing it with the options you want to use. I feel the same about the tools you use to play RPG’s. I mean what if you could only buy one color or size of dice? What if there was only one brand or look of mini to use? I don’t think it would be the same.
[TCM] Sounds good, please let us know if there are any developments! Hopefully we'll see HF have a long and happy life in the company of the 800-lb gorilla. Looking back though, how did you get started with Heroforge anyway?
[Robert] I founded the HeroForge Excel character generator back in 2004 when I started playing Living Greyhawk. At the time it didn’t have a lot of content but I saw huge potential for expansion to its power. So I started learning how to be a better Excel programmer to add to it with the help of good friend of mine David Castelli. Over the next year David and I became the Lead Developers of the Excel sheet. When WotC announced 4E, we decided that Excel was to limited for what we wanted to do. So we decided to create an actual application that could run on most any operating system and not require any third party software to use. Hence the HeroForge Character Management System was born. Also by creating an actual application, we can expand HeroForge into other game systems and not only be known for D&D content.
[TCM] Sounds very promising. You are no doubt headed in the right direction, but OGL/d20 games benefit from all using the same basic mechanics, class systems, feats, skills, etc. 4E D&D however presents an interesting change of style - character generation is somewhat like a talent tree, which is very different at its core from 3E and related games. For instance, there's been a lot of buzz lately about Savage Worlds and it's extensible, genre-free system. Is Heroforge really adaptable enough to easily accommodate other game systems? Or are you just referring to d20 games here?
[Robert] The great thing about using a stand-alone programming language to do the new HeroForge and not say Excel, is that we can add anything from any system we want. It doesn’t matter if it is d20, d6, d100, etc. It all comes down to the app loading up the proper interface and knowing how to handle the rules. We really at this point have no limit to what game systems we can have the app utilize. We would love the opportunity to work with any willing game publisher out there big or small that has a need for a character management system. We feel that anyone who plays a table top RPG and deals with a characters career, would love to make that job easier. I have played many games and the less time I have to spend leveling and adding to my character means more game time. Plus if I can speed up game play at the table that means more adventure per game session too. HeroForge has the capacities under the hood to do both for any system we throw at it.
[TCM] Heroforge 3E was a great success, but in transitioning to the latest version of D&D - what was the biggest challenge in developing Heroforge 4E? What parts of the current version of Heroforge do you think are the most mature or stable? Of the features that still exhibit a need for additional development; what areas of the code base will you be focusing on most in the coming months?
[Robert] The biggest challenge was designing HeroForge so that the non-programmers of the RPG community could easily create and add custom content and have the app handle all the mechanical effects number-wise, with little or no need for the use of overrides. As for stability, I feel that the main 4E mechanic is solid. There are still parts of the “Customization” area of the app that could use a little work. The problem is that there is no way to truly account for everything that someone might want to create. So our goal is to allow for as much customization as possible without actually changing the basic core mechanic of the game system.
[TCM] So, I take it that Heroforge will be THE software app for people who are interested in homebrew or heavily house-ruled games. Can you give us any specific examples of something highly customized that HF might be able to easily handle?
[Robert] If your group is a home brew or house-ruled type then yes HeroForge will definitely meet you needs. Our #1 goal from day one was to make it possible for users to add just about anything custom one can think of. Races, Classes, Powers, Feats, Gear, Magic Items, etc. The list of customizable parts of the app is extensive. But the great thing is that we made it so that users won’t need to write scripts or code in any way to make the numbers work all the way through the app with your custom content.
[TCM] On a side note - how much "fluff" can Heroforge accommodate? Can people attach portraits, character descriptions, and campaign notes to their characters? Is there any import/export capacity to work with DDI or Obsidian Portal?
[Robert] You can upload art for your character (none will be included with the app by default). The final product will have a full featured game log but right now that feature is still in the final stages of development. As far as import/export from or to other apps, we have some things in the works along those lines.
[TCM] When can fans of Heroforge expect to see an Open BETA?
[Robert] We hope to have an Open Beta released of the Windows version of the app to the users of our Forums by the middle of this month. Early June at the very latest. So to access the Open Beta, one will need to sign up for a Forum account at www.heroforgesoftware.com to get the most up to date news.
[TCM] That sounds awesome! I'm sure people will be looking forward to tinkering around with it. How long do you expect the BETA test to run for? And, more importantly, have you decided on a pricing model for Heroforge once the software is "done"?
[Robert] As of now we plan to run the Open Beta for a 30 day period and then if more time is needed we will go from there. As for pricing… we haven’t locked that aspect down 100% yet but we hope to determine that by what the Open Beta users have to say. It really depends on what the users feel it is worth to them. People already pay enough for the games they play and we don’t want to be priced out of reach, but at this point we have heard from beta testers that it is at least worth $20-$30.
On a side note to this and speaking for me only, it’s really not about the money, I do this more for the love of the hobby and the love I have for the community that gave me this opportunity. I am a firm believer in the saying, “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” I live by it daily. I have taken that approach to my role with HeroForge. I want HeroForge to be a program that can be used by the advanced RPG player and the newcomer alike. I also believe that all Table top RPG gamers not just D&D gamers deserve to have a great tool to use for their games. Hence why I want to see HeroForge someday be the “One Forge to Rule Them All” and offer many other game systems as we move forward. But for now I encourage all the 4E players to come sign up for a forums account at www. heroforgesoftware.com and try the Open Beta and tell us what you think.
Well, that's about it folks! This is the first interview to land on the pages of The Core Mechanic; hope you enjoyed it. If you are looking for screenshots and more info on getting involved with Heroforge 4E, then follow the link!!!