Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What Realm Works (and what doesn't)

So the kind folks over at Lone Wolf were gracious enough to give me access to a review copy of their Realm Works software which is, as it appears, a note-taking aid for GMs. My first hurdle is one I experience all the time: it's only for PCs, which means I had to dig up a copy of VMWare Fusion to install and run it. Ok, fair enough, I'm no stranger to emulation. Hell, I ran a boot camp copy of windows off my main computer for 3 years before I decided the hell with it.

Salient points, for those of you who don't want to read an essay:
  • I already, manually, do all the things Realm Works does.
  • If you have a deeply complicated setting already built with reams of notes, digitizing them all into the Realm Works format is a daunting task
  • It does provide very interesting ways to manipulate your data
In summarizing these points, I realize that Realm Works is like any database software anywhere; it has a massive entry cost if you haven't started your project using it, that not really compensated by its flexibility and the ease of manipulating your data. In this case, because for me most of the relationships that it can display are already firmly ingrained in my head after five years of developing the 10th Age setting. To put it another way, if I was starting a new setting, I might very well use Realm Works to help me organize everything. As it is, my own setting has been digested and redigested, thought about and re-thought about, to the point where I can almost instantly access any piece of information about it that I want, rearrange that information to make sense in a different way, and just know by muscle memory certain inter-informational or meta-informational relationships.

I make thought maps. Realm Works makes thought maps. I make relationship maps between characters, nations, etc. So does Realm Works. The problem for me is, with Realm Works, I have to plug in a LOT of information that is written down in other places.

I can see what makes Realm Works really great. I could build a setting using it. Unfortunately, my setting has a history that precludes easy integration. I'm going to continue puttering with it, slowly updating the data there, fleshing out things I hadn't thought about, etc. Perhaps someday the box full of notes that I keep will make it into Realm Works... but I strongly feel that the skills I've developed to keep my setting organized in my mind and on paper are going to override my desire to enter information into a new system.

I recommend everyone try it out to see if it suits them, because for those it suits I imagine it will take away a lot of pain. Indeed, it may encourage you to see your world in a different way. It may make you (dare I say it) a better DM as it encourages more complete note keeping and different types of note keeping. I don't want to sound pompous, but I already curate my notes the way Realm Works does—perhaps with slightly less attention to hierarchical detail (I don't think I've ever written down a chart of the Imperial Provincial Hierarchy, mostly because I understand that the level of Empire is above Province, etc.)

I want to enjoy it, I want to use it. I have some organizational issues with my notes


  1. Josh, you might also want to check out Scrivener. This is writing software that was originally intended for writing novels and short stories, as well as academic papers, but has been adapted to a wide variety of other uses. It's a bit difficult to explain, but it treats its files like pages in a binder that you can group into folders and rearrange any way you like; you can also view your folders or files as index cards on a corkboard and drag them around. When you're done you can compile whatever files you want into a finished document that can be exported to Word, PDF, or a variety of electronic formats for submission or publication (it also comes with a variety of templates that you can choose to have your final project formatted as, such as novel, short story, academic paper, etc., and it will automatically prepare a short story, for example in Standard Manuscript Format). I find that I use it for absolutely everything now, including keeping track of all my gaming stuff. House rules, campaign world, you name it. Scrivener is quite inexpensive (~$40 USD) and you can download it for a 30 non-consecutive-day trial. I very strongly recommend it (for writing fiction if nothing else).

    1. I actually have a copy of Scrivener that I use from time to time. It really does help keep everything organized.