Online Campaigns with D20Pro and Hero Lab

As indicated by the lack of posts lately, I have been busy on yet another project; creating material for an online campaign.  I intended to use the opportunity to write a few articles and author a few tutorial videos as I worked through the process, but I am sorry to report that I’ve had too many issues with the software to have anything to post at the moment.  Let me explain.

I know many of you have already moved on with the announcement of “DNDNext”, but darn it, I invested in the 4th Edition books so I’m sure going to use them!  I have been wanting to host an online 4th Edition campaign set in the Neverwinter for some local players since getting together each week has become too difficult.  I have participated in a few online game sessions myself so I was aware of a few of the virtual tabletops out there before I started, however this will be my first time actually running an online game as a DM.

Hero Lab

Before I decided to use D20Pro I looked at several options:  Maptools, Fantasy Grounds II, BRPG and a few others.  I spent so many days trying out all the options that I could probably write an article on all that research alone, but for now I’ll wrap-up the basis of my decision in a nutshell.

I decided on D20Pro because it seemed to be the easiest, most feature rich option to get something out to my players quickly.  Maptools is awesome, no doubt that for being free it is an amazing gaming tool.  However, it also has a huge learning curve not only as the Game Master but for the players.  Starting up a new campaign, I don’t want to burden my players with learning a complex software program because I’d rather have them focus on the game.  BRPG is nice but I felt it is overpriced based on its minimal features.  Now that I’ve mentioned price, I chose D20Pro over Fantasy Grounds simply because I could get a group of 5 playing for much less money, without sacrificing functionality (or can I?).

Before I start complaining I should me make it clear that I am NOT a D20Pro expert by any stretch of the imagination so some problems experienced may be user error.  I’m still fumbling through the software and reading whatever documents I can find but  I have to say I’m a bit surprised at the lack of user created tutorials out there.  I will definitely start working to fill this void if I ever become proficient enough with D20Pro to be able to offer something worthwhile to the viewer.

If you’re not familiar with D20Pro I suppose I should make it clear that the software is primarily designed for use with the 3.5 ruleset.  This was my first hurdle since I was going to use it for 4th edition, but not a major one since they have quite a few posts on their forums offering 4e support as well as a page on their site detailing configuration changes required for its use.  As the makers of D20Pro advertise, you can import player characters from either D&D Insider or Hero Labs.  Unfortunately, and this was a huge speed bump for me, they do not accept “.monster” files from DDI’s Adventure Tools.  For NPCs and Monsters you have to manually create them in D20Pro or ideally you could  import them from Hero Labs.

My original intention was to do all the work for my players in D&D Insider and also import the monsters into D20Pro from the Adventurer’s Tool.  As mentioned, D20Pro does not accept the “.monster” files so I had to go searching  online for some sort of tool that would allow me to convert the .monster file into something  D20Pro could import, but found nothing.  I read on Hero Lab’s site that you can create NPCs and monsters with their software, and it looked simpler than D20Pro’s interface, so I picked up a copy.  Hero Lab also has a nice feature that allows you to store things in portfolios which is a nice way of organizing all your campaign specific monsters or characters.  Additionally, since both Hero Lab and D20Pro advertise each other’s product as compatible, I thought this was going to be a match made in heaven and life would be good.

To start, I went through the Neverwinter Campaign Setting book and created several of the NPCs including Dagult Neverember, the main NPC in the campaign.  When I tried to import the first few npcs into D20Pro I quickly realized this wasn’t going to be as easy as I had thought, or as it was marketed to me by the two software companies.   The stat bonuses did not carry over as configured in Hero Lab.  Speed (movement), Initiative, Languages, Fort/Will/Reflex and the character’s description all failed to convert correctly when imported to D20Pro.  There is a published work around for the Fort, Will and Ref numbers but they still remain hidden in a custom field you have to create.  Below are screen shots from Hero Lab, showing the stats and stat bonuses plus the defenses as I had entered them.  If you scroll down a bit and compare these with the D20Pro screen shots you will see the discrepancies in D20Pro after the import.

Hero Lab - Ability Scores

Hero Lab - Ability Scores

Hero Lab - Description

Hero Lab - Character Description

I have contacted both companies, posting the problem on their forums and hoping for a quick fix or even a note telling me, “Hey, you’re doing it wrong”.   I did get a quick reply from D20Pro, suggesting a necessary fix from the Hero Lab side to correct the issue, while Hero Lab replied implying it is an issue with D20Pro.  Here we go.  All I know is I have software that claims to work together, advertising for each other’s product even, but I have more bugs than features.

This isn’t an article to bash the software, I obviously chose D20Pro after comparing it to many other virtual tabletop programs and it stood out.  However, I am disappointed that a feature advertised by the publishers is so broken.  I don’t get a strong sense of concern for fixing the issue either, but would hope that they iron out the support for 4th edition or put a strongly worded disclaimer on their websites that the use of 4th edition is not fully supported.  Had I known this before purchasing Hero Labs, I would have opted for sucking it up and just gotten used to plugging everything in through D20Pro.

Luckily I’ve had response from other users on the program forums, exchanging configurations and the NPC exports between one another to try to isolate the problem.  So far the other users have confirmed there is a problem, but its hard to point the finger at either side.  Since the output is essentially an XML file, you’d think it’d just be a matter of both companies identifying a shared format and sticking to it.


D20Pro - Stat block

d20pro - errors

D20Pro - Error Log

I keep checking, hoping for a mention of a fix, but meanwhile I will keep plugging away trying to get something to work.  I’ve even tossed around the idea of writing my own script to modify the Hero Lab export, correcting the discrepancies in the XML, before importing to D20Pro but why should I?

No matter how this turns out I still plan to create and post a few videos detailing what to do to create and run a campaign using D20Pro for 4th Edition.  Hopefully it will be useful to someone out there, at least until 5th edition takes to the shelves of your neighborhood game store.


2 Responses to “Online Campaigns with D20Pro and Hero Lab”

  1. Darkwoulfe says:

    I woke up this morning ready to plunk down my cash for these products, but decided to do one last search for some type of review. Bingo, thanks man I appreciate your article.

    I have been using the DDI Virtual Table but have become frustrated with the lack of importable maps and tokens. I find this, and possibly the monthly subscription for all players, to be the only shortcomings of their system. I thought d20pro would be a saving grace but, the wrong stuff really can’t out way what works.

    I was able to import characters from the DDi Character builder but they would need custom modification added to the fact, as far as I can tell you’d have to redo you work for every level gained, makes the system too clunky. My heart sunk when I read I wouldn’t be able to import monsters via .monster files. I think there’s a work around but I’d need their software +5 player licenses and Hero Lab, that’s quite a bit to ask for software that doesn’t work.

    Not that I’m bashing them I really want to be able to work with this platform but my decision has to make sense. I’m hoping I can find something today tha will provide me a Rosetta stone between DDi d20pro and HeroLab.

  2. L8knight says:

    Thanks for the feedback and glad this information helped you out. If you do find a better solution or ‘Rosetta stone’, please let me know. I continue to hope they’ll fix the issue but worry the shift to the next version of D&D removes any motivation they might have.

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