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The Creature Library

Reviewed by Rebecca Downey, copyright 2000

Where Can I Find it?

The Creature Library is available directly from Bruce Gulke at: http://pwp.starnetinc.com/akira/ in the "Downloads" section.

What is it?

The Digital Apprentice Creature Library is a freeware program from Bruce Gulke, creator of the GM Notebook and Table Smith. The program is a Win-32 bit application, which functions equally well on Windows 95, 98 and Windows NT. While it is a large (4,169 KB) download for those of us still using 33.6 modems, it is worth the wait and the bandwidth.

How’s the Install?

The Creature Library installs using a standard Windows-gradated blue background installation program whose only configuration is the location where the program will be installed. The Creature Library is empty when you install it and according to the Help file if found with data, it did not come from Mr. Gulke.

The installation in all three platforms (Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.0 Workstation with Service Pack 6.0 installed) performed flawlessly.

The interface is best viewed in 640x480, 256 colors or better.

[Start-Up Screen]

Image 1: The Start-up Screen and the Help menu are identical – but for the buttons at the bottom.

How Configurable is it?

The Creature Library has an intuitive interface that allows you to name the displayed fields on the fly. It comes initially configured for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, but took me only a few moments to convert to Hârn Master (Columbia Games Ltd) format. There are 20 data fields, 19 of which can be renamed. The fields are defined as follows:

Microsoft Access Field Name Field Type Field Size Original Creature Library Field Name What I Renamed the Field:
Name Text 48 Characters Name Name
Field 0 Text 64 characters Climate/Terrain Height/Weight
Field 1 Text 64 characters Frequency Length/Tail/Paw
Field 2 Text 64 characters Organization Sign
Field 3 Text 64 characters Activity Cycle Breeding
Field 4 Text 64 characters Diet Range
Field 5 Text 64 characters Intelligence Habitat
Field 6 Text 64 characters Treasure Stats #1
Field 7 Text 64 characters Alignment Stats #2
Field 8 Text 64 characters No. Appearing Stats #3
Field 9 Text 64 characters Armor Class Stats #4
Field 10 Text 64 characters Movement Notes #1
Field 11 Text 64 characters Hit Dice Notes #2
Field 12 Text 64 characters THAC0 Notes #3
Field 13 Text 64 characters No. of Attacks Attack #1
Field 14 Text 64 characters Damage/Attack Attack #2
Field 15 Text 64 characters Special Attacks Attack #3
Field 16 Text 64 characters Special Defenses Attack #4
Field 17 Text 64 characters Magic Resistance Armour
Field 18 Text 64 characters Size Flight/Swim
Field 19 Text 64 characters Morale AKA
Field 20 Text 64 characters XP Value Copyright
Description Memo Unlimited Description Description

Microsoft Access also identifies two other fields that help associate the data to the category and roster type, but they should not be changed directly. The Creature Library does not need Microsoft Access to function. Data is stored to the Microsoft Access Database file (Creature Library.mdb) every time a field is modified. This assures that no data can be lost by the user forgetting to save a file.

How’s the Interface?

[Entering Data]

Image 2: Bill Gant’s Blackspawn creature detailed.

The main screen breaks into six regions:

  1. The large block of text on the left-most side is the Statistics Area. It breaks down into three "pages" of information. Fields 0 through 9 are on the first "page" with the description and fields 11 through 20 are on the second page. Somehow Field 10 does not appear on the Creature Database layout, but it is in the Microsoft Access Database, and can be modified or left blank like all the other fields. It is interesting to note that there are 21 fields and the Description (Field0-Field20+Description) listed in the Microsoft Access Database.
  2. The topmost block of text on the right-most side is the Name Area. It is a 48-character field allowing you to name the creature that the Statistics define.
  3. The next block down is the Category Area. This allows you to organize your creatures by a more general topic – Bill Gant’s Mythical Beasts, Horses and Dogs. Some care must be made when modifying the name of the category or deleting it. If you click on the X (delete button) in the category box, all creatures in that box will be deleted.
  4. If you click on the lock, (it appears depressed) when you change the category, the creature currently displayed is copied into the newly selected category.

  5. The next block down is the Roster area. This allows you to organize your lists to create custom lists of creatures for modules or wandering monster tables. The buttons in this box only apply to the Roster category and not the Categories or Creatures recorded within.
  • Add: Adds the creature currently being viewed to the roster
  • Remove: Removes the selected creature from the current roster.
  • Clear: Clears the roster.
  1. The sixth area is hidden. If you move your mouse over the label "Creature Library v1.0" three menu items are revealed.

[Hidden Menu]

Image 3: Page II displayed showing the Hidden Menu

This offers the ability to:

  • Screen: Hides all the text data, showing only the picture (if there is one) for the current selected monster, and its name.
  • Help: Launch notepad to view the Help
  • Exit: Exit the program.

Something Seems Missing…

After an afternoon of playing with the program I had all of Bill Gant’s Mythical Creatures in the program and began working on the various types of horses and dogs in the world of Harn. It was then that I realized one very special topic was not mentioned in the Help file, nor visible in the interface. There is no way to use the Creature Library to print the Creatures.

For that, you need Microsoft Access, or some database program that can read a Microsoft Access file. I opened the Creature Library.mdb file and added a report that generated one creature per page:

[Ready to Print]

Image 4: Bill Gant’s Blackspawn creature ready to print on 8.5x11"

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Now that I’ve described the product, here’s the good and the bad in regards to its usability and functionality. Here’s my take on things:

The Pros:

  • The Creature Library is very easy to use and modify to better suit your game system and your campaign. The roster organizer is the most ingenious method of creating arbitrary indexes of monsters to fit certain campaigns.
  • The hide-information-from-peeking-over-my-shoulder-PCs (the Screen Button in the Hidden Menu) is a neat feature that will be useful to any GM that has a nearby PC (Personal Computer) or visiting PCs (Player Characters).
  • The Creature Library automatically alphabetizes the list of creatures per category, regardless of the order in which you enter them. Changing the name of a creature is simple (just double click on it), as is changing any information. It is equally easy to move creatures from one category, or roster, to another.
  • Using Microsoft Access allows the user to customize their own look and feel to the print out form they wish to use to display their monsters. In addition, all the data is stored in one convenient file which makes backing up the information and archiving it far easier.
  • Field #10 in the Access Database does not appear in the Creature Library. If this is taken as a Pro, it is obviously a super-secret field where in GMs can store information they can assure no player ever "accidentally" sees.

The Cons:

  • The Creature Library will not allow you to view the image by moving the displayable area around the surface of the image. While this is not really a limitation, it should be noted that the display image size is: 3.14583 x 3.78125 inches or 79.904 x 96.044 mm or 302 x 363 pixels. This information should be added to the help file, if possible.

[Picture Widths]

Image 5: Displaying the Picture

  • One must have access to Microsoft Access to create print forms, or have access to some Database program that can read a Microsoft Access Database file (*.mdf).
  • Field #10 in the Access Database does not appear in the Creature Library. If this is taken as a Con, then it is one field of information not easily modified or viewed through the interface.

Conclusions

The Creature Library is part of a suite of programs all available from Bruce Gulke’s web site that function independently, but are designed to be used together. The Creature Library is highly configurable and, other than the mystery of Field #10, the con points listed above do not detract from the fact that the program is very easy to use.

On a scale of one to four stars, this product deserves a four. It’s exactly what the gaming industry needs – more user-friendly highly configurable utilities for gamers that looks good and runs well. Bravo Mr. Gulke.

Editor's Note

Please post your comments on this review on the Software Discussion Board.

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