Tuesday, November 11, 2008

D&D Character Builder

I acquired a beta copy of the D&D Character Builder yesterday (I'm not a beta tester). It's a closed beta, which is a shame, since it would make the D&D Insider program worth the money. Playing around with it this morning, I was able to make a character in about ten minutes. The program is well laid out, with a full description of every power in the exact format as it appears in the Player's Handbook. It's intuitive as well, probably an evolutionary step beyond the character builder from Lone Wolf, and far better than E-tools (and don't get me started on the collaborative disaster that is PC-Gen). For example, whenever you select a potential power, it gives you your overall combat bonuses with that ability on the bottom right. This is what a lot of us want to know, and I know from experience, I used to do a lot of clicking back and forth to see the end result with past programs.

Installation of the program took a while, as it had to install the dot-net framework on my Vista machine (something I avoid). It's a full, stand alone application, not a web based program. It worked fine after the reboot from the installation and didn't require any fiddling with additional files. The program is PC only, which is a reason why I got to take a look. The rightful beta tester had a Mac and wanted to see it in action.

The program features content from the Player's Handbook, along with options to play a limited number of races described in the Monster Manual as potential PC races. It also included content from Dragon magazine, including an interesting option for bonus skills based on character backgrounds. Like past programs of its type, you can choose to de-select source materials to limit your options. There is a section for adding house rules, but it appeared to be an import function. I'm not sure how that works. The program in its current form only goes up to 3rd level. The character sheet output appears to be the same as the standard D&D character sheets, which is somewhat important. Output is where a lot of these programs fall on their faces.

What I'm waiting for now is an encounter design tool. I created my first encounter for D&D 4 last week and it was painful. It involved doing the math first, to get the right mix, then coming up with the right combination. Following this, if I wanted an NPC with powers, I had to make some guesses on what was appropriate, as NPCs are not guys with PC classes anymore. Once I selected what was appropriate, a guess for the most part, according to the DMG, I ended up photocopying various pages of powers and feats out of the PHB, so I could have them handy. What would have been a two page encounter in a D&D adventure was a seven page booklet. Lets hope that tool eventually makes it into the D&D Insider program. Better yet, find a way to integrate NPC design into this tool. Anyway, I would gladly pay the subscription fee when the character builder is available.


  1. You're welcome =)

  2. Whoever made the decision to build on the dot-net framework should be fired for needlessly cutting off a portion of their customer base from being able to use the product.

    Given that it was probably a contractor that initially made the decision, whoever approved it within WotC/Hasbro should be fired as well.

    It's really inexcusable, and at this point it's far too late to ever go back and change it for this edition.

  3. fulminata: it could be worse. For a while ATI was making drivers that required the dot net framework. Now that really IS inexcusable.

    Sadly, the intersection of "D&D customers" and "People who don't have a Windows computer knocking around" is, effectively, so small a market segment as to be safe to ignore. It may be annoying for those in that segment, but they're outnumbered, as the high road tends to be.

  4. Actually, it's not as small as you might think, especially when it comes to the virtual gaming table.

    If I have a group of 6 friends who want to play online, and one of them only has Linux or a Mac, then WotC will probably lose out not on one subscription, but six. We'll find some other way to play.

    Statistics say that one of every two groups is likely to find itself in this situation, potentially eliminating half the market for the virtual gaming table!

    Then there are people like me who have both, but which computer do you use at the gaming table, your desktop or your notebook? Now guess which computer is more likely to be a Mac if you happen to be a person who owns both a Mac and a PC?

    The consultant, and whoever approved his recommendation, didn't look at all the contributing factors on this one, just the raw statistic that less than 5% of computers sold are Macs.

    They would have been better off designing platform independent web based tools, or at the very least choosing something other than dot net so that they'd have the option of porting to other platforms in the future.

  5. See, now you're just being unreasonable. Expecting a proper analysis and foresight?

    You did raise a point I'd forgotten, though - that this is, fundamentally, a group activity, and so tying it to one platform does have far greater potential effects than simply losing one customer.

    On the other hand, as a Dirty Hippie Gamer, I find it difficult to be sorry for WotC for making a dumb call.

  6. I don't really see character creation software related to the group activity. Everyone does their own thing. I was usually the only one in my group using software.

  7. There is an encounter design tool of sorts already in the Bonus Tools section. Its fairly basic but on the plus side it's web only.

    I basically use it as a quickie XP calculator and as a way to dynamically filter on the monsters in the MM. It won't help you balance the encounter, but it helps you find stuff quicker than flipping through the MM at random.

  8. It depends on how tightly WotC want to integrate the virtual tabletop and the character creator. However, having one component be so decidedly non-portable doesn't encourage hope regarding the rest of the tools they intend to offer.

    But we'll see. I hope to be pleasantly surprised at what comes along the track. After all, everyone loves to bash the 900lb gorilla.