Of Dice and Men


posted 2/16/2009 by Shawn Sines
other articles by Shawn Sines
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Speaking of printing, currently the Character Builder is exhibiting some pretty odd behavior when it comes to outputting a full character. Namely the options to print landscape don’t work properly and the automatically printed power cards can often be impossible to read when a power has a very detailed, long description. There is also no native support for generating a PDF version of the character sheet which is an option that needs to be implemented before Wizards considers making their promised online game space a reality or there will be a lot of very unhappy players and DMs out there.

One other odd choice/annoyance I encountered when using the tool dealt with the generation of character scores. Personally I prefer to roll real dice at a table when making characters with my players and while the tool allowed for the manual adjustment of ability statistics, the ability to choose an array or to do point buy, when I changed the values to reflect the real world dice results the program continuously nagged me that the results were “houseruled” and prevented the simple “next” button flow of character creation using the tool. I was able to manually skip to the next part of the process but this nagging made it hard for an inexperienced player to do the same. A note for Wizards in a quote from that frustrated player “Warn me and let me go.. don’t force me to use the tool the way you think I should use it or eventually I’ll stop.”

The Character Builder tool is free to try for anyone interested in D&D 4th Edition but the trial version is limited to creating characters of levels 1-3. Access to the full tool and all the updated content requires a subscription to the Dungeons & Dragons Insider service and the tool performs a phone home process when launched to validate this account and check for updates. It is handy that the program will automatically go online and actively update or patch itself since there are still problems with the rules and output depicted on the character sheets and Wizards is including all the Dungeon and Dragon magazine content in the tool along with content from published books and accessories. The tool also works in an offline mode when not connected to the Internet though integration with the online Rules Compendium is obviously disabled.

This is a tool for player character creation or creation of player-like characters. There really are no tools here to benefit DMs in preparation of their games, there are no monster or encounter tools either. This is obviously meant for the creation of characters alone but it still serves as a good tool for Dungeon Masters who might want to shepherd new players through making characters or want to maintain a digital character repository that can easily be updated and maintained.

Right now many players probably have reservations about committing to the subscription for the D&DI service. Wizards has failed to deliver much of what they promised regarding the digital nature of 4th edition and was slow in releasing the full Character Builder as well. What we have here however is truly an invaluable aid to creating 4th Edition D&D characters. Access to all the latest published sources as well as the ability to turn off those sources if you choose not to utilize them or don’t own them and want them in your game is very nice. The ability to access books you might not own in making a character probably can’t be overstated – for the first time you don’t need to purchase a copy of a marginally useful D&D book for the one useful power, race, class or feat inside it. The printed character sheet with Power Cards is also very handy for verifying character math and giving players the tools they need to play.
Regardless of the state of the other promised tools this piece of software does what it should and is worth the roughly $50 a year subscription alone.

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