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Is the D&D Character Builder Changing the Way We Game?

Posted By Martin Ralya On October 19, 2009 @ 12:48 am In Gaming Trends | 43 Comments

If you play D&D 4e, there’s a decent chance you use WotC’s D&D Insider Character Builder.

It automates a lot of things that frankly would otherwise be a pain in the ass, like creating power cards and calculating 99.9% of what’s on your character sheet.

For a crunchy, tactical, numbers-heavy game like 4e, it’s a real boon. My whole group relies on it, and anecdotally I’d say most D&D players I talk to use it as well.

And while many RPGs wouldn’t really benefit from a tool like this, its ease-of-use, pay-to-play model, and integration into “the 4e experience” have gotten me wondering whether it’s changing the way we game.

1. Would you run or play 4e without it?

2. Having used it, do you wish other RPGs you run or play offered a similar tool?

3. Do you miss any of the tasks it replaces, like calculating things by hand?

4. Has it changed the way you relate to D&D?

5. Has the Character Builder changed the way you game?

6. Are robots going to take away our jobs?

Inquiring gnomes want to know — and I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




43 Comments (Open | Close)

43 Comments To "Is the D&D Character Builder Changing the Way We Game?"

#1 Comment By eclpmb On October 19, 2009 @ 2:08 am

I do like character management software, so long as it’s flexable enough to deal with real games, not perfect ones.

The thing I really like is knowing that my character is correct – that i’ve not missed a rule – and that i’m not missing any advantage i’ve chosen but forgot to apply.

#2 Comment By dballing On October 19, 2009 @ 3:37 am

FWIW, a game that – for all intents and purposes – NEEDS a piece of software to get your character done right, is a game our group won’t play. It’s why we labored with the idea of 3rd edition. It’s why (well, one of many reasons) we rejected 4e wholesale, and it’s why we ended up switching to Castles and Crusades for our gaming system… first edition simplicity with third edition sensibilities (and without the fourth edition MMORPG-on-paper feel).

#3 Comment By greywulf On October 19, 2009 @ 5:21 am

My group all use it, but at the same time wish we didn’t.

In our experience, characters built by hand using good old fashioned blood, sweat, pencil and paper tend to be more well thought out, better conceptualised and more “solid” in the mind’s eye of the player. That’s true across all systems we play whether it’s Rolemaster, 3e D&D, Classic D&D, Mutants & Masterminds, 3:16, 4e D&D or whatever.

In return for using the convenience and speed of a number-cruncher app, we’re spending less time actually building the character from the ground up, so we don’t get to know him quite so well when we start playing.

There’s a tendency (especially in Character Builder) just to go with the soulless optimal stats it suggests for the build whereas if you generate by have you’re mire likely to think about what stats you character should have not what some faceless app suggests.

Not that you can’t take your time and generate a well-crafted PC with the Character Builder – you can. Just that I suspect most folks don’t. The auto-build quick-click temptations take over.

Yet still, it’s a fair price to pay for all that convenience, I guess.

#4 Comment By Khairn On October 19, 2009 @ 5:51 am

Yes the CB is changing the way way we play D&D. In its purest form its a simple tool designed to help play the game. But the marketing and design concepts around it are making it a necessity for 4E.

1. Would you run or play 4e without it?
Sure, why not? If I can’t handle the basic math in D&D, I probably shouldn’t be paying a monthly subscription to a company to do it for me, and instead should be going back to elementary school for a refresher course.

2. Having used it, do you wish other RPGs you run or play offered a similar tool?
Having tools that can assist players in different parts of character creation or game play is fine with me. I’ve used them in the past and will continue to use some in the future. But developing marketing strategies and designing a table top game that requires a character builder to play the game is not what I want in an RPG. And that appears to be the direction WotC is taking this.

3. Do you miss any of the tasks it replaces, like calculating things by hand?
I miss that some players don’t read their books and actually work on their character’s creation. I’m seeing a lot of 4E players simply chose a card, read it and then look blankly at the rest of the group waiting for them to explain the results, other options that might have worked better and subtle nuances of the rules. IMHO, the CB is creating a large number of lazy players.

4. Has it changed the way you relate to D&D?
Still undecided. It has reinforced a house rule that the only computer allowed at the table is the GM’s. Aside from that, no.

5. Has the Character Builder changed the way you game?
Nope.

6. Are robots going to take away our jobs?
Already has.

#5 Comment By Horza On October 19, 2009 @ 5:52 am

I don’t use it myself, but several of my players do and they find it an easy enough tool to work with. I won’t deny the usefulness of calculation AC and stuff like that if you’re new to the game, but I’d only use it until I learned by heart the different factors that contribute to it.

To me, making a character is a process that begins with the stats. I’ve nearly never been able to create something by initial concept, but rather it takes shape when I deal out the initial stats for them.

The Software has one function that I do endorse whole-heartedly, however, and that is the printing of Power Cards. I love the system, but I dislike the fact that you’ve got to keep a notebook by your side with all the little details of your many different attacks (it becomes quite a collection once you’ve gained a few levels), and having the cards pre-printed is good enough for me.

Of course, I’ve never gotten to be a player in D&D 4e as of yet. :D

#6 Comment By Danforthe Yellington On October 19, 2009 @ 6:24 am

One problem I’ve run into is that while the character builder is excellent for doing the math and layout of the character sheet it’s completely inflexible in letting you add new rules, objects, races, god, etc to the system. This means that anyone who does use it cut off from this functionality for any homebrew or 3rd party material. This will only increase as more tools are added if they don’t incorporate the ability to add new content. This will make it extremely difficult for 3rd parties to get their products taken up as I suspect they’re not allowed to create similar programs.

The adventure tools WotC released *do* allow for mixing and matching of creatures/NPCs and the creation of new powers, so hopefully that will be brought over to the character builder as well.

#7 Comment By Sektor On October 19, 2009 @ 7:14 am

I prefer not to use any such tools whenever possible, for a couple of reasons.

Manually pouring through the books looking for rules, and calculating each aspect of your character forces you to better understand the math behind it, and makes you understand the rules all the better. If anything, it makes for a smoother game at the table.

But most importantly, I love the whole character building aspect as much as I love reading rulebooks, drawing maps, or actually playing the game. In fact, whenever I feel like gaming but don’t have a group, I do the next best thing and roll me up a new character, just for the fun of it.

#8 Comment By deadlytoque On October 19, 2009 @ 7:16 am

Nobody in my group uses it, because we aren’t big fans of needing to print out a new character sheet every time we level. Half of the guys don’t print or make power cards at all, using a variety of laptops and smartphones to display their powers. And I don’t play any other games that are NEARLY as stat-hungry as D&D, necessitating a character generator.

It might be worth asking if the fact that chargen software is so vital to D&D if there isn’t something wrong with that.

#9 Comment By ScottG On October 19, 2009 @ 7:20 am

I use it (as do most/all of our gaming group). For me, the major benefit besides doing all the fiddly calculations which would be a serious pain otherwise is that I do not need to keep purchasing every new power book that comes along and memorizing the hundreds of feats and powers which are available for any class I might conceive of playing. I can stick with the core books for rules and mechanics and leave the class-building resources to the online world. I do agree with leaving the computers off the table, though – two of our group bring computers to track combat status and other things and it just seems to slow things down on their turns.

#10 Comment By LesInk On October 19, 2009 @ 7:49 am

We use it and find it very useful. It allows players to quickly run through many different possibilities and see what they can combine to get huge bonuses. With that said, it somewhat promotes min-maxing.

We’ve also found many cases where the numbers are not properly updated (such as enlarging areas of attacks and additional healing bonuses), but it does seem to keep improving.

In the end, it is just a tool that you can choose to use. It is handy for it creates print outs in a standard form that a GM can always look at and find stats in the same place. Indirectly I’m saying, “If you are going to be stats heavy, standardize the way the information is presented to avoid confusion.” And WotC seems to be doing that.

I don’t think it changes the way we game, just the way we build our characters — and indirectly — the type of characters we build. But alot of that comes from the change to 4E more than anything else (a totally different subject).

The price to have it in the subscription can be considered a bit high, but they have been committed to adding the newest features as they appear — something that should be rewarded and paid for.

All and all, a very useful tool that many other companies should consider providing for their games.

#11 Comment By Zig On October 19, 2009 @ 8:27 am

Personally I like the character builder application. I’m still pretty new to 4th edition (maybe played in a dozen game sessions now), so having the character builder to do the heavy lifting of character generation is welcome to me. Also I find the cards of abilities printed out along with the character sheet to be of great use. My first time playing 4th I had made my character by hand including put my character’s abilities onto index cards. The cards made by the character builder are much better and it’s much less time consuming.

Another thing about the character builder is that each month options are added from the previous month’s Dragon magazine and any books that had come out. That means I don’t need to buy every book that comes out.

So,…

1.) I’d rather run or play with character builder.

2.) I’d love to see a similar tool for Shadowrun.

3.) I’m happy off loading some of the number heavy lifting.

4.) Not really.

5.) With it I’m willing to make several new characters in a short matter of time. I’ve been playing in Living Forgotten Realms games so it’s important to have a number of characters to choose from to help balance the party.

Finally, I personally consider the monthly cost for the D&D Insider (which gets you content updates for the character builder and allows you to handle characters over third level) to be worth it just for this one tool. It’s also nice that five computers can have it installed and get updates, so there is no reason players in a group couldn’t share one subscription.

#12 Comment By Rechan On October 19, 2009 @ 8:31 am

Since all the games I’ve played have been fairly low Heroic, I am not intimidated by the math. Where it paragon or epic, I imagine it might be important.

But for me, the only time I use the CB is if I’m in an online game. Doing things by hand is quicker, and usually done away from the computer, so I’m cool with it.

The real strength of the CB for me is that it has all the options in one place. All the feats. All the powers. So I’ll often use it to just see what powers are available without having to flip from book to book.

The one game I think that would benefit from something like this is HERO. Although as I recall, HERO came out with a $50 software program that did the math for you.

#13 Comment By Zig On October 19, 2009 @ 8:54 am

I forgot…

6.) No robots will be our overlords.

#14 Comment By rwenderlich On October 19, 2009 @ 9:15 am

Our group loves the character builder primarily because it automatically prints out a nice character sheet with all of your selected powers available for reference, rather than painstakingly having to write it out or constantly refer to the players guide. It basically saves a lot of tedium and allows our group to focus more on what’s fun about the game.

#15 Comment By drow On October 19, 2009 @ 9:23 am

everyone in my group uses a mac, so we don’t use the builder. we also have a standing rule of no player laptops at the gaming table, so everyone uses either a character sheet (generally the standard 4e sheet, some of us prefer kiznit’s sheet) or (my preference) a free-form character journal. a journal provides lots of room for exploded calculations and character notes, which a one-page or even two-page sheet can’t.

#16 Comment By Swordgleam On October 19, 2009 @ 9:54 am

1. I have both run and played 4e without it, no desire to use it. Which invalidates the rest of the questions.

I don’t need power cards. I just need to scribble “str+2 vs will, 1d8+1 fire and ongoing 5 fire (save ends).” It’s really not that difficult and it takes up way less space than a power card.

All the math is simple addition, sometimes subtraction, so it really isn’t hard at all. I use Excel to automate it for me, then print it out. I can fit a lvl 16 character on page, front only. Including powers, feats, inventory, etc. With no loss of information. Why would I want to use something that would make that less efficient?

#17 Comment By quatch On October 19, 2009 @ 10:08 am

I play world of darkness most of the time, so this is a sideways comment.

I got frustrated with the allocation of points for point buy, leading to generic-ification (and min-maxing) of characters, I created an XP only buying of starting characters, which added a lot of math (just counting, but lots of it).

So I made a spreadsheet to do it for me.

Having run some games with this as the character creation tool, I don’t think it takes anything at all away from the game. These tools don’t make choices for us, and they facilitate more detailed character creation, with more options.

100% a good thing. Does it need to be their tool? no. Is it required? no, but getting to play faster is a good thing.

#18 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On October 19, 2009 @ 11:14 am

Awesome question. Absolutely, the CB approach is changing the way we game, if we choose to play those games.

1. I would not play 4E without it. It’s not the math, it’s remembering all the little side-effects and one-off modifiers. (“+2 against phlebotomists, but only during a waxing moon.”)

2. Other games that are as complex should provide some kind of tool to simplify the process. HeroForge did that for 3.5, at least for me.

3. I don’t miss the math, but I do miss knowing exactly what bonus came from where. Doing things by hand reinforces that knowledge.

4. Personality, goals, loves, hatreds, etc. have always been somewhat optional for certain players, but the CB reinforces the notion that a character is just a set of abilities. Are we creating a generation of munchkins?

5. The CB hasn’t changed the way I game, but the change of D&D into a game that nearly requires it has driven me to other game systems.

6. Robots are not going to take over our jobs. However, a process architect may well eventually strip all of the innovation, talent, and reward from our jobs.

This is not just applicable to D&D 4E, D&D in general, or even RPGs. My car’s “Vehicle Dynamic Control” handles situations where it thinks I’m out of control, which actually makes me a worse driver.

I’ll go out on a limb here: Every time something or someone offers to do something for you, it (or he or she) is taking away a bit of your ability. Be careful, or those handy tools may become indispensable.

#19 Comment By Bluedress On October 19, 2009 @ 11:52 am

I like the character builder. There are certainly some games I wish I had a simple character builder for; I made an Exalted character for a friend’s game, and it was a huge pain trying to sift through the fluff to find actual rules. I’m still not sure if I did charms correctly!

I use the character builder to help me see all the available powers and feats I have without having to pull out all the books and open all the dragon PDFs, and to make sure my math is correct. After that I jot the information onto my character sheet by hand. That way I can just add new stuff onto it, or erase and rewrite my stats and skills, instead of needing to reprint the whole thing once a month. That feels like a waste of paper and ink, to me. Plus, my DM houserules some things that the character builder hates, so it’s easier for me to just write everything out than try to trick it into doing what I want.

#20 Comment By Tyson J. Hayes On October 19, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

When building a character for myself I prefer to go the hand crafted approach, I feel more in tune with the character when I’m done, but for characters that are one offs or NPCs that I want a bit more then a name and a couple of numbers I rely on a character builder.

I don’t have experience with 4e specifically but I have used fan built character builders and find them pretty useful.

Really I think most games should offer some sort of character builder to streamline the character building process. Shadowrun would be an excellent one for that, Savage Worlds would benefit from it as well.

#21 Comment By Bloodwin On October 19, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

Personally I tend to come up with a character concept first and then go to the books and then to the character creator. When I think of my character I don’t think of individual powers, instead I think of a more general fighting/healing style and then see how that fits with the books and on-line articles. Having recently run three new players through their first adventure. Being able to talk in broad strokes really helped them get a basic idea of their character and then using my laptop with each in turn made character creation nice and fast for the two total newbies and fast enough for my brother who knows his way around an RPG enough to know what he wanted based on the PH1.

I wouldn’t say it has changed the way I play but it has made it a lot simpler. Other than 4th ed. I haven’t played any modern RPGs and those I played in the 80s wouldn’t benefit from this kind of thing, about all you need for them is an editable character sheet, probably a PDF or some such.

As a DM I like PC tools for when I am messing with stuff like creating a level 3 green dragon as the boss for the first game I ran, but when it comes to adventures I prefer to have it on paper or in a printed module. I can’t bear the thought of having a pc or laptop at the table, calculators are permissible esp when doling out XP but that’s it. Phones are way too much of a distraction these days esp with Twitter et al.

For me D&D is people time with munchies and laughs and some good old fashioned monster slaying.

#22 Comment By Sarlax On October 19, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

Yes, the CB changes the way we game. So far, it’s just hitting D&D, but it’s hard to think that the changes which it brings won’t, in time, bleed into other games.

1. It can lower the cost of gaming. D&D has always been completely playable with just the core rules (in every edition), but many people, myself included, enjoy having access to every new mechanic and piece of fluff that shows up. Well, when it comes to characters, I have every new rule option within about two weeks of its print release available electronically. If I chose to not buy the books, the CB would give to me everything I need to play the kind of character I want.

2. It makes D&D faster. Since all options are calculated for the player and (nearly) all power/feat text is provided for on the outputted sheet, there’s much less need to flip through books to figure out how things work. My group is currently playing two 4E games (one in the Forgotten Realms, and one in Eberron which I run). No one has to crack a book now to figure out how their own powers work because it’s all right there on the sheet – the entire text of the power. Compare this to my 3.5 D&D game, where every player had to have at least three books (and some, a half dozen or more) to keep track of the effects of all their powers.

3. It makes prep much simpler. Don’t get me wrong: I have always enjoyed making characters in RPGs, but it’s often a very long process. I created a number of NPCs for 3.5 that took hours to get just right. In 4E, it takes about 5 minutes to create about any NPC I can think of, and I know that I won’t have overlooked anything.

4. It improves my ability to tailor adventures to the players. All of the players are voluntarily sending me their CB files when they make a change and/or level up. I can an instant look at any PC at any time to find out if they’re going to have too easy or too tough a time with a particular encounter I have in mind.

5. It evens the playing field. Previous editions of D&D, when played with all of the splat books, tended to strongly favor players with “encyclopedic mastery” of the system. Two players could look at the same set of a dozen books, try to build the same race/class character, and end up with wildly different levels of effectiveness simply because one player was better at finding the feat/spell/item to use. Some of that still exists, of course, but since the CB puts every option at your fingertips in an extremely user-friendly fashion, those two players now will always see the same options, and the player with less “mastery” will not be overwhelmed as she may have been before.

6. It’s helping my back. The CB (along with the Compendium) means I only have to carry a laptop around instead of three hundred pounds of books.

#23 Comment By hailstop On October 19, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

1. Yes. I was getting frustrated with 3e to the point that I was considering going back to 2e.

2. Not applicable…D&D 4e is the only game I play.

3. Absolutely not (or I wouldn’t, if I played…I DM)

4. Equating the Monster Builder to the Character Builder, I am much, much, much more willing to make a up new monsters.

5. No, but I think that it is going to change the business of the game. People keep talking about what happens next after 4e. I’m not sure there is going to be a 5e anytime soon.

It’s like computer compatability now. By the time that 5e might think about coming out, say 7 years from now, under normal circumstances there would be massive book bloat, no way to easily access (or find) the information you need (was that feat in PHB 7 or Martial Power 4?). However, with character builder, the monster builder and the Compendium, there is negligible effort needed to access any new content WotC puts out.

Which, after 7 years of books, etc…it’s going to be very, very tough to entice people to switch to a new system unless it’s radically different. It’s the same problem that Commodore had when the 64 was such a success…when they didn’t make the 128 compatable (except with a 64 mode), they couldn’t really entice people to buy it…whereas the IBM compatables exploded in popularity eventually.

Another thing…until 4e I never used any crunch from Dragon. It was too much of a pain to use. But now, nooooo problem.

And DDI is going to be more and more useful the longer it goes. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets to the point that DDI is the main source of crunch for D&D…the books will be sold just to provide those who like books with books.

#24 Comment By Taellosse On October 19, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

Unlike many, I haven’t been playing D&D for decades along with the occasional other system. The majority of my gaming experience actually comes from GURPS, and there’s been a character builder software for that system for some time already (there were officially supported tools for both 3rd and 4th edition of that game, though they are produced by different people and operate very differently), so this was something I more or less expected to have when I game.

Frankly, if there hadn’t been a decent piece of software, I very much doubt I’d have stuck with 4e when I decided to try it out. Some systems, as you say, can do without such a program (White Wolf probably wouldn’t get a whole lot out of it, for example), but there’s too much math involved in character creation for building a character by hand not to be a tedious process. Even ignoring the math aspect, having all your options in one place, and not needing to flip through multiple books trying to figure out not only what you CAN do, but what you SHOULD do, is a serious plus.

#25 Comment By Martin Ralya On October 19, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

It’s fascinating to see where people fall on this one — thank you for commenting! I’m going to pull out a few bits that grabbed me:

@greywulf – I haven’t found that my CB-built PCs are less thoroughly conceptualized overall, but it’s a tough comparison to make. My best-conceptualized PCs have been WoD characters, but I chalk a lot of that up to the way WoD encourages you to build characters.

I suppose I can safely say my CB PCs are no less developed than most of my D&D characters over the years — and maybe a bit moreso, since I can create a handful of different builds quickly and find the one that resonates most with my concept.

@Sektor – It’s funny, but I don’t actually buy fewer books than I did before the CB. I’ll buy all the ones related to my character in large part because I’m still an analog guy in a lot of ways — one of which is that I like to sit and cogitate about my characters on the can, and that’s just not a niche the CB can fill. ;-)

@drow – For you and others who mentioned a “no laptops at the table” rule, how come? My gut pointed me this way, too, until I saw how little it changed at the table when half the players have laptops out during the game. That might be specific to my group, I don’t know.

@hailstop – I wonder if I would hate 3.x less had there been a CB for it. I suspect so — after about level 10, it just became a huge chore for me.

#26 Comment By Athzar On October 19, 2009 @ 11:45 pm

Long time reader, first time commenter; this article’s timing was perfect, so I felt obligated to comment on it. Last night I DM’d a 5-player session of 4th edition where one person knew 4e (plus myself as DM), three were experienced 3.5 players, and one’s only RPG experience was World of Warcraft.

As the day approached, some unavoidable school-related stuff forced me to arrive at 8:30 PM, with final pack-up at 1:00AM at the latest. We had no characters, nothing save me and my books . . . and remarkably, everyone had a laptop. Until I realized that I had a tool that could speed things up a lot, I was considering just changing the night, especially since we were starting at level nine.

A few minutes later I logged everyone into Character Builder and I supervised them all as they created five level 9 characters. The entire process was done in just over an hour and a half (I think), and afterwards everyone had printed character sheets & power cards (don’t forget, those 90 minutes were the entire character generation phase, including deciding classes & the like).

We probably wouldn’t have even had time to start playing if it wasn’t for the Character Builder. It’s interface is a little clunky but my lord once you get it it works absurdly well.

1) Yes. I ran 4e without it and I most likely will have to do so again (and I prefer to use it to create characters; nobody wanted to use it as a virtual character sheet ingame)
2) Yes, I think it’s an amazing tool. I don’t play many other RPGs but I can see how it’d have been useful for any RPG I’ve played, and for just about any one in general.
3) No, because it’s optional. I end up writing out all my stats on a sheet anyways so it can be easily erased and so I can use a different sheet (I use Shado’s right now). If I felt like doing a totally hand-generated character I certainly could, and I typically do all my future math on my character sheet anyways; i.e. I don’t use it to level up.
4) No. It’s made one aspect much, much easier and faster, but it hasn’t changed how I relate to D&D.
5) Not really. It’s not a requirement or anything, and again, I only use it at the beginning of a campaign. It’s made that step easier, but no, it hasn’t changed the way I actually game.
6) Most likely yes.

#27 Comment By drow On October 19, 2009 @ 11:53 pm

@martin — facebook, myspace, and youtube proved too tempting, and certain individuals in my group were being distracted too readily and often. so we banned them all, excepting the DM.

#28 Comment By callin On October 20, 2009 @ 8:56 am

My group uses the Builder all the time. Each level they print out a new character. However, they are not dependent on it. Long before they use it they have looked over the books and made their decisions before hand.
Character Builders have been around for some time now. Champions, GURPS, older versions of D&D, and other games have had character builders for years.
One thing that disturbs me is the fact you can not import custom classes, feats, items, etc. This makes it very hard for 3rd party publishers to produce new content that will get used…and hard for a GM or payer to include unique material. All too often non-WotC material is ignored because it will not work with the Builder.
my gaming blog- http://bigballofnofun.blogspot.com/

#29 Comment By Nojo On October 20, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

1. Would you run or play 4e without it?
Maybe. D&D has become a very complex game. Most games, your class/profession skews what choices you get and how soon you get them from the big bag of player tricks (skills, talents, feats, mutations, whatnot). In 4E, every class has a different bag! I’d hate to DM 4E.
My group is full of people who buy every book as soon as it comes out. If the books weren’t so deadly dull that might be fun. The DM rules that everything that WotC publishes for 4E is fair game. That’s what happens when you game with a group of adults who have disposable income and grew up playing RPGs.

2. Having used it, do you wish other RPGs you run or play offered a similar tool?
I’d like character tools that make nice looking, easy to read character sheets. My group tried some Excel sheets to create Dark Heresy characters, and the output looked like some damned XL spreadsheet. Everyone went back to doing it by hand.
I use init tool from http://www.rptools.net, customized for Dark Heresy.

3. Do you miss any of the tasks it replaces, like calculating things by hand?
No.

4. Has it changed the way you relate to D&D?
Yes, we level about every third game, so I have a brand new sheet fairly often. I miss those old sheets I kept for a whole campaign.

5. Has the Character Builder changed the way you game?
I wish it included the flavor text for my abilities. By only having the crunch, I’m less likely to describe my psionic powers other than “he takes 18 points of psychic damage.”

#30 Comment By Scott Martin On October 20, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

@Danforthe Yellington – One Bad Egg cited the lack of third party integration in the character builder as a major reason they abandoned publishing for 4e. They had cool classes and races, but choosing one kicks you out of character builder– and that’s a lot of convenience to lose.

I have built characters both ways in 4e, and agree with some of the critics who claim a hand built character usually is better thought out. If only because the effort of writing/copying everything down makes you consider twice or three times.

It is great for making sure that everyone’s characters are totaled right and up to date. Emailing your character to the GM who can pop it straight into his own CB is great. I know that in my 3.5 campaign, there are a lot of cumulative math errors and incorrect skill point allocations (etc.) over time– and that rebuilding characters would take hours.

Related: did you ever keep a change sheet? I found that keeping a log of XP earned and spent in White Wolf, or HP rolled, skill points allocated, feats picked, etc. in 3.5 made double checking a character a lot easier. Did anyone else do that?

#31 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On October 20, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

@Scott Martin – I use a “change sheet” for Savage Worlds. It’s a very simple spreadsheet with XP and Raises.

And once we started using HeroForge with 3.5, nearly everyone caught a mistake in their character. Most of them were to the character’s benefit, once corrected.

#32 Comment By orklord On October 20, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

Our Monday night group lost an entire night of gaming to chargen for a mini-campaign of Savage Worlds. I would have liked to have a character builder with SW core rules and the setting info loaded in. We might have actually gotten to “play”.

#33 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On October 20, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

@orklord – Wow. I normally spend half an hour to an hour on chargen for a SW group. Then again, at least two of us usually know what we’re doing.

Google for SWPC.RDR.xls – It’s a Savage Worlds character generator that runs in Excel. I don’t know if it runs in OpenOffice or if it requires VB.

It needs some work, or at least the version I have does… but it pretty much works, and is easily customizable.

#34 Comment By BryanB On October 21, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

I think it makes life easier on the DM for tracking things and preparing things. That is the positive aspect.

The negative aspect is that the more we rely on the machine, the less we actually retain in our own rules knowledge and application of the mechanics.

I’d have never run 3.0 without computer help though. It was just too much work otherwise. But we probably retained less rules knowledge because of feeling the need to do it that way. I have no doubt about that.

#35 Comment By Martin Ralya On October 21, 2009 @ 10:01 pm

@drow – That makes sense. We’ve never had that problem in my group, with or without laptops. The worst distraction is someone reading a gaming book, which is generally a sign that something about the session needs to change anyway. ;-)

#36 Comment By Katana_Geldar On October 26, 2009 @ 4:13 am

1. Would you run or play 4e without it?

Yes, but it definitely makes it so much easier. Particularly sending my character sheet to the DM and helping another player with their so we know it’s legal. The book is much harder to go through in terms of character creation than the other system I know, Star Wars Saga and that is set out sequentially.

The tool is also invaluable online rather than relying on sheet websites like Myth Weavers

2. Having used it, do you wish other RPGs you run or play offered a similar tool?

Hell yes! I could simply direct my players to the program and not having to lend them my books as Star Wars books are pricey or make a character for them.

3. Do you miss any of the tasks it replaces, like calculating things by hand?

There is the tendancy to do things rather quickly, and not poore over various things, but the maths part I think is great, particularly with how you see different things stack.

4. Has it changed the way you relate to D&D?

Definitely, the DM and I can IM and have the character sheet in front of us. I IMed with a friend and took her through the program as she couldn’t run it.

5. Has the Character Builder changed the way you game?

We all come to the table with our DDI created sheets, but it also means that the DM has copies of our sheets and can ask for changes before the game.

6. Are robots going to take away our jobs?

Unless we listen to Isaac Asmov more.

I will say this: the builder is not always right. Had an interesting comparison with one of my bard class features on Enworld the other week, with my sheet saying 10 squares range and PHB2 and the Builder saying 5. What can you say there?

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#38 Comment By Lord Inar On October 29, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

Nah,

I use computerized character builders, even for characters with only three stats and a few skills for a game that is only 7 pages long. If I can’t find one, I write it (usually in Excel or Filemaker). I just like it better, as I ALWAYS make mistakes, and usually not in my favor. Also, the computerized versions usually show me options I hadn’t considered before, which is always nice.

In fact, one friend and I wrote a Villains & Vigilantes character builder in Basic using the Vic-20 (did you ever try to calculate carry capacity by hand?), and another friend wrote one for the original Chill on a Timex-Sinclair, so I don’t even think the concept of computerized character builder is even relatively new to gaming.

But then again, I might not be quite normal in that regard.

#39 Comment By Seurat On November 1, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

@dballing – I am in a group that plays Castles & Crusades and I think that it could also benefit from automated character creation tools. There are some out there, I’ve downloaded them. The advantage is that the Character Creation tool will help ensure that you do not forget the important details that you may want to round out your character.

In addition, as simplified a rules system as C&C is relative to D&D4e and others, it also has a lot of rules to keep track of. Racial abilities, Class abilities, multi-class abilities, magical abilities, temporary abilities, and more all must be tracked somehow and the tediousness of manually tracking it can often get in the way of the story… And isn’t that the most important thing? The story is why we play.

It is like making our own “choose-your-own-adventure” story. It’s the battling of the monsters, the role-playing interaction with NPC’s, and solving the mystery that makes the game, well, a game. The rolling up of characters and the ancillary advancement is sidebar and secondary to the story development. Anything that helps get to the heart of the story faster is AOK with me!

#40 Comment By Seurat On November 1, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

@greywulf – “In return for using the convenience and speed of a number-cruncher app, we’re spending less time actually building the character from the ground up, so we don’t get to know him quite so well when we start playing.”

First of all, if you don’t want to use the numbers they provide, don’t. Role the traditional way and plug them in. If the issue is “getting to know your character”, then create a lively back story for your character. It is in the back story that you will get to know who and what your character is. In most cases the back story has nothing to do with the statistics rolled and can help answer the questions of why this ability over that one.

Develop the character with plenty of back story. Answer the questions of where was (s)he born, who were the parents, what did they do for a living, what was the relationship with family and friends like, what personality traits does (s)he have and why, who are the best friends, what keeps them together… all this and more have nothing to do with the automated character creation tool but will really help you to get to know your character and ensure you are true to how you role play him/her every session.

#41 Comment By Seurat On November 1, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

@Danforthe Yellington – “One problem I’ve run into is that while the character builder is excellent for doing the math and layout of the character sheet it’s completely inflexible in letting you add new rules, objects, races, god, etc to the system”

Not entirely so. There is a bit of flexibility regarding the use of the custom button. It allows you to make up your own Race, Class, choose your own skills to train in and any number of them, choose any powers for daily, encounter, and at will … but as far as I can tell you are limited to the choices preprogrammed … and choose as many as you like even at first level. You can also make the ability scores anything you want them to be to fit the homebrew class or homebrew race you custom create.

To take it one step further, you do not have to use all of the rules and supplements that are preprogrammed into the CB. You can unsellect the ones that you do not want and leave selected the ones that you do want. This helps to customize the rules that fit your campaign best. To me there is a LOT of flexibility in the program for customizing the characters, it’s just not as easy as using the preset options … of which there are many.

Customize away!

#42 Comment By Seurat On November 1, 2009 @ 9:51 pm

@deadlytoque – “Half of the guys don’t print or make power cards at all, using a variety of laptops and smartphones to display their powers.”

I’m sure you may have already thought of this, but I’ll mention it any way, you don’t have to ever print off your character sheet. Just play the character on the laptop … play it right off the character creation pages and let it be from there. You can also track the adventure progress using the journal as you go.

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