The character builder is great. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s the most important and valuable resource currently available for 4e D&D. It makes creating new character fast and easy. It incorporates all legal source materials from Wizards of the Coast and makes them available with the click of a button. From what I saw at GenCon it looks like the vast majority of gamers are using the character builder. The days of pen and paper character creation are gone. But is this acceptance by the masses of the character builder a good thing?
The character builder is updated once a month. When new materials are released in the middle of the month it takes a few weeks before that new content is available in the character builder. So what do you do if you want to create a character unsung the new books? Or what if you want to retrain some of your powers or feats when you gain a level mid-month? If you’re anything like me you wait. And if you just can’t wait then you have only two choices.
The first is to enter all the information about your new power or feat manually into character builder. This is time consuming. Not only that, but bonuses aren’t applied and the math isn’t done for you. The second choice is to make manual adjustments to your character sheet by hand. This is also time consuming and makes for an ugly end result, a character sheet with some printed text and some hand written text.
In essence we’ve become slaves to the character builder. If you want a power, feat or item not in the character builder then you’re screwed. For example, in a recent home game my DM created a magic ring that allowed a character to fly and granted them fire resistance 15. Since the item is not in the character builder I had to add it to the notes section of my character sheet. Every time I reprint my character for any reason I have to remember to mark his fly speed and fire resistance manually since the character builder won’t do it for me.
The character builder is Wizards way of ensuring that you don’t use or even try 3rd party materials. Here at Dungeon’s Master we created powers for the Necromancer at heroic, paragon and epic levels of play, but with so many gamers using character builder it’s unlikely that many of our readers will ever use these powers. This is true of other powers, feats and magic items created by fans and made available on the internet. The Ennie nominated blog, Mad Brew Labs, for example is full of great D&D magic items.
One of the things I really liked about 3.5e D&D was that there were so many 3rd party materials available. Sure Wizards had a lot of great stuff out there too, but I wasn’t limited in my choices. With the introduction of the character builder for 4e D&D Wizards has pretty much ensured that no one will use any material that Wizards hasn’t created themselves.
What do you think? How likely are you to use powers, feats and items not available in the character builder? If you’re a DM, are you less likely to introduce unique magic items into your game since they aren’t in character builder?