D&D Next and the Fate of Character Builder

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 30, 2012

Can you imagine creating a 4e character without using the character builder? I can’t. It’s become such an important and integral part of character creation that I don’t know what I’d do without it. And that got me thinking about how D&D Next will handle character builder? Will it be revamped to work with the new rule-set? Will Wizards support 4e and D&D Next versions of character builder concurrently? Or will character builder be scrapped all together? If such decisions have been made by the brass at Wizards they’re not sharing the secret with us. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at the possibilities and make recommendations.

If you’re like me you have a subscription to DDI. I’ve got to think that the majority of us who play 4e D&D are subscribers. Between the character builder and the compendium I think that the subscription is well worth the money. Of the seven regulars in my gaming group six of us have been subscribers since day one and the seventh guy pays for a few months a year as his wallet allows. Each player may not buy every book, but pretty much every player pays for a DDI subscription.

As Wizards continues crafting and refining the rules for D&D Next they have to realize two very important truths: 1) DDI subscriptions generate significant revenue, and 2) character builder provides them with a wealth of information about the people playing their game. Knowing these two things I’ve got to believe that Wizard will keep character builder alive in one form or another.

So when D&D Next is finally released what’s going to happen to character builder? I guess it really depends on how complicated character creation becomes. My group is currently participating in the “Friends & Family” play testing for D&D Next. When we sat down to begin on that first night we realized that for the first time in years we had to make characters using a pencil and paper. After all, there was no character builder for a game that’s still in development. It was both thrilling and frightening. We forgot how much fun it can be to actually get together with buddies and spend an entire gaming session just making characters.

Ever since character builder was released character creation has become a very solidarity experience. Sure we talk about who’s playing what kind of character and ensure we have all the roles covered, but we all make our own characters in isolation. And even if we did come together it would just be six guys with six laptops individually creating their PCs.

Without character builder, creating new characters took a long time. We had to read through everything to ensure that every option was reviewed before a decision was made. We’re used to character builder where it shows you all the available options and none of the extraneous stuff that’s irrelevant for your PC. Without character builder we had to become pretty familiar with the printed materials in a hurry to know which parts were applicable to each character. We also realized in a big hurry that it’s a lot more work to create and run a character that can use magic (divine and arcane characters) than one who cannot.

Without character builder the players running spell casters need to copy down a lot of information onto their character sheet. They need t know what the spells or power do and that information needs to be at their fingertips. We take for granted how much having character builder do this for us speeds up character creation and game play in 4e. For example, when a 4e Cleric wants to use a healing power he doesn’t have to look up what it doesn’t, it’s all right there printed in easy to read text on the power card. But without character builder it’s up to the player to make sure he knows what the Cleric’s power can do. This either means copying down all the details that we currently get on the power card, or having the appropriate page of the appropriate book handy so it can be referenced as needed. It only took one combat encounter during the play testing to remember how cumbersome it can be to play a character that does more than swing a blade and the tremendous amount of work required to accurately copy all those little details spell casters need to have at their finger tips on their turn.

Although D&D Next promises to be a simplified and streamlined version of the game, every character in every edition of D&D that has access to magic spells will come with the need for a considerable amount of record keeping. Character builder has taken care of this for us for years now and we’ve become lazy and complacent. I think a lot of people will be upset if they lose the tool that makes playing spell casters easier and faster.

Releasing a D&D Next character builder seems like the right thing to do for many reasons. It will practically guarantee that everyone playing D&D Next will continue subscribing to DDI which will in turn generate additional revenue for Wizards. Having all the options and details at your fingertips will make character creation fast and easy (not that it isn’t already, but after using character builder for so long anything non-technical seems like a huge step backwards). Allowing us to print our characters with all the relevant powers detailed in their entirety will speed up game play, or more importantly won’t slow down game play, one of the biggest criticisms of 4e. And finally as long as we’re all using character builder to make our character Wizard can continue to review the data and see what kind of characters we’re playing. They can use this data to provide materials that target the needs of the majority.

Regardless of what happen with character builder for D&D Next I’m curious about what’s going to happen to the current 4e character builder? Experience has taught us that whenever a new iteration of D&D is released there are going to be some people who won’t want to switch. It might be because they don’t like the new direction of the game or it might be because they simple enjoy the current version and see no reason to make the switch. But as we’ve already said above, it’s pretty much impossibly to make a decent 4e character without the character builder. There are just too many options and too much detail to write out by hand to make the experience worth while.

Assuming that most of the people who are currently playing 4e have DDI subscriptions and assuming that some of them won’t want to stop playing 4e, why not leave a working version of the 4e character builder online? Assuming that there will be a D&D Next character builder where’s the harm in running both versions concurrently. It will keep the 4e-lovers happy and it will keep them renewing their DDI subscriptions. It will also give any new players a chance to start with D&D Next but still try 4e. Obviously there wouldn’t be any expectations of future updates to the 4e character builder once D&D Next is officially launched, but there’s already so much content available for 4e I don’t think that will be a problem. After all, my group has been playing 4e since it was first launched and we’re just now moving into the epic tier. Having the 4e character builder stick around after D&D Next comes out will allow us to keep playing our epic level adventures in the old system while trying new character in the new system.

Character builder has become just as important to D&D as the PHB, DMG and Monster Manual in my opinion. I’ll admit that I’m lazy and need instant gratification when it comes to character creation. I don’t want to spend hours pouring through the books, I want everything organized in an electronic database so I can find what I want on my laptop or mobile device. If Wizard decides to leave character builder behind when it moves to D&D Next I think they’ll be making a huge mistake. There have been a lot of criticisms about 4e since it first came out but one thing people seem to agree on is that character is a fantastic tool. They may not be in love with the interface, but the idea of character builder is something that many games will miss if it goes away. Wizards has the opportunity to get a few easy wins by keeping a final version of the 4e character builder up after they move on to D&D Next and by providing a brand new D&D Next character builder simultaneously when they officially release D&D Next.

What would you like to see happen to character builder? Do you think character builder should evolve with the game and become exclusively a D&D Next tool? Do you think that if D&D is trying to go back to its roots it should abandon online character creation all together and leave character builder behind? If a 4e and D&D Next version of character builder were both available would you be any more or less inclined to play 4e vs. D&D Next?

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1 Sentack April 30, 2012 at 10:30 am

Making a decent 4e character by hand isn’t that hard. I’ve made Essentials characters for people at D&D Encounters a few times and those are easy. That being said, the Builder does make it so much easier to over all manage your character. Heck, I use a spreadsheet app for making 3.5e and Pathfinder characters because there’s so much bookkeeping to do.

Over all, there’s no reason not to keep the 4e builder. So I expect that to stick around. Of course, WotC shocked me when they stopped printing 3.5e books when 4e came out so anything can happen.

2 Amradorn April 30, 2012 at 10:38 am

The character builder either needs to be scrapped or turned back into an ap that can work without an internet connection. When you buy a book it should come with a code that allows you to download the content for that book into the software. The ap should also be completable with the common tablet PC’s and devices. DDI may generate some revenue but it also kills book sales.

3 callin April 30, 2012 at 10:51 am

I suspect they are have been working on the 5E version of the character builder simply because I have seen so little DDI programs for 4E. Other than updating DDI content for releases (of which there have been less and less crunchy bits for 4E) they are still in beta for the Virtual Table. I believe they have diverted their resources away from the current DDI and are working on the 5E version of it.

As for the 4E DDI, I think they should have 2 versions of the DDI. One for 5E and one for 4E. The 4E version would just have the character and monster builder (and maybe the beta virtual table). The 5E version would have the builders and magazine subscription, as well as any “new” builders. That way they can continue to tap into the 4E crowd’s money (and not tick off a bunch of people) and tap into a whole new crowd.

They, of course, would have to reduce the subscription price since it would effectively be “outdated” material; to not lower the price would drive any 4E lingerers away. I can easily see some people maintaining 2 subscriptions if one of them was “cheap”.

The resources required to maintain the 4E builders will be negligible to what they can take in with lingering subscriptions, since all the work has been done already; it would just be a case of maintenance. With no new 4E content being released this would be inexpensive and easy.

4 David Flor April 30, 2012 at 11:16 am

WotC has already said that they will continue to maintain the 4E tools, such as the CB and MB. They may not get content updates but they’ll still be around.

What I’m hoping for is a change in the licensing that will allow third parties to develop applications. I would much rather prefer WotC focus on creating actual content while public develiopers (such as myself, to be honest) create the tools with WotC’s permission and with some sort of official licensing agreement.

5 Mike Karkabe-Olson April 30, 2012 at 11:40 am

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. A character builder and DDI for 5 Next is a must. And if Wizards of the Coast wish to accomplish what they have set out to do, it must support all versions of play. But how will WOC be able to accomplish this for an edition that is meant to please everyone? I wonder about that deeply, and if it can even be done.

This is a subject covered extensively in my article titled “Game Designers Seek the Impossible for D&D Next” at http://houserules4dnd.weebly.com/ I invite you and your readers to check it out and join this conversation.

The good news is that I think it can be done, at least online with the DDI and builder: we’ve seen that already to some extent in the character builder where players can turn on and off whole campaign-specific rules sets for Forgotten Realms and Dark Sun, for instance. Imagine if that is done for entire rules sets and options? I see this as a wonderful way for WOC to come up with a way to provide personalized content.

The real trick, though, will be to provide similar personalized content with published material. I suspect a lot of people prefer to use printed game books at their table, and if WOC truly wants to be inclusive to everyone’s needs, they will need to find a way to personalize content for them as well. If they don’t, they risk losing a lot of players.

6 Joe April 30, 2012 at 11:52 am

What I’m really curious about is if they’ll follow through with announced digital tools when they launch. I remember all those blank slots in the first (downloadable) iteration of “Adventure Tools” for 4e, and I kept wondering when they’d get around to doing more than a monster builder. Then the online versions came out, and the “Adventure Tools” link is still largely just the monster tool, with an Encounter Builder that is glitchy and not at all useful and an Ability Generator that’s no more helpful than a spreadsheet program, and also redundant given that the same thing is a part of the online character builder.

I really want Wizards to commit to whatever it is they’ll say they’re doing (in all aspects, but especially on the digital front). If they have a section called “Adventure Tools”, it should have multiple tools that are useful for adventures. If they’re going to do a virtual tabletop, they should put the work into it to make it work. All these half-tried things should go in a Beta-Test section or other area where we can all know that they’re semi-unfinished things that may not get final versions. That way we won’t be strung along with vague promises of digital tools that are never fully realized.

7 Martin Flockhart April 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm

“I’ve got to think that the majority of us who play 4e D&D are subscribers.”

Really? I’m sure thats not the case at all. I am the only member of my group who is a member. In fact of other groups I’ve been involved with I have yet to meet another subscribers.

“Between the character builder and the compendium I think that the subscription is well worth the money.”

Wholeheartedly agree with this. Not to mention all the pregen campaigns which I plunder for ideas for my own game.

Character builder is a must. It would be a step back to not include it for DnD Next.

8 froth April 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm

hopefully wizards doesnt dick over their customers and cancel the 4e cb. we will find out, i cant get them to give any answer

9 Bob April 30, 2012 at 1:08 pm

If #dndnext requires a character builder like 4e does I wont bother playing it.

With the hundreds of skills and probably 1k feats rolling around out there anyone that suggests you can build one by hand in 4e is just delusional.

Just give me a game where I have to roll 6 ability scores and pick a class.

10 Ruff April 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm

As a broke high school student I cannot afford a DDI subscription to play my favorite game. So my group uses the old offline character builder with a community that updates when new material is release. Having used the online version with my uncles i find that silverlight is slow and degrades from the experience, however if WotC continues with online tools then there should at least be a means for offline saving of characters for wi-fi less locations.

11 obryn April 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I’m a subscriber for the online Adventure Tools, Compendium, and new articles; I just renewed last month, in fact. However, it’s been months since I’ve used the online builder – I’ve been relying on the “loaded” old builder. While I like having the option, I am set whichever way the wind blows. My vote of “keep the 4e builder intact” is more for solidarity with other players than anything else.

12 Rick Deckard April 30, 2012 at 4:04 pm

@Ruff You can export char builder files and also print to pdf as a way to store character sheets.

I completely agree with this article. Being able to have my party role up characters in the builder and then import them into the virtual table directly is really nice. D&D 5e really does need to launch with the virtual tools.

13 Svafa April 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I’m with Ruff on the Silverlight complaint; it’s a terrible platform for the tool and a massive memory hog. They need to use something more lightweight, rather than a multimedia application built for streaming. I understand the reasoning is to keep people paying for the monthly subscription, but Silverlight makes it nearly impossible to use on anything but my desktop.

14 Troy Ruddock April 30, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Character Builder in general doesn’t even interest me. I have never used it and never plan on it.

15 Baffal April 30, 2012 at 8:16 pm

My players and I love character builder and have found that it’s still quite fun to sit in front of a computer and build characters together. WotC should definitely continue to offer a 4e character builder (even if it stays as is) while also providing one for D&D Next. And given the supposed modular nature of the next iteration, it would seem an easy task to provide a simple interface that allows the user to define what modules/level of complexity they want in their character… it’s a no brainer.

With that said I’ll also agree with those who’ve pointed it out it’s really not that hard to create a 4e character on paper… just more writing than you’re used to… When we played AD&D we used to redo our character sheets just for the joy of re-writing (in better script and with cooler doodles) all of the spells and magic item details… that was part of the immersive magic of D&D on paper.

16 Alton April 30, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I think the CB will stay around and be integrated with a 5e builder, or 4th will remain as is with 5th as a separate entity. I like the builder and the tools of DDI. I don’t think people depend so much on the builder. I think the compendium would be the horrible thing to lose.

Since I cannot afford the books as the become redundant as soon as they are released, the compendium has become my best friend in the games I play. It is a great lifeline in this era of instant gratification. It takes the stupidness of having to look through 20 different books.

17 The Gimper April 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm

I too rely on the Character Builder almost exclusively to build characters, and I’ve been urging WOTC to fully support 5e with a set of digital tools. It would be really helpful for DMs to have the ability to create a campaign setting, toggling on/off options for everything, and be able to upload that into the Character Builder for his players to use as they create their characters. That way you don’t have to worry about somebody accidentally choosing any options that the DM has ruled out.

– Rico

18 Sunyaku April 30, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Having not received any DnD Next playtest materials yet, I don’t know what the next edition is really going to look like, but assuming they accomplish their goal of “version modular design”, I don’t see why they couldn’t just add layers of meta data to the existing builder. Basically, choose what “play version” and “options” are running in your game, and then roll forward. I’m sure some people will think this sounds crazy, but it wouldn’t need to launch compatibility with every edition from the start… it would probably be simplest to launch 5e, continue maintaining 4e, then launch 1e, and so on.

19 Kiel Chenier May 1, 2012 at 4:47 am

I love the character builder…only because rolling up a 4e character from scratch is an absolute slog.

A D&D Character should not be 4-5 pages long. It’s a waste of paper, ink, and space. This is exacerbated by the fact that D&D 4e and Essentials characters require more text space than is provided on the WotC released character sheets (Not enough room for powers, items, etc).

I don’t mind if there’s a character builder for Type V D&D, just so long as characters can be rolled up from scratch as well (quickly and easily, though). In the meantime, the best solutions are almost always the DIY solutions. Check out these homemade character sheets that manage to present all the necessary 4e character info on ONE PAGE (with room for fluff).


20 Jan May 1, 2012 at 8:10 am

In one of the panels for D&D next they said, they will keep the CB for 4e alive. I think they didn’t talk about a CB for Next, but if so, they surely didn’t reject the idea. I would have memorised that.

21 seti May 1, 2012 at 11:58 am

I hope they make the 4e version of the CB a full download, for free, when D&D 5e comes out. You can still get loads of 3.5e info, art, and articles for free at wizards.com.
I don’t pay for a DDI subscription anymore. I quit when they forced you to subscribe to not just get updates and read the magazines/use the compendium, but to even USE the CB. That was evil. I still have the old CB on my desktop and laptop. Sadly, it’s only good up to (but NOT including) the Dark Sun campaign guide. I do love the ease of using the CB, but it’s not that hard to find a fillable PDF character sheet, and just do it yourself. Also, by actually writing your PC out you LEARN and REMEMBER what he or she can do. If you don’t like having several books and reading them, why do you play table top RPGs in the first place? It’s not a hobby for the illiterate.
I also want to know if they’ll finally fulfill their promises of a virtual table top for 5e. Remember that last page of the 4e PHB1? LOL. Yeah.

22 Paladyn May 4, 2012 at 1:14 pm

From what I rememeber, Mike Mearls said that “4E character builder will remin in sliverlight for foreseeable future”. Whil I don’t know how far this “foreseeable future” reaches. I think they know how much damage would cancelling CB create. Don’t forget, WotC took a hard lesson when dividing fanbase backlashed at them in form of Paizo’s Pathfinder, so now, when they want to unite the editions, the will avoid such actions.

23 Philo Pharynx May 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm

In 3.5, there was no good character builder. There were several attempts that came up, but they were never updated with all of the material. Some of them could be customized, but it was not easy. I like having the content. The character sheets are a different matter. I always make up my own custom sheets so that everything fits on one computer screen (okay I have to scroll across two screenfuls for epic characters).

Sadly, if the 4e builder and compendium are ever allowed to die, 4e becomes much harder to play. They’ve errata’d the game so extensively that we’d need to go over not just a passel of books, but a passel of errata sheets. They’ve said they’ll support it, but for how long? Three years? Five years? Until usage goes below X views per month? If they let it die, I hope they provide some sort of standalone version.

@Amradorn, Putting a code in the book would add incredibly to printing costs and you’d have to seal every book so somebody doesn’t steal the code. And this would last until somebody hacked the algorithm for generating the code and started using up codes without ever being anywhere near that copy of the book. It would also require the software to connect to some sort of server to verify which books you have access to. And when that server messes up (or is hacked), legitmate customers get locked out of material they own. It’s a huge technical problem.

@callin, I would have a cheap price for 4e only and include it for free in the 5e subscription.

@David Flor, I would love developers to be able to play with the 4e builder. I’d love for them to have access to the 5e builder too. 4e didn’t see a lot of unique 3rd party camapign worlds because you couldn’t update the builder. If they let people buy lisences to produce packages to support 3rd party material they would make money and their customers would be happy.

24 LordOcampo May 31, 2012 at 12:52 pm

I can foresee Next as a tab in the CB, just like nowadays “Forgotten Realms”, “Eberron” and “Dark Sun” are. And while the online Compendium and Builder really become a book sales killer, Wizards would most likely rise the suscription fee once Next comes out. Or leave the Compendium outdated for a long while, so the only source for updated rules are the new books.

25 Philo Pharynx May 31, 2012 at 6:09 pm

I don’t think it will be integrated into the 4th ed builder – DDN is just too different. Why load that huge database when you don’t have to?

As for not updating the compendium in order to drive sales, this will also upset people who did buy the books and also want the information online.

26 Chet August 2, 2012 at 4:08 am

I have played D&D since before it had the name and I am very tired of rendering unto Caesar. If WoTC would like to produce a purchasable character generator at a fixed price with the requisite reasonable expectation of continued updates also at fixed prices then that would be fine for me.

I refuse a monthly cost and will continue to do so. The online monthly requirement has been a huge impediment for my players, myself, and many others I know that simply cannot afford to shovel out continuing dollars for a hobby like game playing.

It is sad to think that this game franchise D&D may leave even more players behind than it already has with its focus on revenue. Just my 2 coppers!

27 Kiel Chenier August 2, 2012 at 9:55 am

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Rolling up a 4e character from scratch (with paper, dice, pencil) isn’t impossible!

Oh, it’s definitely cumbersome and way too time consuming, but not impossible!

Use my 4-page tool to make a 4e character from scratch (no books needed) in less than 20 minutes! http://dungeonsdonuts.tumblr.com/post/26820641659/the-old-blogspot-dungeons-donuts-had-a-lot-of

28 Philo Pharynx August 2, 2012 at 10:10 am

Well, one good thing is that if D&Dnext is released under a more permissive lisence than 4e, then HeroLab will probably make a module for it. That will be good fixed price character generator that’s customizable.

29 bieael August 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I use the offline CB which is updated ( http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3430498 ). I wouldn’t spend a penny on a DDI sub. They would be better off selling an offline CB for a few bucks and just allowing people to updated it. I play with 4-7 people and none of us have or plan on getting a DDI sub. If NExt goes like this we are moving away from WoTC.

30 BW022 March 18, 2013 at 10:07 pm

You’ve got to be kidding me? Why would 4e need a character builder? It’s far simpler than 3.5 or almost any other system out there. Your choices are extremely limited. Logic and math is extremely limited. There are tons of form fillable PDFs, Excel, and other entry tools. The character creator is far from needed.

How often do you make characters? Most campaigns last six or more months. That is two characters per year! At best it saves you a couple of hours every six months. And it’s not a great DM tool for creating NPCs either.

31 Ameron (Derek Myers) March 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Although building a 4e character may look simple, it can be a very involved and time consuming process. Calculating the math isn’t usually a big deal (not as big a deal as it was in previous editions); rather it’s the choice of powers at every single level that is complicated.

Every time you build a level 1 character you need to choose 2 at-will powers, 1 encounter power and 1 daily power. With 20 or more options for each of these you’ve got to sift through anywhere from 80-100 descriptions in order to find the one power that you feel best suits that particular character at that level. If you’re building a new character above level 1 this number grows exponentially. Every month more options are released through Dragon and Dungeon (DDI). So every time you make a new character you need to review the whole list anew.

Note: Creating a character using the 4e D&D Essentials rules is considerably easier and simpler, however, you usually get a really dull PC.

Choosing Feat and magic items is another daunting task simply because there are so many options. At least CB will only show you options that you qualify for at that level, reducing the need to read through feats you couldn’t take anyway.

For a home game you may only need a new character once or twice a year, but if you’re involved in public play (D&D Encounters, Lair Assault, Living Forgotten Realms) you’re going to need more characters more often. I think I’ve created 15 or more in the past year alone.

I agree that CB is not ideal for creating NPCs, but that’s not what its designed for anyway. If I feel that an NPC needs to be statted out (say, because he’s an important villain), I’ll use the Monster Builder.

32 MagicSN September 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm


There are several solutions to the problem. One of them is Hero Lab which I am using since months. Admitted, it has it’s problems. And also admitted, I am one of the main people fixing bugs for it (funnily I fixed dozens more bugs than the AUTHORS of the thing). But it is usable (again admitted, if I would not have Compendium bugfixing would be – harder, harder, but not impossible). Personally I hope for that they at one point open up the savegame format for Hero Lab, so that .dnd4e characters can be imported, this would fix most issues (especially that people do not want to “learn a new builder”).

A second option is CBLoader. But true – a CB which offers options for BOTH DND 4e and Next would be preferred.


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