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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