Character Builder: Is It REALLY That Bad?

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on November 24, 2010

Last week I reflected on my initial reaction of the new web based version of Character Builder. Overall, I was not impressed and if you’d like the details feel free to read the post entitled Character Builder: Working As Intended. However, what I did not do was review the new version. My reaction and major complaint is that the new version just has too many bugs and the release should have been delayed. This does not mean that it doesn’t have any good features.

Today we look at the Legacy and Silverlight version of Character Builder. We’ll compare the two as I build a new level one character. The point here isn’t to point out problems with one or the other but to look at the differences in the process and determine if the Silverlight version is actually a step forward, bugs aside, from the Legacy version.

To do this we’ll create a level 1 Fighter from scratch going step by step in each version of character builder noting the differences and functionality of each step.

User Interface

The new Character Builder has a more attractive interface. It appears cleaner and the colour pallet is more appealing. Of course this is purely an aesthitic observation and I’m sure that for everyone who likes the new version there is another who prefers the legacy version.

The basic options at the start up screen are essentially the same, load a character or create a new one. However, the new CB does one better by asking if you would like to create a ‘Quick Essentials Character’. While the legacy version also allows  you to create a quick character it doesn’t present this option on the load screen.

This option is very “new player” friendly. It allows them to get into the game quickly using an Essentials build. The first question it asks is what type of character they would like and then presents further options from there. Even when selecting to build a custom character, players are asked their preferred play style. This limits the amount of classes a player needs to sort through.

Now as an experienced player who already knows what class I want to play or build before I load up the chracter builder this option is lost on me, I simply don’t need it. However, I can see this option being very useful for new players. There are over 24 character classes and for someone new to the game the pure amount of choices can be overwhelming.

Starting Options

Once a class is selected both versions move to race selections. Where the legacy version lists the races by there release, the new version first lists recommended races based on ability modifier synergies with the chosen class. Again we see that the new version is taking the existing system and inserting a way for new players to decide on a race that will make sense with their choices. Most experienced players are already going to have an idea of the race they want to play. The difference between the two, the new version is “new player” friendly while not do a disservice to more experienced players.

The ability score screen has also seen some enhancements with the new release. This is one screen I’m not a fan of. I enjoy having the point buy as the first screen I see. The new version displays various arrays that can be assigned to the attributes. The system is intuitive enough to put the high scores in the appropriate attribute based on class selection.

Powers and Feats

The two versions have slightly different takes on how to present power and feat selection. I can’t pick a clear favourite as I do enjoy the way that both versions present these options. The new version I do find more aesthetically pleasing, but this is a personal preference. I don’t think it does any better or worse of a job in presenting the options that are available to players. The one noticeable difference is the new version has an option to have the feat or power selected automatically.


Again both versions of character builder provide all the options to players. My preference is for the legacy version of character builder. Perhaps it is familiarity, but I just enjoy the way the screen flows in the legacy version. I find it slightly more intuitive to use.

Character Sheets

Hands down the legacy version is doing a better job of this right now. The main reason for this is the ability to customize. I also feel the legacy version created a more useful power card. I printed off a character using both versions of character builder and held them up for my wife, who played D&D 20 years ago, to compare. Her response, the legacy version looks like it contains more information per page but the new version is easier to read. This could be translated to new versus experienced player friendly.

My hope is that we will eventually be able to customize the new character sheets to display information the way we want to see it.

Miscellaneous Items

There is one aspect of the new version I cannot stand and that is no scroll wheel on my mouse function. It seems a small thing, but I find it to be the biggest frustration and barrier to really getting into and enjoying the new character builder.

We all know that there are known bugs and issues with the new release, however I’m not here to rehash those arguments. The new release of Character Builder is good and once the bugs are worked out it will be great. They other day I spoke with someone who had just signed up for the DDI and had never used the legacy version of Character Builder. They loved the new version and thought the experience of creating a character was great.

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1 Liam Gallagher November 24, 2010 at 10:07 am

Yes, on a sliding scale with the best possible result being “perfect”, I would rank the new chracer builder as “hate crime”. The only function of the character builder is to produce character sheets, and if I can’t customize my sheet so that it’s actually useful to me then the parent application is useless too.

2 frothsof November 24, 2010 at 10:24 am

i have a lot of problems with the new one. when you pick a race, say a gith for the sake of argument, it doesnt show their class power, it just uses text. you have to select the race, then go to the cb sheet (which cant be open at the same time), look, then if you dont like it, deselect. similarly, you cannot scroll through powers when you have one picked. the old cb you could, now you have to deselect, then cleick to choose, then scroll. it adds extra annoying steps to every single selection that did not used to be there. also, you have to check ‘show all options’ to see the powers, and this doesnt stick, you have to check it every time. the character sheets, my opinion is that they are trash. it either looks like a child mane it (the font on the essentials sheet), or there are no nuber breakdowns, so when you find one of the myriad bugs, you dont know which part isnt working correctly. so all crashing problems aside, it is not as user friendly as the old one. i actually hate it.

3 obryn November 24, 2010 at 11:04 am

I agree that the new class and race screens are pretty good, and that the new app is very graphically attractive.

But I really, really don’t like the lag between choices, and I just *can’t stand* the new equipment/shop screens. They’re simply abominable.

I also agree with the sheets – the new ones are clean, and I think it looks like someone who knows something about graphic design had a hand in them. However, I, for one, want to see the calculations that go into the numbers. I also need it to be customizable.

Finally, I think that while the old CB worked as both a tool and a toy, the new CB fills the “toy” role a lot worse. It’s a lot less fun to work with, possibly in part because it can be such a chore to wait for the server.

4 Alton November 24, 2010 at 11:33 am

As mentioned before, the scrolling is a pain!

I am still not sold on the new CB. It is very aesthetically pleasing, but like others mention;no customization. I also agree that the new CB creates sheets for new players. Everything is in excellent order and easy to find. It does cost me about 5$ to print the thing with all the ink it takes. I printed off my 16th level character and it took about 5-8 minutes from start to finish: and the amount of communication b/w printer and sheet is insane. My character, with powers, and only the magical equipment worn took 8 pages. That is a lot to deal with…for new players.

I cannot stand the way new feats are organized. Probably because I am used to searching feats on a 23 inch screen. I like the division by tier. I am not a sub-folder type of guy.

Another feature I am not happy with is the screen size adjustment. When maximizing the CB everything gets bigger. I don’t need it to get bigger, I want to see more stuff on the screen. This is especially true when I am using my character sheet during virtual play. I want to be able to see what all my options are, not 3 at a time.

Still I am waiting to see what WotC is going to roll out to the CB in the next few months. I would be disappointed if they did not address some of the concerns, or implemented some of the features it should have.

It is very easy to use and I do like it and I think it will have a good future in the long run.

5 darjr November 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I’m using this as the excuse to walk away from 4e. From the way it was handled to the actual software delivered it was bad.

6 Chip Warden November 24, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Wow. Everyone hates the new CB except me, who couldn’t use it until WotC came up with a cross-platform solution. I subscribed to DDI for the first time after the new web-based CB was announced.

Your poll is also incredibly biased against CB. What about a “Now that I can use CB, I’ve signed up for DDI” selection?

7 skallawag November 24, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I’m with Chip. I like the new CB except for the fact that it uses MS Silverlight. Wizards should remove the Silverlight dependency and develop using HTML 5. Then create an iPad Character Builder app (which I’d be willing to pay additional for) and I’ll be all set.

8 Mykaen November 24, 2010 at 3:59 pm

The new version is ok but it is nowhere near as functional as the old one. I hope that they continue to work on it until it is ready.

The primary goal of both version is ostensibly to make character sheets. However much of the data I want is not available in *either* version. I’d like feats listed out in a way you can read the whole thing, and preferably with the book and page # they came from. Same thing for powers, though I like the newer power cards.

I’d also appreciate seeing the calculations for attacks and damage and their sources. If I lose my wand for whatever reason, I want to quickly remove that bonus. I also had a problem in the old CB (before the October update) where some of the calculations were way off and I would like a way to confirm that. I handled this in the old CB, but I wasn’t able to get down to details.

Beyond all that, I hope they make an exportable character sheet so I can put it in other programs. I have an iPad, and would like to use the character in Dungeoneer, or i4E, not to mention many online sites.

9 Mykaen November 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm

While I am glad they came up with a cross-platform solution, it only crosses two platforms and not the 5-6 out there.

Silverlight likely will never work on my iPad or my Android, and if it did it would probably have the same resource needs as Flash. Why not make it in HTML5?

10 Alton November 24, 2010 at 4:22 pm

@Chip & skallawag

Don’t get me wrong. I like it but as of now I am comparing to the old version and its functionality. I am very excited to see where the new CB goes from here. If they could get functionality into it, it will eventually(I mean a couple of months from now…hopefully) surpass its predecessor by far.

11 Wimwick November 24, 2010 at 7:36 pm

@ Liam Gallagher
A little extreme, but we are all allowed our opinions. My hope is that customization of the character sheet will come. If that option were implemented would it change your opinion?

@ frothsof
The lack of calculations is an annoyance, especially if you want to ensure you are getting all the bonuses you are entitled. Also, you want to ensure that you haven’t selected options that don’t stack.

@ obryn
Your comment on waiting for the server is a good one. Time will tell if this improves or not.

@ Alton
Good catch on the screen size increase. We want to see more, not see it larger. I’m in agreement with you there.

@ darjr
I don’t think the DDI or the character builder is 4e and I find your reaction a bit extreme. Granted I wouldn’t want to build a 4e character without the CB, but that is mostly due to the amount of options available.

@ Chip Warden
I’m glad WotC have finally crossed over onto other platforms. Still some work to do, but it will be worth it.

@ Skallawag
I’m with you on the iPad/tablet idea. It will really propel WotC and the digital tools forward. Could you imagine the new virtual table top being available on your tablet device? We would be seeing dungeons in a whole new way.

@ Mykaen
The ability to read the full description on feats has been an annoyance since CB launched. Unfortunately due to space constraints I don’t think this will get remedied.

12 darjr November 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm

It’s from a combination of things. This being the last straw.

13 Chip Warden November 24, 2010 at 11:10 pm

@Mykaen: HTML5 isn’t a drop-in replacement for plugin-based web apps dependent on Flash or Silverlight. What Silverlight gives WotC is the ability to leverage a lot of the previous CB code while making the application require a connection to a valid DDI account. The new CB isn’t really a web app in the sense of Google Apps or Facebook — most of the processing is done on the local machine (which is why it takes so long to load) with some communication with WotC servers (which is why some actions take so long before anything updates on the screen). That’s not to say I’m not with you on the idea that they should continue working on a non-Silverlight mostly server-side application that can work on any platform with a modern web browser (iPhone, iPad, Android, Linux, Mac OS X, whatever) — I just understand why they haven’t rolled something like that out yet.

14 obryn November 25, 2010 at 1:06 am

I keep on hearing this stuff about HTML5, but it’s really not as well-established as Silverlight (or anything else) at this point. I mean, which major web sites – right now – are using HTML5 for their major stuff? Which sites have applications as detailed as the new CB running under just HTML5, sans flash and sans silverlight?

I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a company like WotC to be on what’s essentially the bleeding edge of web technology.

15 Mykaen November 25, 2010 at 9:00 am

@Chip Warden: I just really started dipping my hands into HTML5 yesterday, looking for the differences. I think they could have written something nice but it would have been a complete rewrite and adopting silverlight was probably easier.

I believe that the planning to rewrite CB happened way before they realized that Essentials and Darksun were going to be a problem. They likely had this planned for a while and used the excuse of the new material for the cutover.

Financially it makes sense for them. Since I don’t play an active campaign outside of LFR once a month, there was little reason for me to buy a month-month DDI account. Every quarter, I would put out $10 and get all the updates that went with the books I was buying. I am sure I wasn’t the only one with that approach.

In October I moved to the month-to-month sub. I had varying reasons for it, but I might cancel if they never come out with an exportable version that can be used with non WOTC apps.

@obryn: Silverlight has an extremely low adoption rate. This is the second website I have ever needed it for. Flash would have been a better choice except for the porting of the code noted by Chip. Also noted, HTML5 is just not made for this.

@darjr: I can agree with the sentiment. WOTC has been making many decisions that I have to say are foolish. Maybe its Hasbro making adjustments, or maybe I just never noticed before. One small example, DarkSun Encounters! The writing of the module left alot to be desired if you didn’t already have access to the 2nd edition DarkSun box set (and even then it went against canon several times, and barely highlighted what the world was about). They made these great printed halfcards for the initial characters, then gave me a lousy slip of paper with the modifier changes on it when the characters went to second level at teh beginning of the second chapter. They didn’t release the sourcebook until the day before the beginning of the third chapter, meanwhile I needed to have third level characters ready for that session (for which they didn’t even provide an accurate slip of paper, it was a reprint of the level 2 changes). The whole experience left a sour taste in my mouth as essentially I ran a 15 week promotion of a product no one cared enough about to do right.

They repeated the same mistake with Essentials and Keep on the Borderlands, though the module seems better written (though to note, I am not behind the screen this season, and have not played any of chapter 2 due to lack of participation at my FLGS).

16 Steven Verbridge November 25, 2010 at 11:24 am

I actually like the new version of the CB. My group doesn’t do a lot of homebrew rules and sheet customization when it comes to character creation so not being able to customize it doesn’t really bother me. I’ve ported in a few of my players characters and for the most part it worked well. The porting missed a few things, but I was able to go back and manually put the items- feats and powers- back in. The person who hosts my game has wireless set up in his house so getting to the character sheets is no problem. Personally I don’t want people sitting at the table with computers anyway because it always ends up in distraction. I find I have just as much customization as I need for the new CB as I used with the old one, basically because we just use the PHBs, and out of those only the first 2. One of the things I hope they change is the ability to add homebrew magic items. But for now I can add that into the old CB and then print out that card as needed.
Probably the biggest thing I miss between the old CB and the new CB is all the descriptions for various abilities. But if I don’t know what it is, I just pop open the compendium and get the description there.
Overall I like it, and will give them the chance to see where they are going with the new design. I’ve been playing/DMing for over 30 years and 4e has been the most fun for me to DM since 2nd edition.
I can understand why others do not like it because of the lack of customization, but for me it works well and I am enjoying it.

17 darjr November 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm

another reason to dislike the new cb, wotc borked up billing address info causing some folks to lose access to the online cb and thus their characters

you might want to check yours especially if your account is about to renew and wotc staff out for the holidays

18 Liam Gallagher November 29, 2010 at 9:15 pm


yes, of course. I think the new CB is exellent aside from its one absolutely fatal flaw.

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