D&D Character Builder – Pleasantly Suprised

Being an Insider member and a naturally curious person I decided to download the full version of the character builder that Wizards put up recently and I have to say, I like what I see.

Initially I was pretty down on the Character Builder. I tend to be a bit old fashioned about things like this, preferring to flip through books and search for things rather than have a computer show me what I can and can’t do. Still, after actually using the builder to create a couple of characters and then leveling one of those characters up to level 10 (chosen because that is the current level my campaign is at) I was forced to change my mind.

Overview of the Builder

The way the Builder works – for those who are not Insider members or for the members who have not downloaded the complete version yet – you need to update it to get new materials. The first update will allow you to go beyond level 3 but be careful, you only get five updates per month. Essentially this is their way of keeping its use in check, otherwise I could simply allow all my players that have not subscribed to Insider to download it to their computers. The only thing I have a problem with along this line is that I do have two computers I work with and will need to split my updates between the two of them.

Once you have downloaded and updated the program you are free to start building. I deliberately avoided reading any kind of “how to” material to see how intuitive the system was and again I have to say I was impressed. The hardest thing for me to use was the Power Swap Feat and even that only took a tiny bit of clicking around before I figured out where to go.

Backgrounds – In case you missed them like I did, Backgrounds are brief descriptions of where your character came from. They are set up as being fairly generic but are a really good jumping off point to get players thinking about what they would like to do with their characters. I tend to be fairly creative person that likes making backgrounds for characters but not everyone is. Still, even I can appreciate a place to start and build from.

In White Wolf I loved using the Background Options as a springboard “Hmmm, so I took the Mansion Background, now… why the heck do I own a mansion?” for my characters and the Backgrounds in 4th Edition are a bit like that. They also give a tiny bonus to something for your character but these bonuses are deliberately kept minor so that power gamers cannot pick the best one to twink out their characters. Still, some are certainly more useful as far as combat goes than others but I would, as a DM, prefer players to use them in the way they are intended.

For my character, Garsk, I chose Escaped Cultist. Garsk is a dwarven Beast Master Ranger that became lost in the woods when he ran from the dark cult he had joined as a youth. Stumbling through the woods he almost starved to death until a wolf came to his aid. They have been companions since. I also used this to explain why Garsk wields an Executioner’s Axe, as he scooped the weapon up knowing that if he were caught this is the weapon they would kill him with. I further built on the idea by having Garsk finds some books about Pelor and had him (when I leveled him up using the Builder) cross class into Cleric. I only gave him one Utility power however as Garsk does not consider himself a Cleric (he doesn’t carry a holy symbol) but occasionally when he is in dire need Pelor grants him minor prayers.

Not everyone will find these jumping off points as exciting as I have but most players will take any advantage you will give them. So even if they just use it for that, at least a DM will have something to work with if they ever want to smack the player with some plot.

The Character Builder has everything that has been released for the game up to date. It even has the Backgrounds option loaded in which is something I have not used before this point but kind of fell in love with after reading some of the options. Going beyond this, the Builder even has the magic items loaded in so you can equip your character with exactly what they are carrying.

Now, when I say “loaded in” I don’t mean just the names. When you click on an item, a power, or even a class you get a full description right out of the book. Everything you need to know about the ability or weapon or whatever you’re looking at is right there. Also, the Builder highlights the items you can’t use so you can easily just look over those that you could be using. I found all of this remarkably helpful.

The final thing that blew me away was the Character Sheet option. When you click on this option it creates a printed out Character Sheet of your character but more than that it has all of your powers and items as cards at the back of it. We have been using power cards for some time and have found them to be quite helpful when trying to speed up combat. With this, a player can simply print their character on card stock and then have nice versions of all of their powers and items printed out in front of them. I suspect my players, and probably many others, will end up coming to love this feature.

Conclusion

So, that’s enough raving about something I didn’t really care about. A lot of people had said that they felt the Character Builder really made the money they had spent on Insider worthwhile and I scoffed at them. Now, I have to say that it really is an amazing tool and while I still love the articles and probably find them more filling than the Builder, the Builder is certainly not the side dish of bland fries I had been expecting. So, if you’re an Insider member go check it out!