Character Builder: The Next Generation

In case you’re not on the D&D maelstrom that is Twitter, Wizards of the Coast announced today that the new version of Character Builder will be released on 11/16. As has been previously rumored, the new version is web-based, and will support Essentials and Dark Sun characters, which the previous version was not updated to do. The old, downloadable version will still work, but will not receive any further updates. Monster Builder (and other web-based tools) are to follow later. The FAQ on the character builder goes over some of the issues as well, and below is some of my take on the whole thing.

The Pros

  • Cross-platform, i.e. those of us with Macs (like much of D&D’s R&D department) can finally use Character Builder without having to go to the extra step of dual-booting into Windows.
  • Easier to update for the developers. According to Paolo Marcucci, Software Development Manager for D&D (who is answering some questions in this thread and who I’m using as a primary source for this article), they will be in a better position to provide updates. I’m not surprised as the way the old character builder was built I knew it would be a pain in the ass to incorporate the vastly different structure of Essentials characters. This hopefully will allow them to make even more timely updates to CB… ideally, at the same time the book drops, but I wouldn’t count on it.
  • No download and no onerous updating procedures. Also, no .NET installation (though it does require Silverlight, see below.)
  • Improved speed and interface. This is my own speculation which we won’t know until the final product is launched, but frankly, it’s hard to imagine it being any worse.

The Cons

  • Requires an active internet connection. I don’t make a lot of changes during a game to my character,  but it is nice to be able to pull up my character on the fly with my laptop handy. The importance of this will vary by user: for some who game regularly with internet connections, it won’t be a big deal; for others, this is a complete deal-breaker.
  • Built on Silverlight. Though Paolo lists reasons for the studio using it, it does mean that iPod/iPad usage is right out. Not that this is a change in the status quo, but it’s easily a missed opportunity. And don’t expect that to change, with Microsoft largely abandoning Silverlight for web applications. Also, I don’t know about you, but I personally have had Silverlight installations go wrong. Let’s hope this isn’t another .NET-style debacle.
  • Missing important features at launch. No export/sharing characters at launch (hopefully it will come later), no house-ruled characters at launch, no campaign-customization options
  • Requires constant log in. This means if you don’t have a current subscription, you can’t use it. No more paying for one month, doing the updates, then letting it coast for a while.

The Unanswered Questions

  • Multiple logins? DDI has never tracked that before, but maybe they will now, putting a stop to login sharing across a gaming group. Frankly I’d like them to finally spell out that I’m allowed to have 6 players use the same account and stop just turning a blind eye, but that’s neither here nor there.
  • Cloud hosting? This is something I’m in favor of, actually, having all my characters available with one login so I don’t have to remember which computers my characters are on, and have them all be synced up. There are legitimate concerns about this, though. Data integrity is a concern, and especially without an export feature initially, if you unsubscribe, your character files are no longer yours. The files will be kept for a year on their servers, but without an easy export (unless you want a non-editable PDF), your characters are locked out.
  • Privacy? Here was one interesting quote from Paulo:

    In other words, if I run queries on the database, I can only figure out WHAT paople are creating, but not WHO is doing that. Speaking of this, we plan to mine the databases constantly, in order to better understand usage patters and the kind of content pleople are most likely to use. For example, if suddenly 90% of new characters are Muls, then R&D may take a look into writing some special Mul content

    I think that might bug some people, and others might see it as an opportunity.

  • Is this the right move? Only time and the market will tell. Like any change, reactions are decidedly mixed. A lot of factors had settled into status quo: CB users got used to using it in places without internet access, and Mac users got used to saying CB isn’t for them, at least not without some struggle. Now that status quo is being shaken up, as the complaints from the latter had long since died down and the former made up the paying customers. And as always, that switch is tough, and judging from the ever-growing thread, is the last straw for some folks. For others, maybe this will open up a whole new world of digital character building. That’s always the hope, right?
About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.

Comments

  1. Why Silverlight? Does the in-house technical staff have a lot of experience with it? It seems an unusual choice, especially considering MicroSoft is backing away from it.

  2. While Silverlight isn’t on iPad/iPhone, the move to a server-based architecture should actually make it easier to port to new platforms since the “app” is probably just a front end on HTTP requests. Not sure whether this will be the case, but it is a benefit of the move away from a big client app.

  3. AsmodeusLore says:

    I can tell you that the schedule between book release and Tool Update will not change immediately. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t get better in the near future. Paolo told us that in another update.

  4. You’re welcome to wade into that gigantic thread and look for Paulo’s statements on it, but from what I gather, it was the web platform that allowed them to develop quickly (and let them use their .NET experience.)

    I really like some of the suggestions that there be a mobile/local character viewer that let you use your character on other devices that’s built in something else. Hopefully that’s coming later.

  5. AsmodeusLore says:

    I can answer this one too: Multiple logins? I’d like them to finally spell out that I’m allowed to have 6 players use the same account and stop just turning a blind eye, but that’s neither here nor there.

    A: It’s not allowed for 6 players to use the same account, but nothing currently stops you from logging in at multiple places. Again, no idea about whether that will remain in place long term

  6. This is horrific news. Silverlight is junk just as Flash is. I’m going to reserve my rage until the damn thing comes out to see if I can retrieve my data. I mean this is a web app. I highly doubt they are going to run render every character with a DB call. It’s going to be XML dumped somewhere and a style sheet most likely. This might actually be boon for third-party developers. They could mine the character builder content just like they mine the compendium for offline use now. Hopefully, the backend data is available and some third-party developers will make some useful tools with it.

  7. One other benefit for Wizards, perhaps, is that there will be less piracy of their Character Builder, since it will require a subscription to access it. Our group has a subscription (that blind eye you mentioned), so it won’t affect us that much, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t initially try Character Builder via less direct methods until I was sure I would stick with 4E, and I’m sure there’s a good number who still haven’t taken the plunge to DDi when they can get all things D&D for free via the many channels on the interwebs. Those people will now have to put up or shut up, which could or should increase DDi subscriptions.

    That said, I’m not a huge fan of having to get Silverlight, but I suppose its small potatoes.

  8. The Pros are pretty solid reasons for the change but the Cons and Unanswered are troubling.

    Requiring an internet connection should not be too much of a problem for Players, as you rarely need to level up a Character on the fly during a 3-4 hour gaming session. But for DMs wanting to create an extra encounter using the Tools, that’s a real slap in the face.

    Why they are using Silverlight is beyond me, if Microsoft is already phasing it out. Seems like they are asking for trouble.

    I’m not surprised there will be missing features at launch. Feels like everyone launches betas these days as full products, so why should WotC be any different.

    The constant login does not bother me. I pay for the whole year, so should everyone else. The “coasting” should stop, and you should pay for what you get. TANSTAAFL. However, I do think there needs to be multiple logins possible on each account, and they need to get that sorted asap. Expecting each member of a gaming group to float a DDI subscription would be a 1st class marketing blunder, and would alienate a lot of the player base.

    I look forward to seeing how this all pans out. I enjoy running my game with both a Character Builder and the Adventure Tools, and I don’t want to have to go without them. I just hope I’m not going to be disappointed.

  9. The more I think about this, the more I think it’s a great step in the right direction. Using Silverlight is understandable as they’re migrating a .NET app, and it’s certainly not a deal-breaker as to whether I’ll use it or not – they could code it in FORTRAN for all I care, provided it works. It wouldn’t be my first choice (Silverlight that is, not FORTRAN), but I can appreciate the reasons.

    My own group disallow computers of any kind at the game table while we’re playing as they’re just too much of a distraction, so it doesn’t matter a jot about the requirement to be online while using it. If this means tigher integration with the Rules Compendium and Monster Builder (when that comes online too), AND quicker release of updates, I’ll be a happy bunny.

    Fingers crossed and thumbs up from me.

  10. AsmodeusLore says:

    Here is the quote:
    10a. Will the web-based tools be updated more often?

    Now that the studio is not split in two anymore – trying to support legacy and new development – we plan to have an aggressive feature update schedule. I can’t promise that updates will be more frequent than monthly, but they won’t be purely content.

    10b. Will the updates come faster, with less lag between a book/magazine being published and getting updated to the software?

    Not for now. The current process we have between R&D and the studio makes quite difficult to release digital information earlier, but we’re working on improving this publishing process as well.

  11. I’m actually equally interested in the Monster Builder. While it’s a step up from being native to Windows, the use of Silverlight is still a pain in the ass. At least I can run these apps on my mac.

    Any word on a PDF output of the sheet? I didn’t see that anywhere but I’m assuming its there.

  12. This does have the advantage of not seeming quite so 1998, like that app I had to install from Fleet in the earliest days of online banking.

  13. AsmodeusLore says:

    @Mike – No native PDF Export option, but with something like BullZip (www.bullzip.com), you can easily print the character sheet to PDF. There are other options. BullZip is just the one I use.

  14. I’d love to see this get some Gamma World support … but I’m not holding my breath.

    -The Gneech

  15. Runeofdoom says:

    I don’t have a perspective on Silverlight to offer but I can honestly say that it’s about time I can run this on my macbook. It’s also about time that I’ll be able to build a Dark Sun character using the generator. With this in mind I’m going to keep my optimism hat on and hope the gain is worth the potential annoyances.

    I do hope the presentation also improves – the current generator is certainly functional but I’ve always found it a bit cold and ‘spreadsheety’. It doesn’t need to be anything remarkable but some more simple artwork and icons would really help spiff it up and even make it more inviting to people that first sit down build their character with it (i.e. all those new people essentials is supposed to be bringing into the fold). I know that even when I sit down and look at a line after line of feats etc. I don’t feel as excited by it as I do when I’m reading them in the books.

    Just my opinion.

  16. Though Microsoft is backing away from using Silverlight for content distribution to the general public, it is still pretty valid for a development tool. However, I would think that would be generally limited to in-house development as asking users to install Silverlight on their home computers is a step you generally want to try and avoid. I know Radio-Canada uses it for their news pieces and it is a giant annoyance for the IT staff (i.e. me) at our organization.

  17. I work for the Silverlight team at Microsoft, I’m a gamer, and I can tell you that Silverlight is still 100% supported. See thoughts from Steve Ballmer and Bob Muglia.

    As for why Silverlight, I can’t answer for WotC, but I can guess. With limited development resources, it’s an easy way to target Mac and Windows, and be able to move to Windows Phone with a little work. Their other options would be Flash/Flex, which aren’t as well suited for this kind of app, or separate code bases for each platform.

    Taking a look at a couple of your concerns, there’s no reason why a Silverlight app can’t be an offline, out-of-browser experience. We’ve had that feature for the last couple of versions. I have no clue if the WotC team is doing this, but technically it’s extremely easy – a couple of lines of code to make the app installable, with more capabilities for more code. I’m in QA for the Silverlight team, and we test the install process. If you have any problems with the installer, let me know, and I’ll get that on the radar of the appropriate teams.

    For me, knowing what Silverlight can do and being a Mac user at home, I think this is great news.

  18. Runeofdoom says:

    Came back to edit and missed it by 1 second!

    Just saw various screen shots and they have certainly improved the look. Might not be perfect for everybody but I’m quite excited about the new version. I was just having a conversation with my wife about how it needed a facelift. I’m glad that the bugs they planted to steal all my ideas have potentially paid off!

  19. My big worry is that the new CB will use the already existing login mechanisms of the WotC site, which are quite awful. I can’t login directly from the Community site without getting a database error, I have to go to the D&D main site and login there first. And it won’t keep me logged in consistently.

  20. I can understand why WoTC is doing it. However, several online MMO’s are free. More are going free like Champions. WoTC needs to focus on content that is not mechanical in nature and give away the mechanics of the game to get people playing. More physical props, more physical props tied into the actual adventuers being published now, not six months or a year down the road. The maps in Dungoen for exmaple, need to be able to be printed right to scale in the ‘digital’ adventure. This is just another attempt to grab the cash.

  21. Kensan_Oni says:

    I’ll say it once, I’ll say it again. Paying subscription fees for a character builder is insane. Insisting on an active subscription to use one is another level of insanity. Apparently WOTC has found a lot of insane people, but the fact is that this should be an off the shelf download, pay and forget, with free updates, and expansions per book. It’s not rocket science to do with a database, and it’s less insulting.

    A web based subscription app is an insult, and people should realize that.

  22. I don’t agree re: free updates; each new book requires new entries and quite possibly new coding to handle new mechanics. Whether you prefer pay-as-you-go or a subscription model, is a different discussion. But a model where people pay once at the beginning and then get free new versions forever, is a model for a company to never make a dime. That might be fine if there are other revenue sources to cover it, but in this case, the books are probably barely making enough money to pay for themselves, much less to pay for updates to a character builder as well.

    -The Gneech

  23. Uch. For such an essential tool, requiring constant subscription seems a bit much.

    Can you remember the last time you made a character in 4e without the CB software? Maybe back when there was only one book.
    Unless they have limited access to the tool (can’t save characters, level limit, whatever) It’s about guaranteed to drive folks away.

  24. Thanks for clarifying things from the horror that is the WoTC forums. What I fail to have any sympathy for in all this is the idea that the availability or lack thereof of a computer interface somehow breaks the game of D&D. I like Essentials because they are old school. They emphasise the idea of the character, their personality and basic abilities. The I.T. solutions help to coordinate the bloat in the system but its not like the old character builder was perfect.

    This was a brave move for the WoTC staff and I hope that they can weather the nerdstorm without getting too disheartened. I have to say though that I no longer enjoy reading the DDI forums, there is far too much wailing and gnashing of teeth and downright rudeness from people. No sooner does a member of staff try to clarify the situation and there are already hate threads…

  25. My major worry as a DM is in two parts:
    #1) Can my players access my account, I have allowed them to download the CB and use one each of my allotted 5 updates since I was only using 1 anyway.
    #2) They are still very silent on the status of the Monster Builder’s future or even the next update. Saving myself time preparing for a game is a blessing with the MB and I don’t have a lot of time these days.

  26. I can’t really say I approve of this move myself, but it’s hard to really put into words why it bugs me. A big part of it is certainly the fact that it’ll require I be online to use it. I do understand that Silverlight doesn’t require this, but I am inclined to think the architecture of the new app will be designed to keep their database on the back-end. It could also be as simple as being bitter that I initially bought into 4e because the Virtual Tabletop was “coming out shortly after the books.”

    In any case, I’ve been weary of fantasy for years and find myself drifting away from 4e again, so I’d’ve been letting my subscription lapse anyway. I’m not their target audience.

  27. Etherrider says:

    I think this may be the best post on this issue I have read so far….and the discussion is great too. I admit that I am really considering dropping my account now as the promises since day #1 have not met the goals they outlined for their digital/e-tools. I hope it works well, but this will no doubt cause me to return to PnP creations.

    I would point out one other con of the internet connections required….conventions. Not all conventions have free net access available in player areas or in areas designated for character creation on special events. Or as a GM when that brand new player sits down to try out the game with no character already built.

    Thanks for keeping up the good conversations as always. (I tired to keep mine less vitriolic than some earlier ones)

  28. Due to rampant piracy of the Character builder perhaps?

    I can’t afford to keep an insider subscription up constantly – I have to plan it strategically (yes things are THAT tight). It would be nice if I could choose specific parts of the service to subscribe to for minimum charge – say like $1 a month..

  29. @theshedm says:

    I’d like to point out that even those with mostly reliable internet could still get bit in the rear by this. My game store used to have free wifi – but too many people abused it so they shut it off. I still play there because I don’t need internet to pull up the CB and 4e Combat Manager. Now there’ll be no CB. Network down due to service provider issues today? No CB. Wotc’s servers crash in the middle of your seven person planning session? No CB. Router stop working? Can’t afford mobile wifi? Friend’s house doesn’t have internet? Don’t have internet at your own house? No, no, no CB.

    Sure its nice to feel like the internet is everywhere in this day and age, but actually there are huge gaping holes in the US’ spread of internet services. This is going to affect a lot of users without a doubt.

  30. Sounds like the only winner here is cross platform ability and easy updates.

    Making it online only but not providing phone access is a huge lose. As is limited access to 1 player, that stuff should be per gaming group or maybe prorated per person in it. They need to provide a basic version available for free to make the game accessable and charge nominal fees elsewhere where appropriate perhaps. They can make money and do market research at the same time.

  31. I am oddly concerned about privacy. Specifically if someone makes a character its theirs isn’t it? I don’t want to find it in a WOTC adventure. I don’t want WOTC game writers reading them. They are mine. If the privacy policy doesn’t state this, I will NOT use it. I don’ t mind abstract data mining though.

    It was all fun and games until Facebook users found their pictures scribbled up with ads on them.

  32. I think after seeing the preview screenshots, I may have to call BS on wotc regarding Essentials. It was supposed to a re-envisioning of the game to get new people in (and somewhat of a return to the old-style of play), but it was not supposed to replace the core 4e version. This online version of the Character Builder seems to turn that on its head and make Essentials the default.

    Not sure how I feel about that in general except to say that I feel a bit duped. And yes, I know that they are “compatible”.

    I don’t like the idea that I won’t be able to access the builder offline. If the servers are down or my internet connection is out (for whatever reason) I will no longer be able to build/update a character. The same will be true for the monster builder (and compendium) when those are released. And what about db corruption/loss. Maybe it’s unlikely, but if it happens, I won’t have a personal copy that I can recover. The fact that the new version, to start, won’t even have the full functionality that the current one does also sucks.

    Everyone in my group uses laptops with the character builder open. Not having access to the site for whatever reason will basically cause game night to be cancelled while the servers are unreachable. Sure we can print them them out but with 5 PCs at paragon (epic would be worse) and a DM who heavily customizes monsters, this would really be a waste of paper and ink.

    The sad fact is that building a new character requires that you use the character builder if you want an efficient way to access all of the available options. Doing it manually would take way more time than it is worth. People can, of course, limit what new PCs have available, but then why have a separate DDI subscription if you are a player? Just buy one copy of each of the books you want to use and play on. Or, as most players probably do, glom on to your DM’s/group account. I’m not sure this is going to increase DDI subscriptions. I may have to reevaluate whether a DDI subscription is worth the extra investment. Again, yes, I know that the exclusive magazine content might be reason enough for a subscription for some but not all.

    I was going to suggest that the Character Builder should come out from behind the paywall (which would be great for players), but from a sales perpective this wouldn’t be feasible. They would be giving away the content of their books aimed at players and cannibalizing those sales.

    Maybe wotc expects that only DMs will have a subscription. This could be the real reason behind the online CB. More people may buy the books and thus increase sales. Or they see a future where print books make up less of their sales (and PDFs as verboten due to possible piracy).

    I hope that I am wrong. Maybe everything will work out fine. Until the new version is out we won’t really know. Once the same features that are available in the current CB are included in the online version, I might check it out. In the meantime, I will continue to use the current version and eschew new content once wotc pulls the switch.

  33. Ken Marable says:

    Well, I am biased (I build web apps as my job), but I am glad they finaly came around to a non-1990′s solution! ;) Updates and fixes are so much easier to implment when you have actual access to the only copy of the code. Hopefully, they are going with some sort of standard 3 tier code structure so that the Silverlight is only on the presentation layer, and the business and data layers are still .Net. Given my experience with .Net and Silverlight, that’s the obvious use, but you never know.

    Sure it would be nice not to need constant subscription, or be able to access it offline, but really those are pretty minor for me considering the benefits. On the “hoping Silverlight is just presentation layer”, I would absolutely love some implementation that allowed iPad access. But for now I can be happy with finally being Mac accessible.

  34. Chip Warden says:

    I’ll finally subscribe to DDI. As a Mac user, having the DDI software as web apps is a big win.

  35. I just love the combination of the comments here (which mirror the conversation on the rest of the internet):

    1) the character builder is necessary
    2) the character builder replaces the books (i.e. the things that generate revenue).
    3) the character builder should be free

    Howzat again? /me is confused

    My personal big complaint is over Silverlight — it limits platforms and portability and in exchange locks them into yet another marginal system that will likely be a pain to deal with in the future.

  36. @chad – I totally agree that expecting the character builder to be free is silly. While I could see a free intro version with only a subset of content, offering all of the character rules material for free or near-free (current subscibe for one month out of every few months system) would definitely be bad for business. While it’s easy to think that its just a matter of data entry of new rules, I think there would be a ton of work in getting all of the various interactions to work correctly especially since each new release can introduce entirely new types of material (themes in dark sun, non-standard power progressions from psionics and essentials, etc).

    My one complaint is that without an export or character sharing feature, it will be a little harder for my players to send me their character sheets in advance. Sounds like the only option for now will be to print to PDF or XPS and share that.

    Also, like Sage, I’m a gamer and on the Silverlight team at Microsoft, so I think it’s awesome that WotC decided to use our platform :)

  37. Now With Less Usability! (j/k)

    Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s a pretty good pros and cons list. It’ll be interesting to hear more feedback.

  38. Without knowing my Silverlight from my Moonlight, or my .NET installation from a midnight constellation, I have to say that I’m not all that thrilled.

    While the Character Builder is convenient, and the Monster Builder is awesome, 4E has managed to leech from my wallet like no other. Maybe these changes are for the better, maybe not. However, I fear that my 4E days are coming to a close, especially since I’m not usually one to embrace change.

    I think I’d be happy with just the core books, to be honest. Wait, do they stll print those?

  39. Without export functionality, I won’t be able to use my software apps that allow me to import .dnd4e files for encounter management. What a ball-buster.

    mp

  40. Major Problem says:

    I think it is one step in the right direction but using Silverlight… Couldn’t they have used some Web 2.0 Ajax and stuff.

  41. I’m personally a fan. 1) Being web-based means I don’t have to install it on every computer I use and don’t have to sit through intolerably long updates that more often than not fail in the first attempt. 2) It means I can use it on my Mac. 3) By “mining my data continuously,” how I play the game actually affects the development of the game without me having to rant and rave in e-mails or on forums. The fact that I never play a Wilden or Shardmind (because, I mean, come on, they’re just STUPID) might discourage them from pumping out more crap like that, and the fact that more people play rogues and rangers than, say, monks and assassins might cause them to seriously evaluate the damage output of these so-called ‘Strikers.’

  42. I’ve got mixed feelings. I do like the idea of being able to access my characters from anywhere, and I really like the idea of being able to do it from my Mac. The existing CB was definitely not devoid of it’s own problems, and I applaud Wizard’s efforts to improve the product. That said, they’ve moved from a mediocre platform to a mediocre platform. And why launch a product that can’t do at least as much as the existing one? Wait until you can export characters and support house ruled ones.

    I too would love to see a small, installable character sheet viewer that can download a local copy of your sheet. And Dave, you hit it on the head with the multiple login support. I would love to know WoTCs official stance. I personally share my paid account with my 5 players so that they can each update their characters without me having to do it or them having to pay for a membership just for the CB.

  43. TheMainEvent says:

    Its a little early to get too worked up, but a common point of discussion amongst the CH playgroup was the aggravatingly bad set up of the character builder. I have a relatively new laptop and I found searching to be a pain, updates to bomb out frequently, and it be a huge resource hog. Does anyone really LOVE the current builder? I’m inclined to give something new a shot instead of accepting a mediocre-bad status quo.

  44. Felix T. Katt says:

    Does anyone else see this as a logical step towards WotC creating the virtual gaming table that was touted at the inception of DDI? Regardless of the technology – making the CB web-based, and utilizing web-based technology, gives me hope for the development of future concepts.

    AAMOF, wasn’t it The Game himself who not too long ago proposed the idea of hypertext modules? This, again, appears to be a step in that direction.

  45. I don’t rent software. Period. Ever.

    I’ve paid what $70 a year for 2 years, So… $140 for a character builder… that supports $1000 of books I’ve bought.

    I didn’t mind paying monthly for 2 years since if I stopped or WOTC stopped I’d have a working copy of Character Builder.

    Oh and I don’t share passwords. Period. End of discussion. How is this multi-user now?

    If I HAVE to lend my password, I guess I’m SOL if it gets passed around the local high school. What about privacy of my DDI account if I have to pass this password around. This is nuts to me.

    Its also awkward in that I’ve been trying to get a lot of newbs into Essentials, and I know ALL of them are going to balk at a monthly fee. Maybe I’ll backtrack to regular 4e.

    Now WOTC has to guarantee that will support their new Character Builder forever. (doubt that) Protect my privacy and IP (doubt that) and then I may consider it.

    Lastly… WOTC’s record for supporting products is… less than good. Does this mean when 5e comes out, I will be forced to delete all my characters? I bet if WOTC could do that when 4e came out, they would have.

  46. @Felix: I certainly think that this could help with the online table top. Putting all the data in the same place (relatively speaking) would certainly make it easier for the VTT to pull the necessary information. That being said, while I am an ardent supporter of DDI, I’ll believe the VTT is coming when I actually see it.

    As for when the last time I created a character without the character builder? Last week. We needed an extra character for a session at the FLGS and none of us had a computer. We assigned stats, feats, powers, etc. in about 20 minutes. I realize that the CB is very useful (in fact its my default choice), but the fact of the matter is that while there is a host of options available even at 1st level, a large percentage of those options are generally considered “trap choices”. Feats like Armor Spec, Expertise, Weap Focus, Weap Prof., etc. are still the staples. For me, this change really has no effect at the moment. Its likely that in the long run this will be a positive change. Its also certainly possible that the new CB will be so buggy and flawed that it ends up being a negative (though not because its online). All in all, I think at worst, we just need to wait and see a) how buggy it is and b) how quickly they can bring in the “new” features.

    @uhf I understand your hesitancy to rent software. I can’t say as I blame WotC though and there’s certainly plenty of evidence to suggest that people will rent the software. After all, millions of people rent the MMO software.

  47. Runeofdoom says:

    Since people are so keen on having an installed program that will work with or without the internet I wonder if WoTC has considered allowing people to pay a purchase price for just the character generator that say comes with a year of free updates and then you pay a small fee each year for another round of annual updates. This is essentially (!) how a number of programs I use work (like Sibelius / Finale) – you pay a first time bulk cost for the current program and when a major update comes (every year or so) you can choose to continue using the older version or you can at anytime pay a small update fee and step up to the new version. I think WoTC’s concern (rightfully) is that currently you can get the entire program for creating characters for about $10 and maybe a bit more once in awhile when a person wants an update.

    They could still continue to offer the always up to date online generator for those who pay a regular subscription. Kind of win / win (except maybe for the people that seem to think they are entitled to a generator for free just because they bought a book).

    I’m actually fine with the online route because I don’t feel inclined to get upset about “being forced” to pay for DDI when:

    a)the cost of an annual subscription is about the cost of my wife and I going out twice for dinner which I’m willing to sacrifice for hours of saved time in game prep.

    b) the DDI tools, while helpful and big time savers, are NOT vital to being able to play the game (despite the junky like attitude that some seem to have regarding them)

    c) the character generator itself, even with its flaws, is a very robust tool comparable to other programs that I use everyday that cost me a great deal more money.

    I understand that others may not share that same attitude though which is why an option like the above might be a way to meet in the middle.

  48. I’m normally very concerned about data retention and “owning your data” as in having it locally stored as well as stored in the cloud, but I could really care less here. Character data isn’t such a big deal. You can probably recreate a level 30 character in under an hour if you needed to. WOTC doesn’t hold your character hostage, just your character’s data, which you can easily print or record somewhere else.

    Yes, I wish there was a better open system available to people so we could have other character builders. I’m guessing if the data were open we’d see a better version by the community than through WOTC. WOTC might think about licensing out the API rather than rolling their own all the time.

    Anyway, whatever. I just want to get rid of my Mac’s windows partition and this was the only thing holding me back.

  49. (Assuming that the new monster builder works the same…)

    Mike: How would you feel about WOTC reading all the monsters you’ve created for your own adventures, and blog, then taking all your ideas, and selling them? I don’t think there is anything in their existing agreements to prevent that kind of behavior. After they copy your stuff they can also send you a cease and desist.

    *sigh* this stuff makes my brain go squirmy.

  50. Here is a letter I wrote to WotC:

    Subject: Disappointed D&D Insider Customer.

    Wizards of the Coast Customer Service:

    I am writing this to inform you of why I am not continuing my subscription to D&D Insider. I suspect your department is being inundated with this sort of thing, and hope that you will read this letter and act upon, or pass along the information here within.

    Here is a brief summary of what kind of customer I am. I have played D&D since about 1981. In that time I’ve played D&D (Basic, Expert, Master, Immortals), AD&D, 2nd Edition AD&D (including the revisions with Player’s Option and the like), 3rd Edition D&D, 3.5, and now 4th Edition D&D. Of the products that your company has been responsible for (3rd Edition and on), I estimate I purchased a total of $1500 worth of books, miniatures, software, and online services from you. This includes two years worth of the D&D Insider subscription paid in advance.

    I love this game. I look forward to meeting with my friends every week to play. The most recent edition, 4th, is the most fun yet to play (at least tactically). The exceptions based rules, however, make it very difficult to make and maintain a character. There are so many options and interdependencies that playing only with pen and paper became too much of a hassle for me. Your character builder became indispensable for me.

    Over the last two years, however, the subscription to DDI has lost its appeal. After some amazing software preview videos, and a few months of amazing Dragon and Dungeon magazine content, I figured I would spring for a whole year of the DDI service, figuring that it was worth the money despite my strong aversion to the software-as-a-subscription model of pricing. I can’t stress how much I dislike that business model. As a customer, I like to own things, not rent or lease them. When it was announced that pricing was going up, seeing how good the first tools turned out, I signed up for another year to get the best bang for my buck, so to speak.

    In those two years, your DDI team disappointed me several times. No virtual tabletop, no 3d character visualizer (not as big of a deal, but needed for a good VTT), no campaign manager, several oddly missing features to the existing character builder (not all feats and items implemented fully, house rules not interacting with the character’s statistics, incomplete tracking of conditions and current state of the character), several delays, and declining content in the magazines.

    I own so many books, that they stopped fitting on the table after the first year of 4th edition, so I switched to using a laptop and tracking everything with that. I currently use a few purchased PDFs, the compendium, the character builder, and iplay4e to play at the table. With the shortcomings of the current character builder, I needed to make my own custom dice rolls using Crystal Ball Lite. The table is much less cluttered now with everything electronic.

    The changes announced in the new version of the character builder concern me, and frankly I don’t have any faith left in your software division to implement all of the missing features in a timely manner if ever. My subscription is up as of 11/7, and I won’t be renewing. WotC won’t see any more of my money until one or more of the following happen, in order of my personal preference:

    • You release a working virtual tabletop.
    • The new character builder is improved to the point where I can play with my laptop at our real table without using any physical books or paper. This would mean that I can use only the character builder, or some combination of it plus 3rd party sites (like iplay4e). Being able to export a character and manipulate it outside of your service will be needed, since you won’t be able to think of every want the community has.
    • You start selling PDF versions of your books again. I’d ultimately like to see you sell a physical book and the PDF together for one price, or possible a small amount more ($5 or less) than just the physical product. I like to read a physical book when going cover to cover, but like the PDF when referencing at the table. Honestly, if I buy the physical book, the PDF version costs pennies to distribute to me as I’ve paid for the content in other form.
    • The Dragon and Dungeon content quality improves to what it was before.
    • You release a campaign manager.
    • You finish the monster builder.

    I know this is a long email, and I appreciate you reading it. I hope to see these changes made to DDI soon, and would appreciate notification if any of this comes to pass. I have money, and I want to give it to you, but you have to deserve it again.

    Sincerely,
    [real name withheld]

    Do you think I was way off base here?

  51. Brax, you hit on some of my major concerns with DDI here. I’ve been disappointed with the content of late. Castle Ravenloft, Essentials (which I have no interest in) and Gamma World have crowded up the magazines to the point where it’s a rare treat to have an article about something I actually care about or can use. The lack of custom content compatibility with the CB, while understandable, is frustrating. The game has become so big that CB is almost a necessity, and yet what I once loved about D&D was coming up with new races, classes, prestige classes (3.x), weapons, spells, etc. and adding them to the game. I’ve long wanted to run a game based on Stephen King’s the Dark Tower. In order to do that, though, and keep my players happy, there would have to be a way to port my firearms rules and custom classes and races and items and backgrounds etc. into the CB. Since that doesn’t really work, I’m stuck playing in some basic D&D world that is growing ever more stagnant. Anyway, this is becoming a rant, and it’s a long winded way to say, no, you’re not over the line on that one. As I posted earlier, I’m happy about the CB’s move to web-based, but I, like you, am a player of thirty years who has grown increasingly frustrated with WotC.

  52. The big problem with this move is the timing and misinformation provided by Wizards ahead of it. Here’s the timeline of what actually happened:

    1. Updates got later and sparser over the course of 2010.
    2. Dragon and Dungeon quality declined steadily over the course of 2010.
    3. In June, Wizards began development on this tool without any information provided to the customers.
    4. In September, the update that should have included Dark Sun, Psionic Power and Essentials content, was delayed, delayed, then announced that it would not be released until October.
    5. In October, an update added some information from Psionic Power, but nothing from Dark Sun or Essentials with one exception: Essentials-style magic item rarity was forced onto all magic items in the Character Builder, making them no longer purchaseable in the tool.
    6. In that same update in October, Wizards (again without telling anyone they were doing this) removed all RPGA-sourced material from the Character Builder.
    7. When caught at the RPGA removal, Wizards said they’d never intended it to be in the tool (RPGA content had gone in consistently from the very first update).
    8. When asked about the status of the Character Builder and Monster Builder, Wizards told us about upcoming web tools to supplement the existing tools. Reactions were mixed, but generally positive.
    9. Wizards also stated that the Character Builder was back on schedule for regular updates.
    10. November 2, 2010, which would have been a normally scheduled update day, and we get this announcement. In the fallout, we’re told that, while our concerns have been noted, nothing we say will have an effect on the launch in two weeks.

    Simply put, misleading information, lack of information, lack of trust and lack of follow-through on promises have left a huge proportion of D&D fans, including many who had never had a reason to speak up about D&D online before, rather upset. This is not how a responsible and trustworthy company handles a platform change. It seeds doubt, particularly when taken along with the repeated failures of Wizards at just about anything computer-related and D&D-related. It makes one wonder how they will address this new set of promises, with so many of their prior promises now left unfulfillable.

  53. Shrike: At the very least, I know your #3 to be false, and some of your other points are debatable. It was announced that web-based tools for DDI were coming, it was just some of the details that we just found out about. I agree that like many people greater transparency and more timely announcements are appreciated, but not all of your facts are in order here.

  54. Information in June? No. We got information about web-based tools in September, after the September update had already been delayed.

    http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/25855493/DD_Insider_Tools_Delay_(September)

  55. “In June, Wizards began development on this tool without any information provided to the customers.”

    Development on this tool began long before June. And hints started to leak out about it, though you’re right that there was no formal announcement- under the same policy they adopted after all the backlash about the virtual table top and such.

  56. Azanhour Axebearer says:

    I let my DDI subscription expire because the Essential material was not being added. I like the fact that it will be Mac compatible. I was getting tired of borrowing my teenager’s laptop to update and make characters. I will probably renew my DDI, however only for a test run of the new system. If I like it, I’ll stick with it, if not….

  57. Wayne Peacock says:

    Hey, NetFlix is delivered via silverlight on web browers for PC’s etc, and they created an app on day one of the iPad launch. So, WotC can do it. Heck, they can even charge for the app too.

  58. This is turning into a rant. WOTC doesn’t deserve to be castigated over some geek rage. If you’re not happy, stop subscribing.

    I researched what I could for myself, and I found a semi automated character sheet that I liked, and even better I found templates for making my own power cards.
    http://4e.educatedgamer.net/

    There are other templates for cards as well here;
    http://www.dungeoncrawl.us/power_cards

    I should be able to create characters as slick as before only better… I can now use non-WOTC material in my games. Now I can use War Of The Burning Sky Feats, Powers, and Paragon Paths! Want to use Templates outside of Dark Sun? I can…. can you?

  59. Doktor Avalanche says:

    I will let my subscription expire. The character builder and the game itself has gotten way too complicated to play. I love the game and will continue playing but for me this is a good thing because it gives me the impetus to say enough, this is where I draw the line.

    I was scraping the compendium for another piece of software and I think it cakme up with 9000+ powers, 50+ classes, 40 races. How much more do I need and how unique are each of the new powers/races/classes. The marginal benefit of having another 1000 Dark Sun powers is not worth a subscription for me.

    I know my wife has real problems levelling up nowadays since the character builder has so much (we are late paragon). I would like to see a model where the Character Builder plus say PHB1 data is free and you purchase whatever data supplements you want for $5-10. I would add PHB2 but ignore Dark Sun.

  60. Shrike’s excellent timeline above is an accurate reflection of what happened (although when work on the web version actually began is not something I think we can be sure of).

    I have no problem with the new direction. No problem with price. No problem with having to have an active connection in order to use the software.

    It was the stuff these creeps did when they let their paying customers swing in the wind for months that lets me know what a rotten group of people must be in charge of WOTC. That they know they were doing wrong is reflected in the fact that they provided refunds to people who requested them. This may seem like a good thing until you realize that a company that followed ethical principles would have refunded ALL of its customers without them asking instead of sneakily hoping to pull one over on as many as possible. I am sure that a conversation among the slime ball managers led to this policy.

    One of the biggest negatives with this new software is that we have lived through the previous releases from this same programming team. There were glaring and horrible bugs that gradually got worked out in the Character Builder (and bugs that never did get fixed in the Monster Builder).

    Now we have to live through all that again.

    From past experience (and from growing evidence that little testing has been done on this new software: one screenshot released yesterday already shows a bug!) I know with reasonable certainly that the 16th is going to be a debacle

  61. Some of us do know roughly how long the new CB has been in development- but again, after the whole virtual table top mess, they’ve swung the opposite way and said they won’t announce anything until they know it’s coming out. That has meant them “hiding” what they’re working on, in direct reaction to customer feedback. Has this made it worse for customers, and are there probably better options? Yes, but it’s where things are at based on history.

    However, I do draw the line at saying the managers there are “slime balls”- it may be easier to paint them all as money-grubbing dirtbags who just want to trick loyal D&D fans, but I know that’s not the case. There are a lot of hardworking people there, some who have made some bad decisions, some who are trying to make things right, and everywhere in between.

    Bottom line- if you really think you’re just being exploited, unsubscribe, get your money back, and walk away somewhere else. Vote with your wallet and give your feedback on the way out. There are plenty of other awesome game companies who would love your money.

    With that, I think this discussion has reached the end of its usefulness.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] down-low of the matter is described superbly over at criticalhits by Dave Chalker, and I very much agree with his list of pros and cons, and the [...]

  2. [...] that are relatively valid on both sides; you can check out a pretty good article and discussion at Critical-Hits. Change can be stressful irregardless if one attributes the change as positive or negative. [...]