Thursday, January 29, 2009

Character Builder redux

I recently commented on the Character Builder demo. They just released the full version this week.

I still really like this program. I can bitch and complain about WotC's methods about many things, predominantly their website, but this standalone tool is very well done.

It has a few little niggly things, of course; if you're rapidly levelling up a character (say, to make a 30th level character), then after each level up, the save step always prompts for overwriting the old file. It's something you should want it to do, of course, so as not to overwrite the wrong thing, but perhaps this should be a Save versus a Save As... feature, so by default you do reuse the same file.

This is emphasized by the fact that the save file keeps track of all of your decisions at each level-up, which I think it great. It lets you go back and see what you did, and when; it lets you go back and retroactively change something if you so choose; and it lets you make a 30th level character and still get access to what he or she looks like at the lower levels - something that can be handy for a recurring NPC.

There are a few Feats, specifically from Dragon #368, with a bunch of "styles" that affect some of the powers (exploits) you might have; these feats just display as "Augment at-will exploits" on the character sheet, but these augmentations don't appear on the power cards that are generated, which means you need to keep that issue of Dragon handy -- oh wait! It's digital, so I can't have that issue just sitting on the game table.

When you get to the point where you don't get MORE powers, but just the opportunity to swap out old ones, the interface requires that you lose a power before even getting to see what your list of choices is. This is a problem if you're hoping to swap out a low-level power for a higher-level equivalent. It slows down what is otherwise a very efficient, fluid action.

The Builder also has a link to the Compendium for everything, but the horrid authentication system makes this ineffective; unless you've just authenticated to your Insider account in the last few minutes, the window that the Builder pops up will not be logged in. It kindly offers to let you log in, but doesn't honour the attempt, and in the end you're forced to just pop up your browser and view the Compendium the old-fashioned way, breaking the usefulness of the link in the Builder. This isn't a fault with the Builder, it's the fault of the Insider site which keeps your login for, what, two minutes before expiring it?

But except for these little things, it works very well. I meant to time how long it took to create a character from 1st level to 30th, but I ended up doing it over a long span of a day, so I really couldn't say how long it took. Because the decisions at each level are so few, however, I'm sure it doesn't amount to much - reading the power descriptions is the most lengthy part. I don't mean this as a criticism of how simplistic the levelling-up is (that was in previous posts), but on how the Builder takes care of the "uhh, what else increases at this level?" stuff that you find yourself doing by-hand. Many of the incorrect totals we had before we tried the demo were because we forgot to add 1/2-level here and there, or recalculate this here... the software does all that for you, which is nice.

Doing this levelling-up exercise also gave me a pass through the paragon and epic feats, which I only glossed over when I first read the Player's Handbook, and it let me see the high-end powers for the Ranger class, which I hadn't read at all. In fact, I can see myself making a 30th-level character of each class as a way of learning the powers for them, because as odd as it seems, I'm finding it easier to read them in the software than browsing through the book -- reading page after page is what gave the glassy-eyed "these all look the same to me" feeling about the powers. As I build this Ranger, and formulate a "style" to her, I'm starting to realize that you CAN customize your class to be different from every other member of the class. Or perhaps that's just the ranger, because it has it's two very separate paths built-in -- the melee and ranged versions.

One thing that seems almost backwards, though, is that I have access to all of the material out there. Our group has a copy of Martial Power, but I've not looked at it yet; however, I've just read through most of the powers from that book that are available to a Ranger. Is this going to affect sales of books for Wizards? The old E-Tools required that you bought each of the books' data separately (or in packs), where the single Insider fee for access to the Builder gives me access to books I might never buy. I'm not complaining, mind you! I just hope it works out for Wizards. It's a great gesture, and anyone who has played 3.5, and had access to all of the extra source material (I think our group is missing half-a-dozen, tops?) will know how time-consuming it can be to go through them all, making sure that you've got in mind all of the options available to you (I'm not saying options are BAD!). Having all of the feats and powers available in one place, and also filtered for what you are able to take, is definitely a boon for any player.

I haven't been paying attention to how much the various parts of the Insider subscription cost, or the bundles, or whatever, but I definitely recommend this tool if you've got room in your budget, or if not, the group should pitch in and buy a subscription for the DM, and get him to punch in the character data for the party.


boro said...

I just got the full version of the software also, its actually quite good apart from some niggles. If you dont use the standard arrays and instead have different stats then it declares the character as house ruled. Thats fine but then it breaks the 'next step' button which is so annoying!

Its great that all the information on feats, powers, etc is contained within the window - it makes building a character so much easier. Cautious 8/10 for the app.

Crwth said...

Hrm, that's odd; when I did the hand-rolled numbers for two of our players in the beta version, the Next Step button still worked as expected, but the character sheet had itself marked as House Ruled. Maybe you need to go through to motions of assigning the point-buy points to get it off of the Next Step list of things-to-do, and then hand-edit them after?

I also found out, just after posting this, that the character sheet that it generates is quite customizable (I must have been sleeping when they mentioned this feature). This is fantastic -- I can drag the sections around and make pages with specific purposes. Unfortunately, not all of the panels are "addable", so you can't have the Destinies/Paths abilities appear on the main page as well as some other page, for instance.

boro said...

I must give it another go. I agree with the comment in the main article though about being able to see the 'finished version' of a character. Im in a similar situation to you guys in that my group are not entirely convinced about 4e, the similar classes, nerfed casters, etc. I was hoping that higher level characters might be more interesting but I remain unconvinced :/