Friday, July 31, 2009

Monster Builder

Wizards released the Monster Builder beta yesterday through the Insider website. I've downloaded it and played with it a little, so I thought I'd give my first impressions.

The interface is pretty slick - the heavy use of drag-and-drop for monsters and powers is definitely intuitive when you're building up a variant monster. The browsing of both monsters and powers, and the filters available, make finding a theme very easy. Adding optional features is very easy and intuitive, popping up new blocks for you to fill in

The builder automatically figures out abilities, hp, to-hit and damage for you, based on the role(s) you give it, which for most people will make this tool the most valuable -- the numbers are the real "rules", and the system knows them and calculates with them so you don't have to.

It's still beta, and so there are a few niggly bits that need to be fixed; when adding a power, you have a Description line, but then an Attacks block inside the power also has a Description line, and an Attack Info. It takes typing something into each of these to get a sense of where each will appear in the final block and eventually determine what info goes where. This revealed a minor bug that I've reported, where if you fill in one of these fields and then decide afterwards you don't want anything there, the parentheses it had put around your initial text stay in the power block, but empty: "Range 10; +41 vs. Will; ();" Nothing horrible, but something to be cleaned up (and, as the Wizards team responded to me, you can just delete the power and re-make it -- it's not like it takes any time to do.)

Other fields, such as Range or Damage, are hit-and-miss on how free-form they are; Range lets you type in anything you like, where perhaps it should adhere to the handful of "valid" ranges that 4e supports (so you know whether you should type "10" or "Ranged 10" to make it look like a Monster Manual entry). And Damage, which kindly fills in a "typical" value based on the frequency of the power's use, also lets you customize it - to a point. When making a joke monster as my first test, I wanted to put in a different type of damage, but any thing that wasn't a number or of the for XdY+Z popped back to the recommended value.

My biggest complaint, given my limited experience with it, is that while the abilities and hp and defense scores are all nicely calculated for you, you don't get any indication on how many powers are appropriate for your new monster. Even if the number of at-will powers isn't that important, the number of encounter and recharge powers probably are - you don't want them to have so many of these that they never have to rely on their at-wills, do you?

Or maybe you do -- in our last gaming session, the group fought a spellcaster that had three recharge-56 powers to choose from, and not once did she have to rely on a basic attack - perhaps my dice were hot that night, but for a level four or five encounter, that seemed pretty impressive (and considering the spellcaster by-far dominated the combat, perhaps it *was* too much?) The back of the DM's Guide suggests "...[t]hen add one encounter power or rechargeable power per tier (one at heroic, two at paragon, three at epic)." If the second module in the series violates this rule, are my hand-made monsters going to be challenging enough if I was to abide by it?

The final output is the other issue that I and others seem to have; you can print them out, but there's no export to an image or to some other format. I haven't found where my custom monsters are stored yet, so I'm not sure if it's in some nice readable format, but even if they don't want us pilfering monster data for our own uses, but an export for posting to the web would be very useful for those who like to blog about their new creations.

I'll have to play with it a little more to really see how flexible it is -- I haven't tried making a base monster and then using the tools to add the "warlord"/"sneak"/"minion"/"captain" versions of it, but the tools definitely look set up for making that easy. Oh, and the monster button uses the portrait of the gnome from the cartoon.


Durian said...

I am sure you will pick this up next time you play with the tool: to export as Rich Text or an image: rick click a monster in the monster selection box and a context menu appears with "Copy as Rich Text" and "Copy as Image".

Crwth said...

Cheers! I hate to admit it, but it never occurred to me to right-click anything -- probably spending too much time in Flash applications...

Thanks again!

CoolMama said...

As to save/export: You can "print" to OneNote (or possibly "print to file", haven't tried that). Of course, doesn't work if you don't have OneNote. But if you do, print it to OneNOte, then in OneNote you can save the page as a PDF; or you can copy and paste the stat block into an image editor or other program. Cheers.