The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Not Another Character Builder Review

Something in the order of every other D&D blog on the planet (or at least every one that ever does 4E) has done a review of the new character builder. I haven’t and I don’t plan to; I barely used the old one and haven’t yet used the new one so I’m hardly qualified to write about it. But my lack of qualifications isn’t going to stop me from responding to one of those reviews…

Uh oh. Am I slipping to the dark side?

In his review “Character Builder…Boooooo” The Middle Age DM makes a comment that so many are thinking:

“I can’t quite understand how a successful multi-national company that is a subsidiary of the largest toymaker in the world just can’t’ throw money at their digital content to get something pimp…”

Just like yesterday there is a part of me that want to run to the defense of Wizards. I worked in IT for a decade so I know all too well the quagmire of development hell. I can totally understand how a product can be delayed and delayed; its funny he references a Microsoft product because my first though when I read the above quote was “haven’t you heard of Windows Vista?” Two years after it was suppose to be delivered MS announced they were going to have to throw out 90% of the code and start over. They shipped less than 18 months after that statement, but obviously the end product looked more like it was rushed than one that had been in development for 6 years. But whatever it is inside of me that wants to defend a company that is having dev problems gets quiet really fast when I remember Wizard’s history.

Third Edition Had Less Than No Software

Wizards first announced a character builder would be coming out for 3.0, a decade ago. After including a demo disk with the PHB for a time the project just went away. At one point they had claimed it was almost finished, but then it disappeared without a word.

Of course, by the time it went away no one cared because third party apps had filled the void. Products like PC Gen did a great job of making characters; though they didn’t look slick and I found non-technical people tended to be intimidated by them. So then Wizards decided that if they weren’t going to make a character builder nobody would; they sent legal notices to the makers of PC Gen telling them to take out all splat book content or Wizard’s would sue them.

Fourth Edition’s Software Has Largely Been a Hoax

A few years after that debacle we got Gen Con 2007, where Wizards unveiled 4E. Except they didn’t want to talk about 4E, all they wanted to talk about was the new suit of software. To be honest I got the impression that 4E wasn’t going to be much of a rules update at all, that the new edition was just a way of cashing in on all the awesome software they were launching.

And while it was good to see that I was completely wrong about the rules and that they did in fact have huge changes in the works, in trying to sell everyone on the sheer awesomeness of their new online suite they committed one of the biggest sins a software maker can be guilty of. They made a very pretty, fake, presentation and pretended that it was their software.

The implication of the presentation at Gen Con 2007 was that the software was pretty much done finished, and all ready to go. And I don’t just mean the character builder either, but everything else that has gotten lost in the mix as well.

Game Table Might be Coming . . . or Not

But, we didn’t get the software at launch. Or a year later. Or two years later. My understanding is that Game Table is scheduled for a 2011 release (as if we’d believe any dates from them at this point), and that the reason for the new character builder was because of Game Table.

Of course, screen shots of Game Table look nothing like what they showed in 2007. Its not a breath taking 3D app that has all things D&D already built into it. No, its just another 2D mapping program, with its only obvious advantage at this point being that tokens for D&D monsters are all built into it.

So even though I can understand the problems in the development process, I have no sympathy for Wizard’s failures in software development; they have been deceitful and just all around dicks about software for the last decade. When Game Table comes out I will wait for the reviews; if and only if they are mostly positive (and character builder has been fixed by then) I will renew my lapsed DDI subscription.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.


December 1, 2010 - Posted by | 4E, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , , ,


  1. Good overview. Do you have any photos, screen shots or whatever data from the presentation back at GenCon 2007? Would love to see what they were promising back then.

    Comment by TheClone | December 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment, I’ll try to find the presentation a bit later.

      Comment by The Red DM | December 2, 2010 | Reply

  2. I really think having something integrated with maintaining a DDI subscription became the reason for holding off putting out tools for 4E. I’ve been astounded by the lack of online tools from WotC. Encounter builder? Random treasure generator? Map tools (how about one using dungeon tiles)? Nope. Although plenty of tools are out there from independent folks.

    I get the point of having a product that can work on a variety of platforms and machines. Yes, it is a massive undertaking for a company that makes pen and paper RPGs to develop software. Also it appears with the virtual tabletop, something might be out on the horizon for a set of tools to help in playing (and planning) D&D.

    But the recent character builder going from an offline program to an online only format makes me think that it’s all about maintaining an active DDI. I think that having some offline program could have been introduced months (years) ago. Yet something like that wouldn’t have required a DDI (or at least just needing a short term subscription). I get that WotC needs to protect their IP and all, but I wished they had hit the ground running with online tools encouraging people to have a DDI subscription from the start. Instead it seems they are introducing things piecemeal to see what would get people in maintaining a subscription.

    Comment by Geek Ken | December 2, 2010 | Reply

    • There are four possibilities that I see with regards to the switch from offline to online.

      1. They are wanting to enforce DDI subscriptions; perhaps the rate has been dropping or perhaps they are just paranoid about it dropping.

      2. They always wanted it to be online but got so far behind that they decided to go offline till other problems could be solved.

      3. They weren’t giving any thought as to how an offline program would interconnect with Game Table, when they released it, and they weren’t giving any thought as to how it would affect their player base when they scrapped the offline version for an online one.

      4. All of the above.

      Comment by The Red DM | December 2, 2010 | Reply

  3. I am just baffled that they just seem to always be so poor with how they handle thier digital content going right back to 3rd edition. they just always seem to misstep, although granted thier customer base might tend to be more critical of such things.

    Comment by middleagedm | December 3, 2010 | Reply

  4. Did you have any luck digging out the presentation?

    Comment by TheClone | December 27, 2010 | Reply

    • I found what I think is it, but I have been too busy to watch through it and be sure it is.

      Comment by The Red DM | December 27, 2010 | Reply

      • Awsome! Exactly what I was looking for. Thank you so much!

        Comment by TheClone | December 30, 2010

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