Amid the sound of noise and thunder, I’d rather be playing RISUS

There’s an awful lot of gnashing of teeth going on right now, and all because of something that has been put back exactly the way it should have been in the first place.

I am, of course, talking about the announcement that Character Builder is going (shock! horror!) to be web-based in future. Goodbye .NET app, hello fluffy cloud. It makes sense from both a business and user perspective too – much as the current CB app is a surprisingly great program, putting it entirely online should (in theory) mean that it’s easier for WoTC to keep up to date, will run from absolutely anywhere (even on Macs, and maybe even under Linux – more in that in a mo’). Hopefully in the future we’ll see better integration with the Rules Compendium as well. For example, I’d love to be able to click on the Dazed condition in a Power description and the glossary definition pops up, right there.

Add in the inevitable transition of the Monster Builder to being a web-app as well, and all of your existing 4e D&D tools will be available to use whether you’re at home, work (during lunch hours only!), your friends’ house or in a library/net cafe. As it’s entirely cloud-based, all of your existing characters & monsters will be there waiting for you too. What’s not to love?

Well…

This being Wizards’ of the Coast, there’s a couple of wrinkles to watch out for. Those guys never take the easy path, do they? Firstly, the Character Builder is built using Silverlight. If you’ve not heard of it, that’s Microsoft’s Flash-wannabe that never quite took off in the scale that they wanted. Using Silverlight makes sense for WoTC as there’s an easy transition path between .NET-based applications and Silverlight, but the (minor) downside for users is that they need the Silverlight plugin to view the new Character Builder. The plugin is available for both Windows (well, duh) and Mac meaning this update is great news for the Mac-using role-players out there. The open source Moonlight project brings Silverlight support (of sorts) to Linux, so the new Character Builder might even work on a Real Operating System too :)

Going entirely web-based means it’s goodbye to the ability to share your Character Builder download slots with the rest of your gamer group. Silverlight-based web-apps can be turned into fully downloadable applications, though WoTC have (for now, at least) decided to keep it web only. I don’t see that changing any time soon. This isn’t so much of a crisis as folks are making out; either share your password (it’s a game, not your frickin’ bank account (and if you use the same password for both, you’re a fool)) or log them in and set their browser to remember your password. They don’t know it, but their web browser does. Job done.

A bigger issue comes from the need for ‘net access to use these applications, especially when it comes to Conventions. Your local gamer store isn’t likely to have free wifi, but there’s likely to be a computer somewhere with ‘net access of sorts (and if not, you should have come prepared!). In Conventions though, they’ve added a whole new problem for the organizers to deal with. Good luck with that one.

But y’know what? Amid all this, I don’t really care.

Role-playing is, and as far as I’m concerned, a low-tech game. The best characters are created with a pencil and pad, not a pointy-clicky interface. D&D isn’t a computer game, and it’s certainly not some half-baked front-end to a console rpg that never existed.

Real Men build their characters at Level One with care and attention, not with a mouse. They pour over books, not pixels. They savour building their character usng the printed PHB as their first source of inspiration and errata be damned. Any other books provide icing on the cake, and if you don’t own ‘em, you don’t need ‘em.

All this talk about web-based applications and how much we need Character Builder with all the latest updates, errata, bells & whistles just to be able to play a game which doesn’t even need a computer in the first place leaves me cold. Sure, it’s interesting, and we gamers love nothing more than to dissect and over-analyse. Heck, I’ve just done it myself.

Right now though, I’d rather be playing RISUS.

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16 Responses

  1. Jeremy says:

    Huzzah! Characters should be built with books, pencils, dice, paper, and thought. Nothing more.

  2. DeadGod says:

    I second this.

    I have a DDI account, but I still build my 1st level characters by hand. I level my characters up by hand, too. I can not relate to people who claim that you need the character builder. (The same way I can’t relate to people who say, “if I don’t have a 20 in my prime score and take weapon focus for a +1 to my attack, my character is unplayable!”)

    The character builder is a tool. It makes things easier. It is not required.

  3. drow says:

    personally, i’ve always done my characters by hand, with pen in a journal, and written out 4e power cards on index cards. but i’m interested in the character builder for the game’s sake.

    so i’m happy to see wizards moving towards a backend engine/frontend interface model. i understand WHY they chose silverlight for the first iteration, though i still feel it was a terrible choice. and i’m very worried about their track record of good intentions and execution wreckage. and i wonder what they’re going to do when someone writes an unauthorized frontend which uses their backend engine. (which WILL happen.. its been done for WoW, it’ll be done for this)

  4. DarkTouch says:

    I can’t jump on the Pen and Paper only band wagon. I’ve become addicted to Hero Lab and can’t go back now. Before Hero Lab (I use it for both Pathfinder and Mutants and Masterminds) I had the tendency to create custom character sheets.. custom to both the game system and the character so as to make the important information as front and center as I could. MS Publisher was a great tool for that.

    As for Silverlight.. yeah, we use it at work. Not a fan.

  5. zero_armada says:

    My main issue with it, my only one really, is that they’re cutting out features initially. I’ve got plenty of books, but I’m the DM for my group, and they’ve killed import and export for now.

    I use initiative trackers that utilize the XML export files for PCs. It’s a real time saver from doing it by hand, and is really needed by me since I run my campaigns online and live. It’s going to be a huge hassle to manually track PCs. There’s also the fact that there’s now no easy way to help my players with their characters; I already can’t say “Let me see your character sheet” if they need help leveling up properly, and now I won’t be able to say “send me a copy of your character’s CB file” either.

  6. Going to have to agree with DarkTouch here. Can’t jump on the pen and paper only bandwagon because technology (for me) has beyond a doubt increased my efficiency in my prep work for game sessions, allowed me to create characters and NPCs fairly quick, customize monsters and rules, and track combat better. Also the quality of the output is so much nicer too when I use a mapping program to create maps and a character generation program (like Hero Labs) to create characters and NPCs.

    I can see if the pen and paper working really well if the rules are light, but the more heavy and complex the rule system becomes, the greater the need for technology to assist with the efficiency in prepping for a game. Since I’ve gone completely electronic over a year ago (I take only my laptop to the games), I cannot see myself running a game any other way nowadays.

  7. kelvingreen says:

    All this talk about web-based applications and how much we need Character Builder with all the latest updates, errata, bells & whistles just to be able to play a game which doesn’t even need a computer in the first place leaves me cold.

    This is the the biggest contributor to my move away from the game. You shouldn’t need computer software to build a character, and if you do, there’s something wrong with the character generation system.

  8. wickedmurph says:

    Indeed. I also love to do my taxes by hand using foolscap and a pen! And balance my checkbook in the little register provided by the check company! Oh, and manage my 500 sales contacts using paper files and a rolodex!

    I mean, after all, taxes, banking and contact management are low-tech endeavors, aren’t they? Or at least, they were in the 1970’s.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like to sit around and make up a character on paper, but with 4e? I can’t be bothered with that.

    Just because I can do something a certain way doesn’t mean I want to. I CAN build a house with only hand tools, too. But I would consider that to be sub-optimal. Just like I consider these changes to Character Builder to be, on the whole, sub-optimal.

    I was moving away from 4e anyways, so it’s not a huge thing, but I still think it sucks, and does away with many of the things I liked about this very good tool.

  9. Spiralbound says:

    wickedmurph: If you’re accurate in comparing the complexity of 4E char-building to doing your taxes, balancing your finances, managing 500 sales contacts, or building a house, then 4E is WAAAAY more complicated than anyone needs in what is supposed to be a leisure activity! LOL! :-)

  10. drow says:

    hey, i do my taxes by hand, too. i find it relaxing. it’s starting to get harder to avoid e-filing, though.

  11. UHF says:

    I’ve seen one of your character sheets, and it wasn’t done by no hand!

    I’m just grumpy because they removed a feature that I liked. Namely.. ownership of software.

    I’m trying to look at this as a glass half full situation. I figured out how to create my own power cards (MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK ABOUT THAT HINT HINT), and now I can do D&D the way it should be done.

    I can play War Of The Burning Sky complete with custom feats, powers magic items and paragon paths.

    I can even template my Forgotten Realms characters. Character Builder slaves can’t do that kind stuff.

    • greywulf says:

      I’ve seen one of your character sheets, and it wasn’t done by no hand!

      Lol! Very true. I like and use Character Builder. You’ve found me out :)

      It’s a great tool for working out character ideas and concepts, or if I need a quick character for a one-shot game. I use HeroLab for Savage Worlds and M&M the same way, where speed and ease of use is what’s needed.

      When it comes to characters I’m going to use in a long-term campaign though (provided they survive!), I’ll reach for a pencil and paper every time.

      The point is though that you don’t need it. Folks are starting to act like it’s necessary to be able to play the game.

      It’s not.

  12. wickedmurph says:

    Well, when you factor in the errata and assume you want to use all the published rules (everything is Core, after all), then I would almost rather do taxes than create characters by hand.

    That’s not to say that I do those things though – I tended to ignore errata because Character Builder handled it for me, and I only used all the published rulebooks because, well – I could. I will probably constrain character options to books that I actually own, now – assuming that I play 4e at all, which is looking unlikely.

  13. Elton says:

    Roleplaying is just localized acting without a theatre and without film. Only problem is, the gamemaster acts as both the Referee and the director of the film. OH, and the storyteller.

    You don’t need a computer, really, to do all this stuff of character creation.

    After that is said: you didn’t say anything about my spacemaster campaign. :)

  14. underthepale says:

    I know I’m a few weeks late on this, but let me add my voice to the overwhelmingly positive votes here.

    See, I never liked DDI, not from day one. Mostly, it was a grudge against WotC for them snatching up the magazines and then handwaving away all concerns by saying “PDF is the way of the future; Don’t worry, this is going to be awesome!”

    And it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. The closest to “awesome” were the few leftover Paizo articles by Louge and (I believe) Mona, among others.

    As for the online tabletop? Not really needed if you have a physical tabletop. Even then, it’s only an aid, not a necessity.

    WotC made a lot of promises they’ve never fufilled. I have not supported DDI to this point, and I don’t expect I ever will.

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