This morning I downloaded the D&D Character Builder Demo version. Within a few minutes I had created a sample character and I was surprised how easy everything worked. But there’s still some room for improvement.
Download and Installation
The download is advertised almost everywhere on the official D&D site, so it’s hard to miss. You then download a tiny program that then downloads the actual software. *Sigh* Why is this necessary? Why not link to the ddisetup.exe file directly? There must be some obscure reason I am probably too dumb to understand. When I am not mistaken you also need a pretty up-to-date version of the .NET Framework to run the CB. But when you have some high bandwith internet connection it just takes you a few minutes longer to install the program. The installation itself is pretty straightforward.
Creating a character
Creating a character starts with race selection. I was surprised that even the CB includes all races and classes released so far (including the ones from Dragon magazine that were released before you had to pay for DDI). And since all rules and flavor texts are included you could probably easily use these races and classes without even having the original books (or magazines). Of course you’ll run into trouble as soon as you want to bring those characters to level 4. The DDI subscriber version of the CB obviously includes all 30 levels.
Choosing the different ability scores, feats, skills, powers for your character is very easy and since you get all necessary information you can create characters without even looking once at your rulebooks. The Auto Pick function that auto picks ability scores, skills and equipment for you, works pretty well. This comes in handy if you want to create some run-of-the-mill NPCs fast.
Campaign Settings and Character Sheets
After you’ve made all your choices, the program saves your character and you can print out a character sheet that includes power cards and even cards for things like second wind. That’s a very big plus in my book and what could lead me to subscribe to DDI after all. Although I have noticed a few bugs here as well: the font on the “Dragon Breath” power card was way to big, so that instead of the full descriptive text you only get the word “Attac” in size 72 or so. I hope this is just a problem with either the demo or my PC. Has anyone else encountered this bug? And is it in the “full” version, too?
You can decide on which option you choose for you campaign setting. You can easily decide which books you allow and you can add house rules. The program even tracks is your character is still legal for tournament play (or whatever you call those RPGA events).
I am impressed! The CB is much better than I initially expected but it’s far from being perfect. You can get a character summary in text form to copy and paste into e-mails, forums, etc. but this summary doesn’t have the usual stat block format. You can’t export PDF of the character sheet and it would have been nice to be able to print out single power cards. I don’t want to print out the entire sets everytime I spilled coffee on one of the cards. But all in all it’s a pretty nice piece of software that helps you to create characters in mere minutes. That’s a feat that I was never able to achieve using the traditional method. It just takes too long to find the necessary information in the books. But I really would prefer to pay a one-time fee to download the CB instead of paying a couple bucks every month to use it. So I will probably stick to the demo version until Wizards decide to change their policy.
To get a pdf of the character sheet I recommend using CutePDF Writer. That pretends to be a printer – just go File->Print from inside the character viewer, send it to CutePDF and you end up with a pdf saved on your hard drive. Simple 😀
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That's true. I use FreePDF XP myself. But I think it shouldn't be to hard for Wizards to build an "Export to PDF" function into the CB. That would make things easier for the more technically-impaired people out there.
Regarding the big text bug… yes, it's on the full version as well… That's pretty bad, specially because you can't edit the text size or even copy the text to another place. And it happens almost every time when you choose powers that have long descriptions. I think the issue is that it chooses a text-size too small, so the program decides to "explode" the size to that 72 font… I hope they fix it soon enough, since I'm PAYING for the full version!
You can get around the "No PDF" and "Single Power Card" issue very easily.
Do a web search for "Image Printer" or "Print To PDF". This basically installs a "false" printer on your computer and allows you to either an image (such a BMP or JPG) or PDF. I think I have seen free versions of both.
If you print to image then you can easily extract the one power card that you want (you can even do this in good old MS Paint).
My biggest peev about the Character Builder is that is does not have support for adding Custom Content. If you like to test homebrew races, classes, feats or power…there is not good way to get them into Character Builder.