Tuesday the 16th of this very month, Wizards of the Coast will be changing the way Character Builder operates. A part of their DDI subscription service, Character Builder has previously been a downloaded program (that updated for new rules once a month) for Windows users which allowed D&D players a super-easy method to create and manage their characters. The character files were application-specific, and while you could print to PDF, the functionality was problematic, and not really built to accommodate it.
Enter the newer, cloudier Character Builder. The app is now entirely browser-based and platform independent. Sort of. It requires Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin, and as far as I know that leaves Linux users out in the cold… though I suppose that’s not exactly news to them. All you will need (other than Silverlight) is internet access and your password. No more worrying about how many installs you’ve made, where your character files are, or even who’s computer you’re using. While the forums are burning up with naysayers and Cassandras predicting the doom of Character Builder, DDI, and Wizards generally, I can remember thinking at the time they released the thing that they ought to have made it browser based to begin with. While I sifted through a virtual ton (pun intended) of whiney cry-geeks declaiming their injury and stating they would never game again, every one I saw was complaining about something that they has either missed or misread in the official announcement. This will make the tool easier to use. Easier, and better.
There is now a built-in for creating PDFs of character sheets, you will be able to import your characters from the old app, it adds Mac users to the party, and it will introduce Dark Sun and D&D Essentials to Builder. Mobile versions are being discussed, and though it will no longer receive any updates, your old download version of Character Builder will continue to work as it always has. In fact, I only see one possible blemish on this shiny new upgrade.
While the old system did not require the internet to work, it did depend on the internet for regular updates. 90% of the time these went just fine, you logged in, got your update, and were on your way. The remaining 10% occurred when the server was down, busy, or otherwise incapacitated and you were forced to come back for the update later. While this wan’t a big deal with the application version… you simply proceeded without the update… it will be a much bigger problem if your access is completely denied. Thus far WotC has proven resistant to serious infrastructural upgrades of the kind they appear (from my armchair) to need. The new product will lengthen the visits and increase the traffic their servers see. I am hoping that they will prove willing to make the needed adjustments.
Overall I am happy about the move. Cloud computing does seem to be the wave of the future, and if it can work the way its advocates claim, it is going to be a huge windfall in cost, power, and flexibility for we users. Apple just released the new MacBook Air without a DVD/CD drive, and you can expect to see that occurring more and more across the board.
The table is being set on the next stage of computing, and amusingly enough WotC is providing appetizers. It’ll be very interesting to see if the main course is something anyone wants to eat.
Below are some screen images of the new D&D Character Builder.