I really hate to have to say this, but I have finally reached the point where I can no longer see the reason to pay for a DDI account. I’ve faithfully held onto my account for a few years now, mostly for access to Character Builder for my players, but also because I have generally enjoyed reading Dragon and Dungeon articles, and valued access to the Compendium. I don’t use the online DM Tools, and prefer to use my local copy of Monster Builder, even if it means not having access to Dark Sun or MM3 monsters electronically – I own the books, and it only takes a couple minutes to plug in the stats into a new monster entry.
But looking at the past few months, in the wake of the D&D Next playtest going live, the offerings in Dragon and Dungeon have become pretty anemic. In fact, most of the articles this summer and now heading into fall contain content I no longer find useful, and nearly all the “Ecology of the…” articles are barely worth skimming through. And looking ahead in the product catalog, there are no major 4E book releases scheduled, so one can clearly draw the conclusion that the amount of DDI companion content is going to be equally non-existent. And few of us 4E fans can forget how the Virtual Tabletop project was scrapped so cavalierly, turning from prolonged beta-ware to vapor-ware in the blink of a corporate accountant’s eye.
Which leaves me with the realization that now I’m just paying a DDI subscription for Character Builder and access to the Compendium? Fiscally, that just doesn’t make any sense to me as a consumer anymore. However, since I want to continue to run my D&D 4E campaigns going forward, I guess I need to come up with an alternative way to create characters without DDI anymore.
Choices and Alternatives
Using a spreadsheet method is fine, but requires that players do character building by hand, paging through books and Dragon articles to build a character. Sure, it works, and in fact we did that for years and years during everything up to 3.5 Edition. But I think I’d run the risk of a general mutiny on my hands if I started asking my players to do that after tasting the sweet ease of Character Builder.
Of course, we all still have copies of the local Character Builder and updates right up until the Dark Sun material was released. Of course, my players would have to do things like themes by hand, and would have to deal with losing material from post-Dark Sun- release DDI content.
But as it happens, I don’t have to come up with an inventive way at all. One of my players brought his laptop to the game and showed me what he thinks would be a great replacement to Character Builder – Lone Wolf’s Hero Lab.
D&D and a whole lot more…
For folks not familiar with this product, Lone Wolf developed Hero Lab for use with d20/OGL games and has since branched out into other gaming systems. My gaming buddy has been running a Pathfinder game for folks from his area for several years now, and has been using Hero Lab for creating and managing characters and combats all the while.
The stuff he showed me with his 4E character looked very promising indeed, and in fact the character sheet he created looks just as good and easy to use as the one printed by DDI Character Builder. In addition, my player can make changes to his character on the fly with his laptop, adding new items, updating cash, and everything else without having to worry about an online internet connection.
And as a DM, I’m fairly excited about being able to add my own custom content again to the game, like magic items, boons, and even some house rules. Hero Lab allows this content to be built right into the database, so that it will be a part of my game without a separate sheet or document to reference.
Pricing and licensing is quite reasonable compared to the yearly cost of DDI, with additional licenses available for a nominal fee. So instead of me having to share my DDI account with my 6 players, and have them share time with Character Builder to update their heroic alter egos, we can now buy enough copies and licenses to Hero Lab to go around, allowing everyone to have their own user copy.
So while I’ve enjoyed using DDI while 4E was an active concern of Wizards of the Coast, it seems that in that edition’s twilight hours, it’s time to move on to something new. Even though 4E is being exiled by WotC, my D&D campaigns are still going strong, and I can’t afford to throw money at a service that is becoming less and less useful all the time.
It’s a shame really – it doesn’t have to be this way – WotC still could have made DDI content and 4E releases while Next was being play tested. But there’s no reason for my games to suffer for someone else’s short-sighted management decisions, and I’m just glad there’s a reasonable alternative out there for us 4E fans to enjoy!
So until next blog… I wish you happy gaming!