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The Next D&D Homebrew: Goodbye, DDI! Hello… er, something else?

ddi heartbreakI 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

There are a few alternatives out there on the web to use in place of Character Builder, including a javascript site and a downloadable spreadsheet.  Obviously, there are downsides to using online java sites, such as being unable to save characters or the problems with not being sure you have up-to-date information.

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!

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


6 Responses to “The Next D&D Homebrew: Goodbye, DDI! Hello… er, something else?

  1. Mindshadow2k says:

    The unfortunate part about 4e in Herolab is that you still have to have an active subscription to ddi to get the current content. There is a downloader application that asks you for your DDI username and password to get the updated information from WotC.

    And I quote from Herolabs website:

    “A downloader is provided to allow you to download free content from D&D Insider, or subscriber content with the provision of a username and password.”

  2. FlashbackJon says:

    I used their Army Builder software long, long ago, and was pretty happy with it.

    So it looks like all D&D4e content would have to be custom created then? Can you create everything you need from scratch? That seems pretty arduous, at least at first. The benefits are clear, of course, and I can get the whole thing and three licenses for the price I’m paying for DDI. Since I PLAY a good portion of those other games, seems like a win.

  3. @Mindshadow2k – It’s not a problem. Once the content is downloaded, it stays in a local database and does not require a password unless you’re updating the information from DDI. I plan to get the current information before my account expires in a few weeks. Given recent trends, it’s highly unlikely that DDI will put out anything in the next year that will be a “must have”. And if by extreme unlikely chance WotC does put out a new Character Options book, one can simply add the feats, powers, races, and whatever else manually using the kit as needed for one’s campaign.

    For those who like a bit of programming, I was tweeted by @catastrophegame that folks are still creating mods and updates for WotC’s old Offline Character Builder – you can find a master list of them here: (yes, I know the forum’s reputation, do tread at your own risk).

  4. panzerleader says:

    i felt such a sense of relief when i cancelled my ddi subscription (late last year) ad have never looked back. i wonder how hard it would be to play 4e without any digital aids, just using the hardbacks. i will never forgive myself (or them) for the hundreds of pounds of useless books i bought in my too-short love affair with 4e.

    also, due to a hard drive crash around the time the builders went “online” i have no original offline copies of the builders, which were better in every conceivable way. it is such a shame really… if i ever went back to 4e i would pirate the offline builders if that were possible, and feel no remorse because wotc did an evil thing when they forced us to adopt the online builders. i am not sure i can ever forgive them for the pain they put us through since 2008.

  5. Philo Pharynx says:

    I remembr the old days, when Dragon and Dungeon would have several articles a day. It was the equivalent of getting a full book every month. Now It’s a rare week that has anything I’m interested in.

    I already own Hero Lab for Pathfinder. I think I’ll look up the 4e upgrade.

  6. Tiger Dave says:

    WotC did the exact same last edition when it decided to take over the Dungeon and Dragon magazines and give them to us for free. Not only did they get late/missiong, but the material was so worthless that even the free editions weren’t worth the value. However they manage their people, they definitely cannot “multi-task.” It’s obvious they’ve shifted folk to the new game, don’t you want a polished new game over a good magazine, etc etc etc., got it. The problem however is that this is the first impression we get of the next iteration. They really need to learn how to lay the old girl down with class and dignity, at the same time dangling those yummy carrots before us to build excitement for the next edition.

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