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Singing the new Character Builder “Blues”

As you might have noticed, I did not post my usual Monday blog this week.  I was holding back until Tuesday so that I would have a chance to test and report on the release of the new DDI Character Builder, which went live on the official WotC D&D website today!  As we all know, WotC has moved Character Builder to a web-based application from a client-based application we used to have on our home PCs and laptops.  In the official press release notes, the features of the new Character Builder were touted as:

  • New Design: Completely redesigned from top to bottom in Microsoft Silverlight as a robust character creation wizard.
  • No Download: The Character Builder is served from the D&D site.
  • PC and Mac Compatible: Requires an Internet connection and Silverlight plug-in.
  • Access is easy: Just enter the D&D site, log in, and launch the Character Builder from the Tool Box or the Character Builder tools page.
  • Characters in the Cloud: All characters you create are saved on our database. No need to save Character Builder files on your hard drive anymore.
  • File Import: You can easily import your characters created in the previous version to the new Character Builder.
  • Previous Data: Includes all character-building data you enjoyed in the previous versions.
  • New Data Releases: Dark Sun and D&D Essentials data debuts in the new version.

Obviously, I wanted to try out the new Character Builder, but sadly had to wait until after noontime (EST) to get a crack at it.  So after logging into my DDI account and waiting a couple minutes for Silverlight to be installed, I was finally able to fire up the new app and give it a test run.


First off, the appearance of the new Character Builder is fairly impressive.  The interface is nice looking, and intuitive in its design.  In fact, the application goes way beyond intuitive, and seems to run in a perpetual “tutorial” mode, and there feels like a lot of program hand-holding just getting through building a Character.

Building a Character

As we got to see in the video released last week, a Player can choose to build a quick Essentials Character, or build a Custom Character from pre-set Campaigns: D&D Encounters (Keep on the Borderlands), D&D Home CampaignForgotten Realms, Eberron, and Dark Sun.  The D&D Home Campaign appears to be a “kitchen sink” selection of all possible options from the entire line of campaign settings and products.  Sadly, DMs can no longer select and customize a campaign of their own, and must judge each Character to see if they are using options from other settings or certain content from sources like Dragon Magazine which may not desired in their campaign.

One of the first things I noticed when creating a Character and choosing a human was that I was given the option of selecting between the Essentials racial bonus and the standard 4E skill bonuses of an extra starting at will.  It appears that the new Character Builder will allow some mixing of Essentials content with traditional 4E content, underscoring what WotC has claimed all along about the two types of characters being compatible with each other.

Sadly, it was also about this time that I started having problems with Character Builder.

The first issue I had was long pauses when following making a selection.  During the pause between actions – as long as 5-30 seconds at times – the screen dims and no action can be taken until it completes its communication to the server.

Then there were the crashes.  Sometimes during one of these long pauses, Character builder just crashes out.  An error window appears on your screen prompting the user to refresh the browser to continue.  Thankfully, this seems to fix the problem, and even saves the character in progress to the last selection you choose which caused the crash.  On the downside, however, there seems to be no reason for the crashes, which can come at any time you make a selection.  I got errors selecting powers, feats, and even saving my test character.  Clearly there is some programming issues that need to be ironed out behind the scenes.  These crashes are not only frustrating, but time-consuming, and I had a total of 6 before I was finally able to complete and print my test character.

And then you start noticing the things you used to be able to do with the old Character Builder that you cannot do with the new Character Builder.  For instance, one cannot add a custom portrait for your character, but instead must choose from the stock pictures provided by WotC.  Further, you cannot choose to have a blank portrait, so that more artistic players can draw their own on the printed page.
Character builder language
Another noted problem is the lack of space for Character notes.  Under details, there are two boxes Mannerisms and Appearance and Personality Traits where players can add information about their new character.  Discouragingly, there is only an allowable 250 characters per box, so descriptions here must be short and simple.  For more detailed character descriptions and history, it appears that players will have to create a notepad or word document and print a separate page (or pages) to include with their characters.

Another new omission is the lack of language selection, which has been completely decided for you by your racial selection.  Even in specialized settings like the Forgotten Realms and Eberron, one cannot select other regional languages.  I was rather surprised to find such a glaring error in the new application.

At all levels of Character Building, it is possible to have Character Builder make recommendations and selections for you, which you can then go back and alter should you see fit.  It can make building a character much faster for newer players, or for players who want to try something different and let the program decide a few key traits.
New CB Character Sheet
And finally, upon saving and printing a new character, you can select between an Essentials Style Character sheet, or choose a more traditional looking sheet – although the original format from the old Character Builder was not kept.  The current sheets default to Essentials style regardless of character build (a known bug), but may be changed from the drop down menu.  The character sheets are no longer customizable, but as that is listed under Known Issues, one can assume they will fix that and make them customizable in the future.

Known Issues

At the writing of this blog, here is a list of the Known Issues with the Character Builder from the official WotC website:


  • Only two character sheets are available.
  • Character sheets do not scale properly when shown on screen, but print correctly.
  • In the Marketplace section, search is not executed across all categories; you must select a category before searching.
  • Total weight does not reflect the weight of the currency carried.
  • Importing custom characters from Character Builder Classic may cause crashes. To resolve this, remove all house ruled items and try to reimport again.
  • Animal companions and familiars are not printed on the character sheets.
  • When changing total XP to a negative value and trying to save, CBE will crash.
  • Import of hybrid characters is not working as intended.
  • The skill training feats are missing from the Essentials character creation.


  • Character sheets are not user customizable.
  • Power cards are not customizable.
  • There are no multiple weapons power stats.
  • Play data cards are not implemented.
  • Character sheet is defaulting to Essentials even when the user chooses Character Builder.
  • Psychic character power points are not working as intended; power points are not being listed.
  • Creating a lower-level character after creating a higher-level character results in blank pages.


  • Epic destiny choice cannot be postponed past level 21. If you meet the pre-requisites for the choice after level 21, you will be unable to select it.
  • Any character can select a Vadalis Griffon as their beast companion instead of only Vadalis Griffonmasters.
  • The Anointed Champion paragon path gives the Helm and Holy Symbol options starting at level 11 (they are not legal until 16).
  • Arena weapons from the Arena Training fighter feature are sharing all bonuses instead of just feat attack and damage bonuses.
  • Extended Arena Training does not let you pick two additional weapons as arena weapons.
  • If you have more than one familiar, such as by Second Familiar, the constant benefits of all are applied instead of just one.
  • Luck Blade feature of Luckbringer of Tymora does not enable using the selected weapon as an implement.


  • Trusted Spellcasting allows the selection of powers with no ‘miss’ line. Powers that have a ‘miss’ line but do not deal damage on a miss are not being allowed.
  • Arcane Ritualist does not allow for the selection of a ritual, nor can the feat be taken more than once.
  • A character that has a multiclass feat will correctly label additional multiclass feats as houseruled. However, if such a second feat is taken anyway, it will no longer show up as houseruled once taken.
  • Mark of Scribing doesn’t allow a language to be retrained.
  • Remembered Knack allows any skill to be selected instead of the specified limits.
  • Marked for Death ignores the prerequisite of being able to mark a foe.


  • Rhythm Blade’s bonuses apply even when wielded in the main hand.
  • Spiked Shield is treated as a weapon and does not properly also function as a shield.
  • Autobuilding characters will not select the bonus rituals some characters, such as wizards, are entitled to.
  • Gem of Colloquy does not give an additional language.
  • Armor of Resistance does not allow the type of resistance to be selected.
  • Athasian Spellshard cannot be enchanted as a tome.
  • Masterwork armor is not renamed for a Dark Sun character to the Dark Sun equivalent names.
  • Properties and powers of a magic implement take effect incorrectly when the character is not proficient in the implement.
  • Crest of Vigilance Eternal cannot be applied to a shield.
  • The set bonus to initiative for Time Wizard’s Tools is half the correct value.
  • Daggers do not seem to be functioning for sorcerers as implements.


  • Lost Kin background has all skills associated with it instead of only class skills.
  • Editing the same character from two different locations can cause unexpected changes.


  • Characters with the same power from multiple sources, for example a wizard who takes magic missile and has a Master’s Wand of Magic Missile, will have only one version of the power.
  • The calculated stats for powers include only attack bonus and damage. The builder does not calculate critical hit information, secondary attacks such as for dual-wielding powers, healing, temporary hit points, summoned creatures, nor damage types.
  • Synchronized strike and other ranger beast companion powers display hunter’s quarry information which is not applicable to beast attacks.


  • Certain shared rules elements, such as Channel Divinity, display all possible child powers when viewing rather than just those for the appropriate class.
  • Custom character portraits are not implemented.
  • Exporting character to a local drive is not implemented.
  • Secondary/additional backgrounds cannot be selected.
  • Custom items creation/editing is not implemented.
  • Campaign settings editor is not implemented.
  • The name of the character gets too long when you save too many copies.
  • Essentials characters may find some striking similarities in their default character portraits.
  • Making multiple copies of the same character will cause the character’s name to exceed the expected character name limit.

More issues and bugs can be reported here and this is also the site where one can find the known list of issues.

One very disappointing known issues I noted was that Psionic Power Points being omitted on the Character sheet – rather an critical omission if WotC is finally including Dark Sun Campaign content into the Character Builder.

Licensing and Users

One of the first things I wanted to do is check the licensing agreement to see how many users can be on Character Builder at the same time.   As I have 5 players in one campaign, and 6 players in the other, I was hoping they could all use one account and allow me (the DM) to be able to access their Characters any time I wanted.  However, when I clicked the link to the license agreement from the main WotC site, I found that there currently is no license agreement available – it is a blank background – which was not an encouraging sign.

Making copies of the character I made – which is a fairly nifty feature to make an upgrade a character but leave the old one intact – I learned that you can have only 20 characters maximum per account!  Given that I have 11 players in my game, it would appear that I will probably not be able to offer them my “space” to save more than one character each.

But having three computers in the house (2 PCs and a laptop), I figured I could see how many user can be working on a character at the same time.  Under the old Character Builder, one could download and update 5 different computers with Character Builder, allowing multiple players to create or update their characters at the same time.  I was quite dismayed to find that will not be the case under the new web-based Character Builder.

You absolutely cannot operate Character Builder from the same account on separate computers.  Only one character can be accessed at a time per account – whether it is being created, updated, or just printed.  Clearly this is a major issue for campaigns that were sharing the cost of a single DDI account to have access to Character Builder.  It is unreasonable to assume that each member of a gaming group is going to want to foot the bill for a D&D Insider Account, and players will therefore have to work on Characters one at a time!  I find this new system extremely disappointing, and rather than getting more subscriptions, is likely to cause players to actually stop paying for a subscription, and just use the last known updated version of their Character builder locally on their desktops.

Community Reaction to Character Builder

Not surpisingly, the 4E D&D Community has started commenting on the new Character Builder.  There are three “hot” discussion threads on the Wizards Community forums right now, all dealing with the Character Builder:

November 16th Release for Web-based Character Builder – Discussion is up to 200 pages of comments and is a mixture of angst over bugs, annoyance at missing features, and frustration over not being able to get ones beloved character recreated in Character Builder

The new Character Builder link is live; proceed with your complaints now =) – is a discussion of more frustration and disappointment about missing features, bugs, and other problems associated with Character Builder.  It is up to 20 pages of comments and rising.

Directed Discussion: Online CB – Requested Features – is a discussion of ideas from the community for content and features that were not included in this current version.  The thread is only 14 pages long, but contains some fairly interesting ideas to make the Character Builder better.

However, it is clear that right now, there is considerable outrage about Character Builder being released in a format that many subscribers are calling a “beta”.

Commentors on the EN World Forum thread entitled New Character Builder from WotC! were considerably more vocal in their detractions about the new Character Builder, which at the time of this blog has reached 31 pages and still going strong.  There were several individuals claiming they have revoked their subscriptions entirely over feelings that they no longer have control over their characters, and still others that have voiced a “unsubscribe until it is fixed” option and will sign back up only when they hear the current version of CB is less bug-ridden.

Overall, I am fairly disappointed by what I am seeing here from Wizards of the Coast today.  To release an application which is missing so many features, and which has so many bugs so as to have endusers label it a “beta” is nearly unforgivable.  Couple to that a subscription system which would require every member of a gaming group to purchase an expensive monthly subscription, just to allow them to design and save their own Characters, is a shocking slap in the face to every D&D 4E gamer that has supported WotC during the past two years since 4E’s release.  And allowing only 20 Characters per account, when disk storage space has become one of the cheapest IT commodities feels like nothing more than an arbitrary method to try and coerce 4E gamers to spend money on a DDI Subscription.  Personally, I’ll keep my DDI Subscription a while longer, as I use Dragon, Dungeon, and the Adventure Tools, but I have already been told by the few players that did have DDI subscriptions that they are dropping them, and will just use the last updated version from October.  And it is hard not to empathize with them at this point.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

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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.


8 Responses to “Singing the new Character Builder “Blues””

  1. Alphastream says:

    In an effort to be proactive I have created a thread here to identify current features to retain and new features desired of the Monster Builder.

  2. djchon says:

    Wow, its rare that I agree almost totally with anything, anybody has to say but you hit the nail on the head for me. Not only does it have less functionality for the same price but it is a disaster of a launch. Have you checked out the forums lately? eesh…

  3. RPGCI says:

    Yeah, I didn’t have high hopes. It’s a rough combination of ineptitude and greed.

    Software development is a pretty specialized industry, and even some of the very best get caught with their pants down on a launch.

    But it’s the greed part that gets me. I’d imagine they are trying to railroad everyone who wants to play d&d into getting a subscription. The rules and character options keep getting more and more complicated making any kind of analog character management difficult without a degree in library sciences. So, the character builder is almost mandatory at this point and they know they’ve got a lot of people over a barrel.

  4. MJ Harnish says:

    I had similar experiences to you although mine crashed far more often – it took 10 tries before I got through a single character creation. I also found the interface terrible – the equipment section being the worst of a very bad, click-intensive, slow, laborious process. The old CB was 100x better and as a result I’ve canceled my DDI sub. We simply won’t be using or buying anythingnew put out by WotC for out D&D campaign. In the end it’s a win-win: The old CB is truly portable, b/c I don’t need wireless to use it, and I will have more money to spend on other games.

    BTW – I pity anyone trying to run the new CB on a mobile device using G3 b/c it’s sending the complete char’s data set with each click which means it’s going to devour your monthly data allowance rapidly.
    MJ Harnish´s last blog ..Nice – the new web-based Character Builder crashes reliably My ComLuv Profile

  5. UHF says:

    Subscription rates are still going up, and I do wonder if they will go down.

    I’m even grumpier after using it.

    Bugs aside, its unusable. (I assume that mouse scroll wheels and up down arrows will eventually do something useful.)

    I’m constantly overwhelmed with choices and underwhelmed with useful information. Try picking a weapon in the store. In the days of old I’d see a linear list, skim it, and decide what feats I’d need for the character I’d like, go do that, pick the weapon. Done. Now, I’m toiling away clicking stuff, then reading each entry by hand, and not accomplishing the real task here which is to make it faster and easier to make a character.

    Backgrounds.. Feats? Give it up. You’ll need it in paper in a book before hand.

    My new CB experience is based on me building a first level character that I’ve been playing for a long time, and I knew exactly what I wanted to make ahead of time, yet it was painful to do. In fact after wards, my hand was hurting from mousing clicking.

    Even if they fix the bugs, the time required to use it (even to play with a character concept). Is on par with using an automated spread sheet and Magic Set Editor for my cards. So, what are they selling here?

  6. @Alphastream – awesome that’s a great idea, although I’m not sure how much WotC will be listening.

    @UHF – Speaking on subscriptions, I think they need to consider making a special rate for just using Character Builder. Most of my players could not give a damn about Dragon, Dungeon, or the Compendium or Adventure Tools, but they really enjoy being able to use CB. I think most players would spend a couple bucks a month on CB, but to expect every player out there to dish out 9.95 per month is simply insane.

  7. [...] Singing the new Character Builder "Blues" from NEUROGLYPH Games ( [...]

  8. bkjamin says:

    I have to say I am incredibly disappointed. We loved the downloadable CB, this one is a pain to use. Add to the lack of foresight about how we would need to use it as players. The funny part is I still haven’t figured out how to print power cards.

    I almost want to cap our campaign at the Oct release and not update with new material.

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