There’s an awful lot of gnashing of teeth going on right now, and all because of something that has been put back exactly the way it should have been in the first place.
I am, of course, talking about the announcement that Character Builder is going (shock! horror!) to be web-based in future. Goodbye .NET app, hello fluffy cloud. It makes sense from both a business and user perspective too – much as the current CB app is a surprisingly great program, putting it entirely online should (in theory) mean that it’s easier for WoTC to keep up to date, will run from absolutely anywhere (even on Macs, and maybe even under Linux – more in that in a mo’). Hopefully in the future we’ll see better integration with the Rules Compendium as well. For example, I’d love to be able to click on the Dazed condition in a Power description and the glossary definition pops up, right there.
Add in the inevitable transition of the Monster Builder to being a web-app as well, and all of your existing 4e D&D tools will be available to use whether you’re at home, work (during lunch hours only!), your friends’ house or in a library/net cafe. As it’s entirely cloud-based, all of your existing characters & monsters will be there waiting for you too. What’s not to love?
This being Wizards’ of the Coast, there’s a couple of wrinkles to watch out for. Those guys never take the easy path, do they? Firstly, the Character Builder is built using Silverlight. If you’ve not heard of it, that’s Microsoft’s Flash-wannabe that never quite took off in the scale that they wanted. Using Silverlight makes sense for WoTC as there’s an easy transition path between .NET-based applications and Silverlight, but the (minor) downside for users is that they need the Silverlight plugin to view the new Character Builder. The plugin is available for both Windows (well, duh) and Mac meaning this update is great news for the Mac-using role-players out there. The open source Moonlight project brings Silverlight support (of sorts) to Linux, so the new Character Builder might even work on a Real Operating System too :)
Going entirely web-based means it’s goodbye to the ability to share your Character Builder download slots with the rest of your gamer group. Silverlight-based web-apps can be turned into fully downloadable applications, though WoTC have (for now, at least) decided to keep it web only. I don’t see that changing any time soon. This isn’t so much of a crisis as folks are making out; either share your password (it’s a game, not your frickin’ bank account (and if you use the same password for both, you’re a fool)) or log them in and set their browser to remember your password. They don’t know it, but their web browser does. Job done.
A bigger issue comes from the need for ‘net access to use these applications, especially when it comes to Conventions. Your local gamer store isn’t likely to have free wifi, but there’s likely to be a computer somewhere with ‘net access of sorts (and if not, you should have come prepared!). In Conventions though, they’ve added a whole new problem for the organizers to deal with. Good luck with that one.
But y’know what? Amid all this, I don’t really care.
Role-playing is, and as far as I’m concerned, a low-tech game. The best characters are created with a pencil and pad, not a pointy-clicky interface. D&D isn’t a computer game, and it’s certainly not some half-baked front-end to a console rpg that never existed.
Real Men build their characters at Level One with care and attention, not with a mouse. They pour over books, not pixels. They savour building their character usng the printed PHB as their first source of inspiration and errata be damned. Any other books provide icing on the cake, and if you don’t own ‘em, you don’t need ‘em.
All this talk about web-based applications and how much we need Character Builder with all the latest updates, errata, bells & whistles just to be able to play a game which doesn’t even need a computer in the first place leaves me cold. Sure, it’s interesting, and we gamers love nothing more than to dissect and over-analyse. Heck, I’ve just done it myself.
Right now though, I’d rather be playing RISUS.