D&D Insider bonus tools

August 9, 2008 at 10:41 am
filed under Roleplaying
Tagged , ,

Looks like the D&D Insider Bonus Tools are up. (Previously, I couldn’t find them through a web search or by poking around their site, but now there’s a bit along the time with a link.)

In terms of the tools themselves, there’s the Ability Generator and the Encounter Builder. To begin with, it looks like they’re using Adobe Flex (which makes me wonder how difficult it would be for me to do something similar myself). They’re Flash instead of a client app. As such, they’re both pretty lightweight, although the Encounter Builder is fairly extensive in some ways.

So let’s talk about ’em.

Ability Generator

If you’ve played a D&D computer game since Neverwinter Nights, this tool should be obvious. It’s a point buy calculator. Pick your race, which ability score you want at 8 (if any), and you can spend points to twiddle your ability scores to your heart’s content. You can also click Random to have the point distribution randomized. I thought that was a nice touch.

When you’re done, you can get them in a copy-paste-able text format.

Will I use it?

I actually liked the example stat arrays in the book, and in some ways prefer them to point buy. Tweaking my stats point-by-point is nice and all, but I prefer having the broad strokes established; I don’t like deciding what to do with my last point or two.

That said, not everyone likes that, and there’ve been times where I thought a stat array could use a little tweaking. I could also see myself clicking Random as a starting point and going from there.

Since I’ve been thinking about writing a tool like this for myself, this saves me the trouble. I will almost certainly use it.

Encounter Builder

The encounter builder is pretty straightforward in concept; you can find these in various places on the Internet. You pick party level, the number of PCs, and you’re taken to a list of monsters, pre-filtered by tier. You can then browse through all of the monsters released so far, filtering by level, type, origin, category (e.g. Archon), keyword, et cetera.

As you select monsters, it totals up how much XP you’ve spent, and offers an assessment of difficulty.

When you’re done, you can click “Display & Print.” I suppose what you’d do here is copy-paste the output, which provides a write-up of the encounter. This write-up doesn’t include monster stats, so you’ll have to transcribe those yourself, unfortunately.

Would I use it?

I’ve been eyeballing encounters based on the rule of thumb of “one monster of equivalent level per party member,” and even then I strayed from that for the first one, with only two level 3 monsters and the rest level 1s and 2s against a level 3 party.

While I do have a spreadsheet that adds up and figures out monster totals, it has one or two bugs. This is because I am lazy, and I’m lazy because Excell’s macros are a sin against creation. Having this capability in a browser window does actually make this easier, and it’s really for convenience that I will most likely use this once I’m past the idea phase on an encounter and I have to commit to some monsters.

This tool does save me some trouble, and as such I will probably give it a whirl.

My biggest problem with this tool is the font they used for monster names. It’s more difficult to read than it needs to be, given how small it is, and given that the rest of the interface doesn’t have this problem.

Coming soon

I have more thoughts about Er-Eret related to some bigger problems, like pacing in a journey-style game as well as making people’s skills relevant in a non-urban environment.

  • Not very impressive, are they?

    Honestly, asmor.com was there quicker, and more usable too. Add in pathguy’s 4th Edition character generator (http://www.pathguy.com/cg4.htm) and what Wizards’ are offering in their DDI is looking very, very poor indeed.

    It doesn’t help that their Rules Compendium could be built better in under an hour by someone with access to the database and ruby-on-rails.

    I’d much, MUCH rather they concentrated on publishing books. Give use softcover editions. Give us coffee-table versions of the Monster Manual with twice the art (and double the price). Give us books+access to PDFs for an extra dollar or two. Give us books. Because they’re BOOK PUBLISHERS. It’s what book publishers do.

    But for gawd’s sake, I wish they’d stop pretending to be a software house when they so clearly aren’t.

  • Oh, yeah, Asmor.com’s stuff is good. I want to post about the stuff of theirs that I’ve liked, if for no other reason than to give kudos. I’m a pretty big fan of their Treasure Trove tool, and their 4e Monster Math Cruncher is a pretty good starting point for monster building.

    But I disagree that Wizards shouldn’t try to provide this kind of software, primarily because if they don’t do it, the fans certainly can’t without risking lawsuits. I think the Treasure Trove tool would be even better if you could see what the items you’re picking *do* rather than having to flip through a book, but if you implement that, you’ve gotta keep it to yourself.

    And while I mean no slight to the creator of that chargen tool, it’s really a pale imitation of what character creation could be. Someone who had little familiarity with 4e could scarcely use this tool.

    Imagine if you could instead use an interface on par with the Neverwinter Nights character generator (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_hZEKmdcj0, fast forward to about 1:30). You could have links to explanations for each game term throughout the interface, or recommendations based on race, class, feat, or power selection. And there’s no reason at all why you couldn’t implement this as a web-based tool that integrated with whatever client-based goodies WotC wants.

    I really don’t care how WotC does it— whether in-house, licensed, or contracted out, if it’s good I won’t complain. But right now, I think we have the worst of both worlds. We don’t get the rich functionality of a chargen tool backed by an up-to-date rules database, and the fans can’t provide that without getting in trouble.

  • I’d LOVE it if they got Bioware or whoever to make their tools! It’s crazy that D&D computer games have better character generation engines than the rpg itself. If Bioware created an officially licensed stand-alone char gen (say, for $10, much like the Spore engine) that could also be skinned for future computer games, we’d have the best of all worlds – and Wizards’ would rake in the cash too.

    As it stands though, I’d rather have something that’s fan-created but unpolished in preference something that looks a little better from Wizards that’s rubbish. Sorry, but.

  • I expect the character creation tools we may eventually see, possibly before the Apocalypse, will at least be on par with the Neverwinter Nights stuff. But I don’t know enough about what they’re using or whatever to really see whether it’d be cheaper or better if they were using a different approach. Plus, I’m really not an expert on this (SURPRISE).

    I can see why it might seem crazy that NWN is essentially a superior character creation tool, but this goes back to your original point. BioWare is a software company with years of experience. Wizards just ain’t. It’s weird, though, that there’s essentially nothing right now.

    You wanna know what really gets me? We’ve been down this road before. I never got my hands on a copy myself, but do you remember the tool that shipped with D&D 3e? I’d only played 2e when someone put that in front of me, and this tool walked me through the whole process. It was a great introduction to the game. I think 4e is missing out because you can’t plunk someone who’s never played D&D in front of a computer and have them walk away with a character and a basic grasp of the rules.

    This frustrates the heck out of me, because people playing MMOs or video games these days would find this far more natural than flipping through a book, and while this wouldn’t be a silver bullet, I imagine you could win a lot more converts this way.

    That’s also why I’m so dismissive of the fan-created chargen tool: you can’t expect anyone to learn anything from that tool and it is not a reasonable alternative to using the book. (Of course, to some extent, this is By Design as far as Wizards’ policy is concerned— explaining character creation is sketchy, if not expressly prohibited.)

    As for what we’ve got now, well, they’re free “Bonus” tools. :) While they’re a far cry from what you and I think should be out there, I wouldn’t call it rubbish. There’s some good stuff there, like searching against the whole Monster Manual in database fashion, for example, and I’d be surprised if you could find that in a web-based fan tool.

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