Essentials and the new Character Builder

November 5, 2010 at 9:06 pm
filed under Roleplaying

Does anyone else find Essentials somewhat confusing? I don’t mean the rules. I mean which books you need for what. I thought I understood it. Assuming you’re not planning on using the non-Essentials 4e stuff, players would need the Heroes of (Fallen Lands|Forgotten Kingdoms) to create characters. A DM would need the Rules Compendium and the Monster Vault to build a campaign. Simple enough, right?

Then I started reading The Next Wave in Digital Offerings. I got really confused as to what was what until I looked at the catalog entry for Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell. It spells things out pretty clearly and I sort of feel like an idiot for not being able to figure it out. Oh well.

I’m not sure how I feel about this method of splitting up the books. I suppose there’s no inherent reason why someone unfamilar with D&D would find the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual triumvirate less confusing (aside from the bundle of three books you’d buy).

In any case, I still haven’t picked up any Essentials books. What can I say? I haven’t felt much enthusiasm about roleplaying lately. Maybe that sums up the reason for the decline in roleplaying overall. It’s effort to set up a game, to wrangle a playable group of characters, and so on. Oh, sure, my thoughts on Essentials as a game or a system is mostly unchanged: the move towards simplicity is probably a good idea, I like the price point for the books, the size is pretty adorable, and overall, I’m intrigued. The fancy hasn’t struck me. Admittedly I’m probably more likely to run a World of Darkness game of some sort. That’s still unlikely.

Character builder

I’ve still tried to follow the stuff about D&D lately, however, and another thing caught my notice. They’re finally doing a web-based version of the Character Builder! It’s been discussed before, but they mention it once again in the November news. This is quite a development. I own a Mac laptop and it was always a little silly that I could only do things on my Windows machine. I sort of get why. If they’re going to hire developers in the Seattle area, there’s a very high chance that any candidates will have worked for Microsoft at some point in their career. That biases things in favor of Windows and, to some extent, client technology. I’m trying not to make a value judgment here, because neither of those things are inherently awful— Windows is obviously the dominant OS, and you work with the talent you have available to you. So the original client was in .NET.

That’s done in Silverlight, apparently, is also understandable for those reasons. However, it seems like a pretty big mistake. Yes, I know: it’s easy to second-guess whoever’s in charge as I sit comfortably at home. There’s nothing riding on me successfully finishing this blog post. Hear me out.

Silverlight is a dead technology. I get that it uses .NET, so they wanted to be able to use that expertise. Although the writing was on the wall, arguably, the team couldn’t possibly have known that Microsoft was going to deprecate it when they started (link). That announcement was last week or so. But let’s be honest: it was never terribly popular outside of a few highly specific applications. I’ll grant you that Netflix streaming is a huge win. I can’t name much else, outside of Microsoft’s own stuff.

The other wrinkle is that there is no mobile story (as geeks call it these days). I could see not having figured out something for the iPad. If we assume a 12 – 24 month development cycle, they started well before the iPad was out, and although the iPad lived up to the hype in terms of sales, you can’t predicate your development cycle on that. Even so, the lack of any solution for Android or iOS is baffling. Mobile is enormous and it’ll continue to grow. And Silverlight runs on zero mobile devices. Not a single one! Yikes.

I think there’s some good news, though. As I understand it, Silverlight is just a frontend. The rest of the stack may be Microsoft tech, but that’s outside of Silverlight’s purview, modulo whatever interop stuff Microsoft has set up to make it easy to deveop apps. As part of that, Wizards has got tools in place for adding and editing game data. Writing a new client is somewhat “easier” than doing the whole thing from scratch, since “all you’d need to do” is write a new frontend to interpet the same data you were sending down to the Silverlight client. (Scare quotes highly intentional.) Here my ignorance about the Microsoft stack precludes me from informed commentary: it seems like ASP.NET is would be the right answer to this, to provide some relatively .NET-like way of writing a web client. I’ve no idea what the situation is with mobile devices.

There’s also this:

There are five things I really, really like about the new Character Builder.

  1. It’s ultimately portable. I can use it on any computer or computer-like device, wherever I am.

Hang on, there. Does this mean there is a web-based client after all? Otherwise I don’t get what a “computer-like device” would be— notebooks, netbooks, and laptops are all fancy words for small but “real” computers running desktop operating systems. iPods, smartphones, iPads, and the like are all small “computer-like” devices, running mobile operating systems. They don’t run Silverlight. Windows Phone 7 runs Silverlight, apparently, but once again, that came out only recently. An iDevice client wouldn’t be amiss, of course, so maybe that’s in the works. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Bill could just be referring to netbooks and their ilk.


When I did visit my FLGS a week or two ago, it was interesting to hear the local guy pass on the latest news about White Wolf. The Afterword in Mirrors indicates that the new World of Darkness isn’t over per se, just that it’s going digital only, right? This fellow indicated that it was over. Probably confusion, right? Probably. It’s easy to see why, though.

He also mentioned old World of Darkness books being available as print-on-demand. I have a policy that I like to summarize in terms of “I try to stay out of religious wars.” This includes PC vs. Mac, emacs vs. vi, 3e vs. 4e, and yes, old World of Darkness vs. new World of Darkness. (Against my better judgment, I’m tempted to write up a sort of farewell post to the oWoD. Maybe someday.) I was already leaving at the moment, so I murmured something polite and stepped outside. Folks at that store appear highly sympathetic to the old World of Darkness, and that’s fair. No use is pissing on anybody’s parade.

It is a little sad as I think back. I bought most of my Mage: the Ascension books from his store. And when the new World of Darkness came out, I bought a ton of Vampire and Werewolf books used. (I owned them previously, but having moved from the east coast to the west coast, I left the majority of my WoD books at my parents’ house.) I’ve relegated all but M:tAsc‘s books to the other room.

Mostly they all gather dust. I don’t have the heart to read them. I strongly suspect that they won’t hold up for me. The way I figure, it’s better to stick with my hazy memories from about 10 years ago than to realize concretely just how dated the books, the setting, and the aesthetic will feel to me.


Until next time, blog.

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