Character Builder: Was this the “killer app” of D&D 4th Edition?

I first head the term “killer app” in the early 1980’s at the beginning of the home computer revolution.  It basically referred to software so good or so useful that people would buy (at the time) expensive computer hardware just to run it.  Examples like Visicalc on the Apple II, Lotus 123 on the IBM PC or Star Raiders on the Atari 400/800.  The term has continued to be used and often devices will have what is referred to as a “killer feature”, such as push Email was on early Blackberry models or the edge to edge screen on the new Samsung Galaxy.

Original Character Builder Application

Overall I was and still am a huge fan of the Fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons but even I will admit there are problems with it (but that’s not the point of this article) but I do believe Character Builder was one of the best and most important things to come out of that release.

In the early days, Character Builder (CB) was a downloadable application that let you quickly create and then manage your characters for the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons (released June 2008).  No more rolling dice, no more frantic flicking back and forth through the players handbook; all of the information you needed was a mere keystroke and mouse tap away.  You could roll up a character, pick their skills and equipment and then print it out (complete with all relevant power cards and spells) as a properly formatted character sheet in a matter of minutes.  You could level your character and the application would work out all the new bonuses and stats for you (I always seem to miss something when leveling manually).  The free version would let you take a character from level 1 to 3 but a DDI subscription was necessary for anything above that.

Another great feature of CB was that it was frequently updated in conjunction with the release of a new source book or other materials, so if you wanted to roll a Swordmage that you had read about in the new Forgotten Realms supplement, you could.  You could create concept characters in minutes and draw up a veritable army of pre-generated ones far faster than by rolling dice.

Character Builder (Web Application)

CB would later move from a downloadable application to a web based tool but it still maintained the same functionality and allowed you to import characters you had built with the previous iteration and it was regularly maintained in line with new releases.

So where is CB for fifth edition?

When 5th Edition was still in preview, a set of tools produced by a third party (Trapdoor Technologies) emerged under what would be called DungeonScape.  I didn’t see the preview and early reviews of the beta were mixed but hopeful as to that it was going in the right direction, but a post in October 2014 ended that when it was announced Wizards and Trapdoor were going their separate ways.

So what now?

If you go to the digital tools section of the Wizards website all you get are the Virtual Table and the old CB for fourth edition.

So where are my digital tools for Fifth Edition?

“Fifth Edition” running on IOS

There are some home brew alternatives available out there.  As a bit of an Excel Junkie I’m quite fascinated by some of the Excel magic people bring to the table with spreadsheets such as Forged Anvil.  There are some independent IOS and Android apps (I’m currently using Fifth Edition in my current campaign) and Hero Lab now also supports the latest Edition.  There’s also a web based one called OrcPub that feels a little like CB of old.

All of these go someway to replacing that original CB but all of them fall at various hurdles due to missing features due to licensing or some other problem or restriction on the material.  Some traditionalists might decry at losing of a paper character sheet but I see it at as a natural evolution and realistically long overdue, even more so after what we had before.  Do you agree or not?  Answer in the comments section.


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