My handwriting is horrible. Whenever folks need a visual representation of the Klingon language, they ask me to write something. If you go by the stereotype, I should be a rich doctor. And yet, it is what it is. Just kind of sloppy and hard to read.
My character sheets were equally hard to read. My writing is kind of big, so to put it in teeny tiny boxes…well, it gets hard to write it all. Like any gamer, I like accuracy and detail. And yet, my own handwriting was limiting me.
That’s when Wizards of the Coast released Character Builder. Here was a program that would help me build my character (thus being appropriately named) , and would do so in a fashion that would produce a neat, clean, detailed character sheets. Plus it had those attractive D&D 4th edition power cards as well. I was elated, and spent many an hour converting old characters to 4th edition or coming up with new character ideas.
Character Builder had become my salvation. It had become my jailor.
You see, I’m also part tinker gnome. Maybe it’s my Dragonlance roots talking, or maybe I’m like a lot of gamers out there. I like to build and craft within my game. We gamers are notorious world builders and amateur game designers. It gets in your blood. New races, new roles to play within the world, monsters, villains….it’s all wonderful stuff. And a lot of it needs stats to implement in-game. And like good little tinker gnomes, we love to craft those rules.
So it was that my frustrations with Character Builder began. You see, the miracle program had one big flaw. It wasn’t friendly towards house rules. You could put some in, but you were limited in other areas. And there was always an annoying little icon reminding me that my character wasn’t “legal” (whatever that means). What happens when I want to use house rules for a 4th edition conversion of some rule from a prior edition? What happens when I create something new I want to implement?
I found limits in other ways too. For example, I would have to wait a month between publication of a book and the time when it would be implemented on Character Builder. I found myself just waiting on baited breath for the release of the next update. A few months ago, such an occurrence was happening again. I had been waiting a year for the release of the 4th edition version of Dark Sun. I got the books, and knew it was just a matter of time before I could update my old Dark Sun characters in Character Builder.
That day didn’t come. The update didn’t come. WotC was pretty silent on the issue. Through a comedy of errors, Character Builder was delayed, and then those dates weren’t met. Wizards was not communicating with the public to keep people informed. We finally got half an update in October, but still no Dark Sun. Essentials was coming out too, and we wondered if that would be included.
And so I waited and waited, until finally, the new online Character Builder was released. I jumped into it, but with caution. As it turns out, caution was warranted. Character Builder was filled with errors and liked to crash. It was even worse about house rules as well. I play Dragonlance a lot, and yet I couldn’t even type the name of a Dragonlance deity into the appropriate box.
I had had enough. Something finally snapped within me. I had known for some time that this program was inhibiting me from a creative standpoint. I realized that it was holding me back, and was serving not so much as an aid, but as a crutch.
And it was my own fault. I had brought this on myself. I allowed a program to control my fun.
The Character Builder fiasco had a couple of good effects. First, it was a reminder of how we used to tackle character sheets – by hand. We didn’t worry about what some silly program told us was legal.
But wait, my handwriting is like bad Klingon. Was going back the way to go?
As it turns out, the gaming community is quite creative, and not just within the confines of the game. They have a knack for creating some of the best toys, such as form-fillable character sheets and power card generators. I’ve known about them, but have taken a closer look in light of the Character Builder fiasco. And you know, I’ve found some neat toys. I feel like I can tinker again.
The moral of this story? We all have our shackles. We all have those things that limit us as creative individuals. Maybe for you it’s the rules, to which you might feel beholden. For me, it was Character Builder. And while I think it can still be a useful tool, I no longer feel that it is necessary for me to play the game. Because it isn’t.
Try to recognize those shackles that hold you down. They can be hard to identify at times. Recognizing them is the hard part. Once you do, though, search for a way around them, and remember that there are always alternatives.