Monday, November 14, 2011

Going without the DDI Character Builder

A little over a month ago, I spontaneously decided to subscribe to DnD Insider for a month to see what I was missing.  I was generally pretty happy with what I got for my money.  Dungeon magazine, in particular, as full of great ideas, and the monster editor was a fabulous resource as I started working on my first adventure.

Probably the most essential application on there, however, was the Character Builder.  While I enjoy the process of character building, as a new player I'm prone to making errors (e.g. I just discovered a few nights ago that shields give you a bonus to both AC and Dex).  Furthermore, the product that the character builder creates is very nice; the character sheets were far easier to use for my new/young players, and the power cards were terrific.  Furthermore, I loved how easy it was to roll up a character, paruse the various feats and powers, etc.  It reminded me a lot of the Neverwinter Nights character creation engine, in fact.

The problem with DDI is that it's expensive.  My wife is already bothered enough by my return to overt geekery over the past few months.  Spending $70/year on a subscription to DDI isn't something that is going to be an easy sell in my household.

So instead, as my subscription lapsed a week or so ago, I began looking around to see what else I could use to manage my characters.  After a fair bit of trial and error, here's what I came up with.

The Character Sheet

I wanted something that would do some of the basic, repetitive calculations for me.  The logical thing to do, therefore, was to build something in my old standby, Excel.  After spending about 15 minutes working on it, however, and realizing how much work it would take to get it formatted prettily, I decided to look around and see what people had already done. :)

There are some very complicated spreadsheets out there that try to essentially replicate the Character Builder in terms of scope (e.g. this one).  I wanted something more flexible, though, so that I could work up the characters myself and only rely on the sheet to do basic things like add my +1/2 level every time I leveled up.

I found this one by Rohin Joyce, which I just adore.  It does all the basic calculations for you, but leaves a lot of room for customization.  At this point, I'm using it with only small modifications to create my characters.  But then, I'm pulling data from it to create a kid-friendly character sheet that I put together myself.  Here's the result:
This represents my attempt to create a noob/kid friendly character sheet that, when used with power cards, has most of the stuff they will need to operate their characters.  It is very slimmed down.  You get defenses at the top left.  You get your basic attacks and whatnot right below that.  You get hit points right below that. The top-right has initiative, speed, and your passive senses.  And the bottom-right has all the skills and attribute modifiers (borrowing from the Essentials character sheets, I'm nesting the skills within the attributes). Importantly, as these are kids, there's a huge portrait area that can hold whatever picture my player wants (as long as I can find it on Google image search).

Obviously, I left out a lot of stuff.  I didn't even give them their attribute scores, for example--just the modifiers.  But as Mike Shea has pointed out (somewhere, sorry, I don't have a link), all that really matters is the modifier anyway!  Omitting attribute scores just saves newbie confusion.  I'm also omitting deities (which won't play a big role in my game, at least for now), action point trackers (I use tokens), feats, etc.  All of that stuff is on the other character sheet, which can be printed out and stapled beneath this one.

With the exception of the notes part, and the graphic, which will need to change for each character where it pulls its info, it's entirely automated.  Fill out Rohin's character sheet and all of this populates.  It's just more approachable for my players to use this in the game.  If someone is interested, I'll post it.  Just let me know.

What About the Power Cards?

A nice excel-based character sheet is great, but I really became infatuated with the power cards that the Character Builder generates.  My players responded very well to them in our last session, so I wanted to make sure that I still have something workable.  I originally planned to just make them in excel, but I ran across this thread about using a Magic the Gathering card editor, with an all-text template, as an alternative.  Here is a screenshot of the result:

I absolutely adore these.  I'm able to make cards that are bigger, cleaner, and easier to use than what the character builder generates.  Even cooler, I can use it to generate treasure cards in advance that I can hand to players as they uncover magic items.  Here's what I'm handing out over the rest of the Twisted Halls:

How cool is that?

What have you done to work around the DDI Character Builder?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Essentials Magic Item List

I'm relying on the treasure tables in the Dungeon Master's Kit to distribute treasure in an appropriate way within my compaign.  Thanks to R.M. Walker's Automated Treasure Finder spreadsheet, this is pretty easy--though I had to edit his spreadsheet to include a means of adjusting for party size.

The one stumbling block to this process has been finding appropriate magic items.  The DM Kit tables will tell you to give an item of a specific level and rarity value (common, uncommon, etc).  I'm currently running with only the Dungeon Master's Kit and Heroes of the Fallen Lands, and as a result I have a limited supply of magic items at my fingertips.  This can make it hard to find, for example, a level 6 uncommon item, especially if I'm trying to get something for a particular player.  And the process is made all the harder by the fact that I haven't found a good index of the magic items in these books.  So, I decided to make one.

As I acquire other sources (I'd really like to get Mordenkainen's...), I will no doubt add to this spreadsheet.  But for now, this is what I have.  I'm posting it here in case someone else can use the info.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Today, we defeated the Frog Wizard

After a bit of time off, we resumed playing rpgKids and defeated the Frog Wizard! Huzzah!