Many people look at WOTC's DDI Character Builder and think it is a great idea. Even many people who intensely dislike D&D 4e like the idea of the DDI Character Builder and wish there were one for their favorite RPG. At least as implemented by WOTC, I disagree, it's a horrible idea -- at least for the type of campaigns I run -- and I would never allow its use in a campaign I ran.
A recent podcast with people from WOTC shows why something like the DDI Character Builder is a horrible idea. Here's part of a message on the RPGSite on this podcast:
It appears the whole "is Essentials a new (half) edition?" issue that vexes the forum is the wrong question to ask. Instead of asking what Essentials is when compared to 4.0, the question ought to be - what happens to 4.0, now that Essentials is coming out. The answer to that in the podcast is striking, and as follows.
Every power currently in the DDI will be brought in line with the Essentials bench mark. A huge swath of "updates" will ensue once Essentials is out. Every power will be screened individually and be brought in line. There will be mostly nerfs, or leaving powers untouched, but power-ups will be far and few between. In short, 4.0 will be removed from the DDI whole sale.
At that point someone in the audience asked about Magic Missile. Basically what's described in the previous paragraph is exactly what happened to an individual power like Magic Missile already. What no one knew so far - this is going to happen to every power in the game. The question was a very good one, as it applies not just to Magic Missile but to the Essentials overhaul across the board:
"Why do you change powers to line them up with Essentials? Why not have two powers on DDI, say Melf's Magic Missile and Evard's Magic Missile, so people on DDI can choose which one they want to use?"
To which Bill Slavicsek answered:
"There were two goals with Essentials. One is to introduce new players. The other is to make 4E a simpler, more streamlined and more accessible game. Having 17 versions of magic missile in the DDI runs counter to that."
If I ran a 4e campaign, this would be why I would not allow the DDI to be used to generate characters. I don't want to play in the WOTC D&D world. I want to run campaigns set in my homebrew world. To do that I need stable rules that do not change at the whim of WOTC (as at least some of those changes might affect/change my world in ways I don't want).
I've never been a slave to the published rules -- let alone the errata/updates to the published rules. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, using the DDI Character Builder makes you a slave to both. House rules can't be added easily and WOTC errata/updates replace original rules whether you want them to or not.
A software character builder can be be a great idea if done right, but the DDI Character Builder transfers control of the rules used in the campaign from the GM running that campaign to the company designing the game. While that may be great for some GMs, it is the last thing I want. A good software character builder would make it easy for the GM to add house rules (or rules from third party products) and would never change rules already in use just because official errata or updates had come out. A really good character builder (i.e., one I would be willing to pay money for) would handle rules errata and updates as like "revisions" in a wiki. If the GM did not like a change in a rule he could roll back the change for that rule to any previous version or replace it with a homebrew rule.
I realize a lot of people like the DDI Character Builder for 4e and would not try to run a 4e game without it. To me, it takes far too much control of the game from the GM to be allowed in the type of campaigns I run. I hope that other companies thinking of doing a software character builder for their game will remember to leave the final say over the rules used to the GM.