I don’t like the character builder. Yeah, it makes character creation and maintenance easier for a lot of players. Believe me, I know—I’ve known a few players who really should use it. But at the same time, the CB makes me want to shout “When I was your age, we didn’t have fancy software to make our toons for us. We wrote them on scratch paper with our own hands, with pencils and blood and sweat; and we thanked the good lords Gygax and Arneson that we could do that!”
(Did you know that Socrates was alive during the time that the Greeks discovered writing, and were just beginning to write things down on clay tablets? Well, he was, and he was pretty opinionated about this new technology. Socrates thought that writing things down, and thereby not having to memorize each individual scrap of knowledge in order to pass it on to the next generation, would make us lazy and stupid. Well I’m sure that years from now, when our children’s children record their character sheets on cerebral bio-chips and paper can only be found in museums, the CB will be proven as benevolent a tool as the clay tablet. But damnit, I just don’t like it.)
See, I use house rules, and I expect other DMs to use house rules too. In fact, I can count on half a hand the number of by-RAW (rules as written) games I’ve played. With 4e, and its CB, I’m seeing less house rules and more RAW. The CB exerts a kind of insidious pressure on house rules. Of course, it doesn’t tell anyone NOT to use whatever house rules we want, nor does it crash if we add an extra feat here or an extra bonus there—but its very existence makes the RAW a much more solid entity. Just like the printing press eventually standardized written English–did you know that Shakespeare spelled his name in about seven different ways, none of which were ‘Shakespeare’?–the CB is standardizing our characters.
Standardization is great for casual gamers, who can’t be bothered to think about problems like the Expertise feats—just like standardization is great for all the Joe Shmoes, who can’t be bothered to think about why ‘English’ is pronounced with an I but starts with an E. But for someone like me, who knows that these anomalies are ultimately mistakes, standardization makes it harder to fix them. The CB is only designed to accept a limited number of house rules—bonus feats only, as far as I know. If I want my players to use any cruncy house rules other than that, they have to ‘trick’ the program into doing what I want—the result of course, is that I feel bad that my players jump through those hoops for the sake of my house rules. Of course they don’t have to jump through those hoops; they could just write their character sheets the old fashioned way, but that defeats half the purpose of the CB—printing off their tiny-print color-coordinated power cards while they crack open another can of Mountain Dew.
Like the printing press, DDI is a living engine that spits out what most players look on as THE source of content—though much of it is of questionable quality, and some of it downright lazy once you apply a mote of judgment. But because it’s always being updated (at least until 5e comes), the CB creates a subtle but inexorable current of standardized rules that flow against all house rules. In other words, the CB is a mixed blessing—it tends to drag the game’s flaws into our sessions as well as its virtues.