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Nerd Watching: Some Assembly Required

Written by Nicholas - Published on August 6, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

Just last week we were getting our first taste of the Monster Builder in Shelly Mazzanoble’s “Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard“. This week Insider subscribers got the entire thing to play around with. It came as a beta version as one tab in a program called “Adventure Tools”. The other tabs are blank and still mysterious, but the Monster Builder has plenty to play around with. Allow me to be your guide through the pros and cons of the new program.

The Features

The Monster Builder offers an extensive database all the existing monsters in the compendium. That is to say, it has all the monsters from the official books, magazine articles and adventures. You can use these monsters as they are or as a base for a monster of your own. Custom monsters have things like HP and defenses automatically calculated for them based on the level, role and stats that you assign them. You need not even dealt with stat numbers if you don’t want, you can just assign each stat a value like low or above average and the program will do the rest. Choosing powers is the hardest part, but can be the most fun. The database contains all powers from all monsters which can be reused for your new monster in an altered form or as-is. If you a bolder monster maker, you can override all this. You may input your own numbers for defense and HP, as well as build powers from scratch.

Once your monster is made it is saved in your private database. It can be called up like any other monster in the program. Its powers are also available to be borrowed for new creations. Any monster, old or new, may be copied in a text format or as an image to copy into a text editor.

The Flaws

The program is not without its problems. When you boot up the program, you are treated to a list of all the monsters presented in alphabetical order. Similarly, when you look for powers you add to your new monsters you get a list of all powers from all creatures of all levels. Obviously there are filtering tools, but they are far from perfect. I was thinking that some human opponents would add a shade of grey to the campaign I am running now. I went to the huge list of monsters and select the filter to show me only those with the human keyword. Unfortunately, the list did not include the monsters from the human section of the Monster Manual. Apparently “Human Mage” and the other MM humans don’t have the human keyword.  The filtering methods are a bit annoying for searching the powers. The default filters for powers let you search by things like action type or the type of source monster. The big thing missing these is level. If I am making a level 5 monster, I can easily search for “immediate reaction” powers but I will get them from level 30 monsters too. You must go into the expanded filtering options to set a level range, which seems like the most basic thing to me.

The interface is rather non-intuitive at times. At several points while using the program, I found monster lost in some sub-level and could not figure out how to stop editing a monster or access the power list. It is easy to get lost and can take a little training to find your way home.

As I said earlier, the program is a beta. I can’t fault them too hard for these little interface problems. Hopefully they will be cleared up as the program is updated.

The Un-Features

More than these little flaws, I think people get more upset over what the program isn’t and doesn’t do.

The program is not an encounter builder. It does not easily let you select and print out groups of enemies or assign treasure to them. I know that many people, myself included, want that and hoped it would be included in the Monster Builder. It may come later in the Adventure Tools, but it is not here.

Like the Character Builder, this will not run on a Mac. Elite templates are not stored in the program, dashing my hopes of being able to automatically apply them. The monsters can be copied in Rich Text Format and image form, but don’t feature native wiki integration. I suppose you could save the images and upload them to a wiki, but as someone who uses a wiki to run games I would find that to be a hassle. Monsters and powers that you make are saved in your database for later use, but they can’t be easily shared. There is no public database or way to make your monsters shared.

In short, all the Monster Builder does in stated in the name. I’ve seen many in the community hope for a bunch of related features, but they really aren’t there. The program builds monsters and aside from some beta snags, it does so quite well. Just don’t expect it to do much else.

Have you played around with the Monster Builder? What did you think? What did you make? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

GD Star Rating

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



7 Responses to “Nerd Watching: Some Assembly Required”
  1. Sam Judson says:

    Like you say it has a very ‘beta’-ish feel, which as it is a beta is fine by me. I love it for what it is and think it does that job very well.

    They are actively looking at the feedback on the forums and I predict that the export/sharing aspect will definitely get better. I also suspect that some of the other tools will cover encounter creation.

    So in general I am very optimistic and think this a great addition to the ‘suite’ of tools.

  2. Phaezen says:

    They are working on incorpirating templates for further releases, according to the wotc forums.

  3. Bryan Smart says:

    I don’t think your review does the tool justice. Yes, it can’t do some things that some had thought it might (as opposed to what Wizards said it would do). I think lamenting what it can’t yet do is a little silly – it does what Wizards said it would, it builds and adjusts monsters easily on the fly. There are other adventure tools and additions to the monster builder in the pipeline, and that is enough for me.

    You must admit that the adjusting of monster levels, powers, statistics, and the creation of new monsters using powers from other monsters alone is amazing and very slick. I find it to be a very polished beta, and not clunky at all. It really resolves one of my major issues with 4e D&D – you have a 3rd level party that you would like to fight Dark Elves. Unfortunately, from the MM raw, drow are level 11+. You could go through a process to change them on paper, but it might take a bit of time. Enter the monster builder. Pull up the drow you’d like to use, easily adjust them down to the proper level for your encounter, all stats automatically change for the adjustment you’ve made, and voila! drow encounter for a 3rd level party. Just awesome.

  4. The Reaper says:

    I used the monster builder to not only recreate my legendary purple dragon (now a lv 32), but I also releveled some stuff for a DDO campaign! I am readying my party to go do Misery’s Peak 4th edition soon, then a shortened Kobold’s new ringleader, then probably WW or Depths. (My favorite thing about the MB is it is copyable in RICH TEXT! Without that, stat blocks would not translate to Word.)

  5. The Reaper says:

    The one thing I WILL NOT do on the monster builder is the Sentinels, because they are so custom, they are easier to store in DMT and my OP wiki.

  6. CopyrightNotice says:

    “The forums account associated with this email address has been deactivated for violation of the Code of Conduct, specifically section Four, Promoting illegal Activities.”

    My forum account got a 3-day ban because I told people to remove the copyright notice from the images produced by the Monster Builder. The copyright at the bottom of each image very clearly gives WotC/Hasbro the rights to any monster you create and publish using the monster builder. That is theft of your rights, a violation of your copyright and is illegal.

    Send email to WotC customer service and tell them to remove the copyright notice at the bottom of the Monster Builder exported images.

  7. Free Gadget says:

    Thanks for the info… RSS feed added

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