Things have changed slightly in the last few days, however. Now if you want to build and maintain a D&D character you will be required to subscribe to the online D&D website. It appears that the dictator has now started charging taxes! The 4e tax!
Accordingly, cries of anguish have been erupting from the blogs and forums in response to Hasbro / WotC's announcement that they will no longer be supporting their downloadable stand-alone character building software. If you want to build an official D&D 4e character you now have to use Hasbro's online D&D Insider subscription service. Greg at Weirdlands of Xhuul has posted more details and advanced screen shots here.
For those of us who like more traditional pencil-and-paper RPGs the obvious response is "So what? Can't you still use your old books, roll up your own characters, and just play?" Apparently things aren't that simple... When I posed the question to WickedMurph of the Over the Misty Mountain blog he said:
Well, the problem here is that you really kinda DO need the online tool. They have released so much errata and shit that the Character Builder is pretty much the only way to keep it all straight.I don't really play 4e so none of this directly affects me, but I think it's very interesting to watch "D&D" evolving under Hasbro. It's fascinating how what was once a simple pencil-n-paper roleplaying game is now evolving into a totally novel sort of online fee-based gaming service. Between maintaining compatibility with formal Encounter "league play", dealing with complex rulesets, and keeping up with errata and rule updates players are pretty much forced to buy into the online subscription service.
What's more annoying is that Character Builder is still a good way to release rules. All the things I said about it before are still true - it's a cheap, effective and unprecedented way to publish a game.