PCGen is a freeware D&D Third
Edition character builder whose functionality has improved over the past couple
years, yet it’s features have not. It is a sun java based program, but that is a
quick download (with broadband) and then PCGen is ready to be run.
Before lawyers or adherence to
copyright laws were scrutinized PCGEN literally had almost everything by WOTC
and other d20 publishers available. Not
all early releases were good, sometimes a user had to
revert back to an old version because something in the new one did not work for
a character (or not at all). It has also
had a good history of being updated and tracking bugs. PCGen had lots of options from various d20
games and it was about a million times better than E-Tools. E-Tools is the WOTC
sponsored software that on the surface was functional but lacked any real depth
of use or material. It STILL is not as
good a PCGEN was in its early days.
As the early, pre 3.x versions of
PCGEN went along the program was mired with speed issues as well. This could be mitigated by limiting the
source materials you were using, as each book data was garnered from could be
loaded in or not. For example if you
wanted all of Monte Cooke’s stuff, load it in.
If you didn’t want information from Dragon Magazines, don’t load them
from the frame on the main screen. Simple.
Then shortly after this 3.0 release
things changed. All the non-OGL
compliant material was stripped out of the program. I am sure this is for legal reasons, but the
program was still getting better performance wise and even with books like
“Tome and Blood” not in the software it was still far superior to E-Tools. It is also about 35 dollars cheaper (read
It looks like there is movement in the
PCGen world for more updates out of the non-OGL material. The developer Code Monkey will be doing this
for both PCGen and E-Tools, so both products could have updates. Even if this means a licensing scheme for
PCGen it is a program I would pay money for if I had too (and it was not to
spendy like E-Tools). I personally use a
downgraded version, but I do download the latest versions to see how it is
progressing and also fiddle around with.
suffers like many free applications in that it is not the smoothest interface
in the world. However there is nothing
bad about it either, it is just very functional. There are a few irritating things that pop up
from time to time. For example auto-loading all known spells, which can be
irritating if you are not using that particular component of source material.
skins to change the appearance of PCGen, I would not say any of them are
special, but they do make the software look nicer. Given this is a utility type of program this
probably isn’t a big feature for many users.
long time user of PCGen there is always the issue of when the application is
patched how that affects your character.
I have literally had to download a version in-between my old and new
versions of the software then import my PC sequentially through so the newest
version can recognize it. Unfortunately
now, like many PCGen users I am running a much lower version than what is
available, as I would rather suffer through slower speeds for more d20 rules. The data files are interchangeable from
version 3.0.0 and lower so that is something to be aware of. I am sure the data files could be tweaked for
current versions of the software but I have not had any motivation to fiddle
around with that.
Sometimes there are errors in the
data files for specific classes (the Shujenja from
Oriental Adventures is completely hosed).
The good news is the data files are text based and can be edited, and if
you are lucky the bug will go away. I
managed to tweak the Shujenja so that it would work
in PCGen, though it looked a little goofy in the program. Specifically how that classes spells worked
needed to be fixed and the only way to do that was to add spells to the generic
spells known and not the school spells.
It looked goofy but it got around a bug that I knew would not be fixed
(as it was version 2.6.x). Also I was
able, per the L5R d20 sourcebook change the domain attribute from charisma to
wisdom for a water based Shujenja.
PCGen is easy, sourcebooks can be selected as the user desires. Selecting too many can (and will with older
versions) slow the software down to a snail’s pace. PCGen remembers your settings, so unless you
need to add sourcebooks you will not have to do this again. Also customized source files can be created
if various sourcebooks are needed for different campaigns.
creation is set up well and by the numbers.
Attributes can be bought or rolled, but modifying them once a character
is set up can be tricky. Sometimes feats
are difficult to find because they are not cross indexed right. For example a feat might be visible in the
“pre-req” view but not in the “all” view. There are also house rules settings that can
be set, which are usually helpful when you need to retrofit a character you are
For example: adding a first level only feat, when you have just advanced
through three levels for a new third level character.
PCGen is a
great tool for GM’s too. NPC’s can be
churned out quickly and detailed from a game mechanics perspective. Not only normal PC’s but monsters can be
built in PCGen too, which I admit that I have not tinkered with that as much.
is well done, though it can be burdensome to set up (all items can be carried,
put into containers, etc). Also magic
items are well represented and equipped.
Better yet items can be customized in regards to materials, masterwork,
magic, etc. PCGen can also remember
customized items, which is a nice tough when equipping lots of NPC’s. This is one of my favorite
things about PCGen.
the character creation is done another of my favorite features is the final
output. PCGen has a variety of outputs
to choose from. Some are simple, some
are very detailed. Your mileage may
vary. My personal favorite is dumping it
into an html document. Page breaks are
formatted in for printing and it can be left on a webmail
account for retrieval incase you forget it for a game session.
Even if PCGen
has taken steps backwards in regards to source material, it has always improved
itself in the programming department. If
the proposed deal with WotC goes through and even if PCGen should no longer be freeware, I would still pay a
modest sum to use it. Which I think is
the highest praise that could be lavished on this product.