D&D vs. the ugly stick
June 22nd, 2008

Posted by Jeremy

Maybe it’s just me, but I gotta say that I’m a bit disappointed with Wizards of the Coast’s seeming inability to get their promised Dungeons and Dragons Insider applications up and running within a reasonable time of 4e’s release. I mean, you wound think that with these applications being the big focus of the new game, Wizards would be anxious to push them out–at least in beta form–to a skeptical public . . . when you announce the new version of the world’s most popular roleplaying game with less than a year’s notice, then fail to deliver on time, it’s gotta make me wonder what the big rush was for in the first place.

When I first saw these apps I was pretty excited–though at the time I was under the assumption that the relative lack of visual fidelity was due to Wizards’ harnessing of some yet-unseen and powerful web 2.0 technology (they are wizards, after all). This was lessened somewhat by the discovery that, no, even the predominantly 2D dungeon-building program will be a downloadable client for Windows (i.e. not Mac or Linux machines – hooray compatibility!)

This begs the question: if the apps aren’t web-based, and are instead harnessing the processing power of good-ol’ VM-free windows then why to they look like such unmitigated ass?

The Character Creator provides food for thought. At first glance, this gentleman looks a little like the lovechild of John Travolta and Mel Gibson in an Uwe Boll produced version of the Oblivion. What the hell kind of armour is that; and why does it look like he’s undergoing a mildly surprising colonoscopy?

Why would Wizards spend oodles of money filling the new Monster Manual with Udon art, and then try to tell D&D players their characters should look like this? Where are the zillions of buckles and belts that have adorned the D&D iconics since the dawn of 3e? There was a dude in the 3e PHB whose entire leg was covered in belts. Now that’s badass. This guy doesn’t look like he could face a mind flayer; he looks like he’s confronting Barbie after making the horrible discovery that he has no balls and deciding that it’s her fault. This is something Ken dolls have been dealing with for ages, so maybe its integration into D&D is some kind of Hasbro cross-promotion. But don’t even Ken dolls have at least a few separate hairs now? I’ll admit I’m out of touch on that one. . .

Regardless, any character of mine would be far more badass than this, but then most characters of mine would probably be female.

Thankfully, Xena Belmont over here sees a few noticeable improvements –the most obvious being that her complete lack of body hair is less conspicuous. Again, maybe it’s just me, but you’d think Wizards could have spared enough polygons in a stand-alone application to clothe her in other than body paint. Maybe this goes along with the friendly objectification of women that has always been part of the D&D experience. What with Red Sonja setting the record straight on the defensive prowess of the chainmail bikini– in fact in that light it’s surprising that male characters still dress in tin cans to fight kobalds or whatever. Surely loincloths should be the new black.

Maybe it’s the look of passive-agressive animosity on her face that reveals her true motives. I guess I can understand how getting painted brown and told to stand in front of a blurry mural with my back all hunched would make me feel kinda ooky.

Gabrielle to the left combines the worst aspects of both of the above, sporting even more atrocious hair than Mr. Gibvolta above. The Spore Creature Creator generates models with more personality than this, and it even runs on a Mac.

Beyond looking like she’s made of plastic, she also looks like she was painted by the same under-paid Chinese children that churn out a new set of Hero Clix every couple months (though whether child labour would be able to emulate the the stretched, grainy n64 texture of her gauntlet remains a mystery).

What gets to me the most about these characters is the stretched, synthetic-looking faces, which combine the worst aspects of Oblivion and the Ninja Gaiden video game series. They aren’t dirty and nasty like the Oblivion cast, but they still look like they’ve been covered in Vaseline and beaten with an ugly stick. As with Ninja Gaiden, there are no distinct materials on these models; everything just looks shiny and weird, which doesn’t really fit with D&D. At least when Team Ninja makes a game full of real doll impersonators they have the good sense to make them look anime-hot. As with Oblivion, I can’t see making an attractive character in the D&D character generator. The uncanny valley is just too steep thereabouts, and there there be dragons.

Again, if what we’ve seen of the D&D character generator was created by a web app, I’d be applauding its visual acuteness, and awaiting its release with at least somewhat bated breath. As is, I think the entire project looks about three years behind the curve in terms of both content and delivery, and won’t be surprised to see a rather lackluster release, especially on the heels of the Spore Creature Creator, and the PC version of Mass Effect — whose character creator somehow manages to make realistic-looking 3D characters that don’t look fugly.

I like D&D, and 4e is a lot of fun. I want to see it do well, so hopefully the current delay is setting me up for some amazing improvements in the final version.

Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.


  1. I agree entirely and must say I was quite pissed at being left to wonder how far into the future we’ll be before we actually see this site come to life. I’m also waiting to see how much Wizards is expecting people to pay for their little “D+D Insider”

    Comment by Citin — June 22, 2008 @ 11:29 pm

  2. 14.95 a month

    Comment by Frost — June 23, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

  3. When are people going to fully realise that 4E is about as bogus as Bill & Ted’s Journey? This is the CENTERPIECE of their new edition, and it’s wretched. This edition is going to send D&D down the twin drains of Gygax and Arneson: Death and seclusion.

    Comment by Lyinginbedmon — June 24, 2008 @ 10:57 am

  4. Have you played much 4e? Because the game itself is quite fun.

    Comment by Frost — June 25, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

  5. I have the books, no-one I’ve met has wanted to play though, because like me they know it’s 50% trash and 50% sourcebook material.

    Comment by Lyinginbedmon — June 26, 2008 @ 9:20 am

  6. Hahaha. I’ve liked what I’ve played of 4, but most of my friends are still playing 3.5.

    I’ve started a Pathfinder Alpha playtest campaign, which could prove interesting.

    Comment by Jeremy — June 26, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

  7. A D&D Insider subscription is 15 bucks for the basic stuff. Think XBox Live Silver membership. Which is free.

    The “neat” stuff like the virtual tabletop, and character creator, require you spend $25 a month.
    I used to blame Habro for this kind of dickery, but I find I really can’t any more.

    Comment by NekoDaimyo — June 27, 2008 @ 4:59 am

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