Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, is a great tabletop game
system…but it can be a complex one. There are many interlocking
and interconnecting rules, and changing one part of your character
can change many other parts. If you are a Dungeon Master, you must
create many different characters for each game, and it is easy to
feel like you are drowning in a sea of numbers and modifiers.
PCGen attempts to relieve that burden. It is a Java-based character
creation tool, and can build anything from a first-level Fighter to
a fifteenth-level Vampiric Fiendish Half-Dragon Hobgoblin Wizard.
It incorporates all of the ‘core’ D&D rules, as well as many
optional rules from third-party publishers.
Because it is written in Java, PCGen is portable and will run on
any system which runs the Java runtime environment. It is also
somewhat sluggish and the interface is often a bit quirky or
non-standard. It also has something of a learning curve, as it can
be unintuitive and clumsy, as it is a product of many minds which
do not always share a common vision. Further, it has had to grow
and adapt to the ever-changing rules structure of D&D since the
new edition came out in 2000; incorporating psionics, epic powers,
and even deities into the engine has meant a lot of functionality
has had to be hammered in at odd angles.
At the simplest level, creating a character involves setting basic
attributes (Strength, Dexterity, and so forth), choosing a race
(Human, Elf, Minotaur…) and a class (Fighter, Wizard, Psion…).
The program adds the class to the base character and allows you to
pick feats and skills. It manages all the rules–you cannot take
‘Cleave’ until you have ‘Power Attack’, for example, and you cannot
take levels in a Prestige Class intended for elves if you are a
gnome. Users can edit all of the rules–they are in plain ASCII
files–to change this, or add any features they wish, from new
feats to new classes.
The feature set is impressive–if your character has a familiar or
animal companion, you can generate it. You can easily create custom
magic items and equip them. You can create multiple ‘sets’ of
equipment and swap them around, with the program tracking your
encumbrance and all that it affects (such as your Jump skill).
Output can be to PDF, HTML, or ASCII, and there are many different
output sheets to choose from.
The utility of PCGen is directly related to how much D&D you
play. If you have one character, it can be useful for making sure
you’ve done all the math properly. If you play in several games, or
change characters a lot, or especially
if you are a Dungeon
Master, the program is invaluable. (It also supports D20 Modern,
the modern-day/science fiction variant of D&D.)
PCGen is not without its bugs, some of which have been
long-lasting. There is an active development team constantly fixing
the program, but the complex edifice of Dungeons & Dragons
rules, and the mountain of legacy code which has built up over the
past eight years, can combine to make maintenance difficult. The
bugs are mostly found in obscure options or are minor errors in the
raw data; there are few system crash level errors.
Note: This program is a tool for the tabletop (paper
& pencil) version of Dungeons & Dragons, not any online or