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I started playing around with the Dungeons & Dragons Character Builder software that comes with the DDI subscription. This turned out to be the exact solution I was looking for. It made character creation a snap by leading me through it by the nose and not making it easy for me to proceed until I'd completed any necessary steps first. It automatically added up all of the various modifiers for every skill, and it helped the kids pick their skills, feats, and equipment much faster than we could possibly have managed by hand.

Best of all, when I was finished, I could print out the entire character sheet, along with a set of cards representing every one of the character's powers. This meant I didn't have to go rooting through the rulebooks every time one of the kids asked me just how something like a Sly Flourish or an Eldritch Blast worked. You can buy preprinted sets of cards separately, but being able to generate new sets of the proper cards for each character-and only those ones-works seamlessly.

The other wonderful thing about the software is that it showed me that I'd gotten a few things wrong in my rush to get through the character creation session. Having a way to check our work in a flash made me feel a lot more comfortable that we were getting things right. If you're interested in getting into the game, I can't recommend DDI highly enough. It's free to use for characters from 1st through 3rd level, so give it a try.

On that note, if you're looking for gifts for prospective players this holiday season, grab the Player's Handbook Special Holiday Bundle. It gives you the Player's Handbook and the Player's Handbook 2 slipcased together with a code good for $12 off a year of DDI, which brings it down to under $60. The suggested retail for this package is $34.95, the cost of either one of the books alone.

The character builder kept everyone from being overwhelmed by all the rules by only showing us the small set of them that we needed at the moment. I'd love to see this integrated into a teaching pack or program that took you on a tour of the game and gave you the basics of 1st-level character creation, aimed directly at the uninitiated.

Despite how long it took us to get the characters going, the kids all had a great time. Overlooking the character-creation stutters, I had fun too, and the whole experience made me look forward to getting everyone together for the big fight. Next time I'll tell you how that turned out.

Matt Forbeck has been writing and designing award-winning games professionally for over 20 years. Visit Forbeck.com for details about his current projects.

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