After almost 40 years, role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Cyberpunk, and others are still going strong. Any experienced player will tell you that creating and managing an RPG character is a lot like preparing for a thesis. You have several different resources at your disposal, lots of writing, and plenty of calculations to make. This process can take hours, even for the experienced player. Fantasy writers typically use the tools made available through these systems to create and keep up with characters in their books. A tool to make this process easier without taking away your ability to keep things customized is unfortunately very hard to come by.
Enter PCGen, an open source program that generates and manages characters, their companions, and even has tools for dungeon masters who need to whip up some NPCs and don’t have a lot of time to do so. PCGen handles every aspect of this process from naming and building a character’s general appearance and background to sorting out all the math associated with creating a solid and legal set of stats.
Templates are available for just about every major d20 playing system including D&D (3E, 3.5E, 4E), d20 Modern, and Pathfinder. This means that no matter what rule system your group decides to use for their d20 campaign, PCGen can probably handle it.
PCGen literally handles every part of your character sheet including stats, attributes, skills, spells, equipment, armor, weapons, currency, companions (and their associated sheet), familiars, appearance, feats, abilities, race, traits, etc. You can have it generate a character for you or customize the process yourself.
What really sets PCGen apart from traditional character generators are the printable character sheets it generates. If you don’t like the look of the traditional sheet, simply select from one of many available formats. This allows you to show up ready with an easy-to-read sheet that doesn’t require a pharmacist to decipher. In fact, various feats and skills are added to the character sheet along with their required rolls and a brief description allowing you to create a plan of action at a glance rather than having to constantly reference the book. If your DM asks for a book reference, those are provided on the sheet as well.
It should be noted here that PCGen is not glossy or easy to figure out if you’re not familiar with the gaming system. A helpful wizard would be nice for these cases, but there really isn’t one available. The real savings is in the time it takes to roll and reroll every stat, write out the character sheet, and double-check it for errors. It’s clunky, but it works.
PCGen can save you a lot of time, if you’re willing to put up with a crowded and somewhat antiquated interface to get things done. At the present, PCGen is in its fifth version and over the past year it has seen quite a lot of improvement. Thanks in part to being open source, the aesthetic issues aren’t expected to improve too greatly until its features are pretty much locked down.