Tobold's Blog
Saturday, July 22, 2017
D&D Beyond

A press release from Wizards of the Coast this week caused a deluge of articles like this one this week about D&D Beyond, an upcoming digital platform for Dungeons & Dragons. Lots of journalists all chanted the same praise about how much easier it is in D&D Beyond to find information confirmed to the books made out of paper. Apparently critical journalism is dead, because nobody bothered to verify the claims. As I have used the beta version of D&D Beyond for some time, I'd like to inject some reality into this picture painted by the media.

So what is D&D Beyond? It is a website with two main features: A character builder which produces a digital character sheet, and a database of D&D rulebooks. The beta version only has the free SRD rules, but in the release version you can buy the D&D rulebooks in digital form (for about half their paper cost) and get all the official rules. If you buy optional rulebooks, you can then use these optional rules (e.g. new races) in the character builder.

So far, so good. But what nobody mentioned is that looking up rules on D&D Beyond is working surprisingly badly. Search functions only exist for spells, items, and monsters, not for rules. So if you are in the middle of a game and a question arises about how exactly darkvision works, you can't simply type "darkvision" in a search field and get an answer. You have to open the compendium and browse it manually (the information on darkvision is under adventuring - the environment - vision and light). That isn't much faster than looking it up in the paper book! And for some rules the index of the paper book will find you the information faster than the D&D Beyond compendium, which doesn't have an index. In fact, you'll find information faster with a search in a pirated pdf version of a rulebook than on D&D Beyond, not that I would recommend pirating.

I will keep using D&D Beyond, because the character builder and spell and monster databases are useful. I might even buy some digital rulebooks to enhance the character builder. However I don't really see the need to pay for a monthly subscription of $3 or $6. The subscription allows you to store more characters, homebrew content, and removes ads. The expensive version allows a DM to share the rulebook content he bought with up to 12 players. That would be useful for me only if it was available in languages other than English.


They had similar digital features in D&D v4 as well. I was a user of what they at the time called "D&D Insider" for several years while I ran a v4 campaign. And at the time they promised a wide variety of features to come, including a digital table, and an active set of social media tools, and a face generator.

What we got was a character sheet tool, and digital look-ups of the rules (which didn't work all that well) and a subscription to the online-only editions of Dragon and Dungeon. It sounds pretty similar.

Right now I'm messing with Pathfinder, which I find has by far the best support for players and gamemasters in the industry. It is based off of v3.5 (but is better, so maybe 3.75) but the adventure support is outstanding.
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