A few eons ago I wrote an article speculating about D&D Beyond. And very recently (yesterday depending on when this article gets posted) Curse and Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) revealed their release date and pricing for everything. I mean, prices are everyone's least favourite part of anything. But I digress; with all of this happening all so suddenly, there’s a lot to talk about. Talk about those prices, talk about that microtrans-- I mean versatility of content model, talk about the community and how it will develop throughout these changing times. D&D Beyond will either go down in the history books as “nailing it” or as an abysmal failure.
1) The Site Itself
God is this site ever sexy. It's got that sleek “5e” feel that I know I’ve fallen in love with along with a lot of the community. Everything from the fonts to the color to the mood just feels… right. Like it was meant to be this way. Not to mention since the last article, most of the lagging issues have been cleaned right up (it is still technically in beta after all) as a matter of fact most of all the issues have been removed. The community is quick to stomp that out and let the dev’s know. It looks great and it manages to be user friendly too.
The site’s community is not only friendly but it’s useful. Any questions you have regarding intricacies, obscure rules and even ideas can be reaped with a smile. People are out creating art maps etc. and it's all out in the open. As with everything else on the site, it's quick, it's concise, and most importantly you can change font for your comments and posts. Just a personal thing about that: I absolutely love being able to change my font for posts and comments; it creates the illusion of personality.
2) Home Of Homebrew
Since the community is so big (and because this was something the devs wanted in the whole time) you could expect that people are creating stuff like nobody's business. Spells, monsters, magic items, you name it. Most of them are even good. Clever, even. And unlike other things (which are limited in their use until you subscribe or pay too much for but that's for later) you can make an unlimited number of homebrew things and publish them to the site, or keep them private. You can even draft and get feedback on the ones that you publish to the site.
Honestly, it’s super diverse and it’s still growing very quickly. There's something like 53 pages in the magic item area alone. It’s all super interesting stuff you can add to your loot, enemies, etc. to spice up that campaign nice and quickly. The best bit is that it’s all well balanced for the most part. There's really not more to say on this matter.
3) Character Creator
Now, while they have limited classes to having just one subclass, it is important to note that they do have the races from elemental evil such as the Gensai, Aarakocra and Goliaths. For the most part this is everything you could ask for in a character creator. The first time, it walks you through very slowly with a long tutorial. As you move from subject to subject, it brings up a very verbose page explaining everything, which would be helpful to first timers and the otherwise “green,” however it’s relatively useless to someone who's played the average video game, and it becomes bothersome quickly because I’ve made three characters and the site insisted on giving me the tutorial all three times. There’s probably a way to get rid of it, but I’m just a fool in a man's body so that probably won’t be going away in my foreseeable future.
The creator is comprehensible and as said before very attractive visually. It’s even got a couple of prompts on things I hadn’t thought about keeping tabs on before, such as allies, enemies, organizations and the likes. It’s even got a nice little area to write down your backstory so it’s nice and visible. Oh, and that “limited” thing I took a shot at last article turned out to be “Limited Use” abilities. So they’ve got a thing keeping tabs on that too. However like most digital goods, this product has its flaws.
1) Limited Use
You’ve got six “character slots.” Have fun. Planning on keeping a character around for “myths and legends?” Wrong. You need the space. I know I typically only have three or four campaigns going at any given moment and I’m just on the high end to my understanding. However that’s not the only thing on this site that’s limited. As mentioned before every class only has one subclass attached to it at the moment, and it’s unlikely that will change considering the respective model that they’re planning on implementing.
However to play a little devil's advocate in the “bad” section, the site appears to be mostly open to the beta testers in the meantime. Although one thing I have noticed is that despite the site showing D&D Beyond being present as an app on phones and tablets, there hasn’t been an app version released even as a test. We’ll have to simply wait until the full release to see how well their app version works.
The primary concern of most players and DMs will be whether or not the price is right for this particular toolset. Luckily, the character creator and most of the database will be available to all without the need for a subscription, so long as you don’t mind looking at ads (or have taken other “steps” to circumvent this issue). If you want full access to the toolset, including homebrew monsters and an ad-free experience, you will need to select one of two tiers. The first is touted as being for players and costs 2.99 USD per month. This tier gives you access to shared homebrew content and unlimited character creation slots. The next is advertised as a DM tier. This 5.99/month subscription, along with the benefits of the previous tier, provides the DM with the ability to share their unlocked digital content with their player groups so that not all need to go through the costly process of unlocking (read: purchasing) every splatbook. While gone are the days, it seems, of simply passing a book back and forth between friends at a table, at least there exists an option that allows for a digital book pass, so long as that pass is purchased each month. I can’t say I’m jazzed about this practice, but at least the functionality exists.
Finally, the site will allow you to purchase digital versions of each book available, and at a marginal discount over the physical copies, much like one would expect at sites like DriveThruRPG. What’s truly unfortunate, in my mind, is that there does not appear to be any loyalty rewards for continued membership. At the very least, you should be able to earn points each month that you hold a subscription to help pay for books that you wouldn’t otherwise purchase. Let’s face it: our hobby can get expensive if we want to support those that keep putting good work into making it better. A few loyalty discounts here or there would not only help those who want the digital books and the subscription afford both, but in the end, incentivise those of us who wouldn’t otherwise shell out for either product.
When all's said and done, this site is really something special. We criticise it only because we love our hobby and want every product to be the best it can be. Having a site that allows you to create and store monsters, spells, characters, and campaigns in a user-friendly fashion is a real boon to players in our digital age, and the fact that it is (mostly) free to use is also pretty awesome. We tried coming up with a third negative point to make about the site for symmetry’s sake, but just weren’t able to do so. It’s that cool. Whether the bells and whistles that come extra are worth it will be a choice each DM and player will make, of course. Nevertheless, D&D Beyond proves to be a bold step into the digital sphere of online roleplaying. We’ll be waiting with bated breath for the launch date (August 15th) and will report again when that time comes. ‘Til then, check out the Beta and let us know what you think: https://www.dndbeyond.com/
Jarod Lalonde is a young role-player and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Call of Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact . Jarod wrote the majority of this article, David stepped in to help finish it and edit it.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.