D&D Beyond has been around for a while now. It promised a new way to access the game system and new tools to help with our games. I've spent a lot of time using D&D Beyond as a DM and player, so I think it's time for me to give it a proper review. Here are six things I like and a bit about what I don’t.
1) Quick Rules Reference
This has got to be the number one benefit to using D&D Beyond; I use this more than anything. As long as I'm spelling my search right it works well. D&D Beyond helps a bit with misspellings, suggesting as you type via dropdown, and after the search across the top in a “did you mean” fashion after the search as well. Searching for a spell or monster in the middle of combat is fast and will even show a preview of the top result so I can start reading right away. In addition to searching, having multiple tabs open to different characters, monsters, or spells is a wonderful substitution for phone pictures, typing in notes, or especially copying everything by hand. Linking is also possible if you want to have an encounter ready in OneNote, or your own digital note taking tool. If you dig into the code a bit (or use a chrome extension) you can even link to specific headers on the page! I have even set up a DM screen in OneNote with links to the appropriate rules.
2) Popup Information
Something as simple as a small window popping up while hovering over a link is so elegant it makes popups a top feature for me; one I want in everything now. Hovering over a hyperlinked spell, actions, conditions, items and other mechanical bits will give you a quick popup (providing your resolution is above a certain threshold) detailing that bit. It's super useful for conditions and spells. You can even add these into your own homebrew creations.
3) Traveling Light
I am an over-prepared DM. I like to have a lot of things ready at my table if I need them. Sometimes I pack a rolling bag full of minis to bring to a game. With D&D Beyond, I can leave all the books at home. With eight rules references and twelve adventures as of this writing, this lot can get big. I also have all the monsters, items, and characters bits from all the adventures integrated into the main lists, saving me having three books open at once for one monster casting spells. A tablet paired with my All Rolled Up makes it so I can have all my 5e gaming needs (and any others system in pdf) in a small, easily portable package.
4) Custom Homebrew And Tools
The D&D Beyond team has been working hard at delivering editors to create our own (at the time of this writing) backgrounds, feats, magic items, monsters, races, spells and subclasses. They've even made adding homebrew an easy task, not some technical chore, so you can let your creative juices flow. Using D&D Beyond with chrome opens up a whole other avenue of customization with plugins that let you easily link sections, as well as organize and build your own encounters, initiative lists, and even add links on maps to their respective room descriptions! The team has really supported the community in the building of the site.
5) Sharing Books
While still limited to three campaigns D&D Beyond lets you share your whole library with anyone in those campaigns. You can post notes (and DM secrets) to the campaign, whitelist homebrew content (your as well as others), and, as a DM view character sheets. This is great during preparation if you are looking to notify everyone of something, such as the next game time, and creating encounters balanced to the party.
6) Printing And Reading
I've encountered a couple of tricks while using D&D Beyond. Viewing on a mobile device, or with a browser at a smaller width, and using a scrolling screenshot, I can screenshot an item and print it out on a three by five card to hand out to my players. Reading on mobile or tablet is nice, especially with the app that is in beta, but I do most of my reading on a kindle. With the save to kindle extension installed in chrome I can view the books a chapter at a time and send them formatted for reading to my kindle.
All in all, I find D&D Beyond to be a boon to DMs but not as useful to players. The site is being worked on and updated constantly, however. More and more non-retail book content is being added, like Lost Laboratory of Kwalish and the Tortle Package, and two Extra Life donation rewards. Someday maybe even non Wizards of the Coast products will be on there. There is no reason for me not to embrace this fully, as while I love the feel of a book, I prefer to stay digital because of space and manufacturing resources. The only downside to digital that I've encountered is not being able to flip through the book to find a specific page by sight.
Richard Fraser has been roleplaying since the early days of Dungeons and Dragons and started with the red box in the eighties. He currently prefers to DM fifth edition D&D, though reads a lot of OSR and PbtA. He currently has podcast, Cockatrice Nuggets and maintains a blog, both of which can be found at www.slackernerds.com.
Picture provided by the author
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