D&D Beyond: Beta Phase 1

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Most likely if you’re reading this you’re waiting covetously for the release of Tales From the Yawning Portal in a little over a week (I know I am.) So let me ask you an honest question. If I were to give you a free copy of Yawning Portal, which would excite you more; a pdf of the book, or a printed hardcover copy?

It’s the printed version, right? Of course it is. Sure, the pdf won’t clog your already bulging bookshelves and offers the ability for you to get all fancy with editing software, but the physical book is just so much cooler, isn’t it? Certainly bookmarking tools are really convenient, but actual bookmarks are much more satisfying when that mighty tome flops open to the weapons damage chart. (By the way, that chart’s lack of inclusion on the back of the DM screen was an egregious oversight, but I digress.)

I guess I must be one of those “stationery nerds” who wig out over using multicoloured paperclips and post-its, rather than a more urbane “tech-geek” who loves using fancy gadgets to do the same thing. Though I can appreciate that some of these funky digital apps might be useful, I still somewhat resent them appearing at my analog gaming table.

WotC/Curse/Twitch’s latest offering is just this kind of tech-geekery. D&D Beyond is a web-based app offering a bunch of digital tools to help run and manage your game. The beta test is currently available for free and is being released in three phases.

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The first phase is the only one currently available and focuses on the core rules of D&D5. Very simply, this phase lets Beyond act as a digital encyclopedia and online rulebook. Simple tabs allow you to switch between rules, items, spells, and monsters, and inbuilt searches and filters help stream information.

And so far it seems pretty good, I must say. It’s pretty enough and so simple a Luddite like myself can navigate it easily. It seems like pretty much every rule in the core books are included (see below) but only time will tell how well it holds up (though professional indexing for the current edition gives a good track record for positive expectations.)

By far the most convenient elements are the spell and monster filters, which have both proven efficient when I’ve run a few curly tests. I’m not sure if all spells and all monsters are yet included, but I don’t doubt that’s the eventual plan. Having all rules available in the same format is a user-friendly decision that I applaud.

But however useful phase one is, it doesn’t have the promised excitement of phases two and three. Phase two will focus on characters, including creation rules and the character sheet (withheld from phase one for obvious reasons). This is by far the most anticipated and requested toolset of Beyond and will probably inform the majority of opinions on the software’s usability, especially for players. Phase three is what I’m personally most intrigued by, promising to offer DM-goodies, labelled “Homebrew Integration and Campaign Management.” That will either revolutionize the game or will be an unmissable car crash, I’m guessing.

These subsequent phases are so exciting because they offer an interactive experience that the more pedestrian phase one lacks, but that isn’t to say one isn’t good. It seems incredibly useful, especially for those who don’t want to cart about heavy books. As a google search for the game rules, spells, items, and monsters, it does a fine job. I’m just not quite sure it’s any quicker or more convenient than opening the pages and using the index of the actual book.

Of course we’re all looking forward to the more interactive features yet to come, but that makes me want to ask another honest question. Isn’t D&D already an interactive experience?

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