DnD Beyond Review


So, D&D Beyond launched a few days ago, and I’ve had enough time to really dig in and get to know it.

I’ve had a mixed set of feelings since the announcement of DnDBeyond several months ago. It was a several stage process:

  1. Excitement An official WotC online program to manage character sheets and keep rules? HELL YEAH! This is great because it means that the character sheets will be properly formatted, and the rules will be complete and integrated. Nice!
  2. Anticipation As more and more came out, and we got some hands-on experience, things were looking awesome. It was really appearing to be exactly what I wanted.
  3. Downfall And then the pricing was announced, and I was let down. Buy all the books again? Horseshit! I already own them!
  4. Reluctance Launch happened, so I went and tepidly checked it out. Sure, what’s all this looking like? Ugh, I suppose things look kind of cool.
  5. Acceptance Okay, how much are the books? Well, fine, just shut up and take my money.

Ultimately, the goal of DnDBeyond, I think, is to be an at-the-table aid for players and DMs. Potentially, it could replace not just character sheets, but also the rulebooks and adventure books. Remarkably, this seems to be exactly what it is.

Let me breakdown the things I really like about this thing, and then I’ll tidy up with a few shortcomings.

Digital Copies

I have a long history of preferring digital copies of gamebooks over physical ones. First, they don’t get lost or damaged, especially now that I can put them in the cloud. Second, they’re way more portable, as I can hundreds of PDFs on a single tablet. Third, they are way easier to use at a computer, especially when my desk already has a keyboard and mouse taking up the prime real estate.

However, for all the convenience that exists in PDFs, they do have drawbacks. They tend to be slow, especially when flipping pages rapidly. They are also difficult to search, sometimes. Also, they are generally poorly indexed or bookmarked, with publishers either being too sparse or way too over-populating with them.

DnDBeyond fixes…well, all of that. It’s all in web 2.0 awesomeness, so it’s quick, well indexed, and super easy to search.

Additionally, the site is dynamically designed, so it’s easy to look at it on mobile devices. I’ve poked through several adventures on my phone, and it’s surprising how easy it is to use on such a tiny screen. Now, I’d prefer to play with a nice big tablet, but the phone will do in a pinch. Furthermore, it’s easy to poke through it on the computer. Having it all in a web-o-sphere means that it’s easy to open new tabs, find information on two things at once, and so on.

High-Res Images

All of the images in all of the books can be pulled out and viewed in damn high resolutions. For example, here’s an excerpt of the player-handout map from the Doomvault (Tales from the Yawning Portal, “Dead in Thay”). The full image is 2334×3000 pixels. That’s almost an 8 megapixel image. It’s amazing.

This is super important, especially in terms of player handouts. All of us dedicated DMs have tried to find ways to copy these handouts out of the hardcovers so that we can actually, you know, hand them out. They never come out well, and the fidelity sucks.

Furthermore, it becomes possible to do awesome things, like printing huge maps out and playing them on the table. Yeah, I think that’s what I’m going to do…

Hyperlinking

Oh my god, this is the absolute best. Hyperlinking. This is, by far, the one thing that makes everything about this worth it.

Most importantly, everything is cross-referenced and hyperlinked. When an adventure mentions a monster (like a room description, for instance), you can hover on it for some quick stats, or click on it for the monster’s full block.

I’m not sure I can properly explain how fucking awesome that is. Even in this picture, I’m not sure it sufficiently demonstrates how stupefyingly useful this is. This little functionality is the culminating purpose of all of computing technology. I’m told to put a wight into a room, so take me to the wight’s stats. Boom. Done. Life complete.

A Few Cons

Okay, I can’t just say how awesome DnDBeyond is without mention a couple of shortcomings, though they are few.

  • Always Online Because there is no way to download the information locally, your device always has to be online. Now, they’re working on an app for DnDBeyond, and that may allow this to happen. However, I always find this to be a truly minor complaint as I use my tablet 99% of the time with an internet connection, and I play D&D 100% of the time in a place with an internet connection. So this really doesn’t affect me, like, at all.
  • A Rough Start This thing just launched, so there are a couple times where the site gets wonky. Namely, the site sometimes tries to send you to the market to buy content that you already own. It’s frustrating, but can be worked around. They’ll fix it someday, I’m certain.
  • Cost Yeah, it does cost money, and I do understand why that’s a show stopper for some. However, it is quite reasonable, if you only buy the digital content. From now on, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing, but I still had to re-buy a bunch of books. They are cheaper, to be sure, but it’s still paying money for something I already own. Of course, having a fully hyperlinked copy is totally worth it.

All in all, this thing is very awesome, and I recommend it heartily!

Image credits to Wizards of the Coast and D&D Beyond.

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