Wednesday, July 19, 2017

D & D Beyond (My Thoughts)

So Game Fans, we’re staring down the barrel of the release of the digital tools package for dungeons and dragons 5th edition.  D & D Beyond is set for an August release and now we know what the shape of things look like, and what you can do with the tools.  We’re going to do a much more extensive write up of the tools a little closer to release, but we should talk about the price structure and the features that are included at launch, and a look at what may happen.  Let’s dig a little deeper and see what treasure we can find in the system.  

D & D Beyond (what the hell is this thing?)

So D & D Beyond is an integrated digital tool set that is built to give players and dungeon masters access to the rules of Dungeons and Dragons with universal access (if you have an internet connection, more on that in a second).  The most basic version of this resource is a character creation program, and unfettered access to the System Reference Document (SRD).  The SRD is basically all of the common rules and options that are available for playing Dungeons and Dragons, (basically, the open source components for the game).  This basic version is free, but has ads, and has a limit on the number of characters you can make, and i can appreciate that a free version has limits on what it can do.  The Dungeons and Dragons basic rules themselves only feature a few of the game’s options but are enough to get you started playing.  (For a gander at those basic rules, you can find them here)

Price Structures and Access

So, there are two key aspects of additional content that you can expand your D & D Beyond experience with.  There are large modules that correspond to published books for Dungeons and Dragons (like the Player’s Handbook, but also the upcoming Xanthar’s Guide to Everything), or large hardcover adventures (Storm King’s Thunder, Tomb of Annihilation, and Curse of Strahd for example).  The books are $29.99 (with a launch day sale at $19.99), and the adventures are $24.99.  My understanding of these is that they open up additional resources beyond the SRD and give players access to the books and adventures that they are paying for.  These are one time purchases and once you have them, they’re yours.  This is one of the aspects, the other is a subscription model for additional content.

Dungeons and Dragons has a vibrant community of creators who are pushing the boundaries of what D & D is.  They are adding additional races, classes, spells, and overall options to the gaming landscape.  Currently, Wizards has embraced this community with their DM’s Guild, and they offer a platform for the community to sell adventures, expansions and a host of other Dungeons and Dragons related content.  D & D Beyond is also pushing into the community created content (homebrew is one of the terms for this content) maket.  They offer a subscription system that allows a consumer to access homebrew content in a couple of different ways.  

The D & D Beyond program has a two tiered subscription system that works as follows.  For the basic access which is aimed at players, the consumer gets access to the ad free version of the program, unlimited characters (run through the character creation module), and access to the community created content.  It also gives them the opportunity to share their own content with the community.  This is the Hero Tier and it is a $2.99 per month price point.  

The second tier, (The Master Tier is a 5.99 per month price point) has all of the features of the Hero Tier, and allows the subscription holder (presumably a Dungeon Master) to share all of their unlocked official content with other players in a campaign so they don’t have to buy their own copies of the digital versions of the books.  This...honestly intrigues me.  I would like to know more about how you designate who you share with and the limits of said sharing, but this could be an interesting option for gamers.  


Digital tools for Dungeons and Dragons have been implemented in the past with varying degrees of functionality.  I personally had a bad experience when the Beta rolled out, but those issues (and I will talk about that in a minute) seem to have resolved.  For a group that runs on a tech basis (laptops and tablets) this cuts down on a lot of the extra things you have to bring with you to play D & D.  It puts a lot of the page flipping resources at your fingertips and should (in theory at least) speed up your game.  


Little Things

There are a couple of potential points of contention with D & D Beyond.  First, it requires a Twitch account to access, and that doesn’t necessarily integrate with every browser in the universe.  Second, it doesn’t feature an encounter or adventure builder for the DM.  They are still going to have use their pencil and paper to map out the game and build their own content.  It also lacks a tabletop client for a group to play on, which puts it on the back foot compared to dedicated virtual tabletop clients like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds.  


Because the Homebrew content is free (if you’re a subscriber), there isn’t a way to monetize it for the creators (unlike DM’s Guild which does a fine job of providing quality content for reasonable prices) and a new creator is basically just tossing it out and seeing who likes it.  I am curious about subscription rates for the Hero Tier if the content is slow, poorly constructed, or unhelpful.  Without the monetization incentive, people could either publish nothing, or they could throw everything and the kitchen sink out there just to see what, if anything sticks.  This is the primary issue i see with the subscription model.  Creators who would typically publish on the DM’s Guild have drive to publish on Beyond because they don’t receive money for their work.

Other Issues

I can see two other points of contention with the service.  First, it requires an internet connection to use, and that means there are some circumstances where i would want to use the service but can’t.  That might make it less appealing to some consumers.  The other sticking point is that if you have previously purchased your Dungeons and Dragons books (at or near full retail price) you might not want to purchase those exact books again.  I

don’t know how to solve that particular issue, but the Master’s Tier option to share purchased content with players is a partial workaround.  Instead of the entire group having to buy the materials again, one person does (and then has to maintain a 6 dollar a month subscription).  There are highs and lows with the toolset, and it’s up to you to decide whether or not the service is for you and your group.  

Conclusions and thoughtful ideas

D & D Beyond is an interesting attempt at creating a digital toolset for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition.  The tools and resources provided in the free version can be very handy for players to reference the rules during the game, and you can do research for your character in your free time.  I think this can work in a couple of ways for a consumer.  

The Basics

If you’re going to buy into the system, a player can accomplish a lot of work by participating in the week one sale and grabbing a player’s handbook for 20 bucks.  Pairing that with a hero tier subscription is a yearly investment of $36, with the $20 buy in for the Player’s Handbook.  That keeps the community created content coming in and gives the player access to all the rules they need to build a character.  If you want to extend this idea, you can pick up a copy of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (or the Upcoming Guide to Everything) as a once a year purchase.  That sets your total purchases for the year as a yearly subscription at $36, plus a hardcover book at $30.  Total cash out for a year is around $66 bucks.  

The Deluxe

The other end of this spectrum sees a player buy in everything.  This is the three core books (for $60 at release or $90 after the fact), the two Guides (another $60) and all of the hardcover adventures (7 in total at $25 each for a total of $175) and a Master’s Tier subscription (Yearly cost $72).  That’s around $400 bucks to have access to Everything released, (So far, you’ll need to add additional books as they release).  This one has a lot heavier initial outlay, but if you look at it as a yearly expense, it’s not as severe.  

Now if you were a like minded group of people you could split this price evenly and chip in for a single account with a Master’s Tier subscription and share it with the other players in the group.  The players that want the Homebrew access till need to pay for a Hero’s tier, as it isn’t covered by the Master’s benefit.  

I think this has a potential option to work for a lot of groups, but ultimately, it’s up to you as a consumer to decide if this product adds value to your game in a manner you feel comfortable with paying for.  If that is a cost you’re willing to pay, then enjoy the tools.  If you’d prefer to spend your money on a different option, that’s up to you.  Take a look at what’s available and the resources provided and see what you think.  That’s our look at D & D Beyond.  Game On, Game Fans.

If you’re curious, you can find the D & D Basic Rules at the link above.  If you’re interested in the DM’s Guild we mentioned, check them out here.  We would be remiss if we didn’t link you to D & D Beyond, which you can find here.  Check these out, see what you think, and draw your conclusions.   

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