Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A few thoughts on D&D Beyond

Sneak peak screenshots of D&D Beyond
This week, a new set of D&D tools were quietly announced called D&D Beyond (sometimes you have to pay very close attention to Wizards.com news feed). While specific information about the tools is extraordinarily sparse, it would appear to be an official 3rd party replacement for "D&D Insider" coming sometime this summer.

Note: D&D Dungeonscape (née Codename: Morningstar, now known as Playbook) was also announced in a similar quiet manner about 2 years ago and ended up being abandoned by Wizards of the Coast, so this announcement may need to be seen for what it is... Quiet and short on details until we actually see a working beta.

From the brief description and screenshots, we can see a character builder and a rules compendium (including classes spells, monsters, etc), but not much else that appears terribly exciting. The website also notes news article and forums, so there appears to be some form of community.

Playbook for Pathfinder
(formerly "Codename: Morningstar" and "Dungeonscape")
Now, don’t get me wrong. It will be nice to have a resource that goes beyond what is being offered in the SRD (assuming that is actually what is being offered). There isn’t clarity if this includes everything that is not part of the SRD 5 (such as all the class paths in the PHB and SCAG), but that would be a relatively safe assumption, as there are already several tools out there that include all of the SRD content for free (or for a very low app purchase). If D&D Beyond wants to compete in this market (especially with a subscription price), it will have to include all official D&D content.Price is also not mentioned, but if it follows the D&D Insider model, one might assume a monthly fee.

UPDATE from D&D Beyond developers on Reddit:

I'm Adam Bradford, DDB product lead for Curse. I'm flying back from PAX today, but I'll give a brief reply between flights.

A few things that I can hopefully clarify here:

D&D Beyond is a responsive web application that can work on any device - definitely not a desktop client or mobile app only available for iOS or Android. We care a great deal about offline capability, and you'll be able to access your characters, etc. just fine on the terrible WIFI at those conventions. :)

The DDB toolset is being developed by Curse Media and is not a directly tied to the former Curse App that was recently shared has become the Twitch App.

At launch, players will be able to access SRD content and build and view a small number of characters with a free D&D Beyond account. We don’t have exact pricing nailed down, but you will also be able to buy official digital D&D content for all fifth edition products with flexible purchase options. You can pay only for the D&D content you need. If you only play fighters, for example, you’ll be able to just pick up the stuff you need to track swinging that giant two-handed sword. This is NOT a microtransaction model - we aren't forcing anyone to buy the content in small chunks - it can still be bought all at once. It's all just flexibility.

A small monthly subscription will be needed to manage more than a handful of characters and to enable more advanced features, like homebrew content integration. At this time, we don’t know exactly how much the subscription will cost, but please continue to check dndbeyond.com for the most up-to-date announcements and information!

I can't share much else yet, but we're terribly excited to get this into players' hands for the beta very, very soon. Thanks!

Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 have specific one-time costs for access to the books, such as the PHB and the various adventure paths. The question then becomes, if one already has content access through tools like Fantasy Grounds and Roll20, is there room for a subscription service in the market charging for the same content? Of course, the intended audiences are slightly different given that VTTs are aimed toward DMs while this clearly targets the players.

As I’ve noted in prior articles, it would be nice if there could be an official single multi-platform tool that would be usable by both players and DMs, such as a complete Player and DM toolbox (character builder, rule and spell compendium including all the rule books) along with a VTT. Codename Morningstar attempted to walk that line, but that did not end well.

It seems like Fantasy Grounds comes closest to a "universal" online D&D tool, as it does have a character builder independent of the VTT where you can create a character for use in any Fantasy Grounds game. The Fantasy Grounds character creator is not quite as dynamic and step-by-step as the Character Builder that D&D Insider had for 4th Edition, but it’s serviceable enough. It also does not support character sheet printing out-of-the-box (although it can through a 3rd party tool) Fantasy Grounds should that feature very high on their software road map. Roll20 only appears to have a DM-facing character sheet, and not one that can be used by players to build character independent of an online game (Please let me know if I missed that feature).

Pricing


UPDATE: Unfortunately, there isn't an official word on the final pricing, but comments from the developers on Reddit and EnWorld don't look promising to me. The SRD5 content will be free and you can probably make a couple characters using that for free. However, if you want access to more of the rule set, not only will you need to pay for a subscription to the tool, you also need to pay for the non-SRD content separately. This, for me, is a non-starter right out of the gate. Pick subscription, or pick flat-fee for content. Picking both is a craptastic money grab. I'm hoping the final pricing structure is not as brutal as it currently appears.

Final Thoughts


With a character builder to accompany the VTT functionality in Fantasy Grounds, there would not appear to be a strong consumer reason to choose D&D Beyond, unless there is some price advantage or functional differentiation that isn’t obvious from this initial press release. Character creation in Fantasy Grounds is a little unwieldy from a UI perspective (and does currently include character sheet printing without use of a 3rd party tool), but it allows you to join VTT games hosted anywhere in the world with your character. Roll20 has an excellent VTT, but they need a player-facing character builder for use offline as well.

Curse (publishers of D&D Beyond) is taking sign-ups for their upcoming beta. Hopefully, I can get myself beta access and write up a complete feature review.

UPDATE 2: Ok, so a few people are missing the point of the article (and that's partly on my rambling writing style), so I thought I'd clarify a bit. I know D&D Beyond is not a virtual table top tool. However, if a Fantasy Grounds player license gives you all the same rule book content and a character builder, what advantage does a Beyond subscription have over a flat-priced application like Fantasy Grounds (given that FG also gives you online play)?

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