On Sunday March 12th, 2017; Wizards of the Coast unveiled in PAX East the latest progression and movement for Dungeons and Dragons with the announcement of the D&D Beyond digital toolset for the 5th Edition ruleset. For older fans, it was news that was received optimistically but on the ere of caution; for newer fans, this was something wonderful and joyous of a reception.
Here is the announcement trailer if you wish to take a quick look.
You may also check out dndbeyond.com and sign up for the upcoming beta. You simply need to just input your email and verify the email in your inbox (so please check your spam folders).
Return to the Digital Realm – Bad Memories of 4E
Back in 4th Edition, Wizards had enacted D&D Insider, a digital portal wherein DMs and players can subscribe for a monthly fee for complete access to the entire 4th Edition rules compendium, Dragon+, and any community directed content straight from Wizards’ R&D for content and rule suggestions. The service was initially met with skepticism and disdain from many veteran D&D players and DMs, believing that they were forced to pay more to continue their enjoyment of the game. There were many unofficial unpublished content released through the subscription that were often never playtested and were often just ideas tossed into the wild ether for those in the service plans.
The one major benefit was the character builder for 4E that was included in this service, which allowed players and DMs to create characters within an hour (especially when building above 1st-level) as opposed to dozens of hours due to the intricate level-up boons provided at every level of progression. The game mechanics were so heavy that it was difficult to remember every rule and because the game was so rules centric, it made it difficult for DMs and players to recall the information effectively. Having full access to the rule compendium was a major offering along with the character builder. The subscription service ended at the twilight years of 4th Edition’s reign, one of the reasons many players and DMs felt alienated during this time period was due to the lack of open license content. Essentially no third-party service was allowed to use and design under the 4th Edition ruleset, which resulted in the rise in Paizo’s Pathfinder that began taking much of the market share from Wizards of the Coast. While there were many new players brought in through 4th Edition, the loss of many veteran fans and players may have had an influence on the eventual design philosophy changes and birth of 5th Edition.
During this time period, Wizards of the Coast was trying to expand their digital dominion through their various properties and franchises. Unfortunately, the necessary upkeep to maintain hardware and constant update of software proved to be too difficult a burden for the company and in essence resulted in the loss of such digital services over time. Many fans of Wizards of the Coast who have been patrons of nearly a decade will recall the Magic the Gathering app during Innistrad’s run in Standard (we’re talking back in 2012, click here for the article). Bringing Dungeons and Dragons into the mobile realm was an unlikely possibility at the time, and various third-party services had to require customers to buy licenses for the 4th Edition ruleset in order to use external character builders. Undoubtedly, Wizards has been hard at work reconsidering their digital presence, nearly 4 months of the release of 5th Edition, there were dozens of third-party apps and software generated to help provide accessibility to the rules, monster stats, and even character sheets.
Building apps and software takes time, time that Wizards continue to lose as the game advanced further and further. Seeing Wizards of the Coast finally unveiling a digital companion tool, crafted and maintained by a third-party is something not surprising given their current business model and change in philosophy since 4th Edition.
Wizards of the Coast levels up and recognizes the changing gaming environment – Finally
One of the remarkable features about D&D Beyond that has gotten quite a buzz is the ability to create, browse, and use homebrew content. When D&D Insider was a thing, there was little room for homebrewed content (mostly because of the fragility of the game mechanics requiring extensive balancing). Many creatives (including myself) wonder if this will have a direct access to their own reservoir of homebrew content, selectable by the masses, or if perhaps it will provide access to the DMsGuild. If the latter, it will truly expand the functionality of the service and even see Wizards make decent royalties from the additional purchases (Wizards by the way takes 50% of all royalty sales through the DMsGuild, some goes to DriveThruRPG as well). I’m personally excited to see how this feature shall be implemented during the beta testing.
Additionally, the tool will have access to online forums, hopefully similar to the old hayday of the gleemax forums (if you were one of those people who had the fortune to be a member during those awesome times, there was some great content there). Though with the amount of features accessible, there are additional tools useful to the players immensely, like character sheets and the ability to update and level them up during gameplay. Accessibility across devices will most likely be managed by an login account of some kind most likely. The best business decision that has left many veteran fans pleased, would be Wizards partnering the endeavor with Curse, Inc to develop the tool and possibly handle all future updates. This has been a common business trend with Wizards with their D&D franchise, especially with teaming up with Green Ronin for publishing, working with Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds to broaden the scope of online D&D gameplay. Wizards has realized that it is better to partner with other businesses than take on the whole blunt of the effort instead and focus on the most important aspect: developing good game content. My only concern is whether there is a service fee (like a monthly subscription) or a single purchase option (which is much more preferred). Only time will tell.
The Future is Now – Sign up for the Beta, even if you’re not a Dungeon Master
You can sign up for beta access on dndbeyond.com. Even if you’re not a Dungeon Master, the character sheet is a useful tool for players and should be heavily encouraged. The larger the beta test group, the more feedback that can be received to improve the performance and experience with the tool. I’ve already notified the players of Team BAJA and a few of my other D&D friends to look into the service and sign up for the beta access. I’m looking forward to see what awaits us as more information about the D&D Beyond service is released and beta access is granted. Keep an look out on the news and I will also be posting my own personal updates regarding the service once the process starts.
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